PositiveThe Guardian (UK)More of a Frankenstein\'s monster than a Dracula, the book is similarly stitched together – the flirtatious emails are straight from Bridget Jones; Christian\'s apartment is, bizarrely, Frasier Crane\'s Seattle penthouse, floor-length windows, grand piano and all; the glider ride is from The Thomas Crown Affair; and the sex owes a debt to Anne Rice – but the Sleeping Beauty novels rather than the vamps ... The fact that a middle-aged woman has written it is also often evident. There\'s a 21-year-old American college student in 2011 who\'s never used the internet or received an email ... To a huge extent, though, this is the novel\'s charm. Its innocence and freshness are reflected in its heroine, whose litany of \'holy crap!\' and \'holy Moses\', once you can get over the Sarah Palinness of it, are rather endearing ... a problem, practically speaking, is that the heroine has nine orgasms every time Christian walks past her in a strong breeze, which makes her journey to self-discovery vastly less interesting than it might have been ... But I liked it, and here is why. A woman chose to write it, and did so from the safety of her kitchen table. Nobody had to get naked to pay rent; nobody was forced into anything ... It\'s readable, and often funny; miles more enjoyable than those miserable \'literary\' erotic books ... It is jolly, eminently readable and as sweet and safe as BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) erotica can be without contravening the trade descriptions act. If this is the future of publishing, things could be a lot worse.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)This novel is strikingly brave in two ways: first, in the fortitude of its writer...Second, the way, in these days of cultural appropriation, that O’Brien takes on the persona of a very young (she doesn’t know how old she is) kidnapped African girl, Maryam. But this book is at its core a misery memoir about the dreadful things done to women and girls in the name of religion. It’s hardly an area O’Brien can’t lay claim to ... This is a short sharp shock of a book, which cascades with the odd logic of a dream ... not fun and not for the squeamish ... The writing, though, is propulsive; the scenes short, angry and compelling. This is occasionally to Girl’s detriment: sometimes the urgency of the intruding voices, all telling their stories, means that the characters exist only to suffer, horribly and repeatedly ... O’Brien has worked hard to get inside the psyches of terribly damaged children — and the character of Maryam can seem rather flat as a result. Although this is undoubtedly psychologically accurate, Girl is not an essay, it’s a novel. Maryam suffers, but she doesn’t always live in the way, for example, Colson Whitehead’s Nickel Boys force themselves into rude existence beyond the confines of the page ... But there is so much fire in O’Brien’s writing ... In the end, it is the sheer beauty of O’Brien’s prose that makes this novel superb: the universality and the care with which she has always written about all women — girls, daughters and mothers — wherever they come from, and whoever they are.
RaveThe GuardianMost of the book details Jen’s attempts to coax her teenager into opening up and revealing what has happened during her disappearance. The desperate love of a parent for a child they cannot know is wonderfully true to life, and despite the rather bleak set-up, there are a lot of very funny moments ... And the ending, in which Jen retraces her daughter’s actual footsteps, feels both cathartic and satisfying—more so than any high-concept shock twist could have been.
RaveThe GuardianCharacters aren’t goodies, baddies or plot devices, they just feel like people. The overwhelming emotion is kindness. If you don’t cry the first time Eleanor goes to a hair salon and thanks the blowsy Laura for 'making her shiny,' you haven’t a heart. This is a narrative full of quiet warmth and deep and unspoken sadness. It makes you want to throw a party and invite everyone you know and give them a hug, even that person at work everyone thinks is a bit weird.
RaveThe GuardianI would recommend Lauren Collins’s lovely memoir to anyone who has ever tried and failed to learn French ... It is both a highly engaging primer on language and a touching and funny love story ... The snippets of language anomalies are fascinating ... This charming book is not just about the language gulf, but the gulf between all human beings, and how we all try to learn to walk in another person’s shoes.