RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... [a] masterly, fascinating and frequently horrifying \'personal history\' ... We Don’t Know Ourselves is surely his masterpiece: a long, detailed and beautifully executed study of the more or less sad state of Ireland from the year of the author’s birth, 1958, to the present. That O’Toole ends on a cautiously upbeat note is remarkable, given the accounts of wilful blindness, political chicanery, moral duplicity, heedless cruelty, untrammelled corruption and sheer lunacy that course through this book ... O’Toole has a marvellously sharp eye for the illuminating fact, the telling anecdote, the overlooked or forgotten piece of history; he also has a poet’s gift for figurative language. But he is ever of a practical cast of mind, and his book is a model of inspired, one might even say creative, research ... Statistics form the framework of the book, and O’Toole wields them with subtlety and skill ... For the most part O’Toole maintains an admirably even and controlled tone, but in the face of some horrors the firmest restraint must give way to passionate denunciation ... we have only to look into the mirror Fintan O’Toole holds up before us to see ourselves plain, unmasked and unadorned.
PositiveThe New Republic... no studiedly dry academic treatise, but a portrait of the artist by a longtime friend ... The advantage is that Richardson and, by extension, we have intimate access to the painter not only at the easel but at home and at the bullfight and on the run from one lover to another, and on, and on ... The disadvantage of Richardson’s closeness to Picasso is an occasional lapse into an embarrassing chattiness ... as much a portrait of an age, in all its color and its tragic, and often trivial, goings-on, as it is a biography of one of the titans of that age ... Richardson is slow to display sympathy for any of Picasso’s loves.
RaveThe NationIn his radiant masterpiece Germs, Richard Wollheim presents us with a childhood that is understood [...] as a period to be survived only by stratagems ... Germs is the book Wollheim considered his best, and we can safely trust his judgment in the matter; certainly it is his most radically conceived and passionately executed work. It is by turns exquisite, appalling, mysterious, and very, very funny.
Benjamin Labatut tr. Adrian Nathan West
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... ingenious, intricate and deeply disturbing ... One of the most impressive aspects of the book is the wonderfully intricate web of associations that it weaves ... Labatut has written a dystopian nonfiction novel set not in the future but in the present.
PositiveThe New York Time Book ReviewKavanagh has done an adroit unpicking of the intricacies of the history, and her book is at once admirable for its scholarship and immensely enjoyable in its raciness. Yet at the close one is left with the inevitable question: All that violence, all those deaths, and for what?
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... brief but potentially momentous ... Mr. Rovelli follows the trail of quantum theory through some delightfully unorthodox byways ... For all his delicacy of touch, Mr. Rovelli is a man, and a scientist, of large ambition. It is time, he declares, to bring the relational theory into general discussion, \'beyond the restricted circles of theoretical physicists and philosophers, to deposit its distilled honey, sweet and intoxicating, into the whole of contemporary culture.\' As he might say himself, Wow.
RaveThe Irish Independent (IRE)[Thomson] knows pretty well everything there is to know about the art of cinema - though he might question that it is an art - and writes about it with passion, elegance and wit ... The directors whose work he considers include the ones we would expect - Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Luis Bunuel, Jean Renoir, etc - but he also writes illuminatingly about those who might be considered lesser lights such as Nicholas Ray and Stephen Frears ... This book on the movies and the \'desperate poetry\' their makers aim for is the best of its kind you can read this year, and probably many years to come.
RaveBook PostThis wonderful, and, yes, most remarkable book has two main players, one a bird, the other a writer. The bird is the caracara, a species of falcon; the writer is William Henry Hudson, an Anglo-Argentinian born in 1841, known, though not half well enough ... The caracara is at the heart of Meiburg’s project, but his narrative deals with many topics, ranges over enormous swathes of the world’s wilder landscapes, and introduces us to a large cast of fascinating creatures, not a few of whom are human ... His book has the breadth and raciness of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel and the warmth of a David Attenborough natural history program. Not the least of its strengths is a rich, pliant, and muscular prose style that can at times be sublime in the Burkean sense, that is, both beautiful and terrifying. The description here of the impact of the miles-wide asteroid that struck in the southern hemisphere sixty-six million years ago will chill your blood. But Meiburg’s strongest gift is for drawing the reader into his enthusiasms ... What is delightful about his book is the love of the world it expresses, and the calm fortitude with which it considers our current predicament.
RaveThe Nation... perceptive, refreshingly unsolemn, lively, at times funny, and shrewd throughout. It’s also a wonderfully bright and entertaining read, for which we must be grateful in these shadowed times.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalEssayist and critic Brian Dillon is in thrall to sentences. For a quarter of a century, he tells us in his marvelous new book, he has been collecting them, in \'the back pages of whatever notebook I happen to be using,\' the way, we might add, Vladimir Nabokov collected butterflies, with analytic passion and sustained wonderment ... Mr. Dillon scorns the advocates of “plain style” who drone on about \'the perils of ‘jargon,’ all the while deaf to their own obnoxious and excluding conventions.\' He likes his language knotty and challenging, and being something of a metaphysical himself ... The product of decades of close reading, Suppose a Sentence is eclectic yet tightly shaped ... Mr. Dillon’s own book is a record of successive enrapturings.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe finest and most substantial story here is \'The Run of Yourself\'. One could say is has the richness and breadth of a novel, but that would be to slight the short-story form, of which Mr. Ford has repeatedly proved himself a master ... However understated and oblique, Sorry for Your Trouble—which is what Irish people say to the bereaved at a funeral—is both a coherent work of art and a subtle and convincing portrait of contemporary American life among the moneyed middle class. None of the main characters has to worry about money, which highlights the emotional malaise that underlies their lives and their frequent and almost absent-minded couplings and uncouplings. In the background are wars, financial crises, natural vicissitudes. This is America, and Richard Ford is its chronicler. In these superbly wrought tales he catches, with exquisite precision...the irresistible melancholy that is the mark of American life.
Roberto Calasso, Trans. by Richard Dixon
RaveThe New York Review of BooksCalasso is keenly aware of the all-too-namable ills afflicting the contemporary world. His new book differs markedly from its predecessors not only in its brevity but in the urgency with which it addresses the burning issues—the raging inferno—of our time. Calasso is a scholar but not an academic, and as such is free to consider a dizzyingly wide range of topics, each leading on to and as often as not blending into the next ... Somehow, amazingly, it all hangs together ... One of the many pleasures of reading Calasso is to follow the bumper-car ride of his thinking, as he caroms off this and that totemic figure dotted about the intellectual fairground. Sometimes this can seem no more than supercharged name-dropping...Yet these names have voices.
RaveBook PostHe is a superb naturalist, who seems to have been everywhere and noticed everything ... The Macfarlane style is a kind of muscular prose-poetry that manages somehow to be at once impressionistic and precise. He uses every rhetorical device at his disposal ... he is unapologetic in his lyrical reaction to natural phenomena. A geologist shows him some quartz fragments brought up by a drill bit from bedrock under a mile of Greenland ice ... The book abounds in amazing facts, breathtaking surprises, delightful anecdotes. Here is a treasure from the trove ... But Macfarlane is no dewy-eyed tree-hugger—though what’s wrong with hugging trees?—and is acutely aware of the damage we have inflicted, and are inflicting, on the world.
RaveThe Irish Times (UK)... rich and racy ... Who is the \'you\' [Packer] repeatedly addresses? This self-consciously intimate approach to the task of writing a biography of a major public figure, who died as recently as 2010, has irritated and even offended some readers; so has his tendency to interrupt his narrative with intense little meditations on the state of the American nation in the period from the second World War to the present ... Yes, Packer certainly takes risks, but many of them pay off handsomely. This is a new way of writing about a person in history, in recent history, and an attempt to enrich the craft of historiography through the use of a highly personalised voice and some of the devices of mainstream fiction. Our Man is not quite a non-fiction novel, but as an alternative title, In Hot Blood would not be inapt. No one’s blood was hotter than Holbrooke’s, and the stuff running in Packer’s veins is pretty warm too ... The book is frank about Holbrooke’s awfulness ... a fine, adventurous and vastly entertaining book. The subject of it was no saint, but he did the state, and the world, some service.
PanThe New York Review of Books\"Saturday is a dismayingly bad book. The numerous set pieces—brain operations, squash game, the encounters with Baxter, etc.—are hinged together with the subtlety of a child’s Erector Set. The characters too, for all the nuzzling and cuddling and punching and manhandling in which they are made to indulge, drift in their separate spheres, together but never touching, like the dim stars of a lost galaxy. The politics of the book is banal, of the sort that is to be heard at any middle-class Saturday-night dinner party, before the talk moves on to property prices and recipes for fish stew. There are good things here, for instance the scene when Perowne visits his senile mother in an old-folks’ home, in which the writing is genuinely affecting in its simplicity and empathetic force. Overall, however, Saturday has the feel of a neoliberal polemic gone badly wrong; if Tony Blair—who makes a fleeting personal appearance in the book, oozing insincerity—were to appoint a committee to produce a \'novel for our time,\' the result would surely be something like this.\
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Mr. Thomson’s love for most of the countless films he has seen is at once intense and embarrassed, needy and impatient, enraptured and dismissive. He knows that most movies are ridiculous, but no one is more keenly aware of how even the lousiest B-picture can address our deepest desires, or feed our deepest fears ... With a bravado that is probably unwise in these watchful times, he offers a challenge to the new consensus: \'The revelations of 2017, the litany of sexual harassment, never quite got to a key question: what are movies without male lust?\' The trouble here, and it is surely another contribution to authorial discomfort, is that this line of argument tends to slow and even divert the book’s momentum ... Mr. Thomson is never more bracingly irreverent and disorderly—and funny—than when he sets about subverting the pieties attaching to \'manly films,\' especially Westerns ... Mr. Thomson’s book has an endearing tendency to run away with itself.\
PositiveThe New Republic\"... elegant, affectionate ... Spurling’s pages on [the period after Powell left Oxford], like the fictional version of it in A Dance, contain some of the most richly entertaining passages in the biography ... [Powell] spent the remainder of his life doing little more than tidying his desk, as Spurling tacitly acknowledges by wrapping up those years in an appositely titled, and decidedly perfunctory, 13-page [\'Postscript\'].\
RaveThe Guardian...[a] masterful epic ... It is a beautiful, vigorous and achingly melancholy hymn to the common man that is as unexpected as it is daring. Here we have a poet at the peak of his symphonic powers taking a great risk, and succeeding gloriously ... Robertson, who must have given years to researching his material, writes of war with appalling immediacy, surveying the carnage with a calmly Homeric eye ... The Long Take is a masterly work of art, exciting, colourful, fast-paced – the old-time movie reviewer’s vocabulary is apt to the case – and almost unbearably moving.
Ismail Kadare, Trans. by John Hodgson
RaveThe Financial Times\"\"\"A Girl in Exile is a compelling amalgam of realism, dreaminess and elegiac, white-hot fury. Kadare communicates with awful immediacy the nature of tyranny and the accommodations that those subject to it must make — as Kadare himself had to do. After reading it, one feels like giving four cheers for poor old battered democracy.\"\"
Edward St. Aubyn
MixedThe New York Review of BooksThe theme of St. Aubyn’s latest novel is the way in which, in our time, and in part at least through the literary prize system, opportunists, charlatans, and fools have been allowed to set themselves up as arbiters of literature … The result is that we have an uneasy sense throughout of free-floating dislocation; this or that portent falls at our feet with a thud, while passages of what is surely intended to be high comedy leave us dully frowning: when it comes to comedy, nothing is more dispiriting than an in-joke that one is not in on … Lost for Words, although uneven, is an entertaining squib, and it is obvious that St. Aubyn had a wonderful time writing it. The caricatures are painted with a broad brush, and the jokes too are broad, or the ones we can get are, anyway.
RaveThe Guardian...the whole thing has the air of a modern-day folk tale, rather in the manner of Neil Jordan’s The Dream of a Beast or Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood ... The pointillist brush-strokes with which Weiner fills in the early pages are done with wonderful subtlety and a sharp, dry wit, many instances of which will only register on a second reading – and this is a book that must be read twice ... Weiner knows how to tell a story, and how to twist its tail until it cries out in pain ... Heather, the Totality is horribly coercive; it is also an oblique diagnosis of the sickness at the heart of contemporary America, a nation bloated on liberal middle-class complacency and seething with the rage and paranoia of its neglected ones. Here is Trump-land in all its madness and its pathos. As Tony Soprano would say: whaddaya gonna do?
Elizabeth Hardwick, selected by Darryl Pinckney
RaveThe GuardianThese [are] marvellous essays – many of them notices of new books, although one would never think of calling them book reviews, so broad in range are they, and so profound in their critical discriminations … This generous collection of her best work, in a satisfyingly weighty and well-designed paperback, is a vindication of what she calls the ‘old-fashioned requirement of a good, clear prose style.’ Hardwick’s writing is clear as clear and more than good: it is sublime.
John Le Carré
RaveThe GuardianA Legacy of Spies brings it all back, as fresh and as rancid as ever, in a tale that shows the master in the full vigour of his old mastery ... satisfies not only by being vintage Le Carré, which it is, but in the way in which it so neatly and ingeniously closes the circle of the author’s long career ... The plot of the new book is derived from and intricately woven into that of its predecessor. This is an immensely clever piece of novelistic engineering, of which its deviser can be justifiably proud. The ingenuity and skill with which the thing is brought off is breathtaking – really, not since The Spy has Le Carré exercised his gift as a storyteller so powerfully and to such thrilling effect.
RaveThe Guardian[Ford] writes with deliberate flatness, eschewing stylistic flourishes – except when describing North American landscapes – so that Dell speaks in the cadences of a permanently damaged spirit. Listening to him, sentence by careful sentence, is like watching a car-crash survivor making his way along a hospital corridor, step by careful step. His voice, at once muffled and clear, is remarkably resonant, and devastating in its directness … Canada is a superlatively good book, richly imagined and beautifully fashioned. Although it is too early to do so, one is tempted to acclaim it a masterpiece. It catches movingly the grinding loneliness at the heart of American life – of life anywhere.
MixedThe New York TimesThe old stories endure, and one of the most enduring is that of the damsel in distress who is rescued by her peerless knight astride his charger. However, it would be a brave writer who would dare, in this Age of Irony, to make it the basis for a novel … Hazzard's book...flatters us in its assumption that we are engaged along with the author in a philosophical meditation on the deeper meaning of life, but her elliptical style will quickly try the patience of all but the most devoted reader … Leith, the divorced, lonely romantic, immediately falls in love with Helen, and the tale gets properly under way. Even in these earliest pages, the reader can hear the knight's armor creaking, his steed pawing the earth and the damsel's soft gasps of anticipation.
PositiveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThe new book, no less than its predecessor, is honest, unflinching, necessarily solipsistic and, in the way of these things, self-lacerating: Did she do her duty by her daughter, did she nurture her, protect her, care for her, as a mother should? Did she, in a word, love her enough? … The author as she presents herself here, aging and baffled, is defenseless against the pain of loss, not only the loss of loved ones but the loss that is yet to come: the loss, that is, of selfhood. The book will be another huge success, for reasons not mistaken but insufficient. Certainly as a testament of suffering nobly borne, which is what it will be generally taken for, it is exemplary. However, it is most profound, and most provocative, at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life’s worst onslaughts nothing avails, not even art; especially not art.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksJim Crace’s new novel, Being Dead, is in its small-scale way a sort of reverse-Darwinian epic, an End of Species. At the close of the book he sets his two central characters, Joseph and Celice, firmly among the democratic orders of the dead … About halfway through Being Dead, the alert reader will realize that what he has in his hands is a traditional novel of English manners sprinkled with some of the props and themes of the campus novel à la David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury, though without the laughs … Constantly in these pages one is brought up short by prosaic figures cast, arbitrarily, it would seem, in poetic form. The cumulative effect is not so much 'hypnotic,' pace the [English] reviewers, as dulling: what is intended as poetry often succeeds only in sounding like doggerel...There are passages of haunting beauty in Being Dead, but there are moments, too, when the poetry overwhelms the sense.
Mary V. Dearborn
PositiveThe NationIt would be wrong to concentrate overmuch on the tragic aspects of the Hemingway story. As Dearborn reminds us, in the early years of his adulthood, he was a golden youth in a golden time … There is also the abiding question as to the possibility of a homosexual element to his nature—the question, simply, as to whether he might have been gay. Dearborn is adamant on this, stating flatly on the first page of her book: ‘The short answer is no.’ But in areas as delicate as this, short answers are often inadequate to the occasion … Her book, at more than 600 pages of narrative, is lively and briskly entertaining throughout.
RaveThe Guardian...a timely and illuminating study of political reaction, historical and contemporary, and its devastating effects on the present-day world and, most likely, the world of the foreseeable future as well ... Lilla’s critics would do well to read The Shipwrecked Mind, for its range of reference, its common sense, its subtlety and persuasiveness ... Lilla sees clear to the heart of modern-day millenarianism and finds there the old, old story of longing for a lost golden age and the expectation of a brave new world to come.