RaveIrish Times (IRE)It’s unusual for a novelist to tell us how the story ends before it’s even begun, but it’s a clever choice ... O’Farrell appears to be embracing the historical form, for this is another gripping narrative with a passionate and resourceful character at its heart. Just as we knew that Hamnet could not survive his own story, so we are led to believe that Lucrezia cannot survive hers, and yet in both cases the reader is intrigued and eager to know how the characters will reach their end. It’s a measure of O’Farrell’s skill that we keep hoping against hope that the resolution will be different from the one that we have expected from the outset.
PositiveIrish Times (IRE)There are some fine lines too – \'The truest test of a person is the test of compassion’ – but somehow the overall effect feels less powerful than it did before, perhaps because the reader feels that a story that has been brilliantly told and has reached a natural ending has somehow come back to life, but without quite the complexity or daring of the original ... Thematically, there is much to admire. Cusk writes about art as if she doesn’t entirely trust it, resenting the power it has to dominate a life ... Second Place is a good novel by a great novelist but it suffers from comparisons to the earlier books, simply because they are too alike in tone. That said, criticising a Rachel Cusk book is like carping about a disappointing movie from a favourite filmmaker.
PositiveThe Irish TimesThe natural world, however, is a dominant force in this absorbing novel, the extreme elements reflecting the mood of the holiday makers, a disparate group of ages and nationalities, huddled at the windows of their log cabins, wondering whether or not they might not have had more fun on a coach trip to Lanzarote ... Spread across a single day, Summerwater is concerned with observation and contemplation ... Each chapter is a perfect, self-contained gem ... Moss’s insight into her characters’ inner lives is among the many strengths of Summerwater. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, the holiday makers simply stare at each other, indulging their own sense of superiority ... For more than a decade, Sarah Moss has been crafting quiet, complex novels that make an indelible impression on the reader. This is one of her best, and most accessible, and should bring her work to a wider audience.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewDoharty makes for a lively presence on the page, although his arrogance and conceit find him walking a fine line between likably brazen and downright obnoxious ... Some of the best moments in the novel come from minor characters or those just passing briefly through the pages. In a terrific confessional scene, Hughes subverts the roles of priest and penitent with a revelation that would be worthy of a novel in itself ... The novel is occasionally marred, however, by a narrative tone so extreme in its Irishness that it begins to grate ... Such complaints, however, will be less irritating to an international audience and don’t detract from Hughes’s ability to inhabit her story fully. There’s a darkness to this novel that makes it worthy of attention.
Nicolas Mathieu, Trans. by William Rodarmor
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)This is a deeply felt novel, filled with characters that demand the empathy of the reader. It’s not always easy; they can be selfish and too quick to anger. Their actions cause trouble for everyone around them, while they often slip away, waiting for the mess they’ve created to die down. But Mathieu understands this environment and is sympathetic to their struggles. There are no villains in the book but there is a deep sense of humanity in all its flaws ... It’s an exceptional portrait of youth, ennui and class divide.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)Certainly there are some brilliant moments on display, but too often they are undermined by a counterpoint of self-indulgence ... Occasionally [the narrator] seems excited by the possibilities that life offers but, to the novel’s detriment, she’s more prone to lassitude, coming across like an under-achieving twentysomething already jaded by the world, an effect that might appeal to readers of that age group but can be tiresome to anyone outside of it ... Some of the more interesting sections, however, explore our relationship to creativity in a culture where the emperors often have no clothes ... That said, Popkey employs some good lines along the way ... At such moments, her nascent skills as a writer come across and one hopes that she will trust in this rather than feeling that she needs to indulge every eccentricity ... the overall effect of Topics of Conversation is that there are some that one would be very willing to engage with but too many that leave the reader longing for someone more interesting to interject.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRELAND)[Miller\'s] gifts are on display once again in Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, a novel that would not feel out of place in the collected works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott or, indeed, alongside William Golding’s To the Ends of the Earthtrilogy ... The joy of reading an Andrew Miller novel is his obvious passion for story and sensual language, and his ability to interweave the two seamlessly. The former is an often-forgotten art form in the contemporary novel, which often seeks to impress rather than entertain, but the latter is what makes him one of the most impressive novelists at work today.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Having read much of Aciman’s work, I find his writing intriguing and maddening in equal parts. While the elegance of his prose and the sophistication of his characters are to be admired, his creations rarely seem human, speaking in a pompous fashion where everyone, regardless of age or circumstance, is intimately familiar with classical music and philosophy. Love lies at the heart of his books, but as a concept rather than a reality. No one in an Aciman novel can ever just go on a few dates and see how things work out. Instead they know from their first interaction that they’re destined to be together, revelling in the authenticity of their affections. Ultimately, it does not make them seem evolved but narcissistic, shallow and a little immature ... I’m as romantic as the next guy but there’s a fine line between passion and recklessness ... Novels don’t have to reflect real life, they can elevate the quotidian into something heightened and beautiful, but if the reader wants to shout, \'Oh grow up, you’ve only just met!\' at the characters, then something’s gone awry ... It’s annoying to feel such frustration with a writer who is as gifted a stylist as Aciman, and whose work is centred around that most basic of human needs, love. Characters in a novel should never feel like characters in a novel and too often here, they do. This is a shame considering his preoccupations are relatable and his descriptions of Rome and life on the continent are beautifully drawn, as evocative as anything you might find in EM Forster. But honestly, if one of these characters ended up in a train carriage with me and tried to start a conversation, I’d grab my things and go in search of an empty seat.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)... [Attenberg] has created a cast of characters so cold that one comes away from it feeling they would be more suited for a horror novel than a dramatic one ... a quietly angry novel, a story of three people who are so broken that they’ve resigned themselves to never finding peace ... One of the great frustrations of the book is that Victor spends most of it lying in a coma, unable to hear the bitter accusations that finally come his way. There is no moment of confrontation, no purgative scene that might allow the reader to feel that he is being punished for his behaviour. It’s a brave tactic on the author’s part, choosing authenticity over catharsis. After all, this, more often than not, is life ... Attenberg has a terrific eye for family dynamics, even if one is left feeling despondent about how the worst people often suffer no consequences. Her great skill as a novelist is recognising the difference between festering wounds and those that have been stitched up years before but have left small scars upon the skin that can burst open and haemorrhage with a single ill-advised remark.
PositiveThe Irish TimesFrom the start the writing is engaging and assured ... This is not a novel concerned with bringing a rapist to justice or destroying the smug insouciance of a privileged family. It’s more interested in how Kate, the victim, deals with her assault ... The strength of the book lies in Price’s ability to delve deep into Kate’s mental anguish ... The novel is not flawless. Although he’s central to the action, Max is a little underwritten ... Small quibbles aside, this is a strong debut by an incredibly young author, an assured and challenging novel that suggests an incipient talent worthy of notice.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRELAND)The most chilling aspect of Middle England...lies in how so many of Coe’s characters display their blatant racism whenever they feel thwarted ... Each character is so credible and so vile that the question is not why it took England so long to leave the EU, but why the EU didn’t kick them out years ago ... But it’s not all politics. Coe is a deft comic writer, probably Britain’s finest, and there are dozens of laughs along the way ... Millions of words have been and will be written on Brexit but few will get to the heart of why it is happening as incisively as Middle England.
Mary Beth Keane
PositiveThe Irish Times (UK)... both gripping and exhausting ... The differences between the two families are well defined in the first third of the book, as are their basic struggles simply to keep their heads above water. The conversations between the couples would not feel out of place in a John Cheever story, with surface small talk masking the often-tumultuous rivers of despair lying beneath an apparently idyllic exterior ... Mental illness is something we understand in more detail today but in the 1970s and 1980s, where much of this novel is set, there was a great deal of ignorance and misconceptions about the condition. Keane, who wrote so well about life on North Brother Island, where Typhoid Mary was held, offers similar insights into Anne’s world when the medical authorities are finally entrusted with her care. But it’s in the heart-breaking relationship between her and Peter – a son who is trying his best to help a mother who is unable to appreciate his love – that much of the novel’s power lies ... a novel of great compassion and understanding. It concerns itself with forgiveness for, in accepting Peter and Kate’s relationship, both houses must overcome the past. If there is a flaw in the writing, however, it is perhaps that the novel feels overlong, with scenes occasionally overstaying their welcome. One feels great empathy towards Peter but there are moments when his saintliness becomes a little too emphatic ... But this is a small complaint, for Ask Again, Yes is an engaging novel, rich with story, and one of the better studies of the effects of mental illness on family life that I have read.
RaveThe Irish TimesOf the many different emotions a novel can inspire in its readers, anger is rarely one of them, but I’d challenge anyone to come away from You Will Be Safe Here in a state of calm. It tells a story so powerful and upsetting that it’s a useful reminder of how fiction can illuminate the indignities visited upon those the world has mistreated and then forgotten ... Where many novels run out of steam as they approach the end, You Will Be Safe Here grows more engaging with each chapter ... This is a penetrating study of politics and history, but it’s also about cruelty, selfishness and destiny ... You Will Be Safe Here is a very fine novel ... It’s the work of someone who understands his subject and employs calm, efficient prose to leave the reader feeling stunned by the cruelty and barbarism human beings routinely show each other.
PositiveThe Irish Times... quiet, subtle and deeply moving ... O’Callaghan imbues his characters with dignity and authenticity ... Throughout, O’Callaghan writes with a poet’s attention to language ... Despite the title, Coney Island itself does not play a great role in the book. But it’s out there, beyond the windows of their hotel room, an almost mythological place that, like the central couple, is now a bit run down and past its prime, no longer the bright, vibrant wonderland of decades before. It’s a cry back to lost decades, a place that summons images of happiness, mischief and carefree youth, the very things that Michael and Caitlin feel are lost to them but can be rediscovered, briefly, in these stolen afternoons ... This is a fine novel, with elegance and wisdom lying beneath an unpretentious surface and O’Callaghan, a gifted writer, has managed to do that most difficult of things: take a quiet, almost everyday story, and transform it into a thing of beauty.
MixedThe Irish TimesHemon writes with the confidence and fluidity that make a great storyteller, so it’s something of a shame that the overall collection feels fragmented, with sections that leap dramatically off the page and others that lie flat ... the flaws lie in the sections that feel surplus to the book’s requirements. A lengthy piece on his childhood interest in chess feels like filler and is neither particularly interesting nor engaging, certainly not when placed between the turbulent times described in the earlier chapters and the tragedy that lies, most unexpectedly, in the closing pages. (Its placement in the book is, in fact, utterly confusing) ... not a rage-fuelled book, it is simply a disjointed one, with individual pieces that might very likely have worked well in their original journalistic publications but which hang uncomfortably together in book form and ultimately lack the depth or profundity that the author’s reputation would lead readers to expect.
MixedThe Irish TimesOnce in a while, a novel’s plot takes such an unexpected turn, breaking the unspoken contract between reader and writer, that it’s hard to know whether to fling the book at the wall in anger or proclaim it a brave attempt to push the boundaries of the form ... I’m not convinced that it succeeds in its valiant efforts ... It’s an interesting portrait of the space that can exist between attraction and compatibility ... It’s a bold and original way to create a work of fiction but it’s difficult not to feel cheated by the result ... Choi is a talented writer, her paragraphs filled with dense sentences that capture every nuance of her characters’ lives and she is to be applauded for surprising the reader with her twists and turns even if, for this reader, her innovations do not entirely succeed.
RaveThe Irish TimesHaving achieved so much success, Porter’s second book has a weight of expectation behind it, but he hasn’t disappointed, for Lanny is a fine follow-up, perhaps more accessible than his first while still embracing his unique writing style ... After reading Lanny, I did something I’ve never done before: I read it again. I felt that I would both understand and appreciate it better the second time around and was keen to study how the author managed to lure me in, even spellbind me, with such a magical and singular story ... I suspect Lanny will be a novel I will return to again, simply to absorb the strangeness of the story, the cleverness of the structure, the authenticity of the dialogue and the ethereal mystery that surrounds the book’s titular character. For those who are put off by experimental fiction, and I confess to being one, this is a novel to shatter your prejudices, for Max Porter understands that even the most complex idea must have a decipherable meaning if it is to be of any worth to a reader.
RaveThe Irish Times\"There are some writers who never let you down... Tessa Hadley is one such writer ... Hadley sets the scene for a thoughtful rumination on the different types of attachments we form in life, and in the early chapters this is both contemplative and astute, but then she turns everything on its head halfway through with a plot twist that feels as unexpected as it does natural ... [Hadley] has a keen psychological insight that allows her to create multifaceted characters that remain with the reader long after the story has come to an end. It’s no surprise, then, that Late in the Day is a powerful addition to her already distinguished body of work. Really, a rather brilliant novel.\
Andrew Michael Hurley
PositiveThe Irish TimesHurley has a good ear for mystery, turning the woods into a magical but dangerous place ... One gets the sense that the deeper one sinks into the basin of the land the more possibility there is of witchcraft and enchantment, an awareness that provokes excitement and fear in equal parts ... if Hurley could improve on anything it would be in making his central character a little more flesh and blood. He aims for reticence, an introversion that is unsettled by finding himself in a place where childhood memories and his new experiences as a father intersect, but occasionally one longs for him to throw his arms in the air, to raise his voice, to run into the deepest part of the valley and scream until his lungs hurt. Silence can be good in a novel but occasionally one needs the drama of the overturned table, the slapped face or the unexpected act of madness. But it would be ungenerous to suggest that such restraint damages the book unduly for Hurley is a fine writer, with concerns that place him a little to the left of the literary mainstream, a remove that makes him extremely interesting.
Hiro Arikawa, Trans. by Philip Gabriel
RaveThe Irish Times\"In the wrong hands, a story like this could be little more than an entertaining curiosity, but Arikawa has a lightness of touch in her writing that elevates it to a tale about loyalty and friendship, eschewing sentimentality while speaking to our basic human need for companionship ... it provides a fascinating insight into Japanese culture and traditions, but ultimately it doesn’t matter that it’s about a man and a cat. Like Of Mice and Men or The Kite Runner, Arikawa’s central concern is friendship and the things we’ll do for the people, or animals, that we love.\
PositiveThe Irish TimesMuch of this material is shocking and controversial and could easily make a non-fiction book in itself ... a stimulating read ... as erudite as it enjoyable.
RaveThe GuardianIn his fourth novel, Donal Ryan has not only bounded over a wall into new territory, but built himself a castle there ... The three stories are equally involving but it is only when the final section arrives that they are drawn together in the most heartbreaking manner. There are revelations to be found in the closing pages, and connections between characters that took me by surprise—making me utter an expletive aloud in Dublin airport while reading ... This is a superb novel, from a writer building a body of work the equal of any today. His books are filled with love and righteous anger, most of which lurks darkly beneath the surface ready to explode like an ill-judged comment at a family gathering.
Edouard Louis, Trans. Lorin Stein
PositiveThe Irish Times\"Louis veers between deep emotion and a forensic study of the night in question. It’s as if he is using his writing to understand whether, in fact, he’s culpable in some way and exactly how the encounter changed from consensual sex to rape. It makes for a heartbreaking read ... I’m not entirely sure why Louis chooses to use the term [\'novel], as it diminishes, for me, the impact of the work. I want to believe that every word on the page is true, because, if they’re not, then I feel manipulated as a reader ... Issues of literary identity aside, I find myself captivated by Édouard Louis’s books and his raw honesty.\
RaveThe Irish TimesOccasionally in the very best fiction, a line that at first glance appears insignificant leaps from the page, offering a deep insight into a character, and one such occurs here ... There are only a small number of writers whose work will endure long after they are gone but William Trevor, who should have become our fifth Nobel Laureate, is unquestionably one of those.
RaveThe GuardianThere’s an irony to the title of Roddy Doyle’s 11th novel, in that the book eschews most of his trademark humour and the laughs fall thin on the ground. His darkest and perhaps finest work since The Woman Who Walked Into Doors 20 years ago, Smile combines tropes from the various strands of Doyle’s career – childhood memories from the Barrytown trilogy, middle-aged regrets from The Guts and Bullfighting, pub conversations from Two Pints – and merges them into a unique novel, one that is terribly moving and even, at times, distressing, while saving its greatest surprise until the end ... While Doyle has never been a particularly experimental writer, he takes great risks with his story as the novel progresses. To say more would be to spoil the truly unexpected climax that Smile reaches, but suffice to say that to call this the least Roddyesque of Doyle’s work would be an understatement. There is a brave and complex ending to the novel, one that will leave readers astonished.
PositiveThe Guardian50 pages into Stephen Florida I felt as though I was being pinned to a wall – or rather a mat – by a teenage boy intent on telling me every detail of his exercise routine, about the importance of warm-ups, protein and sleep and the reason he keeps his hair in a military buzz cut. Eventually, though, I gave in, seduced by his unrelenting determination, despite the fact that he was holding me down and twisting my arm into places nature did not want it to go … Its brutal intensity makes it a difficult read at times, but there’s no denying how deeply Stephen’s voice sinks into the mind ... His writing is powerful and magnetic, with a quality that suggests it has been worked over to strip it bare of ornamentation but still leave it with a rare beauty that the greatest sportspeople, in a ring, on a court or on a pitch, can achieve.