PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Paterson’s prose style is resolutely colloquial ... the effort to describe the music – folk and pop and jazz – that he loved as an adolescent leads him into the book’s most rapt and heartfelt passages.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)These essays speak in the first person, but are not introspective. It is only in the opening piece, an account of his treatment for testicular cancer, that you get much self-revelation ... This essay brilliantly describes the trance states induced by his enforced dependence on pharmaceuticals, through intensive chemotherapy and steroid treatment. Here, as throughout the collection, it is the droll, melancholy elegance of the prose that guarantees the reader’s enjoyment.
A. N. Wilson
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Wilson’s book is, you might say, bio-critical ... does not reveal anything the previous biographers have not told us (indeed, it is conscientiously reliant on a small number of secondary sources). Instead, it shows, by a mixture of rational inference and I-feel-it-in-my-bones intuition, how the most powerful aspects of Dickens’s fiction drew on the most painful and secret aspects of his life ... If you are a Dickens aficionado, you will think that much of the book’s biographical narrative is well-known material, though here revisited in a sprightly manner. Yet its last, highly personal section suddenly shifts your sense of Wilson’s commitment to his subject.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Pullman seems to be writing for those who read the HDM novels as children, but are children no longer. Lyra herself is naggingly conscious of what she has lost from the earlier books ... There is always plenty of dizzying travel in Pullman’s fiction, here more breathless than ever ... The satire of religious flummery is even more explicit and withering than in the original trilogy. Indeed, Pullman is more tempted to draw parallels with our world’s discontents than he has ever been ... Pullman has successfully turned his heroine into an adult by making her remember herself as a child, which also means remembering the earlier books that we all loved. But there is a downside. Previously, Lyra’s experiences and Pullman’s ideas were separate. As a child, she did not know what her story meant. Now she can ruminate in tune with the author’s purposes...This is Lyra thinking, but it is also rather too clearly Pullman speaking to us ... Imagination, the mysterious power celebrated by the Romantic poets, is the holy spirit of this book ... [Pullman] has created a fantasy world, made yet more satisfying in this new volume and pursued with his own special rigour and stylistic elegance. This is a book for getting older with.
RaveThe GuardianHarris makes his alternative history entirely concrete. In Berlin, where the novel is set, Albert Speer, Hitler\'s architect, has fulfilled some of the grand architectural designs of the fascist state ... Fatherland is clearly influenced by George Orwell\'s Nineteen Eighty-Four, fiction\'s template for the workings of a totalitarian society ... This is alternative history, not allegory. The fraying of power is important to Harris\'s use of the other genre he exploits: the police procedural. It must be conceivable in this fictional world for a clever and brave investigator – the traditional police detective transposed into a nightmare situation – to find out the terrible truth that has been hidden from Germans as well as from the rest of the world ... The conceit behind the book is a nightmarish one: not only that the Nazis have won, but that, with the old leaders dead or ageing and a smoother new generation taking over, détente with this monstrous regime becomes necessary.
PositiveThe Guardian[Moran] does not want to call his book a style guide, a genre he associates with \'prescriptions and proscriptions\'. It is, rather, \'a style guide by stealth\', \'a love letter to the sentence\'. It offers us bracing – and often sententious – sentences ... He also tells us what not to like. He eloquently laments the rise and rise of \'the argot of modern managerialism\', with its \'nouny sentences\' As an academic, he feelingly deplores the bad habits of academic prose, with its conjunctive adverbs (\'Moreover ...\' , \'However ... \') and its twitchy meta-comment (\'I will argue that ...\'). Yet he equally knows that less is not always best. In a brisk chapter...he unpicks the doctrinaire plainness of Ernest Gowers and George Orwell. He even advocates the expressive subtlety of the subjunctive. Moran is a thoroughly sane, thoughtful commentator. It took me a long time to find something to disagree with in his book...
PositiveThe GuardianAcademics have always itched to get into the Faber archive, to get at the letters and memos that record how this 20th-century canon was made. Toby Faber has rights of entry. He has given us a highly selective anthology rather than a narrative: his book is made up of extracts from original documents (mostly letters, but also memos, board minutes and blurbs), with spare comments from himself. Above all, his book illustrates the firm’s commercial precariousness.
PositiveThe Guardian\"... as minutely researched and clear-eyed as Leader’s first [volume on Bellow] ... But then Leader has shown, often disconcertingly, how the fiction was made out of the life. Not just wives, but friends, colleagues and friends-of-friends would catch themselves in the pages of the latest Bellow novel and not often be flattered ... Leader is wholly steeped in Bellow’s oeuvre and able to find all the fictional equivalents of the real people who filled his life. Leader does not attempt much critical analysis, but he does include plenty of apt quotation – just as great a skill. You keep stumbling from some ignoble episode on to some of Bellow’s sentences, with their fearless phrase-making and hilarious metaphors. And then, maybe, you forget your dismay.\
RaveThe GuardianCold Mountain, which takes its title from a peak in the Great Balsam Mountains of Northern Carolina, certainly carries its author's knowledge of a particular area. But natural description is there to follow the two main characters' eyes and minds ... The novel's chapters alternate between their stories, both of which require an attention to the natural world: Inman's attention because he must survive in the wilds; Ada's attention because she has committed herself to hewing a living out of a wilderness ... Natural description is also natural history. A native of the mountain country of the Southern Appalachians, Inman carries the names of plants and trees in his head, and the narrative names them without any concession to any reader's ignorance.
RaveThe GuardianBarbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is remarkable not just for its story but also for its narrative form ... The Price daughters and their mother narrate in contrapuntal alternation. By turns they describe their lives in a remote Congolese village and the fortunes of Nathan's mission to convert the Congolese ... Kingsolver does not, however, attempt so closely to follow the patterns of everyday speech. The voices of her characters are as much written as spoken ... The clear purpose of the multivocal narrative is to let you piece together the apparently strange world of the Congo from these different accounts.
MixedThe GuardianIn the prologue of The Hours we are asked to imagine, as if from her point of view, the day of Virginia Woolf's suicide. But this is not a fictionalisation of her life and death; it is an imitation – a reworking – of her novel, Mrs Dalloway ... Cunningham gives you every chance to hear his echoes of Woolf's style: the whimsical similes, the rueful parentheses, the luminous circumstantial detail. And the narrative method is a homage to Woolf's novel ... Though each section of Cunningham's novel concentrates on one of its three leading characters, the narrative can always shift between different consciousnesses ... If you have read Mrs Dalloway, you will guess how Richard's story might end. Yet plot is incidental.
RaveThe GuardianPhilip Roth likes to use a framing narrative in order to approach with investigative curiosity a tale of passion ... The Human Stain concerns a New England classics professor, Coleman Silk, who is hounded out of his job for alleged racism. His story is told by Nathan Zuckerman, who has, literally speaking, been employed as narrator. Silk has asked him to write the true account of the witchhunt that has ruined his career ... Roth's persistent use of the framing device suggests that he is but discovering stories that are already out there ... By thus framing his narrative Roth also unsettles our sympathies ... Within the frame of Nathan's record, the reader is allowed to know more than he could ever know. We are taken into Coleman's unspoken thoughts and into his secret past... The very flouting of the framing convention catches the author's own passionate, lucid exercise of his imagination.
MixedThe GuardianThe main service that Bate has done is to read this huge mass of material with a scholar’s ability to date and arrange it. His biography is a first report on what lies in wait in the archive. It is, however, a report that has been hindered and constrained.