RaveThe Financial Times (UK)Where the Samuel Johnson Prize-winning Leviathan was a genre-bending but still informative work of nonfiction, Albert and the Whale is yet more visionary: a tone poem put together from the lives of others, with detailed use of archives. Hoare moves nimbly between the stories of people who came before and after Dürer, but share his \'unity of perception; which encompassed aspects of \'art, science and natural philosophy\' ... there is the sense he’s seeing how allusive he can make his subjects’ lives — how much he can heighten them by bringing them into contact with each other and with Dürer. This harmonious and enviably conceived book manages it with full marks ... This book captures the wonder Dürer may have felt on his way to the whale he missed: \'Something so fantastic could not survive being seen.\'
Onno Blom, tr. Beverly Jackson
MixedFinancial TimesBlom reconstructs a 17th-century Leiden that feels lived in by the painter and the author at once ... Leiden’s classicists, botanists and bibliophiles are evoked too. As is the city’s aesthetic influence, which has been translated elegantly by Beverley Jackson ... The style of Young Rembrandt is often a sort of evocative narrative time travel. It’s rich, and it needs to be, considering how little incident there is which isn’t simply context. But these imaginative evocations run into trouble when they double up as argument ... When Blom speculates what pasta dish the Neapolitan wife of Rembrandt’s instructor might have cooked, he seems almost to be parodying this woolly approach ... Blom is an insightful art critic, especially when he dips into blockbusters of Rembrandt’s maturity ... There is only so much to be made from lacunae that amount to the artist’s entire early career. To that end, a book that plugged holes in our understanding not with imaginative historical projection, but with Blom’s life-long relationship with the painter, might have been more fitting.
PanThe Irish Times (IRE)... lively and overreaching ... The reader doesn’t suffer much whiplash, chapter to chapter, adapting to the new configurations, and picks up the knack quickly ... The brief experience of being in any of Boyne’s settings is a sort of tourism, while the broad experiences of the characters reinforce the book’s artistic message of universality ... This would make for a nice middle-brow fable – funny when its humour is less obvious, gripping and readable where not choked by unsubtle technique – and that would be that. But A Traveller has what one of its historical celebrity walk-ons would call \'vaulting ambition\'. Boyne’s 12th novel for adults feels influenced by Susan Barker’s The Incarnations or something by David Mitchell, but the scope is yet wider ... The narrators are themselves responsible for some of the finest artworks ever created, yet display scant artistic sensibility as storytellers. The best-selling author, speaking through his various conduits, has a serially unmusical voice ... Besides the truism that human experiences and feelings are immutable, cursory work seems to have been put into imagining how a person from this or that period might have experienced or felt them, beyond lip-service paid to shifting attitudes about gender, sexuality, slavery and colonialism. The texture of the past is evoked almost exclusively through heightened formality and long-winded redundancy ... Without the precision and attention to language that was also a hallmark of such formality in speakers from previous ages, we are left simply with laboured speech. Good old-fashioned historicalese. It’s hard even to get behind a well-meaning, spirited pastiche set in Shakespeare’s London ... I know this much: things that surround characters may change, but bad writing stays the same.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)As we go, we can’t be sure how calculated Paul’s recklessness is. He himself seems unsure if this is his way of self-medicating his grief, or just his way of being. In truth, he is kidding himself and kidding us ... While Paul tries to see himself as an enlightened man, Brown reveals him often to be as petty and possessive as the \'awful men\' he judges in the lives of his friends and his sister. This is a moral novel about a crisis in masculinity; whether it is one that will resonate at the very moment of crisis is harder to discern, and part of that is to do with the tone of this frequently funny, stylishly and unfrivolously written book ... Theft is elegiac about lost youth and love, about dilapidated English seaside towns, about the abandoned north and its working classes and a receding idea of an affordable, exciting London. But it is also elegiac about the spirits of those dead white male authors (Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow are name-checked; Kingsley Amis haunts unannounced) who wrote the type of book that inspired its creation, and who are considered unfashionable in the #MeToo era. Theft enacts the mode whose passing it laments ... Readers like myself, for whom witty books about libertines formed the basis of a sentimental education, will enjoy Theft. They may even recognise themselves in it. Readers who never had much truck with the style—its charming man-child anti-heroes with their moral acrobatics and their guilt—or who believe the mode has rightly had its day, may find male desire as boring as usual. But if they give it a chance they’ll find the book funny and moving, too.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)...a very of-the-moment story of domestic abuse ... Intellectual and physical cruelty is explored with Nabokovian ingenuity ... It’s gasp-worthy reading. Reading with the stomach. The process itself becomes precarious and unsafe, trapping you within three rooms in Mangalore. Yet it is also through writing that the only oases come ... though thoroughly harrowing, Kandasamy’s writing is also funny, tender and lyrical, usually simultaneously. When trauma is ever-present, the other qualities only have the option to mix with it ... But Kandamasay’s lyrical register can add a tinge of grandiosity and melodrama that the narrative doesn’t require ... Yet Kandasamy has given us a 3D, complex experience of abuse, full of roundly-explored characters, without compromising the purity of her message.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)... affecting and strange ... it seems perhaps because of Ball’s generosity of spirit that he is able to write so well about people with such nastiness in their lives, and to do so even with a certain levity, moving from one perspective to the next and quickly giving each richness. Though it moves through perhaps too many characters for the room afforded by this small book. Powerful individual stories are told which could have been made yet more powerful if allowed to spend more time in one another’s company, becoming a sustained narrative rather than a magpie survey – or census – of a dark fairytale situation ... Ball’s approach has a sort of shock and spite to it, though; a structural brutality that reflects the world he’s made ... can be quite hard to read for all the resonances it carries of real segregated societies. And it is primarily Ball’s thorniness as a writer, his perverse streak tempered by an innocence similar to George Saunders that makes it easier to countenance the creation of them, and keeps them urgent.
PositiveThe Irish TimesHanif knows about the absurdity of war in a way that a civilian never could ... The wit generally comes in sharp riffs ... There are also the more overt, hyperbolic markers of satire and the comic novel form ... These achieve the laughs and winces they are played for, but can distract from moments of realist pathos when they come. They also compete with the more considered, otherworldly metamorphosis that the book undergoes towards its end ... Hanif’s riffs acquire weight even as they keep their catchiness.
MixedThe Irish TimesThe whodunnit and procedural elements of the book which stem from the mysterious car crash are tense and well-realized. But when not affecting elements of the central relationship—the police’s assumptions that Dan is with the less attractive Bea for her money; the memories of indiscriminate arrests he suffered as a teenager because of his skin color—these elements can detract from it ... Reading and enjoying this well-written thriller, there is nonetheless a feeling that a stealthier, less dangerous novel wants to emerge, shedding the skin of hot, stifling trips abroad—so rote now in fiction of every stripe—dodgy circumstances surrounding deaths, and police stations ... Bea’s struggle with her money, from being constantly aware of and apologetic for her privilege, to the ambiguous idea of its ethical use [is engrossing]. This could have been further explored had not so much literary oxygen been taken up with the whodunit, which is not especially surprising in its denouement, and an all-consuming escalation of pace.
PositiveThe Irish TimesCan be very funny in an infectious sort of way. Characters are invoked in broad strokes ... Because of the strangeness – the dilemma of whether or not to shack up with your dead partner’s long-lost twin because he does and does not resemble him in a convenient mix – it feels slightly unsuited to the convention of breezy, cozy romcom. The concept feels perfect for a dark, psychological literary mystery about the nature of obsession a la John Banville. But that, of course, is to criticise a book for what it isn’t rather than what it is. The other side is that it’s pleasing to see romantic comedy about such knotty psychological situations. And a slightly uncomfortable story is always, in whatever genre, more rewarding than a comfortable story.
MixedThe Irish TimesThe story is engrossing ... The question is, does our modern understanding of pathology—fostered by popular books and TV crime series—ease us in, or give us an edge on Lowry’s characters that spoils the surprise? The answer is Lowry factors this irony in—this knowledge gap—to pleasingly wrongfoot the reader ... But the effect, for this modern reader at least, can’t help but seem heavy-handed ... Whether because Lowry is alluding to the old-fashioned clunkiness of Gothic novels, or simply signposting the action, too much is spelled out where it needn’t be ... Lowry’s very exciting book is at its best when steering clear of these penny dreadfuls.
PositiveThe Irish TimesStartling ... The prose is both spectral and organic. The writing pushes you very close up against the thing it describes ... it is difficult to gauge how dystopian the outside world actually is ... both an allegory and a playbook of male wrongdoing, and is less exciting only when it feels more exclusively the latter. But then, it’s precisely this collusion between the ordinary and the extraordinary that gives the book its elemental power: its immediacy as a simple story and its completeness on the heightened metaphorical level. It’s a seriously impressive feat of imagination, this: to keep an abstract moral and its concrete realisation absolutely balanced, with both so full and vital.
RaveThe Irish TimesA splintered, polyvocal generational saga about people who don’t have it in them for extremism, even when extremism beckons on all sides ... This careful judgment seems to exist at all levels of Gunaratne’s debut. The author has a gift for sentiment without the refuse of sentimentality. Characters are made sympathetic in the space of a line ... The subtle hierarchies of racism are probed with nuance ... Description is always vivid ... Still, the writing can, at times, threaten to turn into something more suited to spoken-word, at odds with flowing prose...Luckily this turn never comes to pass. The prose remains alive, alert and subtly integrated, with various accents and non-standard Englishes raising themselves up to the same very high literary watermark ... Gunaratne is no doubt on his way. What you are left with – always a treat though not by any stretch as essential to all writing as some would have you believe – is a prose that benefits from being read aloud. But more so, a prose that just plain deserves to be read.
PositiveThe Irish Times\"... the wisest and most engaging parts of The Anna Karenina Fix are culled from the author’s own life in relation to the texts ... There is a lot of knowledge, worn with suitable lightness, in this fun book. But there’s also a forced comic lightness at times that, even in a self-help book by a comedian, simply doesn’t belong... If this sort of thing makes the subject matter more appealing to you, you’ll enjoy this book unashamedly. If you find it flippant or reductive, you’ll probably still enjoy it, but wince quite regularly between the laughs.\
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Everything Under is a transgender retelling of the Oedipus myth, but it is also a convergence for myth ... There are elements of various fairytales and legends, combined in an entirely novel way. And this imaginative and innovative use of myth leads to the creation of a new myth ... there is a spellbinding tension. As the threads move towards a common end, you’re a child who wants to know the magic.
Nicolai Houm, Trans. by Anna Paterson
RaveThe Irish TimesPowerful, symmetrical, and well-controlled, the story’s double narrative gradually reveals Jane to us even as she nominally disappears. The book is most vivid when Jane lives most vividly, such as when, in a state of bliss having given birth to daughter Julie, she must adjust the hospital curtains \'according to how much light her heart could hold.\'
PositiveThe Financial TimesIn 1838, the French writer George Sand took her lover Frédéric Chopin to Mallorca. Escaping the Paris winter, they would both work in peace ... Along with this more popular fare, Kildea—a musician and conductor himself—writes fluently about Chopin’s work, illustrating it nicely without sounding too technical ... it [the piano] doesn’t much matter to the story. It is a blow that, having survived such a serendipitous yet tragic history, it should be lost after its rescue. But it is enough that the instrument has prompted this rich, winding double portrait of two musical heroes [Chopin and Wanda Landowska]. Chopin may indeed have intended his Preludes to be miniature: \'tiny-great monuments of Western art music,\' Kildea calls them. But this book shows us that the story of their legacy, along with their composer’s, is unequivocally rangy and huge.
MixedThe Financial TimesMayhem is less about Eva, or even Hans, than the strange guilt of being a witness to addiction and presuming to tell of it: an honest attempt to piece together recollection from a time almost beyond recollection ... Mayhem is good on the 'power of denial' that inhibits a class of moneyed people from acknowledging mental ill-health ... Rausing is rightfully sceptical of the clichés of 'recovery-speak.' But books that describe arcs of affliction and recovery, being engaged with this language and also with a familiar journey to redemption, often end up deferring to these clichés. And so the elegant writing in Mayhem can give way to descriptions of drug addiction as a 'perfect storm' or a 'bubble' ... Mayhem is most moving when circumnavigating the events and people described...The book is less compelling when Rausing puts forward her own beliefs about the scientific nature of addiction, which do not necessarily gain from personal experience. But where it is successful is as a case study of the 'addiction to the addiction,' as Rausing calls it: the empathic burden inherited by those close to addicts, from which the author, writing this harrowing book, is rehabilitating herself.
PositiveThe Financial Times\"In our age of email and instant messaging, we are able to read back both sides of a correspondence and, unlike with letters, dwell on our words once we’ve sent them. It has become literature’s job to capture these new levels of dizzying self-awareness, and the effect it has on the way we relate to people \'in real life.\' Sally Rooney’s wise debut novel is a perfect example of this shift
Our literature is still in the early days of capturing this generation’s non-binary, exploratory approach to sexual relationships. Yet, as is clear with Conversations with Friends, writers are increasingly adept at capturing the ways in which we all communicate. Aspects of our digital culture have stopped merely being markers by which a book can become \'relevant\' and then dated in turn. They have become part of the medium of our lives, inseparable from a new generation of writers and their way of seeing the world.\
PositiveThe Financial Times...there is at times a hallucinatory quality to the book, which shifts cleverly between dreams, simulations and digital hinterlands between life and death. But as well as being a philosophical work of speculative fiction, Void Star is also a sprawling multi-viewpoint thriller, in which individuals flee capture or death, battle rogue computers and corrupt humans, and traverse continents to seek answers ... Yet despite these literary innovations, Void Star begins to lose its way when Mason concentrates his energies on pursuing a more conventional SF action plot, in turn threatening to drown out those quiet stories that his remarkable machines are telling themselves.
RaveThe Financial Times...rarely does a 'lost work' feel like it has cheated history by not being found ... The stories collected here, written in the late 1960s and early 1970s about black poets and white freedom riders, film-makers and painters, display an author instantly complete. They are also a record of the nuances of the civil rights movement that feels contemporary in voice and pertinent to our times ... At times Collins’s work feels so cutting and contemporary, with such an ear for speech, it could have come straight out of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. And when you reach the last story — itself repressed, mournful and magical — you feel a sense of loss that Collins’s papers most probably won’t yield a second collection ... As the world changes shape before our eyes, we need books like this to help us prepare for what is to come.