PositiveThe Washington PostThe first couple of hundred pages of Country Girl are wonderful, the second 150 rather less so, but anyone who knows and loves her work, as I do, will want to read it from start to finish ... During the Swinging ’60s she knew just about everyone who was anyone, and though she protests that \'it baffles me how I came to know all these people,\' much of her memoir from this point on is a chronicle of names and faces who need no introduction, though they certainly will a couple of decades down the road ... In the end, though, O’Brien returns to her true self and her indelible Irishness, the elements that have drawn readers to her work for more than half a century and will continue to do so for many years hence.
RaveThe Washington PostThere\'s a deceptive coolness about the fiction of Ian McEwan. His prose is severely chiseled, and his strong interest in science lends a clinical air to his narratives, but this must not distract the reader from the deep vein of feeling that runs through them. Certainly it has never been more powerful than in Enduring Love, a novel that is at once an ingenious and formidably intelligent study of one form of mental illness and a wrenching evocation of the risks to which love can be put ... As treated by McEwan, Jed Parry\'s lunatic passion becomes a fun-house mirror that distorts the real passion between Joe and Clarissa; in so doing, it gives us a strange but revealing perspective on love itself. This may seem unlikely material, but out of it McEwan has fashioned a remarkable novel, haunting and original and written in prose that anyone who writes can only envy.
PositiveThe Washington Post[Scott\'s] engrossing, lovely but wholly unsentimental portrait of her family and her father ... a story about wealth and privilege unimaginable to most of us becomes, in the end, a sad and cautionary tale.
MixedThe Washington Post... immense in size, but rather smaller in historical and literary weight. It is a good and useful book, and it sheds light upon a few dark corners of those hard years, but it falls short of its author\'s ambitions ... Alas, it just doesn\'t work. Though it certainly is easy to understand why McWhorter is haunted by what happened in her hometown and determined to face it head on, little of what she tells about herself validates the claim she makes...Instead her autobiographical recollections mostly seem gratuitous and clumsy, pasted into a story to which they add little ... McWhorter traces this much-trod ground carefully, though in more detail than most readers will appreciate inasmuch as it does not always enrich the tale or our understanding of it.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Trans. by Edith Grossman
MixedThe Washington PostMeticulously researched — so at least it certainly seems — and filled with telling detail, it portrays the inner workings of the Trujillo regime and its opposition with what gives every appearance of verisimilitude and authority. Despite Vargas Llosa's fictionalization of history, in form the novel resembles a straightforward recounting of Trujillo's last days … When Vargas Llosa turns to the story of Urania Cabral, the book is less successful; it feels tacked on, less an integral part of this very large tapestry than an afterthought. Yet when this small part of the tale reaches its own climax, the effect is shocking even if the actual event is wholly unsurprising.
Edward St. Aubyn
RaveThe Washington PostThis deliciously irreverent novel, Edward St. Aubyn’s eighth, will delight his admirers on this side of the Atlantic … Lost for Words is a withering satire of the vicious, back-stabbing process out of which literary prize winners emerge, most particularly the process by which Britain’s Man Booker Prizes are chosen … As the jurors lumber and squabble their way first to the Long List of nominees, then to the Short List, then at last to the ultimate victor, St. Aubyn has a splendid time satirizing just about every kind of fiction being written in English these days, from the pseudo-streetwise wot u starin at to the fey All the World’s a Stage.
RaveThe Washington PostOn Chesil Beach is more a novella than a novel, weighing in at around 40,000 words, but like those other books it is in no important sense a miniature. Instead, it takes on subjects of universal interest – innocence and naiveté, self-delusion, desire and repression, opportunity lost or rejected – and creates a small but complete universe around them. McEwan's prose is as masterly as ever, here striking a remarkably subtle balance between detachment and sympathy, dry wit and deep compassion … Almost from the novel's first sentence, the reader's heart aches for these two young people. They are so earnest, so clumsy, so naive, so desperately in love. But they seem incapable of reaching across the great divide that proper society placed between unmarried men and women four and a half decades ago, incapable of talking through their desires and fears.
RaveThe Washington PostIan McEwan’s delicious new novel provides all the pleasures one has come to expect of him: pervasive intelligence, broad and deep knowledge, elegant prose, subtle wit and, by no means least, a singularly agreeable element of surprise … If this is indeed Serena’s story, the telling of it in time becomes part of the mystery, yet another manifestation of McEwan’s fascination with the ownership of narrative and the complicated relationship between imagination and intelligence. Intelligence, that is, in the sense of espionage, information-gathering, dissembling and false clues … We are instructed, right toward the end, about the difference between intelligence and invention and given a superb lesson in how to distinguish between the two.
RaveThe Washington PostThis is not a novel about Lindbergh (or Roosevelt, or Henry Ford, or Fiorello LaGuardia, or any of the other historical figures who appear in its pages) but a novel about America: the complex and often contentious mix of people who inhabit it, its sustaining strengths and its persistent vulnerabilities, its susceptibility to demagoguery and anti-democratic impulses. It is also a novel about living amid the turmoil and unpredictability of history, about people's powerlessness ‘to stop the unforeseen,’ … For once in his fiction, the self is less important than the world outside. The Plot Against America is far and away the most outward-looking, expansive, least narcissistic book Roth has written. The effects upon young Roth of the imagined events of 1940-42 obviously are of interest and importance to him, but the real core of the book is family, community and country, and the consequences for all these of America's flirtation with fascism.
John B. Boles
RaveThe Washington Post...[a] magisterial biography ... perhaps the finest one-volume biography of an American president ... To his study of this deeply controversial man, Boles brings an ample supply of what has been so lamentably missing in the discussion over the past half-century: a calm insistence on separating truth (so far as we can know it) from rumor and invective, and a refusal to judge a man who lived more than two centuries ago by the moral, ethical and political standards of today ... [a] superb, utterly riveting biography.
Pascal Mercier, Translated by Barbara Harshav
PositiveThe Washington PostOne problem with Night Train to Lisbon is that its plot, if plot is the word for it, consists almost entirely of talk — talk, talk, talk — about people and events in the past. The effect of this endless conversation is numbing rather than stimulating ...it's never really clear here whether the central story belongs to Gregorius or to Prado, and there's scarcely a hint of dramatic tension as Gregorius stumbles his way toward what he learns about Prado ...his fiction offers the kind of intellectual puzzles and trickery that many readers love in the work of Umberto Eco, but there are no such pleasures to be found here ... Night Train to Lisbon never engages the reader, in particular never makes the reader care about Gregorius. It's an intelligent book, all right, but there's barely a breath of life in it.
RaveThe Washington PostFor most of the novel Ishiguro is primarily concerned with the three as children and with the odd world they inhabit at Hailsham. The school, or institution, or whatever one cares to call it, is located on a large parcel of beautiful land, isolated from the outer world … They are so caught up in the rituals and routines of Hailsham, though, that they have little time for speculation about the distant time of adulthood … This quite wonderful novel [is] the best Ishiguro has written since the sublime The Remains of the Day. It is almost literally a novel about humanity: what constitutes it, what it means, how it can be honored or denied.
PanThe Washington Post… an earnest if overheated book that falls considerably short of its self-evidently large ambitions … Though both stories are intrinsically interesting, and though Larson has done his research thoroughly, the parallel tales feel a lot less like meaningful, revealing contrast than gimmicks around which to construct a book … The connection of Holmes to the fair seems manufactured rather than authentic, and every time the story shifts from the fair to the murderer, the reader is brought up short … Dramatic stuff all of it, and fascinating to read about. Unfortunately, Larson seems not to have enough confidence in the inherent interest of the story to tell it straight.
MixedThe Washington PostThe novel moves swiftly but is unwieldy, as Hosseini suddenly introduces an entirely new set of characters a quarter of the way through and needs another quarter of the way to get them fully involved in the plot. The book is powerfully moving, as was The Kite Runner, but Hosseini is not above melodrama and heartstring-tugging … The central theme of A Thousand Splendid Suns is the place of women in Afghan society … Hosseini is punctilious about providing dates for all of this, which seems a bit out of place in a work of fiction but doubtless will be useful to American readers, too few of whom know as much as the times demand about Hosseini's native land, where ‘every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief,’ yet where ‘people find a way to survive, to go on.’
RaveThe Washington PostOut of excruciatingly painful personal experience, Joan Didion has written a lacerating yet peculiarly stirring book... In December 2003 two terrible things happened: her only child, Quintana, married months earlier, was hospitalized in a coma, and five days later her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died... For more than a year, Didion's life was completely taken over by these events; The Year of Magical Thinking is the story of that year ...an intensely personal story that involves a relatively small cast of characters... Some books (most of them very bad) do get written because their authors put themselves on the couch, and some writers are not above cashing in on anything, including the illnesses or deaths of people ostensibly close to them. Not for a moment do I believe either to be the case with Didion ... The Year of Magical Thinking, though it spares nothing in describing Didion's confusion, grief and derangement, is a work of surpassing clarity and honesty.
RaveThe Washington PostThe period feeling of Brooklyn is genuine and impressive … Eilis gets off to a good start at the store – she may be unassuming, but she's also competent and resourceful – but then she receives a batch of letters from home, and suddenly her head is filled with images of what she has left behind … The portrait Tóibín paints of Brooklyn in the early '50s is affectionate but scarcely dewy-eyed; Eilis encounters discrimination in various forms – against Italians, against blacks, against Jews, against lower-class Irish – and finds Manhattan more intimidating than alluring. Tóibín's prose is graceful but never showy, and his characters are uniformly interesting and believable.
RaveThe Washington PostMcEwan is under the influence of what can only be called a heat wave…[Atonement] confirms me in the belief that there is no one now writing fiction in the English language who surpasses McEwan, and perhaps no one who equals him … Atonement is at once incredibly lucid and forbiddingly dense. Every sentence is pellucid, yet every sentence is fraught with weight. As surely as if he had tied a chain around your waist and wound it through a powerful winch, McEwan pulls you toward the novel's climax and denouement, but there can be no rushing to get there … It is a story about class and war and crime and betrayal and penance, about all of which McEwan writes with abundant authority, and it is – as we realize toward the end – in and of itself an act of atonement, but above all it is a love story.