MixedThe New YorkerDamrosch is a prolific scholar of the eighteenth century who deftly flags a lie here, deflates a boast there, and corrects errors in chronology. But he sidesteps an essential question that he himself poses: To what extent was Casanova \'re-creating the past\' rather than inventing it? ... Damrosch’s biography condenses a vast trove of Casanoviana into a well-researched, four-hundred-page narrative that is most engaging on its subject’s catholic interests as an intellectual and on the milieus he traversed as an itinerant charlatan. But this is a life for a #MeToo-era readership, and the book’s first paragraph posts a trigger warning.
MixedThe New YorkerI am, by chance, reading Nobody by the sea. This morning, the tide is coming in aslant, while a black cormorant skims the waves in a straight line, from left to right, as if it were writing a sentence. I keep looking out the window, partly to rest from an exertion that feels like swimming in open water, but partly to ask the waves for help in deciphering Oswald’s dreamlike dissolves ... Nobody is written in disappearing ink. None of its phantoms have a stable contour, and if you are not a student of the classics you can chafe at Oswald’s donnish presumption that you should recognize their fleeting apparitions ... The tension in Nobody is generated by bewilderment, as one shimmering mirage supplants another. It unsettles your senses the way some avant-garde music does, and its vexing beauty invites surrender to incomprehension. But rarely does it unsettle your heart. Oswald’s perceptions are variously too personal, unique to her; or too impersonal, too purely literary; or, in the case of her phantoms, too disassociated to forge a sustained connection between sensation and insight. The intimacy of her best work is absent. I even felt, at times, that she had devised the poem as a cognitive experiment to test a reader’s tolerance for disorientation ... As an experiment, however, Nobody dramatizes Oswald’s audacity with language.
MixedThe New YorkerFerrante has a gift, perhaps even a genius, for making great literature out of melodrama. But the overwrought language of her new book doesn’t illuminate the anguish that it seeks to plumb ... Had this been a young writer’s coming-of-age story, one could praise its abundant flashes of brilliance and forgive its excesses. Coming from a master, its puerility is a mystery ... lucidity is missing from The Lying Life ... The Lying Life has passages of electric dialogue and acute perception. But its crude hinting and telegraphing suggest an author who distrusts her reader’s discernment, and they made me wonder if Ferrante hadn’t drafted the story as a much younger writer, still honing her craft ... The Lying Life of Adults affords no sense of Italy in the nineteen-nineties ... For all the signage in The Lying Life of Adults, it is hard to say what Ferrante’s intentions were.
PositiveThe New YorkerMarshall is a gifted storyteller steeped in the parochial society of nineteenth-century Boston and Concord ... There is not much that is materially \'new\' in Marshall’s life, beyond a letter from Emerson and some engravings that belonged to Fuller, which survived the shipwreck, and which the author discovered in the course of her research. But there are many ways of doing justice to Fuller, and Marshall makes an eloquent case for her as a new paradigm ... Marshall excels at creating a sense of intimacy—with both her subject and her reader.
Vladimir Nabokov, Olga Voronina, Brian Boyd
MixedThe New Yorker[The letters] contain few surprises, except for the revelation—a disconcerting
one, for a lover of Nabokov’s fiction—that he could be a bore.