Kate Kellaway is an English journalist and literary critic. She is a feature writer and deputy theatre critic for the Observer.
RaveThe GuardianRankine\'s achievement is to have created a bold work that occupies its own space powerfully, an unsettled hybrid – her writing on the hard shoulder of prose ... There is so much anger and anguish here that you wonder how it can be contained. But what is wonderful about Rankine’s writing is that it works like an out-of-body experience: she encounters her subject full-on and rises above it. And she never loses her wide-angle reach. Above all, she shows how racism itself gets relegated ... She could not make it plainer: racism is everyone’s problem.
PositiveThe Guardian\"Today, Morris’s horizons are limited to what she remembers and what she sees at home in north-west Wales. But it is its limitations that makes this book valuable and rare. It reveals so much about how to soldier on in your 90s ... She writes with blustery friendliness – the prose low-wattage ... If there is some retreading of turf, this fits the book’s diurnal structure...\
RaveThe GuardianI opened An Almost Perfect Christmas preparing to be underwhelmed, only to find myself chuckling at every other page. By the end – or, actually, not long after the beginning – I was a convert. This book is the seasonal garnish we all need. There is no subject upon which Stibbe could not entertain.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Trans. by Ulrich Baer
RaveThe GuardianRainer Maria Rilke had written 14,000 letters by the time of his death in 1926, aged 51. This slender book, a selection of letters of condolence, available for the first time in English, is a treasure.
Joyce Carol Oates
MixedThe GuardianJoyce Carol Oates’s Hazards of Time Travel is her 46th novel, which is in itself an astonishing achievement. It is a dystopian narrative in which the indomitable Oates seems to be flexing new muscles ... The extent to which you appreciate this novel will depend partly on how dystopia-friendly you are. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go might keep this book company were it not that they are more substantial nightmares. By comparison, this appears skeletal, super-intelligent, yet somehow depleted. It seems to have been written in an abbreviated rush, as though the fictional imperative of not saying too much had affected the telling of the story.
RaveThe ObserverThroughout this outstanding collection, there is the sense of an elsewhere, at once tantalizingly close and unreachable. The opening poem, \'Glitch,\' describes a fall and the unshakable sense that follows, \'of being wanted somewhere else.\' It recalls Emily Dickinson’s line: \'Life is over there–Behind the shelf…\' Yet Dickinson’s lonely oddity could not be more different from Laird’s family scene ... Laird is formidably accomplished—his poems range from free verse to villanelle (further exploring freedom and limitation through form)—and is keenly aware that language is only as good or bad as people make it ... Several poems are one better than still lives—they function as animated lives ... But the greatest joy of reading this unmissable collection is Laird’s peripheral vision as a poet: the deer seen from a suburban train; the unplanned signature on a windowsill in deep red dust; the many glimpses of elsewhere.
RaveThe Observer\"I was ambushed by [Limón\'s] power to move – several poems brought a lump to my throat. Yet her popularity is about more than accessibility. She never hides behind words but reveals herself through them – even when the risk is overexposure ... [Limón] knows how to change direction at the last moment, knows an ending can be an elsewhere ... Part of the pleasure of reading Limón is the way she transports you to a Kentucky punctuated by the noise of trains, the presence of horses, the planting of seeds. She does not ignore the world’s cruelties but tries not to be held hostage by them. This is as-the-crow flies poetry – it goes straight to the heart.\
PositiveThe GuardianAbsorbing, moving and marvellously written ... [Tomalin\'s] prose is clear, level, unheated... She has the unusual gift, in everything she writes, of never making a difficult subject more difficult ... In the memoir, one feels she is more at home writing about Hardy or Dickens than herself – the tug of the literary wins ... [Tomalin\'s] lack of self-importance is refreshing, her consideration for others admirable, but I’d have liked her to indulge herself – and us – with a little more about her life now and its uncontroversial, non-literary diversions – her garden, her travels, the continuing distraction of a good lunch.
RaveThe GuardianWhat is wonderful about this short, sensual, embattled memoir is that it is not only about the painful landmarks in her life—the end of a marriage, the death of a mother—it is about what it is to be alive ... After her marriage breaks down—at a time when her career is ascending—Levy and her two young daughters move into a north London block of flats which she describes, in its stricken deficiency, with panache. She makes of the flat a story, with its big skies and its sterile corridor ... She describes the bees that are her unexpected flatmates, her prospering strawberry plants, and the exotic oranges with cardamom that she and her daughters eat for breakfast. She writes entertainingly about her attempt, encouraged by a friend, at \'living with color\'—her yellow bedroom a garishly false move ... This is a little book about a big subject. It is about how to \'find a new way of living.\'
RaveThe Observer\"...[a] phenomenal collection of short stories ... The novellas and stories often seem to be in communication with one another in an unusual and pleasing way. She writes especially well about how the places in which we live affect us and sometimes shackle us ... The opening novella, \'The Standing Chandelier,\' is the collection’s not-to-be-missed highlight. It explores the idea that, given the will and words, any personality might be rewritten ... When it comes to what Thomas Hardy called \'life’s little ironies,\' Shriver is ahead of the game. Her stories are filled with irony and psychological shafts of light. She understands the oddity of what it is to possess.\
RaveThe GuardianLionel Shriver is a virtuoso at describing what it is to be uncomfortable in one’s own skin ... The novellas and stories often seem to be in communication with one another in an unusual and pleasing way. She writes especially well about how the places in which we live affect us and sometimes shackle us ... With most short story collections, it is an effort to keep restarting the narrative engine with each new story. But Shriver has the gift for making one instantly curious, entertained, involved and ready to move in.
Tracy K Smith
RaveThe Observer\"She is making visible the words of slaves and their owners, of African Americans enlisted in the civil war –these are found poems about people who were lost. Smith has pieced their correspondence together with the love of someone making a hand-stitched quilt ... The collection includes attractive, smaller-scale poems. Smith emerges as a poet in charge of her own creation myth and a recorder of destructive realities. Her offbeat, spiritual poems are her boldest – where it seems almost as though she is putting together a DIY Bible.\
RaveThe GuardianShe is an exacting writer but never a conceited one ... Moore is an undoctrinaire feminist with a keen, flexible, unheated take on women ... gets off to collar-grabbing starts ... Her political commentary is shrewd ... Lorrie Moore is such a writer that you want to collect her words as a gardener would rain in a water-butt.
Ulrich Raulff, Trans. by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
RaveThe GuardianAs you pick up the reins of this book – trying to get a sense of what sort of a ride it is to be – it becomes evident within three paragraphs that you have never read a book like it … Raulff’s ability to corral scattered equestrians in art, letters and life makes scintillating reading and his writerly pace is exhilarating – especially when he takes flight from his own starting gates … The book is beautifully and idiosyncratically illustrated, in keeping with the text.
RaveThe GaurdianBut Eileen Myles’s Afterglow belongs in a strange category of its own – it is unlike anything I have read and is a work of Joycean ambition in comparison with, say, John Grogan’s popular bestseller Marley and Me ... For all its dog-leg turns, there is no putting down of Rosie or of this book.
PositiveThe Guardian...[a] sympathetic, even-handed and illuminating account of her life ... As its subtitle makes clear, this biography is about love. I’d have liked more on the novels – but there was so much else to untangle ... The biography’s most fascinating revelation is about Bainbridge’s relationship with her publishers Colin and Anna Haycraft.
RaveThe Guardian...[an] inspired new collection ... Her last collection, Stag’s Leap, won the 2013 TS Eliot prize and was, you might think, an impossible act to follow. But the spirit and flow of this new book suggests that, on the contrary, her earlier triumph has been a spur. She never censors herself: her subjects are those poetry ignores ... These odes, because they illuminate what it is to live inside a body and survive its outrages, are useful – and beautiful too.
RaveThe Guardian...an outstanding novel ... Patchett is a pleasure to read: there is a no-fuss casualness to the prose that is only possible when a writer is in control of every word and she is master of her art ... emotional copyright is, in this unpushy and brilliant novel, more powerful than anyone dared suppose.
RaveThe GuardianThis book is impossible to forget: I finished it in one sitting – in a paralysed, stunned, empathetic trance ... It is a beautifully written book. Were it not so devastating, it would be a joy to read.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
RaveThe GuardianHis banal epiphanies satisfy because of his acknowledgment that life includes the random, the inexplicable and the unbeautiful. He understands rogue happiness. This perverse attention to what other writers ignore is part of his charm ... the eerie thing is that, at times, it is as if we are not within the pages of this book at all, but outside it and in his confidence. We understand that he is ambitious to write a novel that will make his name and we suppress, as we read, the acknowledgment that this achievement, this extraordinary work of which he has been dreaming, is the book we hold in our hands.