RaveThe New YorkerFew stories in the new collection can truly be said to reinterpret existing tales ... What the narrator gives with one hand...she takes away with the other ... But the reader remains distracted and amused—by puns and metafictional flourishes and talking snakes and literary allusions that make us feel clever, and, most of all, by the snug security blanket of genre convention. We think we’re reading a fairy tale, so the seeker will find the object of his quest; we think we’re reading a character portrait, which means that the subject will, in the end, be known ... The question of where a story should begin and end is one that recurs throughout White Cat, Black Dog, and is part of what gives the stories a melancholy air of flux and fragility.
PositiveThe New YorkerFor Patrice Nganang, whose A Trail of Crab Tracks, translated from the French by Amy Baram Reid, is the concluding novel in an epic historical trilogy about Cameroon, reimagining a nation has required reimagining the novel...Takes aim at the intricacies of history through an equally intricate narrative approach: the novels range back and forth across time, weaving real-world figures amid fictional characters, and shifting rapidly among different voices, registers, and languages...Inevitably, then, Nganang’s national narratives are sustained by both ardor and alienation...And they grapple not just with the exigencies of culture and politics but with a question of literary form, which is also a question of scale: Is the novel big enough?...You cannot write a novel about nationhood without asking questions about what, exactly, constitutes a nation, and an especially fascinating aspect of A Trail of Crab Tracks is the way it investigates how evolving technologies of communication, including social media, have altered the landscape of Cameroon’s political imagination...To speculate about the effect that a novel might have on the world is to daydream about a daydream...Such dreams nurture the hubris required to write fiction, but when the dream is over you are left with the reality that novel-reading is optional, and most people will choose not to do it, especially if they suspect that the novel’s agenda is to make them die of shame...Here is a novel written in French, the language of power in Cameroon, and translated into English, the language of power across the globe; a novel that also includes an array of regional tongues and a script, nearly lost, that its author evidently hopes to revive...These last are languages that, in this particular historical moment, can lay claim to no power except that of letters combined to make meaning...But on what scale should such power be measured? Is it everything, or nothing at all?
MixedThe New RepublicIt’s an immersive, well-constructed book, as I’d expect any novel by Margaret Atwood to be. The first half of my copy is filled with light pencil marks noting well-turned phrases, sharp observations, and subtle emotional truths ... It’s a fast-paced yarn featuring a range of classic adventure-novel tropes: mysterious parentage and secret identities; spying, friendship, and short-lived teenage romance, capped off with a climactic seafaring adventure. The plot is propulsive, the characters compelling, the world closely and thoughtfully observed. And yet, The Testaments largely lacks the power of its predecessor. Why? ...
The cultural omnipresence of the Handmaid as a shorthand for female oppression has had the counterintuitive effect of domesticating the bizarre, dark world that Atwood originally imagined. The second book simply can’t land with the same shock of the strange that the first one did ... Perhaps the deepest perversion in The Handmaid’s Tale is the way women betray each other. By rehabilitating Aunt Lydia in The Testaments, Atwood steps back from the darkness of that particular abyss. Under Aunt Lydia’s expert tutelage, two teenagers are able to bring down a totalitarian government with relatively little difficulty, relying on an array of old-fashioned tricks...and clean, straightforward heroism. In this way, The Testaments feels oddly out of step with its time. After all, the days of propaganda for girlhood are largely over. The message is out: Sexism isn’t just back; it never went away. If anything, the propaganda machine has adopted the opposite tactic. Some days, it’s hard to believe there’s anything good about being a woman at all ... I...wonder if there might be deeper comfort in a confrontation with messier and more difficult truths.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)\"Dear God, what a sexy reading list Michelle Dean has put together. Never have I seen so clearly that my dream version of myself – the person I always assumed I would grow up to be – is a drily witty, slightly abrasive woman in a black turtleneck whose end table is stacked high with yellowed paperback copies of lesser-known works by Susan Sontag, Joan Didion and Hannah Arendt ... Dean does an excellent job of moving swiftly through her list of writers, culling from these \'women who made an art of having an opinion\' quotations, jokes and arguments most likely to appeal to the literary women of 2018 ... My sense is that Dean originally planned to write about women who worked as cultural critics – reviewers of literature, drama and film – but that as she got swept up in her research, she expanded her definition of a “critic” so widely that the word no longer functioned as a useful criterion for inclusion, and so she was forced to cast about for another, without quite landing on one that satisfies ... By limiting her book to writers who fit a certain demographic profile, she is not simply reporting on the whitewashed state of literary criticism; she is perpetuating it.\