RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)There are no paragraph or chapter breaks in Chinatown, except for two ruptures in which the narrator inserts extracts from a short story she is writing, I’m Yellow: a first-person narrative about a man running away from his awful wife and their daughter. These sections are surprising and brilliant: each aspect of the narrator’s story is in them, except turned inside out so as to become something other. The rest of the narrative passes from recollection to recollection, with seamless fluidity ... an astonishing work of sharp wit and profound tragedy that refuses to be flattened into a single representation.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Barton’s centring of doubt in her narrative – doubt about her linguistic skills; doubt about her relationships with people she meets, and with the country itself – brings nuance to her account of learning a language outside the classroom. It is doubt that eventually makes her a successful Japanese translator.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)The experience of reading such a novel is like travelling through a series of expertly designed studio flats. You marvel at every interior you come to: a whole unto itself, not a foot wrong in the design. But then you turn the page and enter yet another four walls, the last beginning to fade from your mind. Only at the end are you able to conceive of all these paragraphs at once, imagine a whole tower block of crafted text ... Freeman’s chosen form, then, acts as a visual manifestation of her protagonist’s state: her refusal of proximity, her abnegation of all those people and places that had previously been contiguous to her life ... This mirroring of structure and plot is smart. It can be very effective. But it also feels too artificial, too neat, to the extent that it draws attention away from the plot and towards its own ingenuity. It is an example of American literary critic and poet Yvor Winters’s \'fallacy of imitative form\', his attack on modernist poetry wherein the \'form succumbs to the raw material of the poem\', weakening both the poem’s ability to convey its meaning and the form itself ... Freeman hammers her paragraphs down into perfected, indivisible units, without any bulk or extraneous matter. When it works, her images are light as gas...but when it becomes the only thought on a page, without other images to jostle against, it loses its vitality ... In Tides, the splitting of paragraphs between pages does not become more than a formal pretension, one that slows down and makes less coherent an otherwise very strange and poignant novel.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)The narrative gains its emotional resonance from the dynamics between characters ... Plunge pool-like, the narrative implies significant depth below its close, bounded surface ... Keegan pushes the violence back into the margins. The awful things that disturb her characters’ lives are only hinted at, having transpired some time before the present, or in the previous generation. It makes the stories more substantial and elemental ... Keegan provides [Bill] with a complex, nuanced inner life ... Why, then, does Small Things Like These not feel quite as devastating, as lasting, as Keegan’s previous work? Perhaps, for the first time in her writing, the lightness here has become too light – is kept too far away from the darkness that lurks at the other side of the town.
MixedTimes Literary Supplement (UK)[A] carnival of a novel, which seeks to present – and conceal – tragedy in a farrago of competing styles and registers ... Some of these strands are brilliant in their weirdness...others fall flat ... One explanation for McLean’s choice of such disparate modes is that she requires a disorientating, playful amalgam of styles to accommodate the unrelenting atrocities being carried out, both against her protagonist and the wider cast of characters, man and beast alike. Form mirrors content ... Pity the Beast occasionally reaches a McCarthyian pitch of incantatory power ... At times, however, Mclean’s style falters.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksWith its emphasis on the partnership model of gender relations, Leave Society often reads as a veiled attempt to redress Lin’s past failures, particularly his abuses of power, in relationships ... As part of his efforts at self-betterment, Li tries to mediate between his parents, as well as improve his own relations with them ... These scenes are elegantly structured, with Li’s meditations guiding the reader through the delicately shifting dynamics among the three of them, like a particularly sensitive weathervane ... While the language in Leave Society remains stark in places—Lin’s descriptive skills are greatly inferior to his ability to capture mood and generate humor through dialogue—there is a subtlety to his observations that feels like a progression ... To develop one’s style so extensively, and with such success, over four books is no mean feat, a testament to Lin’s fastidious editing process. Many of the ideas offered up in Leave Society are murky, bordering on conspiracy theory ... What is interesting in Leave Society, however, is not the truth or falsity of its arguments—this is marketed as a work of fiction, after all—but how such arguments inflect character ... The final sentence of Leave Society [is] “Li took a leaf\' ... On my first reading of Leave Society, I did not know what, if anything, to make of the homophone \'leaf\' and \'leave.\' On the second reading, when I was better accustomed to Lin’s humor and his delight in multiplicity, it seemed to me both metaphorical and literal, playful and quite serious, a brilliant, almost perfect ending.
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The cantos...are neither sufficiently coherent nor sufficiently substantial to give the reader a clear understanding of the timeline that precedes the narrative; nor are they significantly mystical or stylistically interesting enough to excuse such opacity ... The imagery the characters deploy is thin and narrow, their emotional range limited. They speak only with absolute, terrible sincerity ... Reading the first half of Alexandria is like finding oneself in a half-furnished house, the rooms mostly cleaned out, a bleakness and incompleteness pervading everything. But then, 179 pages in, a new voice enters the text and transforms Alexandria into a far more interesting novel than it sets itself up to be ... Kingsnorth holds both lines of argument in a delicate balance—that man is the destroyer of Earth and AI brought restitution to the natural world by ethically removing humans from it; and that Wayland’s creation of Alexandria is the story’s true destructive force, its emergence functioning as an act of war against mankind. The dexterity with which Kingsnorth shifts between these two perspectives prevents Alexandria from becoming lumped together with other trope-ridden, science fiction narratives of heroic man versus the evil machine.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)A Lonely Man pose significant ethical questions: when does artistic borrowing cross over to become artistic theft, and what, if anything, do you owe to the person from whom you borrow? ... This balancing act is expertly handled; both styles are refreshed and made strange by their contact with the other. In perhaps the strongest section of the book, the Patrick narrative is temporarily shelved. Power unsettlingly resurfaces the theme of false memories, and the narratives we construct for ourselves from the truth.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The slow disclosure of plot, at first frustrating, becomes one of the greatest pleasures of this excellent book. Painted with colour and wit, there emerges a whole host of absurdist characters clamouring for Bina’s attention ... The emotional core of the novel, however, is Bina’s relationship with her dear friend Phil, who, we are reminded in the footnotes, is the protagonist of Schofield’s first book, Malarkey (2012). Their friendship is beautifully realized on the page, providing a life-raft both for Bina and the reader in the face of so much cruelty ... These moments of vivid, metaphorical description are all the more striking in contrast to the brusque, contracted language otherwise deployed in Bina’s tale ... In writing her life as it happened, Bina is invested with the kind of power she has not been granted beyond the page. Such power does not extend to delivering herself the ending she has hoped for. Instead, we are given a beautiful, devastating tale about the tragedy of old age.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)It is the anthropological acuity in Cook’s writing that makes it so persuasive. She explores how our nature is informed by the land we inhabit, how our conception of civility is relative to the circumstances in which we find ourselves ... expertly plotted ... Such foregrounding of action does, at times, reduce the opportunity for nuanced character development ... The chief power of The New Wilderness, and what distinguishes it from less successful environmental dystopian fiction, is Cook’s talent for world-building. The Wilderness State’s topography is deftly rendered, based on field research Cook conducted in eastern Oregon ... In these moments of respite from the ever-turning gears of plot, the writing is highly seductive.