PositiveThe SpectatorThere’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job gives us the minutiae of everyday working life — but not as we know it. Think Diary of a Nobody without the Pooterish self-regard. Or Nicholson Baker’s Mezzanine , freed from lunchtime restrictions ... Tsumura has a sharp eye for the absurdities of white-collar admin, the solace of workplace friendships, the insidious anxieties, and the consoling siren lure of fast food (those Inarizushi parcels and jumbo manju sound irresistible), but the novel is feeling its way into deeper waters ... the novel’s surreal charm wins through, pointing up the looking-glass aspect of the narrator’s world: confronted by what she’s running away from, the fantastical and the ordinary become interchangeable, as she stumbles into what she’s really been searching for all along.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)Shafts of high comedy have always distinguished Barry’s work, the swerve from grief into blessed laughter, devastating throwaway lines summing up a life or a failure. His knockout way to turn a sentence remains, but there are fewer laughs here; urban larks and verbals replaced by an undercurrent of sadness ... The lovely irony is that Barry himself is known very much for his glittering style — curlicued even. So is he sending himself up here? Or acknowledging a change of direction?
Javier Cercas, Trans. by Anne McLean
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)\"As in his earlier novel, Cercas is a slippery narrator, shifting in and out of the story, sometimes taking an overview with a documentary, almost forensic tone, at other times assuming the first person role of ‘Javier Cercas’ researching his family’s past — then pulling the rug from this conceit with post-modernist glee ... In search of the dead man, Cercas resurrects the past, drawing on records and personal testimony, at times guilty of information overload: details of battles won and lost weigh down some pages. But when it focuses on people, the book takes flight. It can be moving, unexpectedly funny, racy, demotic or deadpan. By the end there’s little that remains unknown about Mena, and there’s a sad irony to the achievement of heroic status: the family saw him as Achilles, the hero who gloriously died young. Cercas reminds us that when Odysseus, the wily survivor, visits the Underworld in the Odyssey, Achilles confesses he’d rather be a surviving penniless serf than lord of all the dead. So much for kalos thanatos.\
RaveThe SpectatorThe Infatuations is a metaphysical exploration masquerading as a murder mystery. The narrator, the widow and the best friend spend much of the book engaged in conversation, or imagined conversation, or recollected conversation, living simultaneously in a past both real and fantasy, tinged with nostalgia and regret, and a future imbued with suspicion and impossible hopes ... Between the interstices of the fragile plot of The Infatuations are disquisitions on life and death, freedom, the consequences of love, the impossibility of ever knowing another, and the role of fiction ... Along the way we get his immaculate prose and his sardonic view of the implacable nature of time.
Javier Marías Trans. by Margaret Jull Costa
PositiveThe SpectatorMarías has said that he feels more at ease with his masculine characters; there is a hint of the male gaze in his work, possibly misogyny? Not this time: Berta, the desolate wife, is the heart of the story ... Throughout there’s a sense of an authorial mind dwelling on events and consequences...The elegant translation, once again by Margaret Jull Costa, is alive to every nuance ... I missed the wit and audacity of the earlier novels; the pace is leisurely, and after a marvellously tense opening sequence as the jaws of a trap slowly close on Tomàs, there’s little sense of danger. And his revelation of the life he has been leading seems anticlimactic. But we return to Berta for the last word; a complex, emotionally torn character, she evolves and matures, and her intimate story carries the book.
Alia Trabucco Zerán, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveThe SpectatorYou could call The Remainder a literary kaleidoscope: look at it one way and you see how the past lays a crippling hand on the generation that follows political catastrophe; shift the focus and you’re plunged into a darkly comic road trip ... Her spring-heeled prose moves lightly from lyrical to demotic, bawdy to elegiac. She brings the trio touchingly to life ... a soaring ecstasy that comes closer to anything I can recall to describing how it feels to fly like bird.