PanThe Times (UK)The problem with Paul Auster’s Bloodbath Nation...is not lack of authorial standing. Rather, like so much sorrowing over gun violence in America, it returns us right back to where we started: head sunk in hands in despair ... He’s on firmer footing when admitting that he has almost no experience with guns and, like most American liberals, has no idea why anyone would want to own one ... Auster doesn’t contribute much insight into the psychological drivers of these mêlées ... I’d criticise Bloodbath Nation for ignoring the overwhelming source of American gun murders — urban black-on-black violence, usually related to gangs and drugs — save for the fact that topically the text is already inclined to overreach ... I sympathise with the urge to comment on an entrenched, hitherto insoluble source of gratuitous heartache, but it is befuddling why this mere essay was published as a standalone hardback. Likewise perplexing is the inclusion of 31 photographs by Spencer Ostrander, mostly of blank, inexpressive public buildings where mass shootings took place. I’m sorry, but these bland, low-contrast, black-and-white landscapes have no emotional impact or artistic value. They serve largely to inflate the page count.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... engaging ... It’s formally impressive that after the charged encounter between Miriam and Roland in late adulthood (a wonderful scene), McEwan maintains narrative momentum for another 150 pages. Most novelists would have reserved the resolution of such a central relationship for the finale. Crucial questions are left dangling, as they should be ... McEwan’s prose always goes down like a cool drink, and its content is often trenchant ... He captures smaller revelations equally well, such as the exhilaration of putting on badly needed glasses for the first time ... I’m delighted to have added this thoughtful, touching and historically grounded novel to my bookshelf.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)... not linear and only glancingly develops the sociological and psychological results of being able to download your own brain. The characters are fuller and more vivid than those in most speculative fiction, and they take a front seat to the premise. Still, the dormant sci-fi fan in me was frustrated that the ramifications of Egan’s new technology weren’t explored more completely. Those consequences the text does tease out would fit into a short story. (But a good short story) ... The certainty that this novel will flourish commercially and critically frees me to quibble. This may sound babyish, but for me there are simply too many people in this book. As I suffer from what I call Name Blindness, keeping track of dozens of characters and their complex, often tentative connections with one another gives me a headache. Granted, conceptually, Egan is building her own Collective between book covers, a buzzing, cumulative consciousness arising from this chorus of multiple voices. But a plot arc that brought the premise more fully to fruition could have entailed Own Your Unconscious having more tangible consequences for her cast. Also, the formally innovative chapters may not quite pay off. Devices can be distancing ... Enough kvetching. Humming with a sustained brio, The Candy House is especially rewarding on a micro level. Even post-BLM, Egan felt free to write from the perspective of a black character, as she should feel free, and she’s apt to get away with it, too. The chapter narrated by an autistic character is convincing. Egan is particularly good at evoking the insecure teenage girl. The writing is stylish ... The novel is spirited, playful, sometimes incisive. So who cares if I can’t remember anyone’s name.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... the strongest literary aspect of this novella is its voice. Petrie’s style is self-conscious, throat-clearing and evasive ... Archaic locutions give the prose an aptly dusty air ... I admit with some embarrassment that I’m still hazy on what exactly this novella wishes to convey about Judaism and anti-Semitism ... I tagged this book as \'odd.\' It is odd. Readers don’t always find it obvious why an author chose to tell this particular story rather than another. However quirky a premise may first appear, the opacity of the author’s motivation is of no importance so long as we get swept up in the tale and finally find it satisfying. Yet I have to say I found this story unsatisfying, and in the end a little hollow. Commonly, once a work of fiction proves intoxicating, we stop wondering why on earth the author chose to write it. I haven’t stopped wondering. I don’t understand why Ozick decided to write this of all books — about an elderly man in a former boarding school reminiscing about a 12-year-old boy whose primary exoticism was being Jewish. This slender volume did my life no harm, but I can’t honestly imagine pushing it urgently into a friend’s hands ... At 93, Ozick can still craft a beautiful sentence, which is more than many a younger writer can boast; if I’m spooling out prose this graceful in 2050, I’ll kiss the floor. So I hope I haven’t sounded unkind. But Cynthia Ozick is a pro. Whatever her age, she can take it.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewHere we have a novel that we could not by any stretch of the imagination call a bad book ... On the other hand, this is not a novel that I would recommend to friends or will remember a year from now ... Is it not sufficient to pass a reader’s time agreeably enough, and to tell a proficiently executed story with an age-old theme and an updated setting? I don’t know. You tell me ... I simply wanted to let you in on a commonplace conundrum for critics: what to say about a book that isn’t hurting anybody and is competently executed, but without whose publication the universe would be exactly the same ... One aspect of Private Means does feel modern: It contains a single sex scene between different people. The rest, and there are several, are all scenes of masturbation. That ratio seems about right. All told, to survive this chilling era, we’ll vary widely on whether we select such perfectly pleasant, comfortingly familiar fiction for distraction or prefer something meatier. Your choice.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Cerine Lacey is never heavy-handedly Christological. She instead alludes to the Bible with a nice casualness, as if the dragging in of all that baggage is our problem ... Pew, Lacey’s fourth novel is splendid—beautifully written and pleasingly concise, with an eerie atmosphere somehow perfect for times in which, as one character remarks, \'everything is just so strange lately\' ... the writing is clear, and events and dialogue are effortless to follow ... The novel scrutinises both our need to classify one another and our mysterious notion of identity ... Tonally pitch-perfect, Pew’s dislocated voice is mournfully elegiac ... I can’t over-emphasise how sweetly, swiftly and entertainingly this book proceeds, or how exquisitely the prose is crafted on every page.
MixedFinancial TimesThe Wallcreeper and Mislaid are stylishly written novels with negligible narrative drive. As a result of this duality — wit, erudition and a sly unpredictability combined with a perplexing paucity of forward thrust — Nell Zink’s first and second books are the sort you start with an exhilarated sense of discovery and then don’t get around to finishing, you’re never quite sure why ...
Zink is exploring America’s gender and racial politics, but in the spirit of a romp. Especially in its disappointing latter pages, Mislaid more resembles Even Cowgirls Get the Blues than Black Like Me. With such freighted subjects, lightheartedness is welcome. Yet both novels exhibit a defiant lack of investment in the characters and their fates — as if the author holds both her cast and the novel form itself in mild contempt.
PositiveThe Observer\"This is an enjoyable set of stories, often executed with flair. They’re fun. They’re just not what the fans of \'Cat Person\' might be expecting ... This uneven collection certainly doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s not that zeitgeisty or cutting-edge. It’s apt to prove a momentary publishing sensation rather than an enduring classic ... Despite the absurdity of the undeserved hoopla, you still get the sense that she had a good time writing these tales, and I had a good time reading them.\
MixedThe Financial Times\"We meet the Donald’s supporters and detractors, though fortunately the political dialogues aren’t heavy-handed. Yet they are what will eventually date the novel. As for explaining why that man is president of the United States, the musings of this motley and diverse cast still left me bewildered ... Shteyngart writes with verve, packing his prose with piquant details that stay just shy of full-on satire. That literary energy carries the reader a long way. However, the road novel’s episodic structure tends to fritter momentum over time. At a midpoint, I’d had enough quirky characters and wanted off the bus. What rescues this road novel is, ironically, switches back to the folks back home who stay put. Much sunny, sentimental obfuscation has been penned about parenting an autistic child, and Lake Success contains none of it. (OK, this subplot’s conclusion is infeasibly optimistic, but formal literary obligations may have applied.) ...
Compassionate but realistic, Shteyngart’s portrayals of the exhaustion, sorrow and tiny hard-won breakthroughs of raising a kid on the spectrum make for his most compelling chapters. My primary problem with the novel is the void at its center ... Barry is just what you’d expect, and a passion for watches, a typically material attachment, can’t lift him from brilliantly crafted cliché. That blankness at its heart keeps a pretty good book from rising to delightful.\
A. M. Homes
MixedThe Financial TimesIn her most successful stories, Homes’ gentle exaggeration hovers on the very edges of the plausible ... Homes is a devastating satirist, and many a passage is wickedly sharp. Yet the eating disorders, plastic surgery, consumerism and spiritual aridity of America’s well-off are familiar objects of fictional mockery. Taking the mickey out of rich, neurotic Californians seems not only fish-in-a-barrel easy, but faintly dated ... The most incisive satire cuts close to the readers’ bone: it’s about us. This satire is more distanced. Unless you’ve a large pool in your back garden, it’s safely poking fun at other people ... The very best story in Days of Awe is the title one, which displays thematic depth and sophisticated emotional layering.
RaveFinancial TimesThere’s a nakedness to Curtis Sittenfeld ’s short stories. Never showily literary, her prose is more confessional, laid bare ... The stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It feel so contemporary that we might worry they will date — except that we’ll want a record of these times ... The immediacy of these stories makes them effortlessly enjoyable to slide into, like new garments so comfortable that you decide to wear them out of the shop.
Edward St. Aubyn
MixedProspect MagazineFrom such an accomplished author, Lost for Words is a slight novel. Its tone wobbles, and some of the humour falls flat. Its broad comic timbre—just shy of farce—sacrifices any genuine emotional investment in the cast. Thus attempts at characterisation and subplots that have little to do with the novel’s central target leave the reader impatient to get to the good bits. But there are many good bits and, on occasion, inspired ones … To the extent that St Aubyn advances an argument, it seems to be voiced by a guest at the Elysian Prize dinner: ‘If an artist is good, nobody else can do what he or she does and therefore all comparisons are incoherent. Only the mediocre, pushing forward a commonplace view of life in a commonplace language, can really be compared.’
PositiveThe Financial Times...a remarkably pleasant read for a novel in which so little happens … Dee does a fine job of evoking the texture of small-town New England life in the 21st century, and his characters are particular enough, while also standing in for types. He hits a range of resonant notes — the demise of traditional masculinity, the barely contained violence of the economic losers who will in a few years, or so goes the script, vote for Donald Trump, and of course the tension between America’s ‘just about managing’ and the well-off … With its profusion of subplots, The Locals scans almost as a sequence of interwoven short stories.
RaveThe Washington PostOsborne is certainly clued up about the blundering of decadent tourists amid more morally grounded locals. His cynical take on Western decay is pitiless, matter-of-fact ... Osborne is a master at imbuing his text with both dread and inexorability. Beautiful Animals positively drips with this-can’t-end-well ... So let’s not mince words. This is a great book. Truly difficult to put down, the novel exerts a sickening pull. Its climax and resolution will not disappoint. The social perspective is sophisticated, smart and uncomfortable, and the story is cracking.
PositiveThe GuardianKlam is a dab hand at juxtaposition ... Klam evokes a sense of absurdity, but without resort to exaggeration – implying that absurdity lies abundantly on the surface of daily life if only you start noticing and write it down ... One discouraging word. Somehow this novel fails to land. It’s a book you’re apt to like more in the process of reading it than after you’ve finished, for it leaves you with a 'well, so?' feeling. A tonal shift to lyricism in the last several pages substitutes for resolution of both character and plot. This is a stylish romp through the inbuilt disappointment of middle age, and endings aren’t everything. But it’s always nice to take a pleasurable journey and also arrive at a place you want to be.
RaveThe Financial TimesThis is one weird book. It should be boring, since surprisingly little happens in it. The narrator, a lonely schoolteacher, should be boring as well. If anyone, it should engage only – one is tempted to say ‘merely’ – female readers. Given its limited parameters, it ought to be a small novel, a minor work. Yet The Woman Upstairs defies all these expectations … Nora is a type, and transcends type by realising type to a tee. Nursing her mother, visiting her ageing father, teaching primary school, always putting aside whatever she might want for herself, she is a model of female dutifulness. Yet, horrifically, her concept of liberation from all this tending and schlepping and coming second is to further enslave herself – to become another family’s dogsbody.
RaveThe Financial TimesSome collections cohere around a theme; Joshua Ferris’s enormously enjoyable stories in The Dinner Party are more unified by a feeling. The nature of this feeling is challenging to pinpoint, but it still seems supremely specific. Not nihilism, not misanthropy, but a very modern aimlessness … Ferris really nails contemporary insecurity. Was Leonard’s fulsome, chatty email accepting the invitation too long-winded?...In a world of rampant ‘communication’ where people rarely speak to each other, this embarrassing convolution is actually the way we think … The male characters are all, dare I say it, losers. In their very awfulness, they are heartbreaking.
MixedThe Financial TimesIn a novel powered primarily by voice, stylistic choices are key, and that includes punctuation. Kitamura’s relentless joining of complete sentences with commas is grating, giving the text the look of weak secondary-school essays ... The trying punctuation is frustrating because the voice is otherwise strong — distinctive, inviting while also remote, expressive of an emotional limbo ... The narrator’s investigations in Greece become a process of unknowing her husband. Unfortunately, Christopher remains unknowable to the reader as well ... The plot takes one finely executed, unanticipated turn. Thereafter, however, the energy dissipates. This main event occurs too early in the novel to constitute a climax, so we’re left with a sense that something else needs to happen. It doesn’t ... The novel closes with the sense that all along we have been reading a somewhat smaller story than we thought. Kitamura strikes a haunting note, even a memorable chord, but she doesn’t play a song.
RaveThe Financial Times...engaging, effortlessly readable literary thriller ... This delight to read is also a fine study in the classic unreliable narrator. Only towards the end are other characters allowed to hold mirrors up to Matthew and reflect very different visions from the one Matthew presents to the reader ... Lasdun’s writing style is clean and straightforward. All the complexity resides in character and detail. This is masterfully controlled 2am noir. Who knows what’s up with the option, but me, I’d film this one in black and white.
MixedThe Financial TimesAs in the previous novels, the author’s ambivalence about the accoutrements of affluence is palpable here as well ... do we need this book? In contrast to the jangled, frenetic first novel that made McInerney’s name in 1984 — the original source of all this brightness, Bright Lights, Big City
PositiveThe Financial TimesDeborah Levy conveys an atmosphere of out-of-kilter surreality without ever violating the rules of realism. There’s no magic here, aside from the supernatural powers of peculiar prose ... Achieving quite a feat of memory and imagination for an author in her mid-fifties, Levy gives convincing voice to the foundering, floundering sensation of the mid-twenties ... The prose is often jagged, abrupt, even savage, but the narration is leavened with a touch of drollness, and I wouldn’t want to suggest this novel is a big, dark drag. It’s entertaining and reads swiftly. But it’s also strange.