Tove Ditlevsen, trans. by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
RaveThe Guardian...one of Denmark’s most famous and extravagantly tortured writers, whose many identities—dreamy working-class misfit, ruthlessly focused artist, ambivalent wife and mother, literary outsider and drug addict—were constantly at war. While always the central protagonist in her dispatches from the frontline of her own life, she never pretended to be the heroine. Which makes it unsurprising that in an era with an appetite for autofiction, her mordant, vibrantly confessional autobiographical work should be experiencing a revival ... Though written years after the events they describe, the pages—fluidly translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman—have the immediacy of diary entries so fresh that the ink has barely dried. In reconstructing her own gaucheness, lack of education and shameless opportunism, Ditlevsen’s strength as a writer lies in her militant refusal to present her choices and their consequences—be they love affairs, backstreet abortions or chronic drug addiction—through the filters of hindsight or amour-propre ... It builds to a wrenching climax made all the more poignant by the fact that after five years of virtual captivity in the realm of addiction, Ditlevsen—finally clean, but a stranger to her own children—remains shakily aware that the gift of her third marriage lingers in her blood. And there it would stay. At the age of 58, after a series of mental breakdowns and a fourth divorce, Ditlevsen put an end to her own life. Although the Copenhagen Trilogy is only a small part of her extraordinary legacy, its evocation of a working-class woman’s battle with masters, leashes and her own demons makes it a masterpiece in its own right.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveThe GuardianAudacious, chilling and darkly playful, her thought experiment about belonging and otherness is quick to ignite, but admirably slow to reveal the full extent of its dystopian proposition ... Adriane’s skippy, breathless first-person narration; her dashes, exclamation marks and broken sentences give the novel a slapdash quality. But its imaginative ambition, intellectual panache and propulsive story offer plenty of compensation ... Oates’s message is clear: any society that punishes exceptionalism in the name of egalitarianism is a dystopian one. In positing the real \'hazard\' of otherness as exposure to the crushing contempt of a conformist majority, she is highlighting not so much the banality of evil as the evil of banality. As time-travelling, universally applicable propositions go, mediocre it is not.
Karen Joy Fowler
RaveThe GuardianWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves resonates with Rosemary's grief for her missing alter ego and sister, and for the adored Lowell, who communicates with the family only through the occasional cryptic postcard. But it's Rosemary's problems as a young adult – informed by her ‘simian’ past – that shape the narrative. Who and what is she? … In lesser hands, such whirlwind antics might juxtapose oddly with the profound questions the novel raises about animal rights, sibling loyalty, parental subterfuge, self-delusion, guilt and the notion of ownership. But Fowler is neither kooky or didactic: her narrative flits adeptly between registers, mixing pleasure and pain with all the naughty chutzpah of a chimp twizzling a feather duster.
RaveThe GuardianThrow in the second world war, the reader-writer relationship, depression, ecological collapse, suicide, origami, a 105-year-old anarchist nun and a schoolgirl's soiled knickers, and you have Ruth Ozeki's third novel, A Tale for the Time Being ...The fact that Ruth is itching to know may make her decision to read Nao's story episodically, in the on-off rhythm in which it was written (rather than to speed-read to the end and find out), feel contrived. But it gives Ozeki the chance to switch between the now of Ruth's quietly claustrophobic life with her artist-naturalist husband Oliver and the turbulent now of Nao, whose story begins in Tokyo at the turn of the new century ... Seen from space, or from the vantage point of those conversant with Zen principles, A Tale for the Time Being is probably a deep and illuminating piece of work, with thoughtful things to say about the slipperiness of time.
PositiveThe GuardianIf this faux-scary, read-in-one-sitting crowd-pleaser has a single mission, it is to enjoy itself. Think The Bone Clocks’s naughty little sister in a fright wig, brandishing a sparkler, yelling 'Boo!' – and highlighting an element of Mitchell’s talent that has been present but underexploited from the beginning of the writer’s award-studded career: a rich seam of comedy.
PositiveThe GuardianNone of which is to the detriment of a novel that has a lot of knowing fun with its fun: if Undermajordomo Minor occasionally lacks the heft and panache of The Sisters Brothers, it only proves the rule that great acts are murderously hard to follow.