RaveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)Pushes metafictional playfulness to the fore, perhaps because the short-story format frees Atkinson – who also publishes detective fiction – from the demands of complex plotting. Nevertheless, the eleven entries here are loosely interlinked, with characters and incidents re-emerging without warning, often to comic effect ... These philosophical underpinnings don’t weigh down Atkinson’s idiosyncratic voice or the breezy humour with which she explores the relationship between words and the world, reality and fiction, art and life ... If you’re thinking about what fiction means, no invocation could be more thought-provoking or ironically complex.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Douglas-Fairhurst explores a form of biography in which the life is not a discrete entity but deeply embedded in its dizzying, granular context. When that life is that of such an extraordinary individual as Dickens — whose mercurial energy made him such a complex actor in and commentator on those times — this approach is more than apt ... Taking his cue from that novel, Douglas-Fairhurst uses a fascinating range of interconnected sources, side-plots and telling details to dramatise the complex social and imaginative web out of which it came ... At the end, he offers no pat conclusion but a brilliant analysis of the famous opening of Bleak House ... The jaunty subtitle of Douglas-Fairhurst’s book — A year that changed Dickens and the world — does not quite do justice to the sophistication and subtlety of his technique. He gives us history not as grand narrative or teleology but as total immersion and multiplicity. As such, he invites us to feel what it felt like to be Dickens in 1851.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)[Groff\'s] protagonist is loosely inspired by the woman known as Marie de France, about whom nothing is known for sure, except that she composed courtly Arthurian lais and Aesopian fables in Anglo-Norman in the late twelfth century. Although originally \'of France\', she is thought to have lived in England, to have been connected to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the court of Henry II, and perhaps to have become an abbess. Her very mystery invites poetic licence, which Groff seizes with aplomb ... Groff is good, too, at conjuring the corporeality of medieval life ... Marie herself is a human being with a complex, nuanced, individual psychology, yet she is simultaneously a mythical figure. This makes sense, given that she inhabits a twelfth-century mindset in which there is no definitive distinction between the natural and supernatural, the secular and religious, the literal and allegorical. Such fluidity is captured in Groff’s narrative voice, half-poetic, half-grittily naturalistic. The real Marie de France may continue to elude historians, but the speculative fictions in Matrix combine to produce an unfailingly absorbing novel.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Levy’s prose remains so idiosyncratic and inventive that it would do her a disservice to pigeonhole her as part of a trend. Indeed, her voice was – intriguingly, bafflingly, arrestingly – original long before she decided to write her own story in the first person ... unlike Cusk’s glacial yet choppy style, Levy’s voice, with its stream-of-consciousness fluidity and moments of self-deprecating bathos, is warmer, more gregarious and funnier ... Many readers might conclude that by finally adopting her \'own\' voice, Levy has evolved as a woman and as a writer and become empowered. It is clear that in her \'living autobiography\' she has relaxed and matured. Yet it would be unfair to her earlier writing to regard her new voice as progress rather than process.
RaveThe Spectator (UK)Spufford makes his characters resonate with the everyday miracle of what it is to be human, touched both by evil and by good, their lives moulded, too, by the social, cultural, political and indeed technological changes of the second half of the 20th century. We care about what happens to them next ... Spufford remains cautiously optimistic about the potential for human redemption ... it’s in its rendition of the here-and-now, rather than in any theological striving after the eternal, that this book truly comes to life.
Tove Ditlevsen, trans. by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Ditlevsen spent most of her adult life as a literary celebrity in her native country ... As this suggests, there’s indeed a level of what the Telegraph called \'soap opera\' drama to the story, but that fails to do justice to Ditlevsen’s sophisticated technique and scalpel-sharp prose, or to her prescient exploration of form. The term autofiction had yet to be coined when she wrote the trilogy (1967–71), but it is the only word that can adequately describe what she is doing ... And yet Ditlevsen’s literary project cannot be dismissed as escapism. She looks the slimy and intolerable in the eye and burnishes it into cut glass. She’s a writer who, like Jean Rhys, explores the seamy ambiguities of female abjection – with a voice whose power blasts through. The subjective truths she tells are about agency and passivity, narcissism and self-destruction, artistic idealism and psychological squalor. Paradoxically, the sense of immediacy and authenticity she projects is achieved through language that often feels uncannily dissociated ... Even when she thinks she’s using men – for example, in marrying her first husband to get published and become bourgeois – her text reveals how little control over her life she really has. Discomfitingly, it’s her very lack of self-empowerment that empowers her work ... The force of her writing is not to be found in her superior endurance skills or moral strength, but in the precision with which she uses words and unexpected images.
PositiveThe Times Literary SupplementCusk is not an ideologue or a rhetorician. She is not out to dictate or persuade. The essay form—in the sense of an assay—is perfect for her ruminative nature and for her preference for extended metaphor over analysis. She likes to complicate rather than simplify, to shift between startling concrete images and philosophic generalizations that she will soon acknowledge to be compromised ... Writing, for Cusk, is no more about pleasing your audience or seeking sympathy than it is about justifying your past behavior. It is not even about seeking solace in self-expression. Indeed, her \'I\' is not really an expressive entity. Rather, she is a descriptive writer, almost ascetically so ... alienation and isolation—including from the self as a described object—are at the dark and unpalatable heart of Cusk’s vision, which probably explains why she has disturbed so many readers ... Beneath Rachel Cusk’s poised artfulness is a depth of pain and shame that critics dismiss at their peril.