MixedThe Times (UK)... a backdrop that feels akin to an episode of Black Mirror. Yet rather than filling us with dread, Set My Heart to Five has a more hopeful tone than the dystopian TV show ... a bizarre premise told yet more bizarrely — Jared has a distinctive yet often grating narrative voice. Luckily the plot is gripping and, if you can wade through the terrible bot jokes, there are some genuinely funny lines ... without the hindrance of its jarring writing style, I wouldn’t be surprised if this pacy and emotive story finds itself better suited to the screen.
RaveThe Times (UK)... affecting ... Hozar’s carefully woven plot is certainly not one of chivalry and happy endings ... We see most of the story through Aria’s eyes, which feels apt, since she is an outsider figure, with no fixed family allegiance to a political or religious group. She therefore sees through every group’s lies more easily. When revolt breaks out at the end of the book, she finally bursts ... Hozar is good at the big picture, describing Iran’s history in full and nuanced detail. Yet the reason this novel works particularly well is that she never abandons the smaller picture of the characters’ lives as they grow older ... And while the characters are all well formed in themselves, sometimes their interactions with others feel slightly contrived; when a man who worked with Aria’s father is coincidentally the one to save her childhood friend from being shot, it seems a little too neat. Yet this is a small quibble when a novel leaves you as simultaneously heartbroken and full of hope as this one.
PositiveThe Times (UK)While this is not the first study of female sexuality in Morocco, Sex and Lies is well executed: the novelist paints vivid portraits of her interviewees. But whether Slimani’s efforts will effect change remains to be seen. After its French publication in 2017, Sex and Lies caused something of a stir in Morocco, but the laws remained unchanged.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Ava’s self-hatred is frustrating, but it means that she makes bad decisions, which in turn provide much of the novel’s suspense ... While working as an English teacher, Ava becomes intrigued by the subjunctive form, which the novel itself seems to mimic; Ava is constantly wondering what would happen were she to tell Edith/Julian her true feelings. Part of me wishes she’d sent more of the text messages she drafts, if only to drive the plot. But the author’s commitment to the authenticity of her characters would never allow that, which means that, despite its title, if you’re looking for an exciting story, you won’t get it. That said, if you want a well-drawn, often funny portrait of a brooding twentysomething, Dolan does it beautifully.