PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)Anam is excellent on the intricacies of sexism and racism (Asha is Bengali) and how migrant experiences differ ... Elsewhere the author is less astute; a section at the end set during the Covid-19 pandemic feels shoehorned in (it was apparently a late addition). And too much of the novel is devoted to meetings about funding, which, while obviously a time-consuming aspect of building a business, makes for slightly tiresome reading ... Thankfully, though, Anam’s writing is stylish and funny (quite a feat given that her novel deals with religion, social media and doomsday preppers) and she guides the reader deftly towards a satisfying conclusion.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Drawing is often seen as a cartoonist’s primary skill, but Bechdel can also really write. The various strings of her narrative are woven together in a way that feels fresh, clever and moving. There is also dry humour ... Her conclusion is inevitably trite, but Bechdel makes for such a likeable protagonist that readers will be pleased for her all the same. And while this book might not be the author’s most gripping work, it is probably her most beautiful, being the first to have been rendered in full colour ... Bechdel’s work is elegant and literary in a way that people don’t expect from graphic books. If you haven’t read anything by her yet, it’s a good time to catch up.
RaveThe Times (UK)... a jaw-dropping story, told deftly, interspersing personal experience with wider research and insight into the ways racial identity has an impact on our lives. Occasionally I found the tone over-casual (the words \'hella\' and \'obvs\' are particularly jarring), but it doesn’t make this any less of a gripping, thought-provoking book.
MixedThe Times (UK)Ash, who now works for an educational charity, has done her homework. As well as sea words, she peppers her narrative with history, from Cornwall’s origin story and tales of various fish riots, to how pilchard fishing was revived in 1981 when the entrepreneur Nick Howell bought the Newlyn Pilchards Works ... However, more irritating references are also abundant. She insists on shoehorning in her extensive literary knowledge, seeming not to realise that her colourful array of real-life characters stand up perfectly well on their own — there is no need to compare them to anyone from Conrad or Ovid. The numerous allusions to Woolf, Plath and Didion also grow tiresome quickly ... That said, her voracious appetite for reading often stands her in excellent stead as a writer ... Most importantly, the book brings alive a section of the country that many people overlook, enjoying it as a holiday spot or a fish supplier without paying much attention to the people who live there.
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.