Lucy Scholes is a freelance critic and essayist who writes about books, film and art. She is a contributing editor at Bookanista, and writes for the Financial Times, BBC Culture, the New York Times Book Review, Literary Hub, NYR Daily, and Granta amongst others.
PositiveThe Telegraph (UK)Very much a work driven by language, so traditionalists be warned: there’s scant plot or action ... Harvey’s beautiful and soulful vision distracts us from that truth for the duration of this slim but affecting prose poem of a book.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)The women’s relationship is one of the best strands of the story, and not just because Mendelson writes about sex and desire so very well ... The prose is so chock-a-block with similes and metaphors that on occasion it feels like overload ... But when Mendelson gets it right, they’re little short of genius ... Rather smartly, despite what we might initially assume, this really isn’t Ray’s story. Mendelson circles him, but she never wastes time in trying to explore or explain what makes him tick. And that, perhaps, is where the true originality of the tale lies.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)\"Patrick is able to use language to evoke smell – to evoke all the senses – with a luxurious affluence. In less adroit hands, Mrs S might feel like sensory overload. Instead, it’s almost alchemical: sounds can be touched, sight is transformed into taste ... Narrated in the first person, and without any quotation marks to indicate speech – whether that of the narrator or her interlocutors – consciousness runs into action, into conversation, into description, all of it rich, molten and fluid. The feeling of torpor lingers, a thick, slick haze of sex, heat and queer female desire. The sex scenes are beautifully written, but even without them the sensuality would remain ... Patrick clearly loves language, but more importantly, also knows exactly what to do with it.\
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)\"This is a novel that combines the smarts of literary fiction with the thrills of a whodunnit, topped with all the divertissements of the best boarding school-set dramas ... I Have Some Questions for You speaks loudly to the moment, but nothing about it feels faddy. Makkai is an exciting and talented storyteller, and this novel is a triumph.\
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Haunting ... Yi turns this already captivating real-life tale into a haunting story of co-dependence in postwar France ... A fascinating period piece in that Li manages to avoid the more obvious pitfalls of historical fiction, seemingly uninterested as she is in padding out the novel with period-specific detail. Instead, her attention is focused on the prickly relationship between her two central characters ... The Book of Goose itself is a spiky, scratchy, unsettling thing; and it’s all the more interesting and impressive for it. No sentimental tale of girlhood friendship, instead Li’s novel is deeply in tune with the complex perils and pleasures of a brutal, but sometimes beautiful world.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewWarner is an expert on all facets of myth, legend and fairy tale, whose writings have explored everything from Ovid to the Brothers Grimm to the Arabian Nights. As such, it makes sense that even a personal work recounting eight years of her parents’ life should be envisioned as a story of the power of narrative, the clash of cultures and the role of the heroine, told by means of lore, symbols and allegory ... In recounting the story of these early years of the couple’s marriage, Warner weaves together fact and fiction in the most dazzling and inventive ways ... Whole sections of Esmond and Ilia read like fiction, complete with dialogue and interior thought. Warner knows the cadences of her characters’ speech, certain phrases are presumably excavated from memory, and a rich imagination fills in the rest ... The fallibility of the project is built in. One can never really know one’s parents’ lives, Warner argues — or, for that matter, one’s own before the age of 6 — but in embracing embellishment and misinterpretation, she elevates this family history to a work of art far denser and more delightful, both more erudite and earthy than anything that cleaved meticulously to the known facts could have been ... This delicate dance between the intimacy of “my mother and father” and the remove of Ilia and Esmond charts subtle shifts in perspective, and captures that process of transition by which matters of historical record morph into family lore. Given her area of expertise, it’s no surprise that Warner should spin such enchanting versions of the fables that underpin her own existence. But, refracted through the prism of one marriage, she also interrogates Britain’s dwindling power in a postcolonial world, ideas of Englishness and the immigrant experience.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)The process of facemaking, Fitzharris captivatingly shows, required both surgical innovation and artistic skill ... Fitzharris doesn’t sensationalise the gory details of the battlefield or operating theatre. But she does not look away either. Sometimes distressing, sometimes thrilling, The Facemaker had me gripped; it is elegantly written and endlessly fascinating. Employing just the right balance between diligent research and ingenious reanimation, Fitzharris brings to life a neglected slice of medical history, telling both Gillies’ story as well as that of many of the men whose faces — and lives — he saved.
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)Gessen covers all the basics: from the intricacies of a home birth, through toddler temper tantrums, to the fraught process of choosing a school. And let me placate any sceptics who might be wary of the potential self-absorption involved when a middle-class Brooklynite waxes lyrical about their parental angst: Gessen is not above scrutinising his own myopia ... Given the bedlam it describes, Raising Raffi/em> is impressively clear-sighted, entertaining and analytical — but it would be remiss of me not to point out that it’s also the kind of book that plenty of equally intelligent women have been writing for years.
Jean Hanff Korelitz
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... satisfyingly sprawling ... Korelitz empathetically cradles husband and wife, each mired in their own loneliness and pain, tender but truthful about both their wounds and their failings. When, in the second of the book’s three parts — which opens in the autumn of 2000, when the triplets leave home for college — their point of view is surpassed by that of their children, it can’t help but feel like a bit of a loss ... With every new book Korelitz publishes she adds another string to her bow, and she is a writer of many talents ... a contemporary play on the big, baggy 19th-century novel. It’s a little too mannered to qualify strictly as a state-of-the-nation piece; nevertheless, class, race and politics all play their part, and with especially entertaining effect as far as Harrison’s storyline is concerned ... Jam-packed with incident — a tragic accident, an extramarital affair, a secret love child — and equally heavy on revelation and reconciliation, there’s something slightly over the top about the whole thing, each twist and turn of the plot meticulously constructed ... Korelitz’s prose verges on verbosity, and she is free and easy with her exclamation marks. One gets the distinct impression that she’s having fun with every flourish, though, particularly when it comes to her chapter headings, in the grand tradition of Dickens or Fielding ... deliciously appealing.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)It’s a savvy move on the part of Shipstead’s publishers to treat those fans to this collection of stories ... A couple of the stories felt a little flat ... All the same, the remarkable scope of Shipstead’s imagination and talent is well evidenced in the collection as a whole ... If there is a unifying element to these stories, it’s the tender but unflinching way in which Shipstead writes about various damaged souls ... Although obviously not as remarkable an achievement as Great Circle, there’s still lots to recommend these sharp, striking flashes of life.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)A chorus of inharmonious but overlapping stories that teases the reader until the very last page. The novel is made up of four books, each a discrete volume, but in conversation with the others ... The final two books are by far the most revealing, their disclosures destabilising and complicating what we have already been told, but to go into the details would, I fear, spoil the fun. What I will say is that Diaz deftly illustrates how the worlds of finance and fiction are built on similarly shifting sands, right down to a shared lexicography ... The knotty ingenuity of Trust makes it easy to see how it’s won its place on this year’s Booker longlist. Destined to be known as one of the great puzzle-box novels, it’s the cleverest of conceits, wrapped up in a page-turner.
RaveThe Paris Review... [a] disquieting, lean, pared-back dystopian tale ... much of the novel’s power lies in its mystery ... Given that Dick made a habit of loosely fictionalizing her own experiences, I’ve come to think of her protagonist in They as female. Even more inscrutable though are the \'they\' of the book’s title...extremely dangerous and violent, but also strangely vacant and automaton-like. \'They\' are rarely distinguished as individuals, which situates them in stark contrast to the narrator and her acquaintances ... It’s chilling, but compellingly so. All the more so because of the seamless way in which Dick stitches together what’s an evocatively drawn portrait of otherwise idyllic rural England with this shadow landscape of fear and violence ... There are many ways to read the book: as a straightforward Orwellian dystopia, a sequence of vividly drawn nightmares, or...perhaps even as a metaphor for artistic struggle ... Like any strong allegory, They can be read many ways, but is perhaps best, and most accurately, read as a plea for individual and intellectual freedoms by a woman artist who refused to...live by many of society’s rules.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Luminescent ... [A] deft, roving and elegantly written work ... [Schultz] has...an incredible capacity to make everything pertinent ... Schulz begins with the specificity of her own experience, but the book soon becomes a discussion of the broader, existential reckoning we each must make with impermanence, both of our own existence, and that of the people we love ... Cynics might find the garrulousness with which she waxes lyrical about her adoration of C a tad overearnest. But rarely do we encounter writing that originates from such a firm bedrock of love and happiness as that described in Lost & Found ... Through it all, though, Schulz is attuned to the extraordinary in the ordinary ... Lost & Found is itself a marvel of a meditation. It left me moved, inspired and ultimately elated.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... spellbinding ... it’s here, in these slippages, that the novel’s thrilling, ominous energy is found ... a brilliant examination of language conveyed with the kind of pacing, tautness and menace usually associated with a thriller ... The pervasive sense of threat that envelops the book is further heightened by the piercing clarity of the prose. Kitamura’s every bit as precise as her narrator, and the cool restraint of her writing — even when dealing with heightened emotional and moral stakes — is nothing short of magnificent ... is both a gripping read and a chilling consideration of what’s involved when we choose to ignore the things we don’t want to see, let alone understand
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... ingeniously slippery ... What initially looks like a collection of loosely linked short stories reveals itself to be an expertly constructed house of mirrors ... Reading A Shock feels a little like being a regular at the Arms, your attention momentarily grabbed by a snippet of someone else’s conversation as a voice drifts across the bar, a name or a turn of phrase tugging at something half-remembered, so that you strain to tune in to hear the rest. It’s the kind of novel that rewards multiple readings, new echoes and connections revealing themselves each time. And, in the same way that one character describes the unsettling, near-hallucinatory side effects of doing certain drugs — \'it’s just peripheral, corner of the eye stuff, movements\' — you get the sense of myriad other lives unfolding around those described here, all tantalizingly out of sight.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)[An] impressive first collection ... Although each of the stories here can be read as a stand-alone work, over half of them are perhaps best described as chapters of a novella-length piece ... the cloistered world of student life offers Taylor the perfect canvas for the emotionally charged interplay between an insular cast. Most significantly though, these stories provide further evidence that intimacy is Taylor’s great subject ... moments of connection that pepper these stories feel so miraculous. But welcoming relief involves acknowledging the true depth of the void that’s been filled ... Taylor also dares to show us how violence can be an act of terrible intimacy.
PositiveiNews (UK)Rainbow Milk is an important and ambitious book. From the Windrush generation through the Aids crisis, to what it means to be a black, gay writer in Britain today, Mendez stitches blackness, disability and illness, queerness and class deep into the fabric of the narrative ... Overly earnest discussions of music...are lengthy ... certain key events confusingly happen off stage ... There is much more to applaud than there is to criticise, though ... the chapters detailing the traumas of Jesse’s adolescence – think Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight but set in the West Midlands, with Bibles instead of crack – are beautifully done.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... poignant ... Engel delicately highlights the myriad cracks underlying the patina of this mixed-status family ... As in The Veins of the Ocean, Engel astutely depicts how exile is both a physical and a psychological state ... The quiet gracefulness of Engel’s prose further elevates the power of this beautifully written tale. Infinite Country is both a damning indictment of immigration policies that split up families, and an intimate story of one family’s search for home.
RaveFriday MagazineOften filthy and irreverent, sometimes extremely funny, and ultimately surprisingly poignant, No One Is Talking About This offers more proof of Lockwood’s particular genius. But it’s also that rarer thing: a novel about the way we live now that manages to be something more than just an exercise in the replication of our fragmented...online existence. Lots of novelists have tried to get inside this experience, but none that I’ve read does it as well – or as movingly – as this ... Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this novel is that it shows us beauty and magnificence everywhere, especially when we’re not expecting it.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksIn its nuanced, immersive portraits of these families, Summerwater is more than just a quarantine novel. Narrated in the close third person, each of the book’s twelve main chapters takes us inside a different character’s mind, memories, observations, and daydreams jostling together in passages of free indirect speech, attentive to how national and global issues play out in the minutiae of the characters’ daily lives. The cumulative effect is an astute and polyphonic portrait of contemporary Britain ... From one chapter to the next, Moss deftly switches tenor and psychology ... a chorus of interiority, locating us inside each character’s mind. That Moss gives us these streams of consciousness while keeping the pacing of the plot under such firm control intensifies the novel’s already palpable claustrophobia ... Examining domestic discontent and associated gendered presumptions has long been Moss’s forte, and she’s especially attuned to the unfair demands made on women ... Moss has proved herself to be one of the most discerning chroniclers of contemporary British life.
Mariana Enriquez, tr. Megan McDowell
RaveFinancial Times (UK)... the connection between the violence in these pages and that in the country’s past is, by and large, ingeniously oblique ... Although Enriquez writes about a world that’s haunted by the horrors of the past—both the all-too-real incidents of history and the more nebulous menace associated with superstition and folklore—these tales aren’t traditional ghost stories. But she is interested in the way past darkness contaminates the present ... Enriquez pushes into territory that makes most of us uncomfortable ... Well worth any upset they cause, these glittering, gothic stories are a force to be reckoned with, and Enriquez’s talent and fearlessness is something to behold.
RaveBBCPurity presents us with a host of fascinating but flawed, powerful and complex female characters ... Purity is one of the best new novels I’ve read this year, a complex and clever tale with all the telltale markings of the author’s classics, but with a marked lightness and freshness of tone and touch ... Purity has a pleasurable jigsaw-like quality, with certain perfectly timed reveals that highlight how different its structure is to either The Corrections or Freedom.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)...resplendent and compelling ... Without them ever feeling forced, parallels emerge between the figure of the unruly woman — specifically one who is sexually permissive — and the unmanageable natural world ... Watts’s prose crackles with electricity in the same way that the world she’s writing about prickles with danger ... In magnificently entwining the narrator’s physical unravelling with that of the spiralling climate crisis, The Inland Sea feels both urgent and alive. It’s a lush, original Bildungsroman for a terrifying new world.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)[The] relationship, between artist and model, lies at the heart of Paul’s memoir ... Self-Portrait...is an unashamed bid to reclaim \'her own story\', to become master of her own life and art, rather than being reduced to an object in Freud’s ... Just as Paul regards her paintings of those closest to her as a record of her own existence, so too Self-Portrait is constituted by a series of portraits-in-writing ... Similarly, the texture of what she creates on the page is analogous to that of her paintings: her prose stripped back and minimalist, as devoid of excess adornment as her sombre, melancholy but emotionally charged canvases. Even at her most incendiary...Paul’s writing never loses this essence of calm solemnity ... For all this candour, Paul’s revelations retain an air of abstruseness...Somehow, she remains detached ... There’s something tremendously refreshing about Paul’s lack of sensationalism, which encourages a similar detachment in the reader ... Self-Portrait is both the obvious extension of Paul’s oeuvre, and a powerful, urgent and essential depiction of what it is to be a woman artist.
Esther Kinsky, Trans. by Caroline Schmidt
RaveFinancial Times (UK)What makes Grove so noteworthy is the keening, perfectly weighted clarity of Kinsky’s prose; Caroline Schmidt’s elegantly considered translation is meticulous but never overstated ... Grove is a story of an existence stilled by loss, but the promise of life, and with it renewal and hope, pulses gently but steadily at its heart.
RaveiNews (UK)... will surely be a new reference point for flash fiction ... in the same way that Hemingway relies on the reader to fill in the blanks, Scanlan offers us a litany of lacunae within which our own imagination can take flight ... Scanlan’s work invites a similar sense of distrust and disorientation. Scenes from what feels like a dream dance across the page: a series of tableaux – some beautiful, others horrifying – are burned into the mind’s eye ... a Gothic house of horrors; open any of the doors inside and you will find something to marvel at, but you will probably also wish you hadn’t seen it.
Fernanda Melchor, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveFinancial TimesThis is not a book for the faint-hearted. The worst that humanity has to offer is detailed here — unimaginable violence and cruelty, bestiality, rape — and every page is littered with profanities ... Yet I found it impossible to look away...unfurls with the pressure and propulsion of an unforeseen natural disaster, the full force of Melchor’s arresting voice captured in Sophie Hughes’ masterful translation ... Each character’s story is transfixing ... There is no melodrama, no pity, just fearless realism that rises to a bloodbath of a crescendo ... Melchor presents her readers with a modern Boschian hellscape rendered in harrowing but magnificent detail; an unforgiving, furious portrait of a vortex of poverty, violence and helplessness.
PositiveThe Financial Times... a novel that overturns the standard murder mystery ... It takes a particular audacity to troll the opening of your own novel, to set up and then undercut its premise all in the space of the first three pages...but Moshfegh has always had fun with her writing ... might initially appear to be about Magda, but really it’s a novel about novel writing; about how a storyteller creates narrative, plot and meaning out of otherwise random, insignificant events ... As a traditional murder mystery, Death in Her Hands doesn’t deliver. Readers expecting the touchstones of the genre will find themselves frustrated. Instead, though, the novel cracks open like a matryoshka doll, revealing multiple tales within ... lacks the wild, reckless brilliance of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but its dark, devious portrait of the troubled psychology of a lonely, stymied woman makes a mark all of its own.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...restrained but remarkably arresting ... Using the same flat, fragmentary style that proved so fruitful in her most recent novel, Sisters, Tuck constructs her narrator’s story from a series of short, clipped sections, sometimes a couple of paragraphs, others no more than a line or two per page. It’s a master class in digression as a narrative device ... Heathcliff Redux is a much more visibly knotty intertextual exercise ... Fittingly, Tuck’s novella eventually reveals itself to be more a tale of self-delusion and internal conflict than the grand romance we were initially led to believe ... a haunting if slightly unbalanced collection. There’s something endlessly fascinating in the way Tuck’s interest in literary relationships extends even to the works in her own oeuvre.
PositiveThe Telegraph (UK)... not a tell-all ... what many of us might think of as the anchoring details of a life only flicker into shape, indistinct as shadows on a wall ... Recollections of My Non-Existence, in tackling the silencing of women’s voices, finally supplies the personal story that lies behind the highly politicised, feminist essays she’s been writing over the past few years ... This is a book that goes to dark places, but it also cherishes the people who have helped Solnit on her way: in particular, queer culture ... both the story of where we’ve been and a celebration of how far we’ve come.
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... astonishingly accomplished ... One of the things Real Life does so excellently is to demonstrate that there is nothing casual about the agony and humiliation Wallace is forced to suffer in these instances [of racism] ... With the same precision that Wallace employs in the lab...Taylor dissects the hurt of a life lived at a confluence of precarities: economic, social and familial ... If this makes the novel sound merely depressing, then it would be to do the author a huge disservice. Even at its darkest moments, Real Life is a piercingly beautiful book. In tracing the fault-lines that rip through Wallace’s emotional world, Brandon Taylor has written a truly exquisite story of love, sex, death and microbes that is both intimate and expansive.
Ravei (UK)To really write about sex – the way Greenwell does, stripping it down to raw detail, physical and emotional – is to engage with both the sublime and the mundane, the ecstasy and the jeopardy, the pleasure and the pain. Greenwell’s sex scenes combine tenderness with explicit detail ... Greenwell’s prose possesses the same luminescence, shimmering with emotional truth. Sex both unites and divides the characters in Cleanness. Where there is fear and secrecy, there is also love and intimacy. This is an exceptional work of fiction, which places Greenwell among the very best contemporary novelists.
RaveThe Independent (UK)The plot’s initial fairytale-like simplicity mutates into something darker, similar to the \'metamorphosis\' Ikena himself undergoes in the aftermath of Abula’s foretelling, as he transforms into a \'python\' ... One of the many delights of The Fishermen is how deeply multi-layered the narrative is. Commonplace sibling rivalry is elevated to the realm of classical literature ... Knitting it all together are the threads of an oral storytelling tradition: parents who speak in parables; superstitions and beliefs that still hold sway despite the authority of Christianity; and the overarching tension between a fate set in stone by divination versus the ability to direct the course of one’s own life through rational cool-headedness ... A strikingly accomplished debut.
PositiveThe TelegraphIt’s Sontag’s own talent for metamorphosis that fascinates Benjamin Moser in his authorised biography of one of the 20th century’s most towering intellects ... It wasn’t that I disagreed with Moser’s observations, but I did long for a more nuanced analysis. His diagnoses of Sontag as having a “Cluster B” personality disorder, for example – “fears of abandonment and feelings of inconsolable loneliness, which trigger frantic neediness; antisocial behaviours such as rudeness (it is hard for such people to feel empathy) and volatility: mood swings that doom relationships”, which he traces back (like so many of her issues) to her mother’s alcoholism – reads like armchair psychology. Despite being a formidable work of scholarship, ultimately Moser’s biography offers us only a dim, flickering illumination of Sontag’s inner life.
PositiveThe Independent (UK)Gaitskill richly brings to life the downtown art scene of the decade, its beauty and glamour but also its grime. One of her most enticing skills as a writer is the way that she always sees the whole picture. Here, within a broader canvas of almost viscerally aching melancholy, bursts of bright animation sit alongside depictions of some the most unsavoury elements of human interaction – namely, duty, pity and rejection ... Central to Veronica is the universal human struggle to forge meaningful connections with others.
RaveFinancial TimesZink’s speciality is misfits—Doxology’s cast isn’t quite as rowdy a rag-bag as she has treated us to before, though they still have their moments—but she never fetishises them. It’s because of their quirks and oddities that her characters always feel so real. She’s also an absolute whizz at dialogue ... Fans of her earlier work can rest easy: her prose still zings with energy, her wit is still sharp-as-a-tack, and she wears her erudition as lightly as ever. Doxology is part rambunctious group picaresque, part whip-smart sociological treatise ... Zink speedily locates the pulse points of a generation ... Doxology is a big American novel of the very best kind, mainlining the anxieties of our age, but with just the right dose of love and mercy to take the edge off.
MixedThe Financial Times... whereas the short stories offered evocative glimpses of these two lives, in this ambitious novel the larger story loses its focus and is bogged down in historical detail ... Powyss’ world is richly and memorably drawn ... Unfortunately much of the Enlightenment thinking is clumsily conveyed either in the form of one character’s tutelage of another, or by means of missives from Powyss’ Unitarian friend, a character whose only role is to depict the wider political and social context ... Powyss’ inappropriate interactions with Warlow’s wife soon muddy his experiment, just as the inclusion of her and other less interesting secondary characters muddies the novel. The overarching contrast between worlds of darkness and light is a promising one, and at her best Nathan is a perceptive, elegant writer, but ultimately this is a novel that doesn’t quite come together.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)...[a] coruscating collection ...as becomes crystal clear in Coventry (if readers weren\'t aware of it already), the last thing Cusk gives a damn about is ruffling feathers; the pursuit of truth is what interests her. Although she is not the first writer to be preoccupied with the relationship between narrative and truth – specifically, of how we use narrative to make sense of our lives – the scope of the subjects through which Cusk approaches this question...is eye-opening. I struggle to name another writer who mines the muck and murk of \'the family story\' with the same strange combination of seemingly careless candour and sharp lucidity ... The final section of the book...is nimble and insightful, as are the pieces in the middle section, which could loosely be described as being about the creation of art. It\'s the pieces in the first section, though, that really stand out, those that draw most heavily on the personal ... Although all the pieces in Coventry have already appeared elsewhere, to encounter them en masse is to be able to trace the evolution of Cusk\'s own search for knowledge and truth, and it\'s every bit as compelling as the one undertaken by her fictional alter-ego.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)...mesmerising ... for all the skilled candour of writers from Rachel Cusk to Rivka Galchen, Jenny Offill and Leïla Slimani, nothing I have read gave me quite the same insight into the realm as Phillips’ latest book ... Phillips has mined the dark recesses of every mother’s nightmares — and their fantasies too, which, it turns out, can be just as terrifying when manifested — and laid them bare on the page ... The Need cleverly re-envisages parenthood as a horror story ... Read it as a sci-fi thriller, or understand it instead as metaphorical; either way, it’s a page-turner ... This is a smart, sharp book that cuts to the heart of what it’s like to be a mother.
PositiveIndependent[A] probing essay collection ... Her writing is clear and urgent, the kind that makes you sit up and take notice ... Notes to Self is the product of this act of metamorphosis: within its pages, messy raw experience is transformed into meaningful, honed prose ... the collection actually often reads more like memoir ... I don’t quite buy the publisher’s claim that the collection \'breaks new ground,\' but Notes to Self is still well worth reading.
RaveThe Guardian... a timeless, even, some might say, predictable story, but Offill’s innovative fragmentary structure breathes a fresh and visceral vibrancy into this age-old saga ... despite these very clear separations within the text, the sense of cohesive narrative is extremely strong, and the reader is perched at the very heart of the action ... Offill is completely brilliant on the raw impotence of a mother’s love ... Beautifully devastating, Dept. of Speculation is a worthy inclusion on this year’s Folio prize shortlist.
RaveFinancial Times...electrifying ... To read the first hundred-odd pages is to find yourself in a vividly depicted, but ultimately fairly straightforward tale of teenage turbulence ... Choi’s prose is damp with tears and sweat, bruised with hurt and lust, sprinkled with sugar, salt and e-numbers. Hormones practically drip off the page ... suddenly and without warning, Choi executes a bravura bait-and-switch, after which everything changes. The entire structure of the novel folds in on itself like a piece of origami, and what emerges is something sharp-edged and prickly ... The question of consent — which lurked in the wings in the first section, by means of a series of masterful misdirections — strides centre stage for the second act ... To employ Trust Exercise as a #MeToo novel would be to do this challenging, mercurial work a disservice ... Trust Exercise is Choi’s fifth novel, and without a doubt her most ingenious yet.
RaveFinancial TimesWhile wrestling with faith and forgiveness, love, compassion and innocence, the women show formidable forbearance, but Toews doesn’t mask pain with perseverance. The trauma here is real ... The weight and authority carried by language and speech lies at the heart of this novel. There’s power in being able to name something for what it really is ... [The women\'s] experience holds a mirror up to sexual abuse survivors the world over, punished for going public or naming their attackers. Although not born from the #MeToo movement, this beautiful battle cry of a novel is in urgent conversation with the contemporary moment.
PositiveThe ObserverEmma Glass’s fictional debut—a novella-cum-prose poem—packs one hell of a punch ... Its brevity and linguistic innovation are reminiscent of Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From and Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, but Glass’s commitment to the visceral is like nothing else I’ve read. I pride myself on my strong stomach, but parts of this made my skin crawl ... Sometimes it felt like enforced sensory overload just for the sake of it, but Peach inhabits a strange, horror-story realm of the hyperreal, and Glass’s vision goes a long way towards portraying an experience that’s near-impossible to articulate.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)Malcolm is the undisputed queen of description ... Two excellent pieces on Anna Karenina remind us what a deeply intelligent literary critic Malcolm is ... Reading Malcolm on [Jonathan] Bate’s book...feels flimsy, compared to the heft of The Silent Woman, and Bate—along with some of the other subjects here—unworthy of Malcolm’s attention ... the more I read, the more something felt off. Malcolm herself—her fame and her critical prowess—increasingly became the elephant in the room ... Malcolm’s still one of the smartest critics writing today, but one leaves this book feeling that her best pieces sadly didn’t make the cut.
PositiveFinancial Times...slightly off-kilter strangeness ... Something Like Breathing isn’t as obviously bizarre as some of [Readman\'s] shorter fiction, but it still carries with it the whisper of weirdness. It couldn’t accurately be described as magical realism, but it is a book in which strange, unexplained things happen. Readman is less interested in whys and wherefores, instead her focus is on how her characters negotiate what they encounter ... Though the narrative has a slightly unsteady flow—the revelation about Sylvie seems a little too long in coming to the fore—Readman weaves a fascinating and decidedly original fairytale.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveFinancial TimesThe short story is a genre within which reality is easily distorted, from the slightly off-kilter to the downright grotesque. Acclaimed Argentine author Samanta Schweblin ups the ante with Mouthful of Birds though ... Schweblin’s...particular genius lies in the fact that there’s something inherently savage and ungovernable about her work: each of these eerie, shocking stories crouches like a tiny feral beast, luring you in with false promises of docility, only to then sideswipe you with sharpened claws and bared fangs. Mouthful of Birds is a collection haunted by lost souls ... The collection lacks the polished perfection of the magnificent Fever Dream. Yet, given that the stories were published in the original Spanish before the novel brought Schweblin to the attention of English-language readers—her translator is Megan McDowell, whose skill is second to none—that’s not a criticism. Of the 20 stories included here, a few inevitably fall flat, but even those that don’t quite work have left indelible images blistered in my mind. The finest offerings here beg to be illustrated by Paula Rego then animated by David Lynch—only two fellow masters of the macabre could do Schweblin’s work justice.
RaveIndependent\"Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss’s sixth novel, is further proof that she’s one of our very best contemporary novelists ... At a mere 160 pages, Ghost Wall may look unassuming, but it’s testament to Moss’s notable talents that within these she’s able to address the huge topics of misogynistic brutality and violence, gender inequality and class warfare, not to mention the lessons of history. But never at the expense of what’s a gripping narrative ... Ghost Wall is full of uncomfortable truths about the modern world ... It’s an intoxicating concoction; inventive, intelligent, and like no other author’s work.\
PositiveThe Guardian\"... enchanting ... [Groskop\'s] impressive knowledge of which she conveys with a charmingly breezy tone. This is the first time I’ve seen Tolstoy described as \'Oprah Winfrey with a beard\'. It’s Samantha Ellis’s How to Be a Heroine meets Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.
Andrés Barba, trans. by Lisa Dillman
RaveFinancial TimesSuch Small Hands is a magnificently chilling antidote to society’s reverence for ideas of infantile innocence and purity ... [Barba] drags his readers into a hyper-real world of childhood ... Lisa Dillman’s translation is as evocative as a reader could wish for ... the path is set towards a shocking and bloody denouement worthy of the most spine-tingling horror film.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWeber’s prose is precise, revealing rather than evocative; she seems to be aiming not to show her characters in their best light but rather to illuminate them from all angles, even the least flattering ... her style here is painterly ... Still Life With Monkey is profoundly humane even while it’s asking the most difficult questions.
RaveThe Financial Times\"Switching between the perspectives of her three central protagonists Teo entwines three independently engaging narratives about troubled women into a grand, unified account of how hurt and damage is carried through the years and within relationships. With its thoughtful plot and vibrant prose, Ponti is one of the more assured debuts I’ve read recently ... Too many first novels coast along on a fad-like buzz rather than the promise of a genuine upward trajectory, but everything about Ponti suggests it’s the rare, real deal and Teo’s a writer we’ll be reading for many years to come.\
Maria Dahvana Headley
RaveFinancial Times\"... electric ... The Mere Wife delights on its own terms. Readers with little knowledge of the urtext will still find much to enjoy in Headley’s story of picture-perfect suburbia turned into a battleground ablaze with fear and recrimination. It’s a tale of social inequality, anxieties of otherness and violence born of ignorance ... ambiguity fuels the questions that lie at the heart of the novel: how are monsters made, and by whom?\
RaveFinancial Times...the boldest literary statement of passive resistance since Herman Melville’s scrivener famously declared \'I would prefer not to\' ... It speaks to Moshfegh’s storytelling skills that an account of someone sleeping for a year is as gripping ... In this deliciously dark and unsettling modern fairytale, however, Moshfegh offers us a portrait of passivity as rebellion.
RaveThe Financial TimesSick, the Iranian-American writer Porochista Khakpour’s gripping, intrepid third book, is not the memoir she originally set out to write ... it’s about being ill, about learning to identify as such and what it means to come to terms with this ... Sick reads with the same giddy narrative propulsion as a thriller. In this case we know whodunnit, but Khakpour is compelled to attempt to unravel the mysteries of where and when ... To throw one’s readers into such an intimate account of suffering is a daring choice, but it works, the reading experience mimicking the fevered desperation Khakpour describes. If it all becomes too much, the reader has the luxury of turning away from the page and taking a break. For Khakpour, however, there’s no such respite.
RaveFinancial Times...noteworthy ... On a line-by-line level, there’s nothing particularly flashy about Li’s prose, but there’s a comfortable fluency to the narrative, and she tenderly captures the little intimacies between people that tell us everything we need to know about their relationships ... As such, Number One Chinese Restaurant makes for joyful reading, Li carefully twisting her narrative in and out of her characters’ lives, tightening their entanglements while also exposing the stories behind three generations of the American dream ... funny, tender, and tragic ... a perfectly seasoned delectable dish of a debut.
RaveThe Financial Times\"...a blazing experiment in auto-fiction that seamlessly amalgamates form and substance ... The idea of freedom — the thinking woman writer’s buzzword of the moment — has always been central to the trilogy, but Kudos suggests that what we think of as freedom is often only the illusion of such ... So, does the novel live up to its title? In short, unequivocally. Despite their ostensible uniformity, each of the three volumes delights in a different way. Outline dazzled with its intrepid originality, while the low hum of violence that ran through Transit had a mesmeric quality, and now Kudos, which builds to a sparkling crescendo, thrills at its own more serene tempo. Regarded as a whole, it’s a tour de force of a trilogy.\
RaveFinancial Times...[a] mesmerizing collection ... In her previous book, Fates and Furies — which was picked by Barack Obama as his favourite read of 2015 — Groff painted a psychologically rich portrait of a marriage as told from both sides. She brings the same attention to detail to Florida, in a multifaceted portrayal of both the state and its inhabitants ... Something untameable lurks restlessly beneath the surface of this book. Groff’s incomparable prose pulsates with peril; its beauty, like that of the titular state itself, lies in a certain wild lushness.
PositiveIndependentSittenfeld often employs the narrative technique of characters confronting their pasts, particularly in the form of high school experiences haunting the present. This is not surprising ... Indeed, my one criticism of the collection would be that Sittenfeld doesn’t push beyond her comfort zone ... Sittenfeld is a consummate professional, every page of this book as engaging as the next.
PositiveFinancial TimesDean knows exactly how best to sum up her subject’s particular talents ... One of the book’s highlights is the fascinating analysis of how the friendship between Hannah Arendt, \'dense with complicated thought\', and Mary McCarthy, \'slicing and elegant\', influenced the work each produced ... But Sharp is not, Dean is quick to point out, an attempt to establish a reductive notion of “sisterhood,” not least because each woman’s feminism differed so drastically ... Sometimes challenging but endlessly absorbing, Sharp’s only shortcoming is the uniformity of its subjects: all white, all middle-class ... History, of course, bears some accountability here, and perhaps it is the case that Dean decided she wasn’t best-placed to tell the stories of what would be different — undoubtedly harder — struggles, but it still seems like an oversight.
RaveThe GuardianEmma Glass’s fictional debut – a novella-cum-prose poem – packs one hell of a punch ... Its brevity and linguistic innovation are reminiscent of Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From and Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, but Glass’s commitment to the visceral is like nothing else I’ve read ... Sometimes it felt like enforced sensory overload just for the sake of it, but Peach inhabits a strange, horror-story realm of the hyperreal, and Glass’s vision goes a long way towards portraying an experience that’s near-impossible to articulate.
RaveFinancial Times...plotless but nevertheless vividly compelling ... A meditation on reading and writing, love and loss, The Friend is a work rich in literary allusions and anecdotes, from Rilke through Woolf to JM Coetzee ... With The Friend...[Nunez has] found the perfect pitch ... On occasion, the clipped clarity of her storytelling reminded me of Rachel Cusk’s recent auto-fiction ... Ultimately, however, Nunez’s prose is illuminated by a wit, warmth and wisdom all of her own. The Friend is a true delight: I genuinely fear I won’t read a better novel this year.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... what [Quatro] does with the topic here is anything but run-of-the-mill ...
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Much of the novel engages in religious debate as Maggie is forced to re-calibrate her understanding of faith, fidelity and forgiveness. The earnestness with which she approaches her inquiries might put some readers off and, indeed, if it weren’t for the poetry of Quatro’s prose, especially her ability to see beauty in the quotidian details of the domestic everyday, one might accuse her of precociousness. But there honestly wasn’t a moment in the novel when I didn’t wholly believe in Maggie’s struggles, both her loftier attempts to reconcile the pureness of her sexual desire with her belief in God’s grace, and the realities of not wanting to leave her flawed but loving husband of 23 years ... Strip it bare of plot and it would still shimmer with meaning ... a remarkable novel written by a uniquely talented author.
RaveThe Financial TimesThe earnestness with which she approaches her inquiries might put some readers off and, indeed, if it weren’t for the poetry of Quatro’s prose, especially her ability to see beauty in the quotidian details of the domestic everyday, one might accuse her of precociousness. But there honestly wasn’t a moment in the novel when I didn’t wholly believe in Maggie’s struggles ... Tender and tumultuous, Fire Sermon is a remarkable novel written by a uniquely talented author.
RaveThe GuardianAdapting the model that served her so well in Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation, Judith Mackrell takes three glamorous, eccentric, independent women as her subject, each of whom in turn presided over Venice’s 'il palazzo non finite' ... Well researched, gloriously gossipy, a delightful, colourful story of reinvention and rebellion.
Susan Sontag, Ed. by Benjamin Taylor
PositiveThe Financial TimesAs Benjamin Taylor points out in his introduction, unlike Sontag’s first readers, today we’re accustomed to this blurring of genres, thus rendering her work ‘entirely contemporary.’ Although true, Sontag’s prose lacks the playfulness that’s often associated with such innovation, her famous seriousness pervades throughout … Not every story here hits the same high note, but surveying the collection as a whole what’s striking is the astonishing scope, potential and possibility Sontag saw in short fiction.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... poised and poetic ... feels robust and real but also highly cinematic: like watching old Super 8 home movie footage being replayed on a sepia-tinged projector screen ... Through it all though, Rowe ensures that each character remains clearly defined and distinguishable; evidence of her skills as a writer, and additional proof of the lack of connection in this family ... An intimate and nuanced portrait of a family flayed raw by PTSD, cycles of abuse and the weighty inheritance of intergenerational trauma, A Loving, Faithful Animal is also beautiful — more than delivering on the promise of Rowe’s much-praised previous short story collections, Tarcutta Wake (2012) and Here Until August (2019). \'Are all family scripts so interchangeable?\' wonders Ruby. Perhaps, but few have been rendered with such a terrible, piercing clarity.
PositiveThe Financial TimesSet in Mendocino, on the rugged, verdant northern California coast, this tour de force debut novel tells the story of 14-year-old shotgun-toting, scorpion-eating Turtle Alveston and her father Martin, a soliloquising autodidact and survivalist with a penchant for philosophy and a sadistic take on tough love ...it’s clearly abuse, but Tallent also takes care to name what exists between father and daughter as love, however twisted. It’s a relationship that makes for harrowing, haunting reading ...a gripping read, written in beautiful, brutal prose...My Absolute Darling is a Great American Novel for the increasingly isolationist, fractionalised and disenchanted contemporary era.
RaveThe GuardianFlâneuse is characterised by such playful subversiveness. I imagine Elkin as an intrepid feminist graffiti artist, scrawling 'Woman woz here' on every wall she passes. Deliciously spiky and seditious, she takes her readers on a rich, intelligent and lively meander through cultural history, biography, literary criticism, urban topography and memoir ... Impressively, Elkin doesn’t simply make a case for the re-evaluation of her titular figure; ultimately she makes flânerie itself appear urgent and contemporary. I defy anyone to read this celebratory study and not feel inspired to take to the streets in one way or another.
MixedThe Guardian...someone had to pay for Pasternak’s anti-Soviet novel Doctor Zhivago, and this was Olga Ivinskaya, the writer’s lover, muse, and the woman upon whom the fictional character of Lara was based. Lara and Yuri’s romance, Anna Pasternak argues, was a 'passionate cri de coeur' to the love of Pasternak’s life ... Pieced together for the first time – family members before the author (Boris’s great-niece) have always denied Olga’s significance – it’s a story with enough romance and suffering to make a moving novel or film in its own right.
RaveThe Financial TimesLillian’s excursions — come rain or shine, she’s been walking these sidewalks for nearly 60 years — not only provide her with a ‘rich reserve of encounters with odd, enthusiastic, decent people’ (tonight’s is a specially gallant bunch), but also solace and inspiration … Although it’s definitively not a biography, Lillian is based on Margaret Fishback, the most successful female advertising copywriter in the world in the 1930s, who worked for the real RH Macy’s and also published poetry. The details of Rooney’s heroine’s life are all invention, though, and thus, in a similar mingling of fact and fiction, she’s a career girl in the line of Maeve Brennan, wearing Vivian Gornick’s walking shoes.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...with its richly layered narrative structure — filled with the echoes, or ripples, of past events reverberating in the present — and its deeply conflicted exploration of the tangled web of family loyalty and responsibility, the novel offers proof of its author’s developing maturity ... Engel writes with a raw realism that elevates her characters’ mundane existence — their failures and failings, hopes and dreams, pleasures and pains — to something majestic. At the heart of her storytelling is a deep sense of compassion.
PositiveThe GuardianVestal conjures up the necessary claustrophobia and privation to great effect, this sense of slow emotional suffocation expertly mirrored in the barren, hot desert landscape.