RaveThe Guardian (UK)... all about narrative pleasure. In the service of its high-speed, self-aware twists and turns, characters often talk as if they know they’re in a book, and are either nudging a forgetful reader or winking at a complicit one. They’ll undergo heavy-gauge backstory additions to fit them for a reveal or for their next set of tasks and excitements; our idea of the character as we already know them will conflict for a page or two with their new demeanour, then succumb as our sympathies tilt to accommodate. This helps the author convey the emotional charge of each scene in a quick-and-dirty fashion ... Events approach at dizzying speeds and recede almost immediately into the distance, decaying into the fog of battle and shipwreck. The locked room murder meets a Michael Bay movie, by way of Treasure Island; you can’t know what’s going on, if only because the author won’t let you know until he’s delivered the final surprise – and another one after that. The effect is irresistible. Turton has got his world up and running inside the first two pages; thereafter, deceptions and diversions multiply until the ultimate, outrageous reveal, at which point the dark water turns out to be rather darker than you imagined.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)The first thing you do after reading a chapter of Threshold is carry out a search to check that this is a novel – or if it isn’t, what it is ... [Rob\'s] reminiscences of mysticism, psychedelia and excess, Buddhism, art and literature, are episodic and anecdotal. They sketch a lifelong gap year, during which he’s mostly been drunk, high, masturbating or all three at once ... Whatever else it is, Threshold is surely the record of a voyage – a book of experience in some quite old-fashioned, powerful sense. It’s replete with the indicators of retrospection, confession, autofiction. Some of the adventures leave the reader with a faint bad taste in the mouth. Possibly they’ve been designed to ... Sometimes [Rob] trolls the reader so expertly it works, sometimes so obviously it doesn’t; sometimes he seems to be effortlessly trolling himself ... When I closed the book I felt briefly buoyed up by it and then as if I’d been challenged to separate the genuine from the fabricated in a not entirely fair arena.
Fernanda Melchor, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveThe Guardian (UK)There are no paragraphs, only chapter breaks. Paragraphing is managed instead by the full stops between extended sentences—breathless, bad-mouthed, resentful sentences, sentences that are fetid, rhythmic and readable, full of insult and gossip, anecdotes and digressions. The genius of Hurricane Season lies in the way its author encourages the reader to work with this babble to build not just the narrative of the murder, but also a picture of a poverty-stricken community further devastated by the coming of oil capital and the drugs industry ... Melchor’s deep drill into violence, femicide, homophobia and misogyny, translated with considerable verve and force by Sophie Hughes, is based on the real-life killing of a \'witch\' outside Veracruz. It’s a mystery novel, but not one presented in any manner to which we’re accustomed; a horror novel, but only metaphorically; and a political novel with deep penetration of a remarkably foul milieu ... You close the book every so often, feeling that you have learned too much. Though there are glitters of humour and empathy, Hurricane Season is an uncompromisingly savage piece of work: difficult to escape from, built to shock. Yet it’s also elating. I was left buoyed up by Melchor’s anger, elated because she had shown me things I needed to be faced with.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)From the outset the information environment is hectic. This is William Gibson, after all: a world in an instant ... a sensual, remarkably visual ride, vigorous with displays of conceptual imagination and humour ... Almost all of the author’s interests, from the political aesthetics of technology to the technology of political fashion, are collected in this near-Moorcockian curation of images. Gibson’s ability to simultaneously destabilise and entertain is both celebrated and used to the full. But it’s also linked firmly to his signature themes, the prime one here, of course, being agency ... If he was \'prescient\' back then, he’s right on the ball now, when it’s so much harder to believe in those loose human associations he imagined in the 1990s, whose combination of technical nous and cultural know-how enabled them to quickly distinguish the real from the sucker fantasy ... but despite frank exposition in dialogue, its complex internal rivalries remain as distant and difficult to parse as they seemed in The Peripheral ... a timely, politically relevant story in which none of the central characters can fully understand what’s going on ... You’re comforted by the feeling that Gibson would never write a word without at least trying to understand the primary forces, the shadow operators of our own world; but you’d be forgiven for wondering if that’s now worth the effort.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The first question you ask of all these stories is, what’s happening here? The answer is a kind of tender cruelty, and often a transformation, hardly noticeable to begin with, then helter-skelter. Clues are subtly underplayed, hidden off-topic, allowed to accumulate; by the time they seem less throwaway it’s too late to ignore them ... if one of the delights of Armfield’s method is the richness of her allusions, her gleeful repurposing of myth and folktale, another is the liveliness of the symbols themselves, which are always evolving with the narrative: they reverse, combine, dance about in the corner of the eye...Violence teases you from under the skin, then pours out into the story. Nothing remains as you first thought, and you’re never quite sure of your ground. Armfield, meanwhile, enjoys herself as the sly oracle, pretending to hide your fortune in a riddle but really telling it simply and outright. You’re nodding your head in agreement and not getting the joke ... What makes this collection so exciting? It’s the way the salty, unsentimental underpinning of mythology combines itself with clinical contemporary observation ... although Armfield is full of tenderness for her characters, she never apologises on their behalf; she’s fantastical, but never less than realistic. It’s the satisfying lean towards the macabre and the metamorphic, balanced by wickedly clever prose and a sense of humour that seems to loom up like a character in itself, having been lying in wait in a corner all along. It’s the way that every paragraph balances itself perfectly between the visceral and the cool.
PositiveThe Guardian\"Each significant event is taken out and examined, put back, taken out again, re-examined. Breath is blown on it and it is buffed by the flannel shirt-sleeve of a character’s second thoughts, restatements, memories from a later date. It is tested, as is the reader, whose own input is encouraged but second-guessed. Little that might be intuited is left to intuition. We’re not used to such discursiveness in the short story: it might sometimes seem to slow things down. But Means is good at judging when to stop, stand back and let the implications cascade. With help from a deeply sly sense of humour and the beautifully rendered landscapes that sometimes seem to be the only genuinely no-bullshit presences in the story, he always produces a burst of emotional colour, accompanied by a bittersweet warmth we can all recognise.\
RaveThe GuardianRichly immersive ... Harvey delivers with the intelligence and sympathy you would expect from the author of The Wilderness ... Her prose is as rich as ever, her structures clever and efficient. The narrative is an indirect, cumulative revelation of something we half-guessed from the beginning, but which remains shadowy enough that we daren’t put the book down in case we’re proved right ... as densely packed as all of Harvey’s work: it’s a historical novel full of the liveliness and gristle of the period it depicts; an absorbing mystery with an unpredictable flurry of twists in its last few pages; a scarily nuanced examination of a long-term moral collapse; a beautifully conceived and entangled metaphor for Britain’s shifting relationships with Europe. But most of all it’s a deeply human novel of the grace to be found in people.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Trans. by Anne McClean
RaveThe Guardian\"...[a] clever, labyrinthine, thoroughly enjoyable historical novel ... Ironic one moment, earnest the next, Vásquez presents himself as the central character of his own book. We learn about his career as a novelist, the state of his marriage, the birth of his daughters; we learn to be uncertain about what is fiction and what is not, what’s history and what’s debatable ... Even at their most grotesque or bloodstained or slyly comic, these anecdotes and observations retain their humanity. Vásquez assembles them into a discursive, mischievous autofiction, combining forensic medicine with hearsay, revealing a third-hand source behind a first-hand account, setting public memory against private, chatter against documentation, until The Shape of the Ruins is less an album of stickers than a comprehensive critique of conspiracy aesthetics.\
PositiveThe Guardian\"One of the other pleasures of reading Moshfegh is her relentless savagery. All this is delivered as comic—it is comic—but it’s not exactly funny, though of course we laugh ... The dissociation of Moshfegh’s characters—their freedom from the need to make human contact, their constant emotional abandonment of one another during interactions as familiar as sex or childrearing—comes over as genuinely vile, but also as inadvertent, less willed than evidence of a baked-in incompetence on a cultural scale. While we’re laughing, we feel disgust. It’s a combination that makes for diamond-hard entertainment: halfway through, though, the reader begins to hope that My Year of Rest and Relaxation will wake up, collect itself and begin to move in some new direction ... it has been viciously and decisively witty; and it has demonstrated the author’s intellectual and emotional bona fides: now it needs to wake from its own dream and offer conclusions. When it does, almost as an afterthought, the shock is profound and disorienting.\
RaveThe GuardianThough it is dense with events and sense of place, the story is as stripped-down an artefact as its prose. A man has chosen to live alone on a moor, and now something, or perhaps everything in the guise of one single thing, seems to be hunting him; while he – sometimes laughing, sometimes frightened, always determined – hunts it in turn. This is perhaps an allegory, and the book examines that possibility as minutely as it examines everything else. The plot is bare, the setting minimal. Visions roll over him, and he loses not just commas, but capital letters ... To read Beast is a joy. Prose and gaze are inseparable, and Kingsnorth’s gaze is so intense it forces a similar intensity from the reader. The smallest shift of the light puts us on edge, on our mettle. Will something terrible happen? The moor, an empty church, an empty lane with something glimpsed swiftly crossing it – all are so menacing because they are so minutely themselves. There’s a kind of aching attentiveness necessary to read Beast, but the narrative easily brings it out in you, and the reward is obvious. The more of Kingsnorth’s intensity you survive, the more you can manage: in the end, your gaze has become as minutely focused as his hermit’s. You feel alive.
RaveThe GuardianIt is a novel of ideas, though its sensibility is firmly, consciously, even a little cheekily, gothic ... Perry artfully exploits her monster’s symbolic potential, leaving the reader to sort the many subtexts from the good red herrings, displaying both with a collectorly enthusiasm, on equal terms ... Perry extends her considerable generosity not just to her characters but to the whole late Victorian period, with its fears for the present and curious faith in the future; at the same time she is asking clearly, how do we do better than that? Life is an excitable medium. Every thoughtless act knocks on. How do we forgive, mend, give ourselves space to breathe, move forward?
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen
PositiveThe GuardianThere’s a dialled-down quality to these men. Their exchanges with other people are limited to bedrooms and bars. They have one eccentricity each: they care about reading or cooking or the history of popular music. Murakami Man, we begin to see, has no friends because, in the pursuit of convenience and emotional self-protection, in proofing himself against grief, he chose distance ... Murakami never tells it until he’s ready, and that may take pages of careful preparation. He’s as fascinated as his specimens by the complex layers of social geology in which they’re to be found embedded, so that’s where he begins. It’s up to the reader to work out why ... Tale by tale, the different women – unassuaged, and who can blame them – move off to the peripheries. The men apologise for themselves and are content to drift, remaining puzzled as much by their own behaviour as anyone else’s. Their stories are never less than readable, comic, amiably fantastic, human, yet with an entertainingly sarcastic edge, but verge on the bland.
PositiveThe GuardianThe Fall Guy is good at depicting money and its way of life. There are plenty of empty conversations and some splendidly vicious parodies of food and drink jargon ... With its deftly constructed narratives of guilt and buried resentment, The Fall Guy is more accessible than Lasdun’s previous novels, and filmic to the point where it can seem like a cleverly fleshed-out screenplay. Watching Matthew, Charlie and Chloe lure one another into a trap not quite of their own making has a certain shivery fascination. But sometimes our switches of allegiance – not to say the constant provision of herrings, red or otherwise – are managed so slickly that you think of Highsmith or Hitchcock rather than the author of The Horned Man. The formal jig danced with the audience’s expectations risks a loss of sympathy for everyone involved, including Lasdun himself.
PositiveThe GuardianIf this seems like a description of an ecological soap opera, there’s some justification to that. For one thing, the habitat itself, described in considerable detail, upstages its inhabitants; for another, the feeling you get from all this person-on-person interaction – all this demonstration of personality – is of a lack of character ... Of course, their shallowness is the core of the comedy, and the book manipulates it to great if sour effect. Boyle is also a subtle manager of soap-like narrative ... Terranauts is funny, but not always in a way you can laugh at. Boyle’s dissections are far too accurate.
PositiveThe Guardian...you’re gripped exactly as you would be by a movie. You’re racing along on the shoulder of the motorcyclist, you’re listening to the music spill out of the club, you’re watching the cigarette butt arc down from the terrace to the cobbles in a shower of sparks. At the same time, something about the way Thomson paces the action, his phrasing and timing, his management of scale and grain...lets you know that in Katherine Carlyle you’re getting something more than a thriller.