PositiveComplete ReviewErnaux largely observes, rather than judges ... Look at the Lights, My Love is a very slim volume but it is an enjoyable take on the odd hub that the superstore is in modern society. Ernaux\'s observations of what these superstores offer—not just goods for purchase but an experience that includes the social—and also their hard-nosed capitalist function and foundation make for an appealing little ramble.
Alba de Céspedes trans. Ann Goldstein
PositiveComplete ReviewThe pressures of this society and culture—evident in everything from Valeria\'s mother\'s attitude to the concerns about what the porter might think—are nicely made clear. How much Valeria (unlike her daughter) is stuck in them and can do little better than write about her situation is particularly nicely realized in Forbidden Notebook. The novel and what Valeria struggles with remain far too relevant in far too much of the world even seventy years after its first publication.
Geetanjali Shree, trans. by Daisy Rockwell
RaveComplete ReviewPlays extensively with narrative and language, and challenges more than few of their usual bounds. This also presents a considerable challenge in translation ... The playfulness, which includes a liberal if carefully dosed use of Indian-language words and phrases, works well ... It is a contemporary work—also in its references and setting—that nevertheless has a timeless feel.
Selby Wynn Schwartz
RaveComplete ReviewThe writing is crisp, the tone light but sharp—and often clever. Schwartz does not harangue, letting her examples and descriptions make her points readily enough—often quite delightfully ... A very creative take on the female artist and independent woman in the early twentieth century, After Sappho is thoroughly enjoyable but also thought-provoking literature.
Bret Easton Ellis
MixedComplete ReviewThe Shards is a long novel, and Bret seems to chronicle every last one of his movements, thoughts, and conversations from those few months. A lot of this can get tiresome ... The Shards has a certain drive—it\'s not exactly gripping, but it\'s boring in a way that still leaves readers curious as to how things will be resolved; one might not rush through the pages—it\'s a stretch to call this a thriller—but one does keep turning them.
Haruki Murakami, trans. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
PositiveComplete ReviewNovelist as a Vocation is most interesting when it is most introspective, when Murakami speaks of his own experience and doesn\'t concern himself with how other do it or feel ... An agreeably-written (sometimes too much so) collection that looks at many different aspects of being a novelist—hough mostly very much from Murakami\'s own atypical experience. This would seem to limit its usefulness as any sort of how-to guide, but in fact also helps make what might be Murakami\'s main point: that there is no one or right way to go about it ... Novelist as a Vocation is of greatest interest for the insight it offers into Murakami\'s own life and work(-processes), and, as such, is of obvious interest to any fan of his fiction. As to more general observations, lessons, or suggestions, it\'s probably less useful—but no less interesting for that.
Graeme MacRae Burnet
PositiveComplete ReviewBurnet evokes a place and an era very nicely, in pitch-perfect prose. Braithwaite is a compelling character, but it\'s his female narrator, in particular, that makes for such enjoyable reading. Emotion remains beautifully buried in her often affectless account ... Case Study is an artfully twisted and presented fiction about identity and the stories we tell, and a wonderful evocation of 1960s London. The resolution is appropriate enough, if arguably not quite offering the hoped-for payoff, given the built-up tension of the story\'s basic premise, but this is certainly a satisfying read.
PositiveComplete ReviewKarunatilaka plays with the spirit-/real-world divide entertainingly ... The sense of time winding down and the suspense that comes with it is handled quite well ... Karunatilaka presents a dark, vivid portrait of the nation and its recent history. Maali is a fairly effective protagonist as gambling outsider and eyewitness to much that many would prefer hushed up, though given that Karunatilaka writes in the second person it\'s surprising that he doesn\'t thrust the reader even more forcefully into Maali\'s depths. Colorful—often darkly so—the novel and its characters also feel adrift—arguably, in no small part appropriately so ... The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a bit loose and baggy. There\'s a good deal of colorful invention here, and the humor, if often bitter-edged, helps keep the novel from getting too dark, but it doesn\'t entirely come off.
PositiveComplete ReviewThe novel is an affectionate portrait of Wilder—and long-time collaborator Diamond—with Coe weaving some actual Wilder quotes and anecdotes into the story. Ingénue Calista is narratively useful in this regard, presenting herself in her full youthful ignorance and learning about film and Wilder as she goes along ... Mr. Wilder and Me does make for a good read—though, like any fiction closely based on a real-life figure, fact and fiction can be in some tension ... There\'s a lot here that is very good, from insights into Wilder and his background to depicting the changing world (and films) of the 1970s, but...Mr. Wilder and Me (intentionally?) has a[n]...awkward feel. But at least Coe embraces the comic potential fully and doesn\'t get all serious, which certainly helps.
RaveComplete ReviewIt makes for a delightful story, an ultra-elegant skewering of the publishing industry at its big-house, sensationalistic-bestseller-seeking worst, taking on (and out) the editors, agents, and lawyers involved with one neat stab ... Marguerite\'s writing may lack \'feeling\', or at least an expression of emotion, but the tone rings beautifully ... Appealingly indulgent, The English Understand Wool then is a lovely piece of work -- slight in the best possible way. It\'s funny, too, and very satisfying ... Most enjoyable, and certainly recommended.
Andrey Kurkov, trans. by Boris Dralyuk
RaveThe Complete ReviewGrey Bees is a melancholy tale of a simple life ... The bees are a nice touch too—not too front and center, but the low-level care and attention they need the kind of obligation that helps keeps Sergeyich focused. And, of course, the communal activity of the bees contrasts nicely with the much more discordant interactions among humans all around him ... Sergeyich\'s experiences over the course of the novel are mostly of the fairly simple sort, and Kurkov wisely stays mostly away from the overtly political ... Grey Bees is a typical Kurkov novel, grey and melancholy and wistful but not maudlin, and even charming, despite the harsh environment it is set in. With its focus on Sergeyich, it captures the conditions in this small corner of the world during this time exceptionally well.
Dhumketu, trans. by Jenny Bhatt
RaveThe Complete ReviewWhile some more bibliographic information about the individual stories and Dhumketu\'s publishing history would have been welcome, the stories are the point here ... Dhumketu is no mere imitator, developing his own style and voice in also building on local tradition and experience ... The more than two dozen stories do offer quite a variety ... Dhumketu shows considerable range. He is clearly a talented story-writer ... There is no question that The Shehnai Virtuoso is a very welcome—and long overdue—introduction to a significant writer, from a language and tradition from which only a smattering has previously been accessible to English-speaking readers. This is a generous, wide-ranging selection, offering a very good variety—an excellent sampler, even if it only offers one-twentieth (!) of the author\'s story-output alone.
Emi Yagi, trans. by David Boyd
PositiveComplete ReviewAn inspired premise ... It all makes for both an interesting tease of a novel -- Shibata\'s pregnancy seems to become increasingly real -- as well as commentary on Japanese society and attitudes towards work, women, and motherhood ... There\'s a neat mix of illusion and reality here, and Yagi draws Shibata into this ever-more tangible fantasy very nicely ... A sly piece of work.
Emmanuel Carrère, tr. John Lambert
MixedComplete ReviewCarrère\'s writing has long tended to the most auto- of fiction, and Yoga reads as a memoir, or at least a wallow in self, Carrère deeply navel-gazing -- not least, through the practice of yoga -- but his insistence on truthfulness seems like asking (or hoping) for a bit much ... Even from early on, one has to wonder if he isn\'t even deluding himself ... For all Carrère\'s harping on truthfulness, Yoga is elaborate fiction ... Whatever it is, Yoga is a quite entertaining rambling ride of the kind familiar from Carrère\'s recent work ... Carrère maintains a welcome distance -- in part presumably because his memories of this time are foggy ... Carrère has an appealing and compelling manner; if he can be -- as he probably would eagerly admit -- irritating, the narrative is consistently engaging. But Yoga is uneven ... It all makes for an ultimately somewhat unsatisfying odd heap of a read, but it\'s almost never not of some interest, Carrère and his self-obsession, even at its most enervating, engagingly enough presented.
Halldor Laxness, trans. by Philip Roughton
RaveComplete ReviewLaxness\' novel is a rich portrait of this simple -- and not so simple -- girl and woman, a remarkably stable pole -- and, in many ways, a model -- for and in a changing world ... But Laxness also emphasizes her very human side, not least in her concern for the welfare of children ... Laxness\' small-town tale depicts a world where life is difficult, but the novel never sinks into deep gloom; there\'s a variety of resilient spirit here -- with Salka Valka\'s particularly pronounced and strong (and really only her mother a truly resigned figure). It\'s hardly an upbeat tale, but there\'s a surprising buoyancy to it, with even most of the sadness coming across as an accepted part of life. Of course, there is then that absolutely crushing ending ... Salka Valka is a big and very fine novel, and wonderful character-portrait of a remarkable figure.
Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett and David Boyd
RaveComplete ReviewKawakami doesn\'t go for the simple happy endings of fairy-tale romances; her characters are too real for that ... Deeply melancholy, All the Lovers in the Night isn\'t sad or depressing ... In typical Kawakami fashion, the book does close on the smallest of hopeful notes ... It\'s all very nicely done, without the easy satisfactions of and-they-lived-happily-ever-after fiction and instead offering deeper and more lasting ones; it aches with real life.
MixedComplete ReviewAlas, in Stalin\'s Library Roberts can not offer a close analysis of the entire holdings of Stalin\'s personal library, as: \'the dictator\'s books were dispersed to other libraries\' ... At times Stalin\'s Library feels like there\'s a bigger book about Stalin trying to burst through. Mostly, however, Roberts does return to his main focus -- showing just how central books were to Stalin, throughout his life ... One of the consequences of Stalin\'s focus on ideas and ideology was that it ignored the human side—as Roberts also arguably does, in not considering very closely many of the horrific consequences that resulted from Stalin\'s policies and fixations ... Discussion of Stalin\'s own writing and, especially, his editing—which can also be seen as an extension of his inveterate annotation of texts—is also quite illuminating, neatly presented by Roberts ... Roberts makes a convincing case for the central role of books in Stalin\'s life—not merely in his formative period ... Unfortunately, the book\'s index is very thin...disappointing, given that it is a book referring to so many authors and people; an exhaustive index would have been helpful.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe Pages has a clever and appealing conceit: it is narrated by a book—a 1924 first edition of Joseph Roth\'s novel Die Rebellion ... The book-as-narrator idea has a lot of potential, and Hamilton invests his volume with considerably more than just its nominal contents; it has a history, experience accumulated over nearly a century, and its own voice; it has a personality of its own ... Hamilton struggles a bit with how to make this physical object a plausible narrator and character ... At its worst, the pseudo-dramatic presentation completely undermines the weight of the message ... It\'s quite a few threads Hamilton weaves together here, and arguably he strays rather far with some of them. They do (mostly) tie together in the end—but it does all feel rather forced ... The novel is also simply too schematic. The author had a clever idea, but the blueprint of how he then mapped the whole story out is still all too evident beneath the narrative ... a decent quick read.
PositiveComplete ReviewIshiguro unfolds his story in a series of neat feints. From the reader\'s worry, early one, that Klara won\'t find a buyer, he advances the story in a series of steps where things could go different ways. The central question throughout, of course, is whether Josie is doomed, or whether she will be cured. Ishiguro nicely adds to the tension by making clear that Josie\'s mother is contemplating a Plan B, in case Josie doesn\'t make it, and so throughout there\'s the question of which way things will go ... Neatly developed, Klara and the Sun is agreeably unsettling. Ishiguro plays quite expertly with expectations, slow and careful in what he reveals -- aided by the use of narrator who is limited in perception and understanding. He captures the parent-child dynamic well ... A moving novel, Klara and the Sun effectively addresses quite a variety of big issues.
Hiroko Oyamada, tr. David Boyd
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe Hole is effectively atmospheric, and Asa a well-drawn figure, a woman at sea in a world where expectations and possibilities ... It makes for a fine little story, with Oyamada particularly good at keeping the story unsettling.