PositiveComplete Review...an enjoyable travelogue ... Fans of Nordic crime fiction who have traveled through the pages of many of these books will surely enjoy Scandinavian Noir, and it\'s an interesting (if somewhat light) exercise in comparing fiction and real-life ... The third-person narration of the second part is very odd, but the stilted approach does have the benefit of holding the reader\'s attention -- it\'s like a camera-angle one has never seen before (say, everything being filmed from ground level), captivating in its own right ... An enjoyable variation on the usual travelogue.
Marion Poschmann, trans. Jen Calleja
RaveThe Complete ReviewThe premise of -- and indeed much of what happens in -- The Pine Islands is preposterous. ... Poschmann leads Gilbert on his trip with expert deadpan humor, the story full of neatly observed little scenes ... In a novel featuring so many dreams that seem so real, it\'s unsurprising to find that the distinction between the real and imagined often proves not to be clear. Despite Gilbert\'s seeming lacking of imagination, perhaps his mind\'s eye is in fact expansive -- and suggests another way of seeing the story in its entirety, a story that is arguably meant to be ambiguous as to its very nature. So also, even with its fairly neat ending, The Pine Islands is open-ended, leaving much essentially unresolved (and, in some ways, unclear) -- but hardly irritatingly so ... A beautifully turned low-key absurdist comedy, The Pine Islands is delightful.
Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett and David Boyd
PositiveThe Complete ReviewBreasts and Eggs...is very (female-)body focused ... The treatment of male figures is a bit more complicated, as Kawakami, like Natsuko, isn\'t all too sure of what to do with them, unable to find much that they\'re good for; mostly, they\'re simply non-presences -- though there\'s some harsh male-bashing slipped in along the way ... Breasts and Eggs is an odd work, in many respects, but mostly quite winning; it\'s maybe a bit much Kawakami stuffs in here, but it comes together quite satisfyingly. Certainly, the quirkiness of the presentation of the ideas -- mainly in the normalcy with which they are treated...is appealing ... weird in a good way.
Phillipa K. Chong
MixedThe Complete Review...almost entirely anecdotal, with very little empirical follow-through. Chong takes the reviewers by their word -- assuming, perhaps, that with anonymity comes honesty...without even testing the claims. She notes their complaints about poor reviews (like ones where the reviewer gets plot points wrong because they presumably read the book too carelessly and quickly) and concludes the reviewers she spoke with: \'avoid practices they perceived to be unfair or otherwise inappropriate when reading reviews of their own work because they did not want to be guilty of the same sins\', but there\'s no suggestion she ever put that claim to the test ... So also, for example, Chong notes an apparently widespread attitude of a softer treatment of first-time novelists -- but offers not even a rudimentary counting of such reviews and whether they are indeed gentler or more positive than, say, reviews of bestselling authors ... Inside the Critics\' Circle is an interesting inside look at the current state of (fiction) book reviewing ... In its reliance on the anecdotal, it does present a somewhat one-sided perspective; I suspect a more analytic approach would reveal a considerable disconnect between many of the reviewers\' claims and reality.
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a dark, fantastical tale of a country and people crushed by brutal, reactionary forces. Azar\'s invention often impresses, with beautifully conceived and realized episodes and transformations, but it also makes for a somewhat loose story, a novel in which too often characters simply wander off (or are torn away), with too little follow-through of what they experience during this time, and too little overall connection. In part, Bahar is a problematic narrator: not strong enough a presence or character on her own, and also not quite able to tell us enough about all the others, at least for certain stretches. It makes for an uneven, somewhat piecemeal narrative -- coming together as a whole, but not entirely neatly.
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe Three-Body Problem pits those who despair of humanity and figure mankind is doomed to extinguish itself anyway...against those who worry about the possibly much worse consequences of this very foreign invasion, by an advanced civilization that probably sees humans as the equivalent of bugs ... Liu offers a variety of adventure along the way ... And the clash of those who believe in science and those who seek to undermine technological advancement ...makes for decent tension. The ends to which people are willing to go is not always entirely convincing -- there are a couple of rather casual murders along the way -- but there\'s a good amount of good-versus-evil ambiguity. Liu spreads everything a bit thin, and the story clearly has a way to go beyond this...but there\'s a lot crammed in here, keeping the reader engaged (if also occasionally off-balance). Liu tries too hard with some of the characters ...and doesn\'t really offer enough personal background to make any of them feel very real (or three-dimensional ... they\'re all pretty flat). But there\'s enough in the mix -- including some interesting theoretical ideas, including about the meeting of very different civilizations -- to hold one\'s interest, and make one curious about what comes next.
Hiromi Kawakami, Trans. by Allison Markin Powell
PositiveThe Complete Review[The] small tale leaves much unspoken and open, but is also a touching one of childhood connection and (flailing) understanding, the present-day perspective that the narrative repeatedly returns to easily preventing it from sinking into the too-maudlin, while still being effectively affecting. Gossamer-light, Parade is an appealing little fiction, with Yoshitomi Takako\'s illustrations a nice layer of padding to the tale. And while it is a sort of supplement-volume to Kawakami\'s novel, it stands easily and well on its own too.
Piero Chiara, Trans. by Jill Foulston
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe Bishop\'s Bedroom is a bit of a mystery -- there\'s a death, and, for a while, it\'s unclear whether it was suicide or murder, but the how-dunnit resolution is not exactly top-tier mystery plotting and writing -- but that\'s almost only incidental. It\'s mainly about atmosphere, and the dark -- and/or empty -- layers to Orimbelli and the narrator (with Angelo thrown in for good, if very odd, measure), their murky pasts and unmoored presents ... It makes for a reasonably engaging dark story, certainly livened up by the dramatic deaths that take place, and with a nice melancholy-gloomy shading throughout ... But the pacing is a bit off -- they spend an awful lot of time sailing, under various conditions, and the arrangements with their changing cast of female companions are rather more detailed, boring, and sordid than need be ... Chiara has his talents, but lacks the mystery-writer\'s finesse with suspense and resolution. The narrator\'s occasional odd, too-certain pronouncements...also contrast oddly with his general uncertainty about events and people, as the narrative finds itself a bit too often just slightly off-key.
Karolina Pavlova, Trans. by Barbara Heldt
PositiveThe Complete ReviewPavlova\'s touch is light and delicate, but her portrait of this class is searing, acknowledging the emptiness and boredom so much of it involves, as well as the constant positioning the actors engage in in playing their roles ... Pavlova\'s picture of this society is nicely drawn -- quite simply, even obviously, but with a cutting sharpness that is softened by her humor ... A Double Life is an appealing novel, offering a colorful, penetrating portrait of Moscow\'s high society in those times, especially the lives of the wives and women in it. The story that goes with it -- Cecily being married off -- is amusing and poignant, a so significant turn in the young woman\'s life, but one she has in no way been prepared for, and a union which all the parties...peripherally and directly affected, essentially stumble their way through and into ... It\'s an enjoyable novel, and for all the light, quick presentation has a layered depth to it, making for a work that\'s fascinating in quite a variety of ways.
Ronit Matalon, Trans. by Jessica Cohen
MixedThe Complete ReviewComic-tragic, And the Bride Closed the Door mines its suddenly cold-footed bride set-up quite well, helped by a varied cast of relatives with the expected variety of reactions ... With some darker shadows in the background...there\'s also more serious depth to the story. Still, even with its hopeful ending, the slim novella feels in parts underdeveloped, including with its would be couple, presented in relation to one another (specifically through the accounts of various recent disagreements) but with little other character-development to them beyond that, especially the out-of-reach but so central Margie.
Juan Jose Millas, Trans. by Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn
MixedThe Complete Review...an entertainingly presented look at social isolation and dependency, the search for a role in life, and in others\' lives ... It all works quite well, and certainly makes for an entertaining little tale ... Yet From the Shadows ultimately also feels a bit insubstantial -- perhaps appropriate, considering Lobo is meant to be such a shadow of a character ...a solid story but somehow not entirely convincing as a novel; indeed, feeling more like a (pleasantly) drawn-out short story. Gossamer light -- with even any ugliness or evil barely having any depth, a sense reïnforced by Lobo\'s almost entirely untroubled journey...the narrative in From the Shadows feels almost too anecdotal; perhaps that\'s what he was going for -- certainly with the TV interviewers, since that\'s their style --, but it ultimately does limit the resonance of the story. Still, this is a good, quick read, all the more gripping for the sustained tension of possible discovery -- of Lobo\'s presence in the household, as well as more personal discoveries among the various, each in their way troubled, characters.
Daša Drndic, Trans. by S.D. Curtis and Celia Hawkesworth
RaveThe Complete ReviewSummary and examples give only the roughest idea of everything Drndić does in these two tales. They are remarkable pieces of writing, simple and straightforward in some ways -- reading easily and smoothly -- yet so complexly and variously spun and woven, constantly shifting tone, approach, and perspective. They capture both near-present-day Croatia, as well as taking in huge swathes of Yugoslavian history and the crimes of the Nazis leading up to and into the Second World War, and all the weight of history on individuals who lived through some of these experiences and times. Incredibly dark, there\'s also a great lightness to the stories; they\'re not weighed down by what grimness they seem to have, and though not really funny there\'s a comic touch and a well-captured sense of absurdities of human existence. It\'s hard or impossible to describe and convey everything Drndić does -- which is, of course, why you should read it. This is remarkable writing, and this is a very, very fine twinned multi-faceted work. It\'s hard or impossible to describe and convey everything Drndić does -- which is, of course, why you should read it. This is remarkable writing, and this is a very, very fine twinned multi-faceted work.
PositiveComplete ReviewEven on its own, Middle England is certainly full -- of characters and events -- and fast, zipping across nearly a decade, Coe keeping a great deal moving in this near-contemporary state of the nation (and how it got there ...) novel. It feature a large cast of characters, and shifts between their often quite separate storylines ... Coe falls back onto some easy black and white contrasts that can feel a bit too glaringly obvious, but generally there\'s at least a bit of nuance ... It does make for a novel that can feel sometimes stretched thin. With such a large tableau, characters can seem neglected; certainly, there are some stories one would like to hear more of ... Middle England is an enjoyable read that generally captures the state of the nation well -- even as Coe seems slightly unsure of how much to force the issue, as it wavers in just how much of a Brextit-defined novel it wants to be. But in any case, it\'s certainly worthwhile.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewIf ostensibly always about Nishino, this is, of course, also very much the women\'s book -- their stories, and their lives, in which Nishino happened to play a(n often significant (and memorable) -- but very temporary) role. Here, too, we only see slivers of their lives, rather than full pictures, but Kawakami\'s rich, varied cast does make for intriguing glimpses of these different lives, and ultimately an impressive panoramic view of contemporary Japanese women\'s lives. Leaving aside a few odd touches...The Ten Loves of Nishinois a neat little semi-ronde of a novel, quite well balanced between the man at its center and the women here who reveal themselves, and him, in their various portrait-reminiscences