MixedThe Complete Review... punctuated by rather spectacular deaths -- so many of them, in fact, that it rather undermines their effectiveness. There are several two-for-one shared deaths, there are suicides and murder, and also the simply spectacular: as with much in this book, it\'s all a bit much, and mostly to too little effect ... For a narrator who is a successful writer and who is presenting his life-story, Adam reveals surprisingly little about his own works. We learn some about the success of the novels, but essentially nothing about their substance -- an odd void in this big life-story, especially when contrasted with the screen-work of Adam\'s father, which is described and analyzed in much, much closer detail ... for all its bloat that is one of the problems with The Last Chairlift, how much is left out ... Stuffing so much in here, Irving doesn\'t so much lose the plot as himself and his protagonist ... There\'s quite a bit here that is entertaining -- good, colorful storytelling of the kind Irving has often pulled off before ... It is, ultimately, a very long novel, and simply too baggy; it is, ultimately, a slog -- made manageable by some admittedly very bright spots. But Irving tackles too much here -- and too much of it not hard enough, stuffing it in along the way rather than really going at it.
PositiveComplete ReviewIt all makes for a very heady mix, spinning entertainingly if ultimately perhaps too far. What easily sustains the novel, however, is the sharp, sprightly narrative, and especially that voice ... Vanessa is sure (and fairly full) of her self, and that confident ease extends to her use of words. There\'s a playfulness to all of this, but Greer is careful not to let her go overboard with it; her speech remains direct and clearly to the point throughout; if anything, Vanessa at times strains a bit too much to come across as down-to-earth. Overall, however, the writing is quite splendid, just a pleasure to read ... all quick flourish, zipping around in its dizzying story. Vanessa\'s wealth allows for the sense of easy comfort that goes with being able to have most any physical comfort one wants, and the restlessness of her actions and thoughts is neatly balanced with an indulgent luxuriating in the better things in life: she may claim not to care that much for most of the fine food she is served, but she does eat (and drink) very well; when she flies, it is first class ... It\'s a wild ride, but much of it is neatly controlled -- narrator Vanessa long seems to have things firmly in hand, and it\'s then just as fun when she struggles more to keep a grip -- and Vanessa\'s cocky patter is very entertaining. In its final spirals -- and, yes, there is an actual spiral, too -- Greer arguably ultimately overextends himself (and Vanessa), but this is still a whole lot of good fun.
PositiveThe Complete Review... a cleverly turned thriller and psychological study. Even as the situation changes, the tension merely shifts elsewhere ... It\'s a clever idea, and Onda keeps up the suspense quite well; certainly, there are some neat twists, too. The single-night-long confrontation approach, and its back and forth presentation, one chapter in Hiro\'s head, the next in Aki\'s, and so on, is a good one, but of course also limiting, despite the recollections that are woven into their narratives; ultimately, Onda does have to pull out the computer and slip in a quick Google (or the like)-search for the finishing touches. Still, this is a good, quick little suspenseful tale, with some nice surprises.
Marlen Haushofer tr. Shaun Whiteside
RaveComplete ReviewHaushofer\'s vision is extreme, but it\'s interesting that she does give her protagonist this close and meaningful company: she can imagine survival without human companionship, but seems unable to imagine her protagonist completely cut off from any social contact, even if that is just with animals. As is, this communing-with-nature is an important element of the novel -- though of course also limiting it as a vision of a (wo)man truly alone ... an almost humdrum novel -- an adventure novel with limited adventure, a commentary on modern civilization with barely any outright commentary -- yet there\'s so much strength to the controlled quiet of the narrator\'s voice that it is easily compelling. Haushofer beautifully builds her story off her premise, and in avoiding efforts at the sensational has created an all the more powerful, haunting work.
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, tr. Michele Hutchison
PositiveThe Complete ReviewA very nice twist on this is that Abdul\'s harrowing story turns out to closely echo a familiar classical one, which causes some problems (or at least raises some questions), a neat mixing of reality and fiction, as well as history and the present ... There\'s quite a bit of the polemic to Grand Hotel Europa, with Pfeijffer giving ample room for characters to philosophize and have their say, but it\'s quite artfully integrated into the fiction ... feijffer has easy fun with the commercialization of the past, in particular, as well as the behavior of tourists (including their search for the authentic -- i.e. non-touristy -- experience) -- with enough variety to his examples, moving easily between the Grand Hotel Europa and various spots elsewhere, to keep things interesting ... He can get over-explicit in the meta-ness of the novel ... This hunt for the missing painting also plays a role in the novel\'s conclusion -- making for an arguably far too neat one. In fact, however, it\'s an almost welcome final turn: if so much of Grand Hotel Europa and its characters -- particularly its narrator-protagonist, Pfeijffer\'s double down to the tie-pin -- are so close to life, the conclusion, in its artificiality, feels like pure fiction -- and that is all for the best at that point ... The novel ambles along at a leisurely pace, but for the most part is certainly lively and entertaining ... One can argues some with Pfeijffer\'s understanding of how history is seen and treated in non-European cultures, but he\'s on solid ground when writing about Europe, and Grand Hotel Europa is a fine take on (one big part of) the contemporary European condition, as well as on tourism and the question of authenticity (with considerable overlap across all of these). It\'s a big, fun read beyond that too -- a bit ragged at some of its edges with its large cast of characters (and not least with Ilja and Clio\'s relationship), but offering good story-telling for the most part.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe insights she offers sometimes nicely blend the personal with the more general ... a nicely varied collection of pieces reflecting on translation, through a very personal lens ... Her pieces show how translation is, indeed: \'the most intense form of reading and rereading there is\' -- and what is found and gained by that deep engagement with text and with language.
Alejandro Zambra, tr. Megan McDowell
MixedThe Complete Review... meanders along -- agreeably enough across its stretches, with the various scenes-from-lives, neatly sketching, variously, Gonzalo, Vicente, and Pru at different stages in their lives ... The poetry-background is nicely handled, helped by the fact that neither Gonzalo not Vicente is really much of a poet at any point here ... It all makes for an agreeable, easy-going read -- though much of it can seem much more surface than depth. Zambra does convey some sense of the emotions at play here, and one welcomes that he doesn\'t get too sentimental, but there\'s also an oddly distanced feel to much of it (which the leaps in time across the novel, leaving so much absent space, amplify). Chilean Poet is an appealing story, even if it feels Zambra never commits quite enough to one character or another -- while also never quite making a full ensemble-piece out of it. It\'s an enjoyable ride, if not entirely satisfying.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewDuncan is very good on the historical development of the index ... it\'s the many small details in this artfully created index that really shine ... very good on history, and also in considering the index in our age of search (engines) and digitization, but not quite as comprehensive as one might wish. Most notably, it is very English-centric ... a most enjoyable read about a fascinating and perhaps underappreciated subject. As a longtime appreciator -- indeed venerator -- of indexes, I need no convincing, but for readers who perhaps haven\'t concerned themselves too much with them it is certainly also an eye-opener -- and a lot of good fun.
PositiveThe Complete Review... a somewhat curious novel ... a quite satisfying resolution, once everything has been explained (not least in some more surprising connections among those involved) -- even if the road there is occasionally a bit rocky ... Higashino does the backstories of almost all of those involved well -- but the one black hole at the heart of the story is Hasunuma, presented as truly evil (and not having much to say to the police), but without sufficient character-building there, making him almost a cartoon villain (and victim) ... The closed-room murder mystery is an enjoyable nod to older classic crime stories, and \'Detective Galileo\' works well as a figure separate from the different interest-groups -- the police and the various suspects --, making for a quite entertaining mystery, even as with its you-(and-the-police-)sort-of-know-whodunnit (or at least you think so, for almost the entire novel) it has a bit of an odd pacing. But at least Higashino does throw in some decent twists to shake things up as well ... If a bit lumpy, Silent Parade is still a quite enjoyable read.
Rafael Chirbes, tr. Valerie Miles
RaveThe Complete ReviewChirbes\' novel is a quite powerful book of testimonies and (often frustrated) experiences, an indictment of post-Franco Spain that has barreled more or less blindly (though also, in the case of Rubén, decidedly clear-eyed) ahead, damn too many of the consequences. The tight cast of characters -- even with the few looser ends, such as Matías\' son, barely a presence, or Silvia\'s son, sent off to Edinburgh without being told his uncle has passed away -- and their relationships work quite well in support of the story, even as the dead man himself remains surprisingly far in the background much of the time. Chirbes\' style, the sections each a single paragraph of often dense flow, is effective too. It makes for a powerful novel of its time and place.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewNever is set essentially in the present-day, the world much as we know it with mostly just the names of those in power different ... It\'s a slow spiral of events—the story stays at DEFCON 1-level for almost half its length—but spiral, ever downward, they do. Some of the connections are very loose...but pretty much each little bit has some knock-on effects. Follett plays this out fairly well ... For a long time, Never feels like a start-and-stop thriller, relatively small crises unfolding but then mostly held in check or reined in. Only cumulatively is their effect all out of proportion: Follett takes his time with his snowball-effect—but once it reaches a certain size and things get really rolling, boy, do they come hard and fast. Follett shows how easily governments can find themselves boxed in, seeing no way out except taking the next step, even as it\'s clear that that will likely lead to disaster ... There is something to be said for Follett\'s very tight focus on his main cast of characters, with the others—even the in some case more powerful figures—mostly remaining in the periphery of the novel—but in some cases he does spend an awfully long time on events that are largely themselves peripheral ... If somewhat bloated in some of the African parts and with a rather ham-fisted effort to emphasize the human side of the characters, Never is otherwise a fairly solid thriller. Follett\'s thought-experiment is certainly an interesting one, and plays out all too realistically, making for some worrying food for thought.
Domenico Starnone, Tr. Jhumpa Lahiri
PositiveThe Complete ReviewIt\'s an intriguing novel, with the flawed main character of Pietro going an interesting path. Tellingly, he recedes in the final two parts of the novel, barely a presence in Emma\'s account and completely out of view in Teresa\'s -- a kind of fade-out for the character. If the leap Starnone makes in the novel, from one part to the final two, -- forty years or so -- is an enormous one, the essentials are still covered: in a sense, everything after Pietro\'s own account is only a sort of coda ... Emma makes for something of an abrupt change -- she\'s not much of a character yet in Pietro\'s account (unlike Teresa), and so to encounter her in full adulthood, with quite the life already behind her (including already having four children of her own) is a fairly abrupt re-situating of the novel. Still, her and then Teresa\'s account, both focused around this ceremony of recognition for Pietro, do bring the story to a clear close, a final say on Pietro, and also how he affected many of the people in his life ... Starnone writes engagingly, and while his narrators can be difficult people, each willful in their own different way, they and the situations are intriguing enough that they aren\'t simply too annoying. If not entirely convincing as a character portrait of this specific kind of man, Trust is still a solid and quite appealing read.
Mario Levrero, tr. Annie McDermott
PositiveThe Complete Review... isn\'t your usual tale of struggling with writer\'s block: the words, at least, seem to have flowed, in abundance if not necessarily easily ... is not merely about the (attempted) writing of \'the luminous novel\' Levrero envisions, but rather feels like a part of an even larger whole, Levrero\'s entire writing-project and -life ... the length of The Luminous Novel may eclipse its ambitions -- or be part of the point -- and there\'s no getting around that this is a rather long novel in which relatively little happens; this is not necessarily trying for the reader -- even at it\'s most everyday-mundane, the diary, for example, is a quite amusing read -- but this is a novel which certainly does take its good time; one suspects many readers look for more immediate (if not also obvious) gratification ... succeeds as attempt (if not the complete abstract vision the author meant to realize). Certainly, it is worthwhile -- there is a lot to this work -- but it does make quite a few demands on the reader\'s patience.
Agustín Fernández Mallo, tr. Thomas Bunstead
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe narratives do wend forward, as even as there can seem an aimlessness to much of the activity surprisingly much of it is, in some way or another, goal oriented: to go someplace specific, to see something or someone. There are also substantial digressions, in various forms, throughout. Fernández Mallo does weave often intriguing stories and episodes, historic as well as experienced, into the accounts, but even with the connections he does draw, The Things We\'ve Seen remains somewhat unwieldy -- a heap of story, rather than a coherent whole ... Engaging in its parts, The Things We\'ve Seen can seem too loose and far-flung as a whole, a set of narratives that ultimately lose themselves too much in their fractalness.
Antoine Volodine, trans. by Lia Swope Mitchell
PositiveComplete ReviewIt\'s a neat, dark little novel, and particularly good at depicting the hopefulness of resistance while also acknowledging how much is so easily and readily crushed ... It\'s a worthwhile journey; Solo Viola is a fine small piece and example of Volodine\'s larger post-exotic project.
Pedro Mairal tr. Jennifer Croft
MixedThe Complete ReviewLucas\' narrative is actually addressed to his wife, and in fact The Woman from Uruguay is a kind of family-novel, exploring what \'family\' means. Among the most successful parts are Lucas\' descriptions of fatherhood, of how all-consuming child-care, in the broadest sense, became after his son was born, not just the physical work involved but also the endless worry and concern ... His (mis)adventures in Montevideo allow for a reset, with everyone -- Catalina, Guerra, and him -- finding their place in the novel\'s rather easy resolution. It\'s not your typical happy ending, but the sense is that everyone now lives true to themselves, having found the appropriate situations for themselves ... predictable in much of its story-arc, and rather odd in its message, especially about the idea of family. Catalina\'s behavior (and the reason behind it) as the marriage strains also play a role in things -- and offers an additional too-easy excuse and explanation for the rather neat final resolution of their relationship ... Having an author as narrator-protagonist can be problematic -- especially when, as here, the actual author veers so much between his protagonist being self-aware and self-deluding ... satisfying enough on some level -- the hapless hero and his fall can be amusing -- but also aims for a weightiness that\'s just not there.
Gianrico Carofiglio tr. Howard Curtis
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe reflections on legal and judicial procedure are another interesting aspect of the case, as Guerrieri explains the appeals process playing out and the choices he makes along the way. Some of this might feel dry -- the case does not offer American TV or John Grisham-style courtroom drama or theatrics -- but fascinating in its authenticity. Indeed, The Measure of Time works particularly well because it manages to avoid the sensational ... offers a neat balance between personal reflection and professional action. The fact that so much about Iacopo\'s case is ambiguous -- right down to the very end -- is particularly effective. If the appeals case and how it unfolds may seem almost unexciting, its slow simmer offers a different kind of reader-satisfaction that Carofiglio pulls off well ... A solid novel that feels like it manages to do exactly what the author intended.
Maki Kashimada tr. Haydn Trowell
PositiveThe Complete Review... an interesting character- and family study ... an unusual piece of work, but surprisingly convincing and effective ... \'Ninety-Nine Kisses\' is a livelier story ... ction. She is emotional, eager, and confused, all of which bubbles nicely into her account. If the picture of the family thus also remains somewhat limited, it\'s nevertheless a compelling voice and vision, and \'Ninety-Nine Kisses\' is a very lively and quite charming family-tale.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel
PositiveComplete Review\"First Person Singular is an easy-going sort of story-collection, the stories fairly straightforward -- though with little puzzling twists and elements, and a sense of some unspoken greater meaningfulness -- and even, at first glance, almost bland. In fact, there is considerable range to the stories, and while much does cover familiar territory there\'s enough novelty, in form and substance, to consistently engage ... Murakami\'s breezy, off-hand approach -- reïnforced by a narrator and informal voice that remain constant -- allows him to smoothly slip in the occasional surreal elements...and for it to feel almost entirely natural, as he effectively weaves his familiar style of strangeness through many of the pieces ... It can all feel very slight, and yet there\'s real resonance to the pieces and the whole. Not forcing too much here, Murakami also manages to convey a sense of an agreeably low-level and not insistent profundity. If this seems like low-gear Murakami, it actually works for the best: he\'s not trying too hard, and there\'s a lot to be said for that. First Person Singular is also surprisingly cohesive -- satisfyingly more so than his previous collections -- and while his strength remains the novel-form, this is a welcome addition to his œuvre.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewMizumura weaves a compelling tale out of this, quite effortlessly moving back and forth between past and present-day (literally: day), introducing a variety of friends and acquaintances in passing -- none of whom she ever is really close to ... proves to be a fascinating way of dealing with her languages and her experience ... It is a fascinating literary experiment, but also a fascinating exploration of identity, place, language, and self; some of Mizumura\'s story (and narrative approach) will be familiar to readers of her other translated books, but this is the most thorough examination of self and family ... a very fine novel of the experience of growing up between (more so than in) two cultures -- cultures which were, on top of it, much more markedly different at that time -- and of trying to find one\'s place, in every respect.
Mael Renouard tr. Peter Behrman de Sinety
PositiveThe Complete Review... fittingly for our internet age it comes in easily digestible pieces that are a paragraph or at most a few pages long, with a great deal of variety to them. While often writing from personal experience, Renouard ranges far and wide. He includes numerous accounts of others\' experiences, presenting revealing anecdotes from friends and acquaintances that he heads: \'Psychopathology of Digital Life\'. And he reaches back in history with clever examples, neatly presented ... Renouard ranges far in his study, helpfully often going beyond the obvious, in both his many historical and other examples and the concepts he discusse ... an enjoyably readable tour across our changing interior and exterior landscapes and their overlap as the internet has taken hold (of us and all our information). Renouard presents his material well and writes with a comfortable ease -- eruditely but not off-puttingly so (i.e. allowing the reader to feel clever). One section (9) is an outlier, mixing a variety of classical figures and contemporary situations, strays a bit far in its playfulness, but at least he doesn\'t go on too far in this direction and is soon back on course ... good -- and often enough quite thought-provoking -- reading.
MixedThe Complete ReviewThis all works quite well, but does also give the work the feel of a concept-novel -- and one that is, in its execution, very enamored of its concept. It\'s clever, a neat riff on Wittgenstein, in a sense, and a neat example of what can be done with story-telling and where it and language can lead. Still, it ultimately also feels a bit too coldly neat, too -- not necessarily helped by Mendelsund\'s choice of a naturally emotionally wrenching refugee-story to build it on. Yes, it \'works\', but it also suggests even more strongly the constructed feel of the whole, the workings all too obvious ... One can certainly appreciate what Mendelsund has done here, but the novel impresses mainly for its formal accomplishments and doesn\'t achieve the emotional response it also seems to be looking for.
Yoss Tr. by David Frye
PositiveThe Complete Review... it\'s clear from early on that Red Dust is playful homage to the twentieth-century masters ... Raymond isn\'t quite a Chandlerian hero, but it affects the style and attitude quite well at times, having learned the lessons of the master from his work ... bit light and thin -- more anthology-novella (as it was, in fact, originally published as) than sturdy stand-alone -- but it\'s good and quite clever entertainment, as Yoss proves adept at comfortably weaving in various homages while also making the story his (or Raymond\'s) own. It has an easy, almost effortless feel to it, but what Yoss does here requires quite some talent; he\'s a very good writer, with a good feel for just how far to go with his material, be it homage, world-creation, or action. He\'s particularly good on character ... The plot -- of escaped convict, hunt, and confrontations -- is arguably familiar and quite basic -- but then it often is in the hardboiled novels Raymond admires, and Yoss has enough unusual twists (as are also often found in its favorite reading) to amuse. While never too ambitious, the details, the characters, and the homages -- overt as well as more subtle -- are all nicely done, making for a quick good read.
Dubravka Ugresic, trans. by Ellen Elias-Bursać
RaveThe Complete ReviewUgrešić\'s pieces are in her familiar style, wending through various anecdotes, personal reminiscences, and observations -- rarely in great detail, but getting to the heart of matters, and often circling back to an example or person in the same piece. Although much she discusses includes the outrageous, her tone and presentation remain controlled -- not dispassionately neutral (her position is usually perfectly clear) but anything but screaming with the frustration one can well imagine many of these things eliciting. Her sense of humor -- often near-deadpan --, and the many far-flung examples -- including literary and other cultural ones -- also contribute to making for consistently engaging essays ... Ugrešić is always worth reading, and The Age of Skin is certainly yet another worthwhile collection.
Jonas Lüscher, tr. Tess Lewis
PositiveThe Complete Review... very much an introspective novel ... Lüscher\'s portrait of Kraft, built up in awkward and uncomfortable scenes from the past and present, -- Kraft really is a sad sack -- is quite well done, if perhaps a bit heavy on the pathetic-comic (very, very little goes right for Kraft). It is very much centered on Kraft, with his relationships with the women in his life somewhat underdeveloped, at least from their side; if not exactly flat, they (and their reasons for sticking it out with Kraft) remain rather mysterious ... Lüscher works quite well with underlying themes and concepts, which he has bobbing up across the novel and across Kraft\'s life, from the essay-subject to neat, small echoes ... It\'s no great surprise for whom the bell tolls in the end -- though it\'s arguably a too neat and easy conclusion, very much a novel-conclusion. Still, as a way not to win the essay-competition and as a response to the set question it certainly makes a point ... The hapless-comic can get to be a bit much, but the emotional distance of the voice and lack of any sentiment does help make that more palatable ... Kraft does remain something of a cipher -- besides being an odd duck --, too-little tied into the everyday for the critique of the picture of contemporary society Lüscher is clearly also trying to present to really sit ... a polished piece of work -- but that\'s not entirely a good thing: as all the running themes and imagery and practically everything else suggest, this is a very deliberately and carefully structured fiction -- a bit too obviously so. An ideal book-club or classroom text, but not necessarily quite as satisfying simply as such. But there\'s certainly enough to it to make for an intriguing and quite entertaining read, making for a reasonably successful work.
David Diop, tr. Anna Moschovakis
PositiveThe Complete ReviewReflecting on his actions, and his past, Alfa uses a simple and straightforward style, hardly dispassionate but also not losing itself to the horrors of the acts he commits and the terrible war conditions he lives through -- or, for that matter, the absurdity of the situation he finds himself in ... A nice touch is how Diop allows Alfa to present himself: he is not tortured in the way one might expect, given what he is experienced, he does not behave like a raving madman. Even in hunting down German soldiers he shows himself to be patient and quiet, seemingly complete under control ... a solid variation on the First World War novel, a glimpse of less well-known experiences and an interesting spin on personal trauma. A good personal portrait of a different kind of soldier, it\'s a bit slim but certainly packs enough of a punch; it is effectively harrowing.
Yishai Sarid, Trans by Yardenne Greenspan
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe compact , far-ranging novel is quite effective, despite how difficult it is to deal with what is after all very familiar material. The contemporary angle, allowing for a focus on the dangers of forgetting, is quite well-handled, and the narrator (and his spiral into the abyss) plausibly rendered. It\'s meant to be an uncomfortable trip, too, and it certainly succeeds as that -- with Sarid thankfully avoiding the gratuitously sensational ... a fine addition to Holocaust literature -- though in the mass of it can also feel a bit like just another variation on the theme, not sufficiently differentiated to really stand out in a novel way; artistically it is also generally solid, though arguably, for all the mention of the personal, falling short in the development of the characters (with most of the secondary ones, including wife and child, only incidentally figuring in most of the narrative). Sarid raises and grapples with many of the vital questions -- but they have been widely grappled with before, and even as it continues to be important to engage with them, Sarid\'s narrator\'s twisted path is across familiar territory with all the well-known and often-debated markers and issues -- usefully pointed out, but ultimately really only limitedly and hurriedly considered. On the other hand, for those who haven\'t read extensively on the subject, it\'s a sharp and good concise take, effectively presented -- an ideal text for college introductory survey courses and the like.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewAll along, the Algerian struggle against the French loom over much of what happens -- and then more recent domestic struggles. It\'s quite effectively presented and tied into the narratives ... Charlot was an important figure in French literature, and of course it is difficult to present all that he did in such a small space; Adimi does bring in a great deal -- but in doing so in this way (mainly through purported notebook-jottings) the account feels almost like a quick summary list. Those parts narrated by the omniscient group-we are a bigger sort of summing-up -- effective as such, and a useful complement to the other sections, but also somewhat limited. The sections focused on Ryad and Abdallah are more expansive -- though also touching on their lives beyond this brief episode -- and are a decent counterpart to the others ... does convey a sense of what was attempted and what was lost, or never achieved, but the subject matters -- Charlot\'s work as well as Algeria itself -- and their stories are so pared down that it\'s hard not to feel a great deal is missing. Adimi gives a sense of the scale of these, and many of the lives affected, but when even a Camus figures as barely more than an incidental character it\'s hard not to think that (too) much is missing. Readers can fill much in, as the text does provide lots of keywords, people, and moments that readers can free-associate from, and as such it forms a good sort of foundation, but all in all it still feels rather thin.
K. Ferrari, Trans. by Adrian Nathan West
PositiveThe Complete Review... comes with epigraphs from Jim Thompson and David Goodis, and Ferrari\'s writing is clearly modeled after theirs -- fast, sharp, and pitch-black dark ... a novel of comeuppance -- but Ferrari doesn\'t go for facile moral tales ... Ferrari\'s writing heart is in a deep, dark place, and that is where he brings the novel to in its conclusion ... Much here is familiar excess and outrageous behavior, but Like Flies from Afar is fast and furious and sly enough in Ferrari\'s presentation to work well on its multiple levels -- whether as simple thriller, socio-political critique, or anything in between. A solid little thriller, of and for our times.
César Aira, Trans. by Katherine Silver
PositiveThe Complete ReviewBut the focus in this little volume remains almost entirely on the stepping-stone. and his experience around (rather than with) it, rather than where it leads him -- which does makes for a neat little light variations-on-a-theme/subject collection ... Artforum is a nice quick bite of a book.
Daniel Kehlmann, Trans. by Ross Benjamin
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThough central to the story, Tyll remains an elusive figure, in a novel that is, as a whole, very slippery in its shifts in time and place ... something of a scenes-from-the-lives novel, the chosen episodes significant, revealing, and richly described, and impressing greatly ... Similarly, in Nele\'s neatly tied up fate, down to the deathbed scene, Kehlmann beautifully captures the essences of her life ... These negotiations among those in power (and those without so much power, and rather flimsy claims and hopes) are very entertaining, but what Kehlmann really hammers home throughout is the misery of the times and conditions ... in making Tyll such a free spirit, and such a slippery character, and in shifting the perspective so often to that of others, Tyll remains a hazy and in many ways insubstantial character. He usefully plays the fool for many of the other characters -- but Kehlmann seems to want to have it both ways, and that doesn\'t quite pan out, the title-character remaining just a little too shadowy ... If the whole feels a bit loose, the parts -- almost self-contained chapters (though interconnections also are formed) -- of the novel are generally excellent, as Kehlmann knows how to unspool a story, and manages repeatedly to surprise nicely with how the treats characters and events ... Kehlmann\'s almost vague presentation of him perhaps appropriate. Kehlmann captures the unsettled times very well -- not least with his on-the-move characters -- and neatly ties history into the story ... If a bit loose in its arrangement, Kehlmann at least also shows a good touch in mostly not trying to force too much into Tyll (despite the temptation of all that happened in those years). It makes for a very good read, which manages not to get mired down in the all the prevailing misery and ugliness (no small accomplishment, in and of itself).
Emmanuel Carrere Trans. by John Lambert
MixedThe Complete ReviewIt\'s not all bleak (and, indeed, even the darker pieces show touches of humor, self-deprecating and otherwise). A profile of The Dice Man-author Luke Rhinehart goes overboard on regurgitating the contents of the cult classic, but Cockcroft-in-person nicely deflates any of Carrère\'s hopes of what he would find ... Carrère can never quite suppress his sense of awe about such characters, making for oddly flat portraits, rich in detail but the people themselves remaining as baffling as before; perhaps the reason Carrère is so obsessed with knowing \'what it\'s like to be someone else\' is that he\'s singularly incapable of getting out of his own skin; he is so very much himself that he can\'t place himself in the other, no matter how much information he accumulates about them. It\'s part of the appeal of his writing, but also its limitation; the portraits are emptily voyeuristic -- and fascinating as such --, and as such also safe, devoid of actual insight. So also, for someone who claims to be curious about what it is like to be someone different, he gets caught up in himself an awful lot, almost always featuring very prominently in these pieces, regardless of what the subject is; it\'s hard not to feel that it\'s all about him (which, of course, can get rather wearing) ... does offer an interesting variety. While much that is covered here is familiar to dedicated readers from his other books, these nevertheless make for interesting supplementary pieces to these -- and there\'s also quite a bit that\'s not familiar. Carrère also gets around quite a bit for these pieces, adding a decent touch of the exotic, as well, and between people, places, and circumstances there\'s enough of the extra-ordinary here to make for consistently engaging reading.
Vladimir Nabokov, Ed. by Brian Boyd and Anastasia Tolstoy
PositiveThe Complete ReviewStray letters to the editor also appear throughout -- generally making specific points or corrections; it\'s a shame there aren\'t more of these ... The interviews -- questions and responses -- do make up most of this collection, and some of the best are the succinct, staccato exchanges, right to the point ... The editors have trimmed many of these interviews, to avoid duplication of the same sets of questions-and-answers -- presumably helpful in avoiding repetition, but occasionally making for a too-trimmed-back feel ... It\'s nice to have this material collected here, much of it otherwise inaccessible or difficult to find ... Much in Think, Write, Speak feels familiar, Nabokov\'s strong but familiar opinions -- about specific authors, books, and, of course, the Soviet Union -- and not too many new details, personal or literary are revealed here, but it\'s still a fascinating career- and life over-view. There are some valuable new pieces here, particularly the essays on facets of Soviet literature, while the interviews provide consistently good entertainment value ... The volume is obviously of considerable interest and value to any Nabokov-fan, but there\'s certainly enough here to make it worthwhile also for the more casual reader.
Young Moon Jung
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe idea of stream/paralysis/derangement of consciousness sums up the novel well: this isn\'t episodic, plot-driven fiction, but rather very much goes with the flow, as Jung glides from one topic to another, seemingly whatever comes to mind. His riffs aren\'t so much digressions as the point and substance ... while much is incidental, quite a few of the riffs do go in some depth ... Jung certainly specializes in the off-beat, as regards both subject matter and presentations ... an odd little story, not quite going nowhere but certainly spiraling and looping about -- with as strong Texas flavoring -- without particularly obvious progression. The variety -- and the fact that it doesn\'t go on too long -- make for an entertaining enough little volume.
Virginie Despentes Trans. by Frank Wynne
PositiveThe Complete Review... a rich cast-of-character sequence of descriptions ... a somewhat but appealingly meandering novel, more concerned with stage-setting and character-description than driven by plot ... A colorful large cast of characters is introduced and a lot is set into motion -- but really only the beginnings of motion; even Vernon\'s spiral-to-the-streets is an almost leisurely fall and, unsurprisingly, the first act of this trilogy ends with the promise of a pick-me-up ... It\'s a fine portrait of quite a variety of slices of French (essentially Parisian) life, many of them baffled by how things have turned out and acting up or out in reaction ... Despentes shows a sure hand in her sketches of some of these lives, and the banality of so much of them -- down to the hardships (which doesn\'t make them any less hard or sad). It makes for good read -- though it\'s also very obviously just the start of a bigger conception, a first chapter of a three-act story.
Jorge Comensal, Trans. by Charlotte Whittle
MixedThe Complete Review... an odd novel about different ways of dealing with cancer ... moves along jauntily, not indulging in Ramón\'s decline or drawing out his steadily worsening condition but matter-of-factly skipping along from stage to stage. There\'s quite a bit of fascinating character-development -- or rather adjustment, to the changing circumstances, including in the children, who don\'t know how to deal with their father\'s decline and whose own awkward behavior seems particularly plausible. Still, the skipping along also gives a sense of much being missed, including the transition in the household and business; Carmela, in particular, gets short shrift ... There are lots of clever, neat details and small episodes in The Mutations, including among the storylines that are, essentially, separate from Ramón\'s, but it\'s all a bit puzzling; it doesn\'t really add up. It\'s a novel full of good ideas and scenes, and interesting thoughts, but with too little interest in any larger sort of picture or story developing -- slices of quite a few lives that, together, still feels much too much simply like separate slices (and reflections on and information about cancer that are intriguing but also never really fully developed). It\'s not quite all unrealized potential but it does feel oddly limited.
Juli Zeh Trans by. John Cullen
MixedThe Complete ReviewZeh\'s thriller-plot continues to be rather far-fetched -- cinematic or made-for-TV over the top simplistic -- but offers more than a passing nod to the moral implications of actions and inaction. It doesn\'t quite work -- that ship largely sailed with the suicidal premise of The Bridge -- but at least she tosses it in the mix, and tries to treat it seriously ... For such weighty material, Zeh has opted for a very breezy story -- agreeably fast-paced, but certainly thin in way too many regards. The incidental activity and the descriptions of day-to-day business and life -- is what\'s most successful (except when it gets too predictable, as in the safe-house Britta, Babak, and Julietta retreat to). The suicidal drift of a society sinking into fatal anomie, on the other hand, could definitely do with more exposition. And the bad guys are more than just a little bit silly ... a thriller for these times, both in subject matter -- it practically screams, on every page: relevant! -- and in its essentially TV-formatted ultra-quick (and thin ...) presentation and handling of the issues. It is, ultimately, simply too quick -- in its action and its many leaps, including through moral and other kinds of hoops -- but is certainly adequately satisfying as a pass-time read or book-club selection (lots to discuss!).
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
RaveThe Complete ReviewOgawa\'s straightforward, realistic presentation, with her narrator leading a more or less normal life, compounds the disturbing feel of the story, as more and more absences take hold, the world narrowed down yet people still getting on with things more or less like always, as they accept whatever befalls them and soldier on. It\'s a bizarre variation on the usual totalitarian dystopia ... This is a deeper, richer tale, a story that is more than just one describing brutal suppression by a police-like force in an isolated locale. Ogawa\'s novel looks, at first glance, small, in how it is limited to this narrator and her fairly simple life -- itself constricting evermore around her -- and narrated in such a straightforward manner, but really, it\'s a remarkably broad dark vision she presents ... A resonant and satisfyingly unsettling work, The Memory Police is a very well-crafted piece of (hitting-maybe-too-close-to-home) fantasy, rich with (but also not needing) possible allegorical meanings. A very fine piece of work.
Malin Persson Giolito, Trans. by Rachel WIllson-Broyles
MixedThe Complete ReviewThere are practically no courtroom scenes and relatively little about the steps in the legal process Sophia works her way through. Even the submission to the Supreme Court, when she gets to it, is almost anticlimactic ... interesting reading, not quite a psychological study of the lawyer (that, indeed, gets less interesting when it veers towards the more psychological ...). The case itself, and Katrin, in some ways get short shrift -- with Persson Giolito giving herself something of an out by making (and ultimately leaving) the case one more of procedure -- she petitions for a retrial -- than a determination of Ahlin\'s guilt or innocence. That works quite well for much of the novel, but ultimately, in the way she resolves it, can feel like something of a cop out ... If some of the bits feel a bit forced, Beyond All Reasonable Doubt mostly moves along very quickly and well, the story gripping in a way quite different than its premise and summary might lead one to expect. It\'s hard for Persson Giolito to pull that all the way through, and it seems almost appropriate that Sophia literally drifts away in some of the latter stages of the novel, taking a boat out to sea, as also the novel then drifts over much of the waiting weeks and months. But all in all it\'s a solid and quite satisfying read -- though certainly not in the sense of all the ends getting neatly tied up: indeed, the only end that is neatly tied up (Ahlin\'s fate) is the least satisfactory one.
Robert Menasse, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe many storylines do somewhat water down the novel as whole: the Auschwitz ideas could easily have been built up at considerably greater length before being cut down, while some of the meandering -- characters wander around lost, and lost in thought, rather more than necessary -- could have been cut back. The murder-mystery, and the great powers with an interest in it, is a bit of an odd fit, too -- though it too might have benefitted from Menasse going into more depth regarding it ... a substantial novel, but there\'s easily room for more here. Menasse tackles a big subject, and in expanding it even more, beyond just the confines of the EU offices and Brussels, can\'t quite give all his storylines and many characters the attention they demand (if not necessarily deserve). It is a good EU novel -- an interesting examination of political order and memory, and our failure to sustain the lessons of history -- but falls short of being a great (or the arguably necessary) one ... Menasse juggles a lot of ideas and stories (including many of the characters\' backstories), but he\'s much better and on firmer ground with the ones of greater immediacy, particularly the office- and bureaucracy-scenes than in his big-picture efforts (no matter how sympathetic his admirably anti-nationalist message is). Certainly, the many stories are well-juggled and presented, making for an enjoyable and engaging read -- but it all goes down almost too easily, connected and converging, but not coming together as a truly greater whole ... Menasse seems to have tried to avoid making The Capital a polemic, without being able to keep himself from polemicizing; he might have done well to go whole hog.
Young-Ha Kim Trans. by Krys Lee
MixedThe Complete Review... captures the disorientation and claustrophobia-like sense of a world out of reach that comes with Alzheimer\'s well ... \'Diary of a Murderer\' is strong and long enough to be a stand-alone, and as such stands in some contrast to the other three stories here -- which are fine enough, as such, but in the shadow of this one, much bigger story, come across more as padding ... a decent collection, with the more substantial title-piece the stand-out and perhaps not quite enough variety to the quartet.
Lina Wolff, Trans. by Saskia Vogel
PositiveComplete ReviewsWolff obviously has something to say, vividly demonstrating that even the white heterosexual man\'s perspective is entirely built up on the oppression and exploitation of others (specifically women here) ... Wolff is sharp and sly with her flawed figures ... an amusing take on modern life (literary and otherwise) and relationships between the sexes. If not a contra-Houellebecq, so at least Wolff suggests Houellebecq is the contemporary male template, with both her main male protagonists followers of the French master -- a blind alley/dead end street whose temptations are nevertheless too hard for Ruben and Max to resist. Yet Wolff\'s female figures also have their flaws and weaknesses, from Lucrezia harping on her physical ones to their uneasy relationships with various men in their lives ... All in all it makes for an interesting polychromatic fiction, a surprisingly ebullient story -- carried along nicely by Wolff\'s entertaining and easygoing presentation -- in a cleverly structured novel, its three separate parts neatly coming together by the end. It\'s certainly enjoyable reading.
Gebe Trans. by Edward Gauvin
PositiveThe Complete ReviewWith its varieties of imagery and stories, Letter to Survivors is, for all it succinctness, effective, a pointed critique of contemporary life (and suggestion to get one\'s life together -- in particular, in confronting the capitalist order and its power structures and the life it tries (so successfully) to sell to consumers -- or else ... Quick and sharp, Letter to Survivors is a fine little graphic novel.
PanComplete ReviewAn ambitious thriller -- of sorts -- that stuffs more in than it can comfortably handle. With some early promise -- even as the scenes and pacing are more suited to film than fiction -- Fernandez both keeps packing it on and then resolves everything all too easily-neatly, while he allows his personalities to completely overshadow the subject-matter ... Early on, Mala Vida has a cinematic feel -- you can imagine the scenes in a movie, as the novel almost seems scripted for that -- but eventually, with the action flung all over, it\'s too much even to capture that way. Frustratingly, too, everything moves along so easily; what limited hardships there are are easily dealt with. Ridiculously, too, there\'s often little sense of urgency, as several characters take time off (really -- like actual vacations) along the way ... Fernandez can\'t sustain things at length ... a pretty odd little novel, overly-ambitious yet ultimately underwhelming in all its parts.
Hwang Sok-yong Trans. by Sora Kim-Russell
PositiveThe Complete ReviewNot exactly nostalgic, Minwoo\'s narrative is a deep dive into the rough years of growing up in that hardscrabble neighborhood -- and the transitions in South Korean life and society over those years ... leaves just enough questions open ... effectively presents the rapid change of South Korean life and society, with Minwoo covering decades of change -- and both those who were successful, and those got left behind or fell by the wayside along the way -- while Woohee\'s story is more limited to the near-present-day. The episodes from their lives that are highlighted -- some barely more than incidental-seeming -- work well, as Hwang mostly doesn\'t force the issues too much. It makes for a solid portrait of changing times and society, with a number of strong characters as examples, most notably the two very different narrators.