PositiveThe Times (UK)Claire Kohda’s mischievous debut novel pumps fresh blood into the vampire genre by taking us into the pitfalls of Lydia’s less than ordinary life ... Woman, Eating reconfigures the uncanny — its real chills derive not from Lydia’s bloodthirsty cravings but from the creepy male humans she encounters ... So much has been written on female appetites that the book could easily have felt derivative, but Kohda flips the narrative (woman wants to eat but can’t). I would, however, have liked more family backstory, and the ending feels a bit too easy ... Nonetheless, the book playfully revitalises a tired tradition, riffing on its clichés while delivering a gripping contemporary fable about embracing difference and satisfying hunger.
RaveDaily Mail (UK)Haynes has a stand-up comedy background, and her wry wit leavens these grisly tragedies. Her irreverence—Kronos eats his children and ‘fails a basic fatherhood test’—has the ring of affectionate family teasing: that’s how intimately she knows and loves her subject. Alongside the laughs are rigorous analysis and ethical wrangling, as she considers the dilemmas posed by mythology ... If I’m ever prosecuted, I’d like Natalie Haynes to defend me. She argues persuasively, carving out space for women denied a voice (Medusa), overshadowed (Jocasta) and unjustly condemned (Helen of Troy). She explores feminist literature reclaiming mythological narratives...and matches entertainment with erudition, discussing Greek linguistic nuance alongside historical context. If anything, I could have done with more of the latter to offset all the myth. Agile, rich, subversive, Pandora’s Jar proves that the classics are far from dead, and keep evolving with us.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)Dick’s lush, transcendent nature writing contrasts with her spare, elliptical dialogue ... Each chapter features a new, seemingly interchangeable cast of artists, whose relationships with the ‘unnamed, ungendered’ narrator are indistinct; what matters is the different ways they cope in extremis. For They is a study of fear. Its disconcerting power lies in its dream logic and elisions—the unexplained background, the offstage violence. Exploring the purpose of art and the psychology of peer surveillance (shades of lockdown), it begs the question: if ‘the other’ is subjective, aren’t ‘we’ also ‘they’?
RaveEvening Standard (UK)Whatever stage you’re at, from adolescent heartache to parenthood or bereavement, this deep dive into the human heart will expand and enrich your perspective on love ... In recent years we’ve seen an explosion of content exploring relationships and sex ... If you’re wondering whether Lunn can bring anything new to the table, the answer is a resounding yes. Balanced, hopeful and uplifting, Conversations on Love is full of tiny eureka moments. Perhaps there could have been a more thorough look at the institution of marriage and the evolution of family structures, but this is quibbling. Celebrating love’s glorious variety, Lunn reminds us of our responsibility to pay attention, to actively engage and show up in our relationships, for \'life is not one love story, but many\'.
RaveThe Spectator (UK)The novel’s verisimilitude is striking...it’s done with restraint and propelled by finely observed dynamics between characters who grapple with survivors’ guilt and ungraspable truths ... Described in measured, meditative prose, humanity’s paralysis is painful to read: the myopic faith in the status quo, the fearful waiting game ... In Greengrass’s vivid realisation of the consequences of inaction, the day cannot be saved, only deferred. Yet the bleak inexorability and earnest tone are mitigated by her moving, spiritual evocations of love, grief and a landscape haunted by its ruined past. This sobering prophecy of collective guilt is also a hypnotic elegy to nature, and our vanishing place in it.
RaveSpectator (AUS)The novel’s pathos derives from its stunted relationships, the vicious cycle of discontentment that continues until Helen’s death ... a distilled psychological tour de force from an exceptional writer. Riley has a mimic’s ear for feeble gags, absurd catchphrases and pretension. Even her punctuation is withering; rarely have exclamation marks looked so desperately cheerful, inverted commas so mocking. From minute, quotidian details—impasses, the unsaid—Riley weaves a painfully funny and acute study of disappointment, self-delusion, unbridgeable fissures and the conflicting forces of loyalty, pity, vexation and guilt.
PositiveEvening Standard (UK)Matrix affirms Groff’s originality ... You might imagine a nun’s life to be devoid of sensuality, yet Groff begs us look again, evoking sex and nature in luminous prose. She skilfully treads the line between archaism and accessibility (keep Google handy and expect to expand your medieval vocab), only faltering in Marie’s visions, which are strangely unreadable. The omniscient third-person narrative is sometimes close to Marie’s consciousness, sometimes grandly prophetic, foreshadowing events right up to today’s climate crisis. Despite the intense present tense, the lack of direct dialogue has a distancing effect; Matrix could have done with more speech and less description—and more on Marie’s literary output. Yet this is a remarkable novel: unusual, profound, transcendental.
RaveThe Spectator (UK)\"Connections are transient, spun as much from imagination as from reciprocal feeling. Both past and present love stories count down to a departure, giving China Room its momentum. Sahota’s prose is a finely modulated instrument that moves from subtle minutiae to cosmic magnitude ... Exhibiting the narrative control and psychological acuity of Rohinton Mistry and Jhumpa Lahiri, Sahota’s tale of trans-generational trauma is quietly devastating.
RaveiNews (UK)Rememberings, a loosely chronological memoir that intersperses short, episodic chapters with poems and photos, fills in the blanks between albums, charting her traumatic childhood, creative coming-of-age and mental health struggles, including addiction, agoraphobia and anorexia. If this sounds miserable, it isn’t, as she splices fierce sincerity with irreverent humour ... Renowned for her haunting singing voice, O’Connor reveals a charismatic narrative voice: forthright, earthy, mischievous ... Her metaphors are striking, especially when evoking early influences ... A brave survival story, Rememberings is both a searing critique of the exploitation of women in entertainment and an eloquent riposte to those who have misrepresented her.
MixedThe Evening Standard (UK)... shares its predecessor’s intensity, an unflinching candour that chimed with readers who saw their private hurts and humiliations reflected in these true stories ... Everyone loves a remorseless antiheroine, and Taddeo gives us one to remember, but there are only so many times you can listen to someone tell you that they’re depraved. The book is dense with foreshadowing and jaded, vampy generalisations ... Taddeo’s metaphors are visceral, haunting, but occasionally don’t land ... Although the ending offers a kind of haunting redemption, it seems contrived, and Joan’s aspirations for her daughter are dispiritingly superficial ... The voice feels self-conscious, lacking the humour of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, arguably the standout antiheroine narrative of the last five years. Yet nonetheless, Animal is a psychologically astute tale of tooth-and-nail survival that considers the meaning of female strength in the modern world.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)... ruthlessly peels back the ego to expose the soul’s most discomfiting corners ... Ambivalence at the prospect of another ‘millennial novel’ is forgivable, but Nolan’s narrative voice is disarmingly distinctive ... It’s not trying to be cool, or blame the internet; yet it’s self-aware, self-mocking, consciously literary ... submerges you in her interior life with Knausgaardian intensity ... In the theorising passages where she rakes herself over, the novel’s origins as essays are apparent. If you’re thinking it sounds like navel-gazing, you echo the ex-boyfriend who calls out her self-absorption: ‘You always think your pain is the most painful’ – but isn’t that part of being human? ... examines our capacity to seek out and romanticise suffering ... [Nolan\'s] rejection of cliché and a savage honesty bordering on masochism recall writers such as Elena Ferrante and Jenny Diski ... As the furore around the Framing Britney Spears documentary refocuses our gaze on a public exploitation of female vulnerability, Nolan’s portrait of a relationship warped by obsession and low self-worth excavates our private hearts ... Subverting traditional love stories, it illuminates the fragile tension between power and desire; the inequities of a hook-up culture where a woman’s erotic capital shapes her identity and experience; and the modern deification of love – ‘The One’ now hunted with the cultish fervour once reserved for securing a spot in heaven ... Not everyone will fall for Acts of Desperation, but those that do will feel profoundly understood.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)In a memoir that’s funny and heartfelt, personal and political, she anatomises her experience of the febrile transformation she christens ‘the Flux’: ‘a reckoning of sex, money, biology and power’ triggered, for her, by a breakup before turning 28 ... Frizzell’s compassionate, compulsive prose fizzes with imaginative humour and metaphor (although her careful citation of every possible perspective makes for an excess of lists). Yet I question the book’s timing. If you’re involuntarily single and child-free in lockdown, it may stoke rather than assuage anxiety, the danger of all fertility-lit – a thriving mini-genre ... Ultimately, it’s the memoir of a woman in a loving relationship who had a child easily in her early thirties. The drama’s in her head, which doesn’t invalidate it; it just might seem a bit rich to women struggling to conceive, or meet someone. I don’t like cordoning off issues, but this one is so emotional, a ‘privileged’ perspective can be alienating, even if it’s as well-intentioned as Frizzell’s clearly is ... I admire Frizzell’s bravery, candour and campaigning spirit. Her critique of a society where inadequate, outdated government policy and workplace culture perpetuate gender inequality is sure to spark crucial conversations. Just don’t expect it to calm you down.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)... strikes to the heart of the moment. This conversation-shifting, taboo-busting novel is set to catapult its author, Torrey Peters into the mainstream ... Her themes could hardly be more timely ... a nuanced, New York-set portrait of trans feminine culture that challenges preconceptions of motherhood, family and misogyny ... irreverent, zeitgeist-nailing quality, without diluting complexities ... a bracing study of perspectives ... starkly illuminates the courage required to live as a trans woman, for whom the simplest interaction is fraught with the potential for abuse or ridicule ... Detransition, Baby should be on your reading list. It’s an exuberant novel of ideas, desire and life’s messy ironies – all filtered through Peters’ astute, witty characters.
RaveThe Spectator (UK)... a juicy plot that’s both vintage Hornby and totally contemporary ... Hornby has built a career on capturing emotional nuance. This book finds him in forensic observational form—from paranoid introspection to tortuous drinks parties; from the unsavoury undertones of customers’ attempts to flirt with Joseph to the thinly veiled racism of policemen. The looming referendum haunts the novel, which depicts with rueful irony a complacent elite sleepwalking into Brexit ... With the confidence of a pro, Hornby delivers an entertaining tale of modern romance and the value of living in the moment. The canvas is strikingly domestic and the tone wry, intimate, bittersweet. Its success hinges on protagonists so vivid and self-aware that their relationship seems inevitable ... There are clichés—Lucy’s teacherly pedantry, Joseph’s aspirations to be a DJ. But overall, Just Like You is a thoughtful story about love against the grain in a Britain divided by political tribalism and identity politics.