PositiveThe Star TribuneEvery Vow You Break is not a murder mystery like Swanson\'s last book, but rather a psychological thriller. Some of the tropes deployed to achieve those thrills feel shopworn (an isolated retreat with no wireless and cell service?) but for the most part there is more than enough going on to keep us gripped and absorbed. Just when we think we have an idea of what Abigail is up against, Swanson pulls the rug away from under us. Strange events give way to sinister revelations and chilling encounters. The last act cranks up tension to the breaking point. Sit back, suspend all disbelief, and watch those pages fly by.
Irmgard Keun, tr. Michael Hofman
PositiveThe Star TribuneIrmgard Keun produced a series of fresh, wry, acutely perceptive novels that gave voice and agency to young, modern, single-minded German women in the feverish climate between the wars ... the novel is vintage Keun, infused with her trademark wit, candor and emotional intensity. Keun\'s narrative comprises a series of tightly packed vignettes and quietly captivating portraits. Some characters are fleeting cameos but others are forceful presences. Thanks to Michael Hofmann\'s translation, the prose has bite and charm. This may have been Keun\'s last book, but for those yet to discover her, it is as good a place as any to begin.
RaveThe Star TribuneLauren Fox\'s first two novels heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice, one that could articulate the ups and downs in human relationships with warmth, wit and refreshing insight ... Drawing on chapters from her own family history, Fox shines a piercing light into the wreckage of the past and illuminates what she terms \'the great, bottomless, complex, consuming love between mothers and daughters.\' ... Fox\'s narrative flits between past and present to tell two tales in tandem, but it also makes effective use of flash-forwards to reveal roads that will be taken and pitfalls that lie ahead. Shifts in perspective create a more comprehensive picture, while the quirkily descriptive prose adds color and mystery. This could have been a jarring clash of voices and a messy fusion of the historical and the modern. Instead it is an artfully constructed and richly absorbing novel that shows how love is strengthened, not weakened, over distance and time.
RaveThe Star TribuneConsistently elegant and absorbing, The River Within is a supremely accomplished first work. Powell expertly handles her fractured narrative, one that darts backward and forward in time and rotates three individual viewpoints, those of Venetia, Lennie and, in the run-up to his death, Danny. The characters harbor family secrets and personal trauma, or exhibit petty jealousies and intense manias.
RaveThe Star Tribune...remains bold, fresh, vital and above all modern ... Quin’s novel tells a simple tale in a way that is both formally daring and linguistically inventive. Dialogue flows freely, shorn of quotation marks and he-said-she-said clarity, and with speakers chopping and changing in the same paragraph ... Three is indeed a challenging book in places, but it is also a stimulating one. It is heartening to know that another Quin novel is slated for release next year. Her singular talent, so prematurely snuffed out, burns bright again.
RaveThe Star TribuneJones\' prose is stark and brittle when conveying violence, cruelty, and hard truths, but also lush and lyrical when the natural world intrudes ... New concepts authenticate the dystopia...and short, spaced-out paragraphs heighten the drama. But for all the imaginative leaps and formal risks, Jones never loses sight of the human element. This novel presents a bleak new world and depicts a frantic attempt at damage limitation. It\'s a terrifying vision but a captivating read.
David Diop, tr. Anna Moschovakis
RaveThe Star TribuneA stunning new novel about the plight of two Senegalese soldiers in the Great War offers a fresh perspective. It also introduces a singular talent ... Though short, it is an immersive, propulsive read, one that searingly evokes the terrors of trench warfare, the relentless loss of life, and the irreparable damage inflicted on the human soul ... Diop\'s dark fable isn\'t all blood and guts. His protagonist takes time out to reflect on the village life he left behind, and his relationship with family, friends and the woman he loved. But it is the scenes of mayhem and the portrayal of delusion that have the biggest impact. Employing language that is, by turn, visceral and lyrical, Diop tells a devastating story of loss and inhumanity while enlarging our understanding of the war to end all wars.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... In Graf’s chapters we follow the exploits of a man haunted by his past and now determined to achieve the greater good, even if it means risking his life. For a while he feels like one of the rockets, \'launched on a fixed trajectory, impossible to recall, hurtling to a point that was preordained.\' When he finds the courage to go it alone and betray his superiors, the novel builds in tension. Kay’s equally gripping sections track a woman who begins as a victim in love and ends up a tough and resourceful operative in control in hostile situations. On this occasion Harris fails to deliver any of his trademarks twists. However, V2 still manages to be a superlative historical thriller, one that is well researched, deftly plotted and expertly paced.
RaveThe Herald Scotland (UK)What prompted the author to dispense with his pseudonym on this occasion is unimportant; what matters is his intelligent and captivating thriller which keeps the reader hooked until the final sting in the tale ... Gradually, almost stealthily, Banville allows his plot to thicken ... Banville stirs in religious tension and class division without reducing momentum or impairing the atmosphere of queasy dread. At regular turns his functional, clear-cut prose is elevated by expertly crafted formulations and descriptions ... Ignore the lacklustre title; this novel has complexity and heft. With luck it is no stand-alone case for Strafford but the first of many.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe author...blends in many of his own unique touches that render the proceedings fiendishly clever and brilliantly funny. The whole narrative is held together and driven forward by its perfectly formed characters ... a compelling whodunit complete with red herrings, unexpected twists, and a pair of police officers who, despite their best efforts, always manage to be one step behind their amateur counterparts. At the same time, and without reducing any of his carefully built-up momentum, Osman allows his main characters to experience senior moments or reflect on growing old. There is regular humor but also bouts of tragicomedy...and moments of real poignancy.
RaveThe Star TribuneHornby’s latest novel, Just Like You” sees him dispensing with other topics and focusing entirely on the relationship between his two lead characters and its impact on those around them. He doesn’t sell his reader short, for this love affair is like nothing we have encountered before in his fiction. Marked by significant differences and fraught with huge uncertainties, it requires both parties to compromise to make it work and resemble more than just \'something between things\' ... Hornby writes about human connection and interaction with facility and acuity, and always in the most engaging prose. He makes us care deeply for his two protagonists as they follow their instincts—falling in love, falling apart, then making another go of it ... Hornby’s characters articulate their hopes and fears throughout expertly crafted dialogue and well executed scenarios. Astute and emotionally involving, this is a bittersweet tale about opposites attracting, then trying to stay together.
RaveThe Star TribuneOnce again she ably channels Christie and delivers a deftly plotted, pleasingly intricate and thrillingly executed mystery ... Hannah keeps her readers on their toes through numerous twists and turns, right up until the trademark drawing-room denouement. We sift clues ... We weigh suspects ...\'Poirot is the finest detective at work anywhere in the world,\' remarks Catchpool at one point. It is good to see that he is still at work, in Hannah’s more than capable hands.
RaveThe Star Tribune\"... a rich assortment of strange and beautiful wonders to reflect on, learn from, and marvel at. The essays are personal accounts involving observation, recollection and, above all, fascination ... Some essays describe experiences that are grand in scope ... However, the quieter, more contemplative essays which deal with the small-scale delights of the British countryside are just as captivating. Macdonald’s untrammeled joy proves infectious ... essential reading ... a book to relish at any time, both for its intelligence and grace, and its ability to edify and enchant in equal measure.
PositiveThe Star Tribune...long overdue but also well worth the wait. This time, instead of focusing solely on romantic relations, Minot’s tales embrace a number of themes and even a range of styles. What links them and those from before is a winning blend of emotional intensity, capricious playfulness and keen-eyed observation ... Minot has mixed success with her more experimental stories: One resembles a rough draft of dialogue from an abandoned Samuel Beckett play; another strives to be a ghoulish comedy, except that the joke quickly wears thin ... But it is the title story that is the most inventive and the most beguiling.
RaveThe Star TribuneDonoghue ensures that her reader feels Julia’s pain. We despair at her patients’ naiveté...and are profoundly moved by tragic cases of poverty, hardship and cruelty ... Although there is much suffering in this novel, there are also many glimmers of light representing hope, unexpected love and Julia’s medical triumphs. These operations constitute stunning set pieces imbued with drama, tension and rare emotional force ... This intense and intimate novel unfolds over three days. But we would gladly spend longer with Julia, watching her in awe as she grapples with life and death in her \'small square of the sickened, war-weary world.\'
Yu Miri, Trans. by Morgan Giles
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... a strange conceit but one that works wonders, enabling the reader to fully sympathize with the ill-fated protagonist on each step of his tragic journey, from homeless man to restless spirit ... Kazu’s Job-like suffering is heart-rending. Mercifully, his tale is not so bleak that it is off-putting. His catalog of hardships serves a purpose, laying bare perennial social concerns such as the seismic gulf between Japan’s rich and poor. Yu underscores that inequality by having Kazu born in 1933, the same year as Emperor Akihito, and showing how both lives loosely dovetail and wildly diverge. There is additional color, vibrancy and insight as Kazu’s spectral self haunts his old stamping ground, eavesdropping on conversations and reminiscing about absent friends and other lost souls ... Morgan Giles’ skillful translation from the Japanese brings out dark strains but also pockets of beauty ... a devastating and affecting novel which illuminates a swath of society subsisting on the margins.
RaveThe Star Tribune... a caustically funny, scalpel-sharp satire about a young man trying to get ahead, and a foothold, in a rapidly changing London and a recently divided Britain ... Theft is for the most part plotless but it is by no means directionless. Paul’s misadventures, romantic entanglements and attempts at stability are more than enough to charm the reader and support the novel. It might feel episodic in places, too quick to jump from one scene to another of Paul at work, at play or in therapy, but it hardly matters when those scenes are so well crafted and highly memorable ... Brown succeeds on so many levels. His cast is well-drawn and their hopes and desires are keenly felt. Paul’s acerbic commentary provokes snorts of laughter ... His more self-deprecating meditations or troublesome predicaments elicit waves of sympathy ... at the heart of this bittersweet novel is a tender, perfectly realized human drama.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe drama that unfolds is a powerful study of fame, identity and lost love ... [a] profound sense of melancholy...imbues the proceedings and is most keenly felt through the pervading air of wistful evanescence ... it leaves a lasting impression. There is much to appreciate, from the evocation of Ronnie’s childhood to the \'ballet of silent intersecting actions\' that is his magic routine. Swift has also worked his magic to produce a novel fueled by, and consequently alive with, creative brilliance and emotional intensity.
Fernanda Melchor, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveThe Star Tribune... testimonies come as thick, ferocious, spleen-venting torrents. Each chapter is devoted to one character, and their tale or tirade unfolds in a single paragraph composed of long, breathless sentences that build in momentum and reach feverish levels of intensity. The characters emerge as unreliable narrators and sifting their stories for truth proves increasingly futile. After a fashion we learn to suspend disbelief and surrender to the novel\'s dark energy and linguistic thrills ... not for the squeamish. Pages are packed with expletives. People are scarred or broken. Whole lives are ruined by appalling violence, cruelty and degradation. The fictitious Mexican town, in thrall to superstition and poverty, offers no hope, no redemption, and definitely no way out. At the start of each successive chapter we brace ourselves for a fresh onslaught of pain and profanity, sound and fury, hardship and despair. And yet despite the book\'s terrifying vision and depressing scenarios, it is difficult to turn away. Melchor is regarded as one of Mexico\'s most talented young writers and her unflinching, no-holds-barred depictions of warped humanity have the same power as her eponymous hurricane, hitting us again and again with \'bitter, hellacious force.\' Shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize and brilliantly translated by Sophie Hughes, this incendiary novel continues to burn and leave its mark long after the last page.
RaveThe Herald Scotland (UK)Unlike [Enright\'s] past work, this offering features a decidedly stripped-back family – for the most part just a mother-and-daughter pairing. Fortunately, smaller scale doesn’t mean fewer rewards. This is another skilfully crafted, emotionally charged novel from an expert practitioner ... Enright’s depiction of Katherine’s final-act decline is poignantly done. Equally impressive is her vivid rendering and incisive examination of the acting world – by turns convivial and cut-throat ... the novel isn’t solely about Katherine. With great subtlety, Enright allows elements of Norah’s story to overlap ... Enright has given us another first-rate performance.
PositiveThe Star TribuneOn the surface, the first section of Eimear McBride’s third novel, Strange Hotel, is curiously underwhelming and maddeningly evasive. Not a lot happens. Little is known. Nothing is at stake. McBride continues in this vein as her protagonist drifts through the years, visiting a series of cities and staying in a succession of hotels. But what the book withholds and how it unfolds are the keys to its success. The voyeuristic reader is invited into the woman’s room and into her mind to try to make sense of her meditations and recollections, her transactions and transgressions. The result is a novel rich with mystery, complexity and seductive charm.
PositiveThe National (UAE)... having snared his readers, Murphy makes them wait several hundred pages before resuming the party and revealing the destructive agenda of its gatecrasher.
Such a strategy is not easy for the author to pull off. Fortunately, what unfolds between Murphy’s provocative opener and shock denouement is deeply immersive and intensely powerful ... Murphy’s sharply realised focus is the effects of war, migration and refugeehood on people ... Correspondents is an expansive, multigenerational epic, rich in empathy and insight ... The long, detailed sections that shadow Rita in Lebanon and Iraq are by far the most compelling. Rita is rendered vividly alive in those pages and her exploits and observations read like a blend of carefully controlled drama and well-crafted reportage. These sections are so captivating that Murphy’s later, closing chapters in the US resemble a tacked-on coda rather than a topped-and-tailed conclusion ... As with many long stories, Correspondents is flabby in places. Some scenes drag on and one or two characters outstay their welcome. But for the most part, Murphy keeps everything in proportion, right down to Rita’s succinct point about the Iraq war.
RaveThe Star Tribune... this impressive debut casts a spell that is at once sinister and seductive ... things become decidedly odd ... Perry infuses her narrative with disquiet and mystery ... One moment the inhabitants of the house feel like fully formed, flesh-and-blood creations ... The next moment they seem ethereal and unknowable forces of nature. In a similar vein, the house is both a concrete, finite space and a hazy, otherworldly realm suspended out of time ... We search for our own meaning while succumbing to her elegant prose and dark magic.
RaveThe Star Tribune... [a] bravura first novel ... In many respects, Taylor’s debut is a novel of extreme contrasts. Wallace experiences pleasure and pain, kindness and brutality, longing and release ... Taylor lays bare his protagonist’s conflictions and afflictions without rendering him a figure of pity. We come to champion Wallace as he examines his heart and his unhealed wounds, and his attempts to harden himself against destructive forces. Hostility appears on all fronts and in a variety of absorbing set-piece scenes ... The compressed time frame and closely packed events ensure that the proceedings are always emotionally charged. Taylor shines a vital light on race, class and sexuality, and in doing so leaves his reader in no doubt as to his unique voice and talent.
Peter Stamm, Trans. by Michael Hofmann
PositiveThe Star TribuneStamm doesn’t provide neat, topped-and-tailed answers to thorny questions, nor does he rationalize his characters’ decisions ... while Stamm resists offering clear-cut solutions, his stripped-down, pared-back prose still works wonders, exploring complex issues and probing singular minds in a thoroughly compelling way.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... an incredibly accomplished debut. London-based author Kate Weinberg blends choice components from various types of books — campus novel, bildungsroman, crime thriller, murder mystery — and creates an intriguing composite. Agatha Christie’s presence is felt in the whodunit aspect — but so too is her absence ... Weinberg is less adept in other areas. She scatters tantalizing hints of danger ahead but makes us wait over half the book until a murder is announced. And although her characters are awe-struck by Lorna, it is hard for the reader to feel any mesmerizing force ... In every other respect Weinberg excels, delivering a well-crafted page-turner full of love triangles and vicious circles, secrets and suspense. Escapist fiction of the highest order.
Madeleine Bourdouxhe, Trans. by Faith Evans
PositiveThe Star TribuneLike miniature versions of her novels, these captivating tales explore the singular minds of ordinary women through beguiling prose that manages to be fluid and lucid but also swirling with complex currents. The title story showcases Bourdouxhe’s talent for disorientating her reader with an unexpected act and an unpredictable outcome ... Translator Faith Evans excels ... The black sheep in the collection is \'René,\' a nasty little tale in which an impulsive kiss from the male protagonist leads to a violent assault. Bourdouxhe achieves better results when her women are center stage. Whether they are lonely souls, bruised victims or resilient survivors, we champion them and come to know them inside out.
RaveThe Star TribuneThere are wry observations, astute close-readings, scathing critiques of Putin’s misrule, and numerous impressions on Russian quirks and foibles. Gilding the whole proceedings is Wheeler’s lyrical prose ... We come away from this enthralling book wiser and happier—and with a pang or two of wanderlust.
RaveThe Star TribuneFew writers are equally at home in the realms of fiction and nonfiction. Excellence in one field is often mere competence in the other. Lydia Davis is one of those rare cases: an ambidextrous author who is just as capable of bowling a reader over with a short story as she is with an essay ... an indispensable compilation of nonfiction ...the book’s standout essays are those that are grouped under the heading \'The Practice of Writing.\' Beyond this off-puttingly dry title are a variety of incisive and informative pieces about Davis’ craft ... The longer, meatier highlight of the book, \'Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits,\' constitutes an in-depth, invaluable master class ... Throughout, Davis reinforces points with useful examples, attentive close readings and numerous pearls of wisdom ... There is little here on Davis’ other main occupation, translation. That, though, will be covered in a second volume of essays. More good things will come to those who wait.
MixedThe Star TribuneAnomalies abound, loose ends are seldom tied up, and clarity either comes late to the reader or not at all. It is up to us to adjust to the distorted perspective or simply go with Flattery’s flow ... puzzling revelations and descriptions ... Just when we think we know where Flattery is going she disorients us by changing tack and veering off-course into surreal territory. Again and again we encounter bizarre, head-scratching turns ... Some of Flattery’s conceits seem odd for the sake of it. The longest story here grinds wearyingly on and its protagonists outstay their welcome. But the best tales blend personal pain and mordant wit, and are seductively offbeat and pleasingly on point.
Dorthe Nors, trans. by Martin Aitken
RaveMinneapolis Star-TribuneA collection of dark, bold, magnetic short stories from an original Danish voice ... a collection of brittle, blackly comic and quietly explosive stories that provide snapshots of modern Danish life and home in at daring angles to highlight the quirks, agonies and vulnerabilities of the human condition ... reads like a master class in compression, precision and economy of language ... Rather than plumb depths of emotion, she skates across surfaces, allowing cracks to form and disquiet to seep in ... The weaker tales are overshadowed by the many stronger ones. Almost all are steered by quirky, predominantly female characters, the frail and the gutsy.
RaveThe Star TribuneThis is a charming, often moving book, enriched by beautifully drawn characters and brilliantly depicted scenes from country life. The narrative unfurls at a languid pace: We drift from Easter services to games of Gaelic football, from pub sessions to house dances. And yet we happily surrender to the gentle rhythms of the drama and the lilting cadences of the prose. Again and again Williams ensures there is musicality in standard descriptions and poetry gilding commonplace truths ... Williams has written a memorable novel that vividly brings alive both a different era and two different male characters — \'knights of first and last loves.\'
PositiveThe Scotland Herald (UK)... not a quick-fix stopgap to tide over readers holding out for something more substantial; instead it is a set of sharp, savvy tales which juggles genres, brims with vitality and lays bare hearts and minds ... Eight of the book’s nineteen stories first appeared in Granta, the New Yorker and the Paris Review. However, these tales are not necessarily the strongest ... Not every story packs a punch. In some shorter pieces Smith experiments with form and tries out new styles. Although it is right that she should flex her creative muscles and take risks outside her comfort zone, it proves more rewarding when she plays to her strengths and returns to more naturalistic tale-telling with fleshed-out characters, believable scenarios and voices which ring true ... [Smith] does what all good writers should do: leaves her reader wanting more.
Adam O'Fallon Price
PositiveStar Tribune...a [roomy] and...ambitious affair, packing in a large cast, encompassing 100 years of family history and juggling a variety of narrative styles, genres and registers. Price takes big risks that allow him to perform dizzying feats ... Despite a grisly discovery and the odd spooky presentiment, The Hotel Neversink is not as creepy as it should be. But what it lacks in chills it more than makes up for in gripping family drama and masterful storytelling.
PositiveThe Star TribuneCoe covers a lot of ground, tracing messy fictional lives but also restaging elections, riots, the London Olympics and, of course, the game-changing, nation-dividing European referendum ... It is here that Coe is at his sharpest but also his most strident. However, when he adopts a more measured tone, his characters breathe and their reactions and predicaments convince and delight ... He has scrutinized his countrymen and produced an incisive and often scabrously funny satire and a compelling portrait of the way we live now.
Sarah Elaine Smith
PositiveThe Star TribuneMarilou Is Everywhere has drama and poignancy, but its other source of delight is Smith\'s stunning prose. Beautiful phrasings or original formulations glint on the page ... Sometimes that lyricism glints too much, the result of which is dazzle over development. But when Smith gets the balance right, we find ourselves swept along while marveling at a unique new voice.
RaveThe Star TribuneClare Clark’s sixth book is another slice of well researched and compellingly told historical fiction ... Her novel still reads like an outlandish tale ... Clark takes a while to get going. Her initial chapters feel less like a steady buildup and more like an overlong preamble. But once the plot takes shape and the seemingly disparate parts slot into place, the novel roars to life. Clark brilliantly evokes both the decadence of Weimar Berlin and the impending Nazi menace. Her characters’ singular struggles prove riveting. Her scattered artistic references are effective ... Above all, though, it is the heightened intrigue that keeps us invested.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... more literary-themed than literary-sourced. On this occasion she turns from past masters and masterpieces and instead devises an ingenious and electrifying setup that explores the boundary between fact and fiction ... Baker may deny her narrator a name, but she ensures she is so well delineated in every other respect as to be believable and sympathetic ... What begins as an engaging tale about a new start in a new environment among budding new writers ramifies into a gripping psychological thriller that combines fiendish mind games and riveting drama with a timely examination of male entitlement and female struggle ... Baker’s novel does just that: beguiling us, transporting us and terrifying us for good measure.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Confessions of Frannie Langton is large, lavish and gutsy, a skilled and intoxicating mash-up of slave narrative, gothic romance, whodunit and legal thriller. Collins—who lives in London and is of Jamaican descent—pays careful attention to historical detail while at the same time ensuring her reader stays immersed in her emotional drama and invested in her full-bodied characters.
Lina Wolff, Trans. by Saskia Vogel
PositiveThe Star Tribune\"... incendiary ... the book boldly, pungently and incisively chronicles sexual misadventures, artistic ambitions and a drastic decline ... This is a novel full of colorful and candid characters who are eager to speak their minds and quick to flaunt their oddities. Through three markedly different voices, Wolff examines gender power play ... Not all hangs together, and even less makes sense. But Wolff’s constant supply of fire, bite and wit are compelling forces that propel us through all three of her riotous acts.\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis is a novel which sees McEwan having enormous fun while also being deadly serious ... His world of artificial intelligence is chilly, clever and utterly credible. This bold and brilliant novel tells a consistently compelling tale but it also provides regular food for thought regarding who we are, what we feel, what we construct, and what we might become.
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
RaveThe Star Tribune...although the book is a semi-conventional novel, it is an entirely unconventional detective novel, for it features the unlikeliest of amateur sleuths, a bizarre series of crimes and a jaw-dropping denouement ... And what a voice she has ... Tokarczuk keeps the book’s whimsical streak in check with more serious crosscurrents that explore everything from animal rights to predetermination to the way society stigmatizes and marginalizes those it considers mad, strange or simply different. By rights, a whodunit filled with weighty scrutiny and lighthearted comedy shouldn’t get off the ground. But Tokarczuk is capable of miracles and ensures that this extraordinary novel soars.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...[a] formidably accomplished debut novel ... Los Angeles-based Fitzpatrick sharply examines the cheapness of life while at the same time flagging up and homing in on various redemptive riches, from brotherly bonds to cross-cultural relations to the pursuit of justice ... Few debut novels are so tightly plotted and powerfully written.
RaveThe Star TribuneOnce again, Jones simultaneously manages to draw us in while keeping us on the edge of our seats. Her narrative is threaded with mean streaks. Scenes crackle with dark energy. Characters hint at danger ... Jones’ portrayal of a dysfunctional family is as powerful as her depiction of provincial France in all its \'tasteful narrowness\' and her merciless examination of greed, class and corruption. The book’s desperate last act may constitute a jolting change of gear and direction, but that matters little because the events that unfold are so electrifying.
Tanguy Viel Trans. by William Rodarmor
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneSharp and memorable ... Kermeur’s high hopes result in a steep downfall. The reader has seen it coming, for early on Kermeur tells the judge that his story is about \'a run-of-the-mill swindle.\' But Viel’s novel is much meatier than that. It shows how Kermeur was duped but also how he and those around him coped with it ... Like the fog that blankets the town and pervades the novel, all is hazy; but gradually, and tantalizingly, outlines emerge from the murk and reasons are revealed ... At the end, the novel’s blandly bureaucratic title is explained, and we find ourselves with the tricky task of deciding whether the judge’s punishment fits Kermeur’s crime.
Yuko Tsushima Trans. by Geraldine Harcourt
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Short and spare yet also luminous and profound ... This is a novel suffused with light. Some of it, such as the sunlight that streams through the apartment windows, is calming and energizing. Other sources prove blinding and disorienting for the woman and the reader ... Tsushima, who died in 2016, is a writer worth discovering. Deceptively simple and remarkably timely, her story of a marginalized woman trying to cope with the trials of life is certain to entrance a whole new readership and pave the way for further translations of her strangely mesmerizing work.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Readman’s novel starts with a whimper and ends with a bang. During the slow-paced opening sections we could be forgiven for thinking this is a gentle rose-tinted tale of cozy camaraderie and adolescent escapades. But as Readman expands, she casts shadows over the lives of her two main characters and highlights the trials, quandaries and agonies of the adults around them ... Beautifully bittersweet, this first novel is a rich evocation of youth and a joyous celebration of individuality.\
Sarah Léon, Trans. by John Cullen
PositiveThe Star TribuneSarah Léon’s debut novel, Wanderer, is an elegant and finely focused winter’s tale. It starts out quietly dramatic and atmospheric but gradually builds and burns, presenting in the end a relationship which manages to be, simultaneously, tightly bound and prone to unraveling at any moment. Apart from several minor cameos, the book is a neatly staged two-hander. Such a structure allows Léon to home in on her lead men and highlight their anxieties and evasions, their unasked questions and unspoken desires. This is also an intensely musical novel ... It is nimbly done—and nicely translated by John Cullen. And yet when Léon expands to pay homage to German Romanticism in general, she is less successful ... After a while, it feels as if Léon is laying things on a bit thick. Fortunately, she makes up for this in other areas. The flashbacks on practically every page tell another story in beautiful counterpoint. The fiery exchanges and desperate treks through the snowy landscapes prove gripping. And the portrait of two men unable to voice their feelings and in thrall to the \'inexpressible force\' of music is tender and wise.
RaveThe Star TribuneOver the course of 12 masterfully sketched stories, each one focusing on a different individual on the move, [Szalay] circumnavigates this small planet and highlights humankind’s interconnectedness ... Whether in the clouds or on terra firma, Szalay’s travelers are shocked and shaken by various traumas. By rights, [Szalay\'s] pared-back prose and miniature portraits should be able to describe and convey only so much. But as in his previous novel All That Man Is, his light touches and fleeting glimpses belie great insight and depth.
RaveThe Star Tribune\"... supremely accomplished ... Vijay’s first novel is an expansive and wonderfully immersive work ... In the book’s main sections, Vijay gives us a brilliant outsider’s view of an exotic, off-the-beaten-track realm and a compelling portrayal of a character gradually unraveling due to forces beyond her control. This is a stunning novel that skillfully grapples with the complexities of human relationships. Madhuri Vijay’s career looks very bright indeed.\
Hubert Mingarelli, trans. Sam Taylor
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"With elegance and precision, Mingarelli dramatizes the steady blossoming of friendships and the abrupt end of innocence ... Four Soldiers is no hectic and chaotic war novel. It unfolds in short, tightly focused chapters, and in spare, crystalline prose (beautifully translated by Sam Taylor). Most of the \'action\' is fleeing, not fighting, or sitting tight and talking. At times there isn’t even talking: Instead of open dialogue we get Benia’s relayed thoughts, personal observations and unarticulated emotions ... The last electrifying pages resemble one of the more violent stories from Isaac Babel’s .\
RaveThe National\"Four years [after The Fishermen] and Obioma has returned with a second novel to cement his reputation. An Orchestra of Minorities is grander in scope than its predecessor – at the outset forbiddingly so ... Once the novel gets under way, we find ourselves immersed in a captivating drama about one man’s quest to defy the odds, overcome numerous hardships and win back the woman of his dreams ... Like The Fishermen, this novel employs allegory to good effect, with Obioma subtly, not showily, inviting comparisons and making echoes ... It isn’t often that a novel’s narrator overshadows its main character, and yet that is precisely the case here. A brilliant conceit, Chinonso’s blithe spirit works regular wonders: illuminating Igbo mythology, enchanting us with detours to heavenly realms, and entrancing us with a gripping account of its host’s travels and travails ... An Orchestra of Minorities is a stunning novel which succeeds on so many levels. This time around Obioma deserves every accolade that comes his way.\
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneRooney sharpens her focus — and in turn heightens the intensity — by placing only two characters in the spotlight and showing how their love is tested ... Rooney’s account of an on-off relationship spread over the course of four years is imbued with emotional depth, wit and perspicacity ... In spare, pellucid prose, she wondrously conveys passion and compassion, rawness and tenderness, erotic highs and tragic lows. Along with the many original observations of, and acute insights into, human interaction, there are spot-on depictions of quotidian reality and dazzling renderings of those rarer, more sublime moments ... It is a masterpiece, pure and simple.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Harman brilliantly reconstructs the crime and its impact ... Murder by the Book does not read like a Victorian whodunit or 19th-century melodrama. Harman tells the story straight, without recourse to suspense or surprises. Instead she keeps us captivated through a series of hard facts and incredible events ... This is an assiduously researched and superbly written book that ends with Harman examining unanswered questions, and reminding us that truth can be stranger than fiction, particularly when inspired by it.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"[The book\'s] two quirky tales, though little more than 50 pages apiece, are so richly layered and strangely beguiling that we are left craving more ... Samuel Malissa’s translation has fizz and verve, and each slangy meditation or exchange rings true. Unfortunately, the more vapid utterances grate ...The stories are at their best — and their most baffling — when Okada topples our expectations and proceeds by way of surprise steps and wrong turns ... Not all adds up, and not everyone makes sense, but the disorientation is half the fun.\
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"British poet Robin Robertson’s lyrical masterpiece made for a worthy runner-up [for the Man Booker Prize] and served as a crucial reminder that poetry is just as capable of telling a gripping and affecting tale as prose ... The Long Take is an expertly stitched patchwork of various poetic parts and voices ... Robertson has written a book that manages to be epic and elegiac, and suffused with savagery and beauty.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Everything Under surprises and beguiles ... Throughout the novel people are lost and found, rediscovered and reinvented. Again and again Johnson plays with words, examines gender, grapples with memory and inquires into where our choices spring from ... [The book] is, in places, a challenging read, its waters constantly and purposefully muddied, but Johnson makes it worthwhile to those readers happy to make the effort and go with her flow.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"This is a profound and moving novel about two disparate people forgetting their differences, pooling their resources and appreciating the world afresh in a remarkable city. Paris is so well mapped and chronicled that it emerges as a third character. Faulks prudently resists presenting a soft-focus tourist-friendly depiction. Tariq’s peregrinations take him into the shabbier migrant suburbs and into the shadows of Algerian conflict. Hannah’s forays into the past unearth stories of courage and fortitude but also of betrayal, complicity and injustice — one of which chills her and challenges her moral outlook.\
Nicolai Houm, Trans. by Anna Paterson
RaveThe NationalHoum discloses only so much and at just the right junctures ... and we play a guessing game while waiting on tenterhooks for explanations and consequences. The novel’s prose is plain and unadorned—so much so that Houm’s cumulative dramatic effects would have fallen short and fizzled out had he opted to tell his tale chronologically. Comparisons with compatriots are often unhelpful but it’s worth pointing out that Houm’s writing style resembles more the cool, streamlined lucidity of Per Petterson than the freewheeling, detail-stuffed meanderings of Karl Ove Knausgaard. Anna Paterson deserves credit for her accomplished translation. What we get is simplicity that is strangely compelling and quietly unsettling. Every so often Houm surprises and impresses with either a bout of profound thinking or a lyrical flourish ... The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland is a beautifully observed account of one woman’s alienation, deep hurt and slow road to recovery.
Eric Vuillard, Trans. by, Mark Polizzotti
PositiveStar Tribune...powerful ... The book...chronicles that great catastrophe in tiny yet well-paced steps: small enough to allow for a tantalizing buildup, steady enough for the reader to behold and be appalled by the full scale of the unfolding disaster. The result is a sure-footed blend of storytelling and re-evaluated history.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribunePerry’s version constitutes an ingenious rewrite: She sets events in present-day Prague, swaps macabre acts for uncanny happenings and, most significantly, transforms Maturin’s itinerant bogeyman into a bogeywoman ... The book’s Prague sequences are a slow burn, with each atmospheric scene a buildup in tension and a gradual step closer to a potentially shocking outcome ... Helen’s story meanders and loses momentum. Those other tales she uncovers, or relates, prove to be haunting, disquieting and memorable, and showcase Perry’s dazzling creative powers.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"...riveting ... Boyd has written a novel that manages to be expansive and intimate, potent and poignant. It confidently sprawls across Europe while cunningly tapping into Scottish literature and folklore. It keeps us rapt and emotionally invested. Once again, this maestro hits all the right notes.\
Amelie Nothomb, Trans. by Alison Anderson
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"...this short, pungent tale of familial jealousy, personal ambition and unrequited love introduces a wonderfully compelling heroine and charts her formative relationships with several significant women ... For the most part, Strike Your Heart unfolds in spare, blunt, matter-of-fact prose. Nothomb’s style and tone become more animated and textured when describing Diane’s anguished response to a tragic circumstance—a snuffed-out life, her mother’s ice-cold shoulder—or her child’s-eye observations of the world around her ... Nothomb dazzles with her shocking denouement and leaves her stunned reader with a bitter aftertaste in the mouth and a craving for more.\
RaveThe Star Tribune\"This is a thoroughly researched, relentlessly engrossing epic tale. Baker is adept in all areas—on the slopes of Everest or within corridors of power, among Calcutta’s intellectuals or London’s art crowd. She writes with verve and authority on colonial tension, cultural achievement and global conflict ... Baker’s study of national endeavor and personal struggle throws a valuable light on past upheavals and ideals. There is much to admire and a lot to learn.\
Louis de Bernieres
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...a rich novel ... a superb sequel, one that has the same impressive scope and emotional intensity as its predecessor — plus an infinitely superior title ... The patchwork of perspectives and interspersed letters and newspaper articles lend color, variety and tonal richness to the proceedings. At the end of it all, it is gratifying to find loose ends and intriguing new directions.
R O Kwon
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Incendiaries is a campus novel with a twist and a love story with a sting. Like Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, it is also a political novel that examines the rationale for, and consequences of, terrorist acts—\'the destruction of what is.\' Kwon depicts controlled lives and warped convictions with great skill and intelligence. Will’s narrative is refreshingly candid ... Kwon rummages around in her characters’ pasts and exposes rash deeds and guilty consciences that serve to illuminate and inform their present states of mind and personal agendas. Kwon could have picked up the pace in some of her sections. Otherwise it is difficult to fault this powerful debut, which explores complex issues in a remarkably assured way.
Elizabeth H. Winthrop
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...a deeply felt story about a prisoner awaiting execution in 1940s Louisiana ... Winthrop\'s remarkable fourth novel ... This is a novel filled with cruelty and dread, baying mobs and ugly terminology. However, Winthrop tempers the gloom and the hate with gestures of kindness, instances of resolve and redemption and unexpected outcomes ... Winthrop’s brilliantly orchestrated voices, evocative detail and almost unbearable narrative tension add up to an exceptional reading experience.
PositiveStar TribuneWinton wraps up his tale with some heightened tension and visceral thrills. Far more gripping, though, is Jaxie’s full-bodied narrative voice, which is the driving force of the novel.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneWith skill and verve, Thomson relates the largely untold story of two unsung heroines who set out to defy convention and ended up resisting the Nazis ... his characters are not only lovers. One of the reasons they come so thrillingly alive on the page is because he successfully portrays them in many different guises—as artists, socialites, iconoclasts and resistance fighters. In each case he gets under their skin and into their minds ... In all sections of this remarkable novel we find ourselves cheering on two fearlessly individual women who opted to live \'instinctively, and without restraints.\'
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Jennifer Croft
PositiveThe Star TribuneThere are snippets about airports, passengers, guidebooks, foreign hotels and airsickness bags; nuggets of history and snapshots of countries ... Some sections amount to fleeting sketches or inconsequential squibs; others go on too long. Those that work provide food for thought about what makes us move and what makes us tick. Jennifer Croft deserves credit for expertly translating Tokarczuk’s singular ideas and original imagery ... Flights is a unique reading experience, but it also can be a demanding one. However, perseverance pays huge dividends. Travel may broaden the mind, but this travel-themed book stimulates it.
Hanne Ørstavik, Trans. by Martin Aitken
RaveThe Star TribuneHanne Orstavik’s Love suffers from an unoriginal title but everything else about it is, quite simply, exceptional ... This is a short, suspenseful winter’s tale crafted in beautifully spare and precise prose.
Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir, Trans. by Brian FitzGibbon
RaveThe NationalFiction is full of tales of redemption featuring characters who are pulled back from the brink and given either a second chance or a transformed outlook ... Ólafsdóttir’s novel stems from this mould and because of this, may, at first glance, be labelled over-familiar and unoriginal. However, the more we immerse ourselves in it, the more we encounter fresh slants and innovative touches. Jónas’s story is no straightforward arc of rock-bottom despair to renewed lease of life. It is a bumpy ride with many twists and turns – culminating in a jolt on the last page ... Wry and kooky, serious and sad, Hotel Silence enthralls and entertains. Readers yet to discover Ólafsdóttir’s magic should begin here with this, her finest novel to date.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"The Adulterants is another wincingly good and brilliantly observed novel ... Dunthorne downplays the scorn and the gags to enable his antihero to emerge as a tragic, self-deluded figure deserving of our sympathy. A novel that gets off to a faltering start tracking shallow lives and superficial feelings quickly tightens its grip, and its focus, and turns into a riveting read led by a character we care about and believe in.\
RaveThe Star TribuneSometimes the entertainment on show or under discussion is seedy, sometimes it is sensational, but always it is interesting ... Hectic and hedonistic, 'theatrical, even hallucinatory,” Tokyo ends up bowling us over as it did Buruma all those years ago ... This is a thoroughly engrossing memoir about a young man in a strange land. Buruma explores it, discovers its art, and along the way finds himself.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Happiness is, for the most part, a tightly focused two-hander. We warm to both of the main characters through their struggles and their solidarity in the present. However, Forna creates fuller portraits by intercutting her narrative with flashbacks of their pasts ... Happiness starts out as a novel about coincidence — chance encounters, twists of fate — and turns into one about coexistence: how to overcome intolerance, accept differences and live in harmony. What could have been a strident, speechifying polemic is instead a subtle, considered yet deeply resonant tale, one which sensitively and intelligently highlights connection over division and kindness over cruelty.\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe Rub of Time is the latest collection of nonfiction, and serves as a must-have anthology for Amis aficionados and a worthy best-of compilation for everyone else. The discursive prose within — essays, articles, reviews, reportage — dates from 1994 to the present. All pieces were previously published in the likes of the New Yorker and the Guardian. The majority continue to stimulate, illuminate and, above all, entertain. ... Again and again Amis reinforces his points with eloquence and persuasiveness, utilizing backup quotes, sharp insight and a raft of memorable descriptions (\'Rambo, that lethal trapezium of organ meat\'). Provocative and thought-provoking, this is nonfiction with heft and bite.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneJudith Flanders’ Christmas: A Biography manages to be not only a timely history of the festive season but also an overdue re-evaluation of some of the common assumptions about it … Flanders covers all areas in fine detail, whether the introduction of decorated indoor trees (1605), the ‘commercial innovation’ of red-nosed Rudolph (1939) or the many sections on mouthwatering and stomach-churning food … By the end of her comprehensive and diverting study, we are all the wiser about wassailing, janneying and belsnickling, not to mention hogglers, callithumpians and Lords of Misrule … Flanders knows how to tell its story well, and her reader comes away with a better understanding of, and even deeper appreciation for, this magical time of the year.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Quatro skillfully explores this inner conflict by having Maggie lay bare her desires and devotions, crises and quandaries. A multifaceted woman emerges who speaks to us from the heart ... As with Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, Fire Sermon examines infidelity by deftly balancing the sexual and the spiritual. There is agony and ecstasy, and the tantalizing hope of redemption through confession. All is rendered with fierce intelligence and lyrical grace. Passionate and intimate, few first novels are so adept at tracking \'the guiltiest swervings of the weaving heart.\'\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHistory is thrillingly re-enacted or re-created. Musical passages are conveyed with lyrical grace. Regular doses of surprise and suspense keep us immersed and involved ... gripes aside, The Prague Sonata is compulsively enjoyable. It offers intrigue and excitement while at the same time shrewdly examining the transformative power of music and the good and the bad sides of human nature.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a dark, rich, timeless fable … The main narrative of the novel is routinely intercut with short sections — italicized, vignette-sized — each an update on Daniel’s search for a missing Cathy. We come to read with mounting dread, bracing ourselves for a devastating conclusion. Mozley doesn’t disappoint … Elmet is bleak but beautiful, earthy yet airy.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWaters' fiction is full of women like Frances who are missing ‘the man microbe, or whatever it is one needs.’ What makes The Paying Guests special, if not original, is Waters' depiction of a wife trapped in a miserable marriage and slowly coming to terms with her true sexuality … As with all her novels, Waters takes us back to a distant past and excels at transmuting meticulous research into evocative portraits and situations. We marvel at the re-created idiom of the era, the treatment of class (the genteel Wrays vs. the brash Barbers) and delineation of social change, particularly concerning recently enfranchised women … Another gripping and atmospheric triumph from one of Britain's finest storytellers.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneReservoir 13 — longlisted for this year’s Man Booker — begins with a tragic incident, and continues first by examining a community in crisis, and then by atomizing that community and following the flow of disparate and interconnected lives over the years ...an intricate and absorbing mosaic-like structure of miniature stories, scenes and snapshots ...starts out with the familiar hallmarks of a crime novel, it quickly develops into a quite different literary beast, one that acquires power and depth through bold form and style, not gripping drama and suspense ... McGregor’s controlled prose — all pertinent detail, lilting rhythms, lush textures — unfolds in long, un-paragraphed blocks ... This is unconventional storytelling, a daring way to tell a tale, but one that yields haunting and stimulating results.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneFresh Complaint, Eugenides’ first collection of short stories, is filled with characters who are buffeted and broken — perhaps irreparably. Some take wrong turns or hit dead ends. Some are just victims of bad luck. Most try to bounce back, but many find the damage already done. Friendships unravel and relationships founder; confidence is knocked and sanity is threatened … Eugenides’ tales are rich in comedy and compassion: If we aren’t laughing at one person mired in absurdity, we are championing another facing up to adversity. Not all characters earn our sympathy, but their creator deserves our admiration, for almost every story comprises a neatly constructed narrative on which hang engaging predicaments, surprise outcomes and Eugenides’ special brand of wit and wisdom … Time and again, and with pathos and pungency, Eugenides ensures a character’s loss is the reader’s gain.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneFor the first two-thirds of Julian Barnes' latest book, the reader would be forgiven for thinking he or she was immersed in a strange but perfectly crafted history of — of all things — 19th-century Anglo-French ballooning. But then, after taking us high into the clouds, Barnes abruptly descends for the last third and confronts the subject of his own crash landing: the death of his wife … Love and grief, then, are the two motifs. Barnes can explain the former (‘the meeting point of truth and magic’) but the latter leaves him stumped — offering only, yet succinctly, that ‘Grief is the negative image of love.’ If, at the end, Barnes is still unable to make sense of his loss, he has at least edged a little closer to accepting it.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs with Ng’s much loved and lauded 2014 debut, Everything I Never Told You, this is a novel about class and race, privilege and prejudice, and unraveling family ties. For a while Ng treads water with mildly involving teen antics and suburban strife. However, after characters pick sides, reveal their true colors and clash, we become in thrall to a multilayered, tightly focused and expertly plotted narrative ... In places, Ng overdoes her fire-and-flames imagery. This niggle aside, she has crafted a deeply impressive novel with the power to provoke and entrance.
John Le Carré
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an intricately plotted and richly satisfying new novel ... A Legacy of Spies sees Le Carré doing what he does best: blending cloak-and-dagger intrigue, psychological insight, murky expedience and moral complexity to produce first-rate fiction ... skillfully straddles past and present: It reads like a polished period piece within a modern framework. Peter’s interrogators update his antiquated spy-speak — and yet by falling back on old tradecraft tricks, Peter manages to stay one step ahead. For more than 50 years, Le Carré has also stayed ahead. In this, his 24th novel, there is no trace of waning power, only bold new creativity.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an absorbing and incisive study of race and roots, attachment and affiliation — to a cause, a country, a person, a family — which encompasses five fascinatingly divergent viewpoints. After a stuttering start that relies too heavily on coincidence (that fateful, catalytic meeting), Home Fire quickly ignites and roars into life ... The novel is marred in places by some unconvincing dialogue. Fortunately, though, Shamsie’s heavy-hitting drama and piercing insight provide more than adequate compensation ... a timely and incendiary read about the differences that divide and break us and the shared strengths that keep us together.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an entirely original work, at once poignant and uproarious, thanks in no small part to the uncensored opinions and audacious exploits of its compelling protagonist ... This is a novel that thrums with energy, and the source of it is its foul-mouthed, big-hearted, larger-than-life narrator. Granger, a 'dangerous right-wing grandpa,' is an unstoppable force whose presence fills each page and dominates every scene ... When Granger veers close to caricature, Quick tones down his antihero’s brashness and reveals a tender side — doting on his granddaughter, looking after his troubled wife, mourning those who have 'bought the bullet.' The end result is a vibrant and compassionate tale of a complex man finding his way in a divided America.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] magnificent debut ... Its 18th-century setting and protagonist’s picaresque exploits bring to mind the lavish yet elemental fiction of Fielding and Tobias Smollett. But like Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, Spufford’s period drama is also imbued with modern sensibilities — polished prose, well-paced storytelling, unabashed intimacy and ingenious twists and turns. The combination works wonders ... Instead of a grand plot, Spufford serves up a series of well furnished, finely realized scenes in which Smith either makes his mark or burns his bridges ... Golden Hill is a stunning evocation of a town before it boomed into a metropolis.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis is a novel that initially intimidates, but after we have adapted to McBride's rhythms, its creative and emotional power renders us awe-struck … Our narrator grows up acclimatizing to the ‘empty spaces where fathers should be’ and finds those gaps sporadically filled by a fearsome grandfather who wants to discipline her and a loathsome uncle who sexually assaults her … McBride forces us to look on voyeuristically as her heroine, ‘full with marks of going wrong,’ spins out of control. It is a harsh and unsettling experience, intensified by the author's jerky, fragmented and syncopated prose.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay covers a great swath of social and personal history and, as a result, features many messy lives that twine around and collide into one another … The novel's driving force is Elena's candor, particularly in the scenes where she makes apparent her disillusionment in the roles of wife and mother and in the powerful finale … Ferrante's women end up as single-minded and as sexually liberated as D.H. Lawrence's women in love. The more she opens their hearts and minds to us, the more her novel grips and moves us in equal measure.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a novel that triumphs on every level, whether in its rich, evocative prose or its authentic Victorian detail, its credible, multifaceted characters or its high-stakes drama ... The Essex Serpent mines the sensation novels of Wilkie Collins, the antiquarian ghost stories of M.R. James and the social woes that run deep in Dickens’ later works. The book’s focal point, though, is Perry’s network of relationships, not least the dynamic interplay between polar opposites Cora and William.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneReaders expecting her tales to be as flat and featureless as her backdrop will be pleasantly surprised, then impressed. These original and sure-footed stories remap bland terrain and reconfigure ordinary lives, revealing mystical goings-on, unpredictable outcomes and unsettling truths ... While strange happenings routinely disorient us, we are always alert to Johnson's more striking descriptions ... Only Johnson's final three tales, which make up a section of their own, disappoint...Otherwise, Fen is a potent, sometimes riotous blend of convention and invention.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...substantial enough to be a stand-alone novel and a vital first installment. Pears steadily and satisfyingly branches out, unfurling his canvas and introducing characters we want to see more of, plus a raft of unresolved issues and emotions ... As with Thomas Hardy’s pastoral pockets of Wessex, Pears delineates a specific topography, conveys a rough-and-smooth mode of living and gives voice to an all-important manner of speaking. His lucid prose is peppered with colorful regional dialect ... The lay of Pears’ land is the other main delight of this beautiful and engaging novel. Bring on the second act.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAutumn is another breathless feat. It might sound unseasonal, as if inhabiting another time, but in actual fact it engages acutely and beautifully with topical concerns and perennial issues ... Autumn feels less like a standard novel and more like an intricate collage of ideas and impressions. Smith's most substantial components speak volumes with poetic intensity and lucidity about an enduring companionship, a fractured Great Britain, the tragedy of aging and the cyclical nature of time ... If this brilliantly inventive and ruminative book is representative of what is to come, then we should welcome Smith's winter chill whatever the season.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneA Separation is a different kind of beast. Structurally, it is a book of two halves — the queasy run-up to a tragedy, and the fraught aftermath. Both sections are stylistically ambitious and psychologically rich, as Kitamura eschews pace and puzzles for measured and rigorous inquiry into human motivations and desires ... A Separation is a work of great intensity and originality. Kitamura’s Greek setting is off the tourist track, all empty hotels, vandalized churches and wildfire-ravaged landscape. There are deft meditations on the art of translation and the ritual of mourning, and sharp insight into what binds and divides lovers. All is conveyed in strangely long yet lilting sentences. This is the book that elevates Kitamura to a different league.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...psychologically astute, astringently funny and wonderfully entertaining ... she digs deep into the human psyche to explore oddities, frailties, warped agendas and reckless desires. A discernible cruel streak runs wild, but so, too, does a toxic trail of black humor ... One male narrator’s voice doesn’t ring true, and one broken life is relayed as random acts of self-destruction. Otherwise, Moshfegh’s singular stories are unified by bold ideas, intoxicating detail and perfectly calibrated humor and pathos.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThroughout it, she alerts us to the true meaning and message of Christmas — subtly, not by way of strident preaching or saccharine storytelling ... Winterson’s trove of 12 stories and 12 feasts feels like a literary advent calendar, a series of surprise treats to savor slowly. It is a joyous collection, one we should read this Christmas, and in Christmases to come.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneClare Beams’ voice rings true throughout her masterful first collection ... Cannily, she covers more than one base, appealing to readers who prefer disjointed, otherworldly scenarios and those who like their fiction grounded in recognizable reality. She also ensures that every situation or flourish, fantastic or otherwise, is infused with or informed by credible human instincts and emotion ... Beams’ collection skillfully and alluringly navigates the border between the familiar and the unexpected, and beguiles and unsettles in equal measure.
RaveThe Minneapolis StarOnce again, Stewart proves to be a captivating tour guide. As he clocks up miles, he covers a range of topics, from Highland dancing to Border ballads, his childhood in Malaysia to his days in Parliament (or 'the nuthouse'). He brings archaic languages and traditions vividly alive, wrestles with nationalism and nationhood and, in a poignant closing section, traces his father’s war years and last days ... Beautiful, evocative and wise, The Marches highlights new truths about old countries and the unbreakable bond between a father and son.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...the zaniness in Lethem’s new novel is tangential rather than central, highlighting episodes, not imbuing the whole proceedings ... Such outlandishness can be extremely funny. Lethem’s main section in Berkeley, the most successful part of the novel, is an effortless blend of comic hijinks and madcap tragedy ... Lethem ensures that the biggest laughs come from Bruno’s brash benefactor Keith Stolarsky and dazzles with a number of set pieces ... a punchy, stylish, relentlessly entertaining novel which, during quieter moments, asks us to consider whether we make our own luck and how best to deal with what life throws at us.
RaveThe Minneapolis StarWhat does unite Szalay’s segments, however, is his rigorous scrutiny of masculinity and consistently arresting prose ... Szalay shows he is skilled at depicting human transactions — get-rich schemes, sexual relationships — and exposing vanity, stupidity and ruthless self-interest ... Szalay does so much and so well that we come to view his snapshots of lives as brilliant, captivating dramas.
Juan Gabriel Vásquez
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...while it may be his shortest, it doesn’t stint on incident, revelation or suspense. Mallarino is a fully-fleshed creation: an artist who in pursuit of the truth has assiduously humiliated and incurred the wrath of ruthless generals and drug barons, but who has also damaged weaker and more vulnerable personages ... reinforces the fact that Vásquez’s fiction is closer to that of Mario Vargas Llosa. With more smart and provocative novels like this one, he could well become his natural heir.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHappily, her stunning second novel shows that [McBride] has not only acquired fresh surfaces to work on, she has also developed exciting new brush strokes ... McBride’s prose sings, whether describing the erotic ('I halfly dress'), or the alcoholic ('enslithered by pints,' 'drinks and draggeldy home') ... The Lesser Bohemians recalls Samuel Beckett and Henry Miller. Ultimately, though, it is a fiercely original work, an extraordinary novel crafted by a fearless modern writer.
John le Carre
PositiveThe Minneapolis StarOnce again, Le Carré remains tight-lipped about key details of his intelligence work, but he offsets this reticence by offering fascinating insight into the people and places that have informed his writing ... No other story in The Pigeon Tunnel is as substantial [as the chapter on his father], but practically all contain some wry anecdote, deft character study or nugget-like revelation.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe House by the Lake is an epic, fact-filled, multivoiced saga told with pace, verve and warmth, and rich in fascinating revelations ... through rigorous research, sleuth work and a range of interviews with key players he shows how one house stayed standing throughout a world war and the Cold War. He regales us with murder, espionage, de-Nazification trials and simple family drama, and at the end of his masterful tale we understand more about Germany’s difficult past and appreciate what makes a house a home.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn her new book, Ausubel’s approach is straight storytelling that mines emotional truth without recourse to fabrication or the fantastic ... Ausubel alternates her drama, detailing in one chapter the next stage of the family unraveling in 1976, and in the next describing how the family formed in the late 1960s. Both time frames have their fair share of fresh, witty and skillfully imagined scenes, from young Edgar dodging Vietnam and ending up 'a misplaced toy soldier' in Alaska, to Fern going into labor and having her twins delivered by the two Swedish men who have come to assemble her desk ... One pivotal scene fails to convince — a dinner party that almost descends into a swingers’ evening — due to Edgar’s implausible behavior. Otherwise, Ausubel’s characters steer her bold and absorbing novel and keep us emotionally invested in their foibles, ideals and desires.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe book carries the subtitle 'a memoir,' although in actual fact it resembles a colorful assortment of brief episodes, anecdotes, ruminations and opinions ... In these more sober sections Keret remains as candid as ever, to the extent that some of his accounts start to feel like heart-on-sleeve revelations, even confessions. Occasionally what Keret tells us borders on the whimsical — an altercation with a taxi driver, the decision to grow a mustache — especially when it follows something as alarming as an anti-Semitic experience or as absurd as 3-year-old Lev's impending military service. But these are rare lapses on what is otherwise a brilliant and bizarre trip through the years with one of the most original writers at work today.
Claire Vaye Watkins
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWatkins has crafted a powerful, innovative and hallucinatory novel from a bleak yet all-too-real vision. Her landscapes feel primordial and postapocalyptic. Each is brilliantly mapped ... The novel bursts with grand ideas and original scenarios. However, it becomes distinctly uninvolving every time Watkins deviates from Ray and Luz to give case studies of secondary characters, or to meditate upon matters geological, historical and ecological. More critically, it is during these interludes that Watkins’ fluid prose turns into an unregulated torrent.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWhite’s personal tragedies prove sobering and Macdonald’s descriptions of Mabel swooping in on furry or feathered victims are not for the squeamish. What saves the day is her sumptuously poetic prose ... Running through the whole proceedings like a fine red thread is the impact of a father’s death — the heartache Macdonald feels among family congregated at his memorial service or while standing alone in a field watching her hawk flying free. There is deft interplay between agony and ecstasy, elegy and rebirth, wildness and domesticity, alongside subtle reminders about the cruelty of nature and our necessary faith in humanity.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneEach chapter comes with an epigraph from a famous writer or musician and a 'soundtrack' that ranges from Beethoven to the Sex Pistols. Neither adds anything to what we go on to read, but they do underscore Spillman’s absolute commitment to art — creating it, being influenced by it, living for it. Sometimes he goes on about it too much, but in the main his memoir says exactly the right things in the most engaging way.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThere is a moment in The Year of the Runaways when a character declares that 'the best Indian families were the ones big enough to get lost in.' At almost 500 pages, Sahota's multi-stranded novel about young illegal Indian immigrants carving out a new life for themselves in the north of England is also big enough to get lost in. We do so, and emerge blinking and emotionally drained from a unique reading experience.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAll [these stories] provide spellbinding portraits of people in a state of flux or going nowhere fast, and they show Majka as a writer attuned to the depths and complexities of human emotion.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneIn keeping with a book about language, communication and the art of being understood, let’s not mince words and instead come straight to the point: Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages
Vladimir Sorokin, Trans. by Jamey Gambrell
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneThe colorful language, whether out-loud repartee or inner thoughts, together with several vibrant daydreams and psychedelic hallucinations, provide a neat contrast to the all-engulfing whiteness of the blizzard. That intensifying blizzard becomes a perfect metaphor, for the deeper we get into the novel, the more lost we are. But Sorokin’s storytelling is so mesmeric and so richly inventive that being snow-blinded is half the fun.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneOne Out of Two comes in at under 100 pages and, as such, feels more like a breezy, witty novella than a gutsy, ideas-rich novel. But thanks to Sada’s controlled artistry and Katherine Silver’s sparkling translation, it manages to enchant and amuse.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneThis is a stunning, thought-provoking novel about a young woman out to prove that she is not 'a freak, an experiment' but vibrant and alive. We should read it and then read everything else by this very fine writer.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneThese remarkable tales expertly articulate either conflicting feelings...or ungovernable feelings...Throughout, McCann makes us share his characters’ pain and their eventual cathartic release, and he helps us to understand and appreciate that there is 'A lot of volume in this life. Echoes too.'
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneOn occasion, the book feels like a patchwork of mismatching material — a collage of quotes, photos and mad antics. For the most part, though, Luiselli thrills with her kaleidoscopic mix of narrative styles, metafictional riffs and Borgesian fantasy, and delivers a comic 'dental autobiography' and a shrewd meditation on the worth of art and literature.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneGroff’s novel comes furnished with trapdoors and distorting mirrors, but it isn’t all trickery. Far more striking is her lyrical prose. Every page contains at least one rich metaphor or dazzlingly original image...Some of this is laid on too thick, clogging paragraphs and stymieing narrative development. Also, Groff’s characters’ words enchant but don’t always convince. However, the bulk of the time Groff gets the balance just right and produces stunning results.
PositiveThe MillionsTuck enlivens her narrative by regularly breaking off and changing tack, using tangents, flashbacks, fast-forwards, and stories within stories to give us a fuller, more complex but also more interesting picture.