MixedThe SpectatorThe Perfect Golden Circle is ostensibly about male friendship...Two men, flotsam of the 1980s – Calvert, a Falklands veteran, and Redbone, a failed punk musician – tramp across the English countryside in 1989 making crop circles...How these outcasts met, or what drew them to each other apart from poor personal hygiene, is never made clear...Like two feral Hobbits, they rattle about the dystopian and degraded shires of an England in the death throes of the Thatcher era, making ever more elaborate crop circles...It all reads a bit like a lockdown fever dream and there are flashes of intensely beautiful descriptions of the fast disappearing natural world...Why the men hang out together, or what has set them traipsing around fields on moonlit nights, is not made clear because neither is articulate...Theirs is ‘a friendship based on things largely left unseen and unsaid’...But they are not inarticulate in the illuminating ways in which Beckett’s tramps and misfits are, and so the result for this reader was one of intense irritation...The bond between these two – the why, the where, the how they met – is nowhere to be found, leaving an unsatisfying emotional lacuna at the heart of the book.
Willem Anker, Trans. by Michiel Heyns
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)Red Dog is an ambitious hybrid of a book...and has been expertly translated by Michiel Heyns, who has retained the cadence and some of the vocabulary of the original Afrikaans ... Anker draws skilfully on the Cape’s patchily written archives ... Anker spares no detail in describing a brutal frontier society, in which slavery was legal and the genocide of southern Africa’s original inhabitants, the Bushmen, was sanctioned ... Gaps in the official record are filled by Buys’s vividly evoked interior life, and an omniscient narrator who draws the reader to him ... This reprise of the murderous origins of colonial dominion over South Africa is timely—and depressing, in that the violence of the past continues to blight the present.
PanThe GuardianThe Girl Who Took an Eye for an Eye is billed as the revelation of the appalling things done to Salander when she was a child, but the narrative meanders between a bewildering array of storylines that never come together. The story starts with Salander in prison for unconvincing reasons. When she does wander on to the page, she gets beaten up or does stuff on her computer, but remains ghostly and uninhabited ... The reader is repeatedly told that Salander and Blomkvist are driven by a desire for justice, but because we spend so little time in close-up with the book’s heroine, it is not convincing. There is a sluggishness to the plotting and much of the tension relies on orchestrated interruptions and delays, which irritate. Lagercrantz has all the elements of the Millennium series at his disposal, but the adrenaline is missing: it feels as if one has gone to a restaurant, ordered a rare steak and been served soggy fish fingers instead.
PositiveThe GuardianIt is a reimagining that is deftly done and centres on the vivid portrait of Flint’s version of the mother, Ruth Malone. Flint pulls the reader into the finely observed working-class Queens neighbourhood, where the heat shimmers on the crowded apartment buildings and the social surveillance of women is palpable ... The strongest sections of the novel allow us behind Ruth’s brittle mask of makeup and pride. Flint describes her grief, loss and loneliness with a tough delicacy that is both exact and heart-wrenching. Her haphazard, nicotine-drenched good-enough mothering is wonderfully written, as is her ambition to escape the confines of the small town she left: to lead a better life, a bigger life than the one allotted her because of her sex ... The opening chapters are gripping but there is a lag in the tension in the middle section. Flint writes powerfully of Ruth’s stunned grief, a grief she deadens with alcohol and sex. The last third of the book, her trial, is absolutely riveting. The ending may or may not convince you, but that is perhaps immaterial: Little Deaths is a strong and confident addition to the growing trend of domestic dystopias – novels about flawed, angry, hurt women navigating hostile social and intimate milieus that turn viciously punitive when those women rebel.