RaveThe Spectator (UK)Even while we know that for this or that wife divorce or death is coming, the narrative remains propulsive. Mantel makes it even more so through a present-tense voice that puts the emphasis on the tense, through the clipped, quick rhythms of Cromwell’s inner voice ... The events are doubly known to the reader — from history and the middle novel — but the punchy rhythm still raises the pulse, the final phrases jolting us forward to the urgent present concern of the toll on Cromwell’s soul ... The grace and grip of the descriptive prose may distract from Mantel’s exceptional skill with dialogue, an element of fiction at which many otherwise successful novelists falter ... My single caveat on language is that Mantel’s sentences, in which vocabulary and shape mainly feel exactly calculated, hold one small syntactical irritation. Rather than the traditional use of ‘he’ or the protagonist’s name in male-viewpoint fiction, the trilogy has favoured what will doubtless become known as the Mantel Referent Sub-Clause: ‘He, Cromwell.’ This is clearly an attempt to show that, as the writer has explained, she is ‘behind him, like a camera’, rather than omnisciently narrating his thoughts. And there is a lovely flourish in this book, when the inner voice smugly promotes itself to ‘He, Lord Cromwell’. However, when, at a meal of veal, ‘He, himself, Cromwell, takes up the carving knife’, we may wonder if the trope isn’t affecting the cut of Mantel’s style ... This, though, is a small moan about a great work, which, though categorised by whatever bookshops and libraries survive in digital Britain as historical fiction, has fascinating relationships with other genres ... Mantel writes superlatively about the practice of high politics, then and now ... the length of the book is justified page by page ... one of the key achievements in English literature.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... around the shivers and guilts of a missing person story, Russo ultimately remains loyal to his previous mission to represent realistically the textures of average lives. The impeccably delayed revelation of what happened to Jacy is satisfying, but more Russo than Ian Rankin ... Though the solutions lie in the 1969 and 1971 insets, the main time frame of September 2015 is politically timely ... Russo’s acute novels will help historians to understand how Trump, who had a medical deferment from Vietnam, garnered support among those unable to vacation on Cape Cod. Chances Are, a rare mix of the tense and tender, should gain Russo further literary acclaim.
Robert Menasse, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... delivers, within a brilliant satirical fiction, thoughtful and instructive analysis of both the weaknesses in the EU that galvanise leavers and the strengths that motivate remainers ... recalls Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and The Capital, in scope and tone, suggests a fusion of Heller’s war comedy with his other masterpiece, Something Happened, a dark comedy of office life ... Lacking German, I can’t assess the accuracy of Jamie Bulloch’s translation, but the English prose has a panache and clarity rare in exported literature ... The jaunty playing with words are fittingly reminiscent of that most Eurocentric of recent British novelists, Anthony Burgess. Bulloch also trusts readers to grasp, or at least intuit, untranslated French, German, Czech and Flemish ... Readers may understandably feel that a novel about the EU is the last thing they need just now; but if so they will miss a first-class read.
RaveThe Guardian\"Saturday catalogues the local only in order to focus on the global ... By recording with such loving care the elements of one rich Englishman\'s life, Saturday explores the question of to what extent it is possible to insulate yourself against the world\'s concerns ... Most of the fictions provoked by post-9/11 politics have taken up positions as clearly as a party spokesman. But Saturday, in common with Philip Roth\'s The Plot Against America, is subtle enough to be taken as a warning against either intervention or against isolationism ... As in the best political novels, the evidence and arguments are distributed with careful ambiguity ... Medical language, though, is only one of the registers in the prose. McEwan is one of the least flashy stylists of his generation, less quotable than Martin Amis or Julian Barnes, but, especially in Atonement and now this book, his voice has settled into scrupulous, sensual rhythms in which even something as simple as a 24-hour news bulletin is subject to careful choices of adjective and noun ... Saturday gives no sense of McEwan\'s talent taking a day off. One of the most oblique but also most serious contributions to the post-9/11, post-Iraq war literature, it succeeds in ridiculing on every page the view of its hero that fiction is useless to the modern world.\
RaveThe GuardianIt\'s standard to marvel at the amounts of energy and time that can be covered over the fictional sprint distance, but Pearlman is gold medal class at such compressed athleticism ... Issues of racial assimilation and forbidden longing are accommodated with improbable ease in another example of Pearlman perfecting the short-story\'s Tardis-like trick of having more going on inside than seems possible from the external dimensions. This is achieved through exacting standards of economy in both prose and dialogue; a sentence—even a single word—will be crammed with detail and meaning ... There are echoes of Updike...but such are the multitudes of subject matter, place and structures in this collection that Pearlman finally seems beyond compare. The traditional literary system has worked, though grievously slowly, in giving a genius of the short story her due.
Graeme MacRae Burnet
MixedThe GuardianSo with characteristic trickiness, Macrae Burnet has constructed a fake mystery novel that may reveal the truth about a fictional novelist. While trying to work out what’s happening in a complex story, we must always read beadily between the lines ... Neatly, in a plot already resting on old books, what people are reading—Balzac, Baudelaire, Zola and Sartre—enjoyably inflects both prose and plot. The main presiding literary spirit, Simenon, would surely have approved of a tense, strange funeral scene, and the successive expectation reversals three chapters from the end ... The conceit that the novel wasn’t actually written by Macrae Burnet pays off less happily in stretches of prose that it’s hard to believe really were composed by a Man Booker prize-shortlisted author ... Postmodernism may mean never having to say you’re sloppy, but it takes great charity to see these repetitions as a gag about the dodgy quality of English translations from foreign novels ... It is a measure of both the extravagant talent of Macrae Burnet and the high jeopardy of metafictional disappearing acts that such a continuation of his tricks could either be a triumph or a disaster. The second book is always closer to the former, but disguise novels risk falling flat on their faces, and it would be a pity if GMB made his whole career from them.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Trans. by Lucia Graves
RaveThe GuardianAcross four long English novels, such emphasis on the power and pleasure of books would risk being thought a gesture to conservative views on education or a diversion from more pressing societal issues. But in Spanish history, the fate of literature has consistently been a test of the severity of legislative and ecclesiastical politics. So the concealed libraries and hunted-for publications in the quartet represent Spain’s shameful piles of books that were burned, redacted, banned or hidden in secret stores because of the moral policing of kings, cardinals and dictators. This subtext is made explicit in The Labyrinth of the Spirits when a librarian directs Alicia to a text that was doubly suppressed ... Amid the game-playing with known and unknown stories, Zafón has a serious and angry political intent. The sections of The Labyrinth of the Spirits are named after the parts of the Roman Catholic church’s Latin requiem—Dies Irae, Libera Me, etc—which underlines the suggestion that the novels are a lamentation for Spanish (and especially Catalan) history ... Publishers dream of novels that appeal to habitual readers and to those seeking one big book to last a holiday, and that is what Zafón’s quartet has delivered. His trick is to have linked multiple genres—fantasy, historical, romance, meta-fictional, police-procedural and political—through prose of atmospheric specificity ... Zafón is also a fine describer of city sights—vividly depicting both the touristic and obscure parts of Barcelona and Madrid – and his storytelling is impressively architectural. The intricately structured timeline of the quartet loops forwards and backwards between 1919 and 1992.This jumpy structure sometimes loses momentum, which becomes an even greater jeopardy in a book of this size, but the author always draws us back in with the revelation of another layer of character or a viscerally realized set piece ... As a whole, though, the 2,250-plus pages of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet represent, in every way, a colossal achievement.
PositiveThe GuardianAppreciating the fictional limitations of a feral recluse with no vocabulary or life skills, Owens provides tutors for Kya. As a result, the tone of the central section sometimes feels like YA, as Kya is instructed by a wise African American woman (one of the supporting characters who flirt with virtuous cliche) in the mysteries of men and menstruation ... But soon the narrative is satisfyingly reclaimed for older adults when at the local library Kya reads an article entitled Sneaky Fuckers in a science journal, which describes deceitful mating strategies ... She is a vivid and original character. At times, her survival in isolation comes close to superheroism, but Owens convincingly depicts the instincts and calculations that get Kya into and out of difficulties. Without too much sentimentality, there is a strong emotional line in her desire to have a \'shred of family\'. The potential soppiness of a coming-of-age romance is also offset by the possibility that Kya is a murderer, although Owens has studied the big beasts of crime fiction sufficiently to leave room for doubt and surprises ... these themes will reach a huge audience though the writer’s old-fashioned talents for compelling character, plotting and landscape description.
PositiveThe GuardianLagercrantz has constructed an elegant plot around different concepts of intelligence ... The biggest narrative decision is how and when to bring Salander and Blomkvist together again, and he paces their reunion nicely. Initially confined to separate paragraphs or chapters, the question of whether they will ever meet face to face becomes an aspect of the story’s escalating tension ... Lagercrantz’s continuation, while never formulaic, is a cleaner and tighter read than the originals, although he follows the template in building the plot slowly and methodically. He is, technically, a more adept novelist than Larsson, smoothly switching viewpoint in two sections where characters come under threat from assassins ... Without ever becoming pastiche, the book is a respectful and affectionate homage to the originals.
RaveThe GuardianThis is the fifth in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series, which in characterisation and tone is essentially a rollicking subversion of John le Carré’s books about George Smiley ... Stylistically, Herron’s narrative voice swoops from the high...to the low ... But it’s the dialogue that zings: the screenwriters of the inevitable TV version won’t have to change much ... The dominant tactic, though, is the juxtaposition of big jokes and high jeopardy ... Herron is a very funny writer, but also a serious plotter ... Readers may sometimes feel queasy that the creation of Lamb, a man who says the unsayable, gives Herron easy licence to write the unwritable on subjects such as race and disability, in the way that character comedy can allow performers to pass off bigotry as irony. For me, though, these grotesque creations have the subtler purpose of challenging a society that increasingly applies sensitivity and offensiveness tests to public discourse. Where Herron’s novels most overlap with those of Le Carré is in the severity of their critique of the failures of management in post-imperial, pre–Brexit Britain.
MixedThe Guardian\"It might interest Freud that a recurrent trope in Hanks’s stories is stressing the dissimilarity of life to cinema: lovers worry that they have become \'like characters in a movie\'; siblings close in age refuse to dress \'like twins in some movie\'. Strikingly, though, the strongest stories are the most cinematic ... The question writers are most commonly asked at literary festivals is whether they prefer to compose with a pen, laptop or typewriter, so Hanks, when puffing Uncommon Type, should prove the dream guest. But before attempting further fiction, he might be better employed translating \'A Junket in the City of Light\' or \'The Past Is Important to Us\' into the medium where his greatest talent lies.\
RaveThe Guardian...American writer Joe Ide now begins a series of novels relocating the brain of Baker Street to South Central Los Angeles ... In common with all renovated Holmeses, Isaiah is notable for noticing, although, when complimented on his deductive skills, characteristically corrects the compliment, pointing out that the process he employs is, in fact, 'induction,' in which a broader truth is drawn from a particular detail, rather than 'deduction,' which does the opposite ... Paragraphs crackle with one-liners that capture telling details about a person...between the jokes, there is also serious critique of an American society willing to sacrifice so many (disproportionately black) lives through its gun laws and educational policies ... Promisingly, the first book succeeds in being both highly original and continuing the spirit of Conan Doyle.
PositiveThe GuardianAs a result, reading the book now is rather like watching a Derren Brown trick on freeze-frame replay, wondering if there are clues to how the wool was being pulled ...the book was written not just by a woman masquerading as a man but by Joanne Rowling specifically is its sharp concern with journalism and celebrity ...carries on the sympathy for the troubled or excluded that has been one of Rowling's most attractive qualities as a writer ...private eye Cormoran Strike, a former military policeman, is another very big chap, with the added distinction of a prosthetic leg ... Rowling is a formidable storyteller ... For the moment, we are left with an enjoyable, highly professional crime novel that has escaped from the aim its author had for it but taken on a massive new significance for readers ...JK Rowling has become even more intriguing with this brief but neat vanishing trick.
PositiveThe Guardian...in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the Kafkaesque spectre in the text is The Trial ... The majority of the narrative involves the protagonist's quest – which takes him as far as Finland – to understand the reason for his ostracism ... A reader without Japanese is completely at the mercy of Murakami's translators; when the prose lowers to cliche or commonplace – as it seems to do surprisingly often in this novel... Although as adept as ever at setting up Kafkaesque ambiguity and atmosphere, he disappointingly chooses to leave most of the mysteries unresolved.
RaveThe GuardianEverything I Never Told You starts, as now seems to be statutory for almost all crime stories on page and screen, with a sudden disappearance...book opens in 1977, with chapters taking place in that year alternating with sections set in the mid 60s, when a previous crisis – also involving a missing person – struck the Lee family... The story-driving decisions made by the characters, meanwhile, are almost all driven by overt racism of the sort that mixed-race families would have faced then rather than the covert and coded bigotry... Ng brilliantly depicts the destruction that parents can inflict on their children and on each other ... Some crime devotees may find the novel short on twists and deaths; Ng is most impressive in the less generic novelistic skill of the piercing detail.
Jonathan Safran Foer
PositiveThe GuardianThis sensitive quest is redirected as farce when Jonathan's guides in Odessa prove to be an ancient chauffeur, somewhat worryingly accompanied by a guide-dog, and the driver's grandson, Alex, a would-be translator whose ear for American is as reliable as his grandfather's eye for the road. A Jewish vegetarian, the American struggles in a country filled (as Safran Foer presents it) with meat-eating anti-semites … Safran Foer is transmitting linguistically a message that lesser writers might have conveyed editorially: the unreliability of reconstructing foreign events … As Alex might put it, any far-reaching reader will fornicate with this tract.
PositiveThe GuardianA novel about thwarting Lee Harvey Oswald is crucially different from one about killing Hitler because many readers will question whether the hero is going after the right man … This nagging doubt about the security of the history being altered is beautifully used by King, who also cleverly exploits a major fascination of time-travel or counter-history stories: the historical adjustments that result from meddling. While the latter parts of the novel deserve heavy protection against plot-spoiling, it can be said that the racist Governor George Wallace, Paul McCartney and Hillary Clinton are among those whose Wikipedia entries are intriguingly re-edited.
RaveThe GuardianA risk of historical fiction is that the people become museum pieces, defined by their clothes, furniture and funny words. Dunant’s characters copulate, defecate and menstruate with visceral physicality; they catch colds and suffer constipation, sweat from fever, shiver from cold, and scratch at pox-scabs ... The story proceeds through a succession of tremendous set pieces, including a sea storm, a plague, the delivery of a child and various skirmishes ... Dunant, though, has made completely her own the story of Italy’s most infamous ruling family. Retaining the knack for plotting and pacing from the crime novels that began her career, she depicts history in a way that we can see, hear and smell...Identifying historical blurrings and myths about the period, Dunant’s Italian novels are an enthralling education.
RaveThe GuardianThe plot would grip in any language but, for readers in the west, there is extra fascination in Six Four being not just a police procedural but a guide book to Japan ... Such details were presumably commonplace for Japanese readers; for a foreigner, they keep the cop novel unusually fresh and tense. But the book also has universal elements ... Jonathan Lloyd-Davies’ English reads speedily and cleanly. Much of the prose is simple atmospherics but there are also deeper moments ... Yokoyama’s novel matches the immersive, unnerving, anthropological momentum of Jane Campion’s great New Zealand television crime drama, Top of the Lake. There’s much talk these days of binge viewing; here is a binge read.
Erik Axl Sund
MixedThe GuardianReaders rapidly encounter familiar motives and enemies, including historical secrets, eastern European gangsters and the molestation and murder of children... always feels a daunting read and never climbs completely clear of its generic ancestors ... The Crow Girl, in Neil Smith’s translation, never feels badly written, but its determination to be realistically horrific - including gruesome descriptions of sexual mutilation, medical intervention and posthumous decomposition - may deter some readers.
PositiveThe GuardianWhile the publishers have understandably cited the epoch-crossing novels of David Mitchell as a comparison point, the characters and narratives in the three time zones of The Mirror Thief are more formally linked than the sections of a Mitchell book such as Cloud Atlas ... Seay is clearly a writer of exceptional and eclectic intelligence. Topics under consideration range from why bingo is a fascist game, through penetrating reflections on the poetry of Ezra Pound and techniques of glass-making, to the visual resemblance between the French philosopher Michel Foucault and the Greek-American actor Telly Savalas ... although sometimes tough to like, The Mirror Thief is always highly admirable.
RaveThe GuardianCanin’s main imaginative challenge is to make the maths, although unlikely to be comprehensible to most readers, a convincing part of the brain life of those in the cast who inherit the Andret curse. A book that features a college course called Calculus for Poets succeeds in communicating the poetry of calculus ... This is big, serious, completely involving fiction of a kind rarely written today. By modelling the topology of genius and fear, Canin has achieved a proof of his own high value to American fiction.