MixedThe Guardian (UK)If this is a superhero story, it’s one that lacks a supervillain. Though you might expect a book by Lewis about the US government’s grotesque mishandling of the pandemic to be a late entry into the Big Trump Book canon, the 45th president is a mercifully peripheral presence in its pages ... Lewis’s approach here is to find a small number of unheralded individuals working within vast systems, and use them to portray the workings (or, in this case, not-workings) of those systems ... Although Lewis does justice to the complexity of the scientific and institutional problems he’s examining, he rarely gets bogged down in their density. He is at least as interested in characterisation as he is in, say, explaining the science of stuff like viral genetic sequencing. The wager here is that the investment in the former pays off by getting the reader through a fair amount of the latter ... I was mostly willing to park my epistemological doubts about the position Lewis adopts as a kind of omniscient third-person narrator, but I did find myself questioning whether...he’s encountering the formal limits of the kind of pacy, thriller-ish style he favours. At times, in fact, the book can seem less like a work of narrative journalism than an exceptionally vivid script treatment ... I found this sort of approach strangely unsuited to the story the book tells, largely because it never quite translates into a story at all. And yet, in the end, without his ever having to spell it out, Lewis’s message comes across very powerfully: the US government, in its institutional dysfunction, is in danger of abandoning its citizens to a private sector that is even less equipped to deal with large-scale disasters such as Covid.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Lockwood’s observations of the affective reality of the portal, the skittering triviality of its denizens, is both ardent and appalled. Her evocations of this collective consciousness often achieve a nice balance of poetic intensity and analytical force ... Lockwood is an incontrovertibly gifted writer. Her sentences are routinely surprising, her voice a startling agglomeration of poetic clarity and hectic comedy. But weirdly enough, given the comic gifts on display in Priestdaddy, it’s that hectic quality that causes problems ... it does seem, particularly in its first half, too fixated on getting jokes over the line, and too pleased with itself for having done so. There is an airlessness that reminded me of being in the presence of a Known Wit, intent on living up to their reputation by keeping the jests coming at all costs ... the fragmentary lyricism is overpowered by an anxiously comedic super-ego, as though the Family Guy writers room had done a script punch-up on Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet. The book also has a related problem: far too much of it, to put it bluntly, amounts to lyrical descriptions of memes ... if you’re laughing with her as rarely as I was, that premise feels flawed ... Eventually, the anxious comedy gives way to a richer and more complex amalgamation of grief and beauty ... there are nonetheless moments of real poignancy, as she describes her niece’s little life, and the heartbreak of her condition. Here, at last, profound connections are made: between a thwarted consciousness and the world, between Lockwood’s talent and her subject, and between the novel and its readers—this one, at any rate.
PositiveThe Guardian\"The book is extremely effective in shaking the reader out of that complacency. Some things I did not want to learn, but learned anyway ... For a relatively short book, The Uninhabitable Earth covers a great deal of cursed ground – drought, floods, wildfires, economic crises, political instability, the collapse of the myth of progress – and reading it can feel like taking a hop-on hop-off tour of the future’s sprawling hellscape ... But to read The Uninhabitable Earth – or to consider in any serious way the scale of the crisis we face – is to understand the collapse of the distinction between alarmism and plain realism.\
RaveSlateThe go-to cliché for this kind of writing, or this kind of subject matter, would be \'unflinching.\' That would be inaccurate in this case, because while there’s certainly a relentlessness to Jamison’s pursuit of the topic of pain, she does flinch. In fact, one of the more powerful aspects of her writing is the extent to which she is able to flinch while maintaining the steadiness of her gaze ... It’s rare, and quite thrilling, to encounter a writer who so elegantly incorporates her own writerly anxieties into her work, who is so composed and confident about the value of her own self-doubt. (In this sense, her writing often recalls the work of David Foster Wallace, one of many influences she openly engages with throughout the collection.) ... This kind of ambivalence, this doubling back on her own assumptions, is what makes Jamison such a wonderful essayist. What feels especially vital...is the intensity of her self-interrogations, the dramatization of the resistance against her own literary instincts ... Jamison’s writing is often formally inventive, but never appears to be pursuing formal invention for its own sake; it’s always a case, rather, of the material demanding some radical style of treatment, like a condition with no obvious cure.
RaveSlateFor all the simplicity of its setup, Milkman is a richly complex portrayal of a besieged community and its traumatized citizens, of lives lived within many concentric circles of oppression ... Among Burns’ singular strengths as a writer is her ability to address the topics of trauma and tyranny with a playfulness that somehow never diminishes the sense of her absolute seriousness ... The book’s long sentences, its penchant for the exhaustive, can at times be challenging, and there were stretches where I found its uncanny energies stagnated for too long. But it also seems clear to me that these insistent strategies are in service of the book’s mood of total claustrophobia, and that they contribute to, rather than diminish, its overall effectiveness ... There is a pulsating menace at the heart of the book, of which the title character is an uncannily indeterminate avatar, but also a deep sadness at the human cost of conflict ... For all the darkness of the world it illuminates, Milkman is as strange and variegated and brilliant as a northern sunset. You just have to turn your face toward it, and give it your full attention.