RaveThe Financial Times (UK)She’s a deceptively spare kind of writer, is Dorthe Nors ... Nors is not interested in resolutions. Her stories eddy rather than build, unfurling in multiple directions at once. Nothing happens. Everything happens. Often in a singularly resonant way ... If this gives the impression that Nors’s stories are lenten or whimsical (or both), it shouldn’t. At their best they are sharp, affecting, splendidly atmospheric, sometimes funny. They are also brilliantly written. Nors’s conjunction of tenuously related clauses elegantly captures the strange workings of associative cognition, while her characters’ ostensibly workaday thoughts are transformed into glistening gems of fecundity ... There are infelicities. Nors occasionally uses bloodless phrases and her predilection for gnomically portentous endings can feel formulaic. But these are minor complaints. Wild Swims is an enchanting work whose brief, almost fugitive stories achieve multitudes in a gesture. Maximalism does not require copiousness.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Vast and various, the book offers the reader a fascinating vision of the restless intelligence that — in conjuring the Wolf Hall trilogy for which Mantel is most famous — has sustained and entertained so many. But it also functions as a heartening example of the rewards to be found in being undogmatic, curious, alert, roaming ... Occasionally, the manner in which Mantel articulates her thoughts can be inattentive (she has a weakness for phrases like \'swat a book like a fly\'; \'droning on and on\'; \'cut their losses\'). But on the whole this is a work that is brisk and breezy, and further enhanced by her capacity to examine our hearts, register our feelings, and bring up with tenderness the enduring question of our frail and vulnerable bodies.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIntroducing us to these characters by means of a series of alternating chapters, Klay goes on to show how their lives will come to be entwined. In doing so he demonstrates — often with great energy and insight — not just how the death and barbarism to which they are each exposed affects their respective personalities, but also, and less successfully, how projects of interventionism can exacerbate the difficulties that they have been mobilized to ameliorate ... As we join him in this enterprise, we are exposed to numerous visions of stomach-emptying brutality. Abel, for example, sees a local mayor get strapped to a piano and cut in half with a chain saw. But these moments seldom feel gratuitous, and usually carry a moral purpose that is reflected in the seriousness and the subtlety Klay brings to the events and ethical reckonings endured by his cast — most of whom, with the exception of Lisette, are depicted with precision, attentiveness and an ennobling capacity for imaginative compassion ... This is not to say that the book is without shortcomings. Klay has a habit of pursuing lengthy and tedious digressions. Large portions of his narrative feel polemical and clumsily politicized. And structurally, the book is somehow at once too messy (in its organization) and too neat (in its conclusion). These infelicities divest the novel of aesthetic force. But they do little to diminish the intensity of its apprehension of the horror — and the attraction — of the coarsening magnetism of violence.
RaveThe Seattle TimesSmith’s sensitivity to the difficulties raised by her project are articulated with thoughtfulness and a concerted absence of grandiosity ... a slender and moving compendium of reflections ... Smith writes with insight about what motivates our acts of creation, and about what it means to create under conditions in which death is rampant and time is \'out of joint\' ... Yet what unites these quietly cerebral vignettes is a pervasive interest in and empathy for the lives of others (Smith writes lightly and with appealing self-deprecation about her own feelings of distress). Her curiosity and attentiveness are inexhaustible, and her book is richly populated by concern for friends, fellow-feeling for acquaintances and a resistance to delivering emphatic condemnations of the lives of people whose silent anxieties and private wounds we are unable to comprehend.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)The resulting story is one of radical instability, partly because the question of Brexit has aggravated Paul’s relationship with his sister, and partly because Paul’s interactions with Emily and Sophie have strained his sense of being, of place, and of romantic security. Brown handles all of this with poise, precision, brio and a bracing lack of sentimentality. He also pulls off the novelist’s trick of awakening our empathy for a narrator as potentially rebarbative as Paul, while making it clear that we are in the presence of a shit ... The dominant feeling we are left with, then, is one of an enlargement of sympathies, and an enhanced apprehension of the various forms that personal constancy, political allegiance, thwarted ambition and silent aspirations might take. Theft might be a novel about the multiple ways in which we can be robbed of our foundations and our fidelities, but the attentive and subtle manner in which it is executed is unmistakably Brown’s own.
RaveThe Seattle TimesWatching Ava...results in an enterprise that is not much diversified by event. But in Dolan’s stimulating company, which carries something of the quality of friendship, this relatively static spectacle meets the reader as a blizzard of mordant exuberance. Much of the pleasure she brings to the page can be attributed to her linguistic sensitivity, and to an aptitude for comedy that operates by virtue of the nature of her perceptions ... Writing of this quality carries moral, as well as aesthetic, weight, and allows Dolan’s preoccupations to inhabit her prose instead of being addressed by it ... At times, Dolan can flag, and her style is occasionally dented by unnecessarily mannered constructions (\'material lucre\') and overemphases. But the prevailing experience of her endeavor is one of invigoration. Exciting Times is a work of phenomenal acuity and vehemence that, in the freshness of its apprehensions and the authority of its voice, is edifying, funny, tender, plangent and rich with the sensibility of an individual who, condemned to conditions that are not of her making, finds the space that she needs to take flight, and who proceeds as the person she was.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Tyler’s handling of...slow-motion epiphany is marred by the odd cliché ... But her slender novel is still appealingly understated and full of insight and sympathy. It is also highly absorbing—partly because of Tyler’s evocative style...but mostly because of the intimacy with which she depicts the workings of Micah’s heart and mind. Her sensitivity to the ways in which fear and self-deception can stealthily upturn an existence result in a work that makes you want to live more attentively. Redhead by the Side of the Road might be lacking in plot. But its characters grant the reader a quiet revelation.
MixedThe Washington Post... suggests that the car has finally left the road, fallen apart, burst into flames and taken several other vehicles with it. The narrative of the book, rebarbatively cast in the third person, is episodic, freewheeling and associative. It’s also marked by a weakness for supposedly ironic cliches, irritatingly portentous ellipses, the repetition of advice bequeathed to him by his mother and a clumsy habit of attempting to lend his story temporal texture by deploying allusions to (and quotations from) contemporary music and culture. It is also self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing and pyrotechnically mean-spirited ... None of this is particularly easy to take, even when one allows for the mixture of self-pity, delusion, grandiosity and desperation that typifies the behavior of addicts. And it would be unfair to suggest that Self attempts to exonerate himself from these charges — our pity, gentle reader, he does not seek. But he does seek our collusion in his contempt for the world in which he is obliged to move, and for the people with whom the cruelties of circumstance have forced him to interact ... This is not to suggest that the book is completely without charm ... there are, on occasion, moments of heartbreak and tenderness ... On the whole, however, this is a memoir of substance abuse and self-harm that fails to generate the sympathy, empathy or interest that one customarily associates with the genre. Time in Self’s company leaves you feeling not that you are thrillingly, if figuratively, drunk at the wheel, but slumped, comatose, over the prison of your desk.
RaveThe Independent (UK)This spirited, compelling and often accomplished novel – the debut work of the Texas-born writer Merritt Tierce – is concerned with the shape a life can take when it is visited by unplanned occurrences ... The structure of Marie\'s story, which Tierce tells in often arresting prose, is episodic and fragmentary. For the most part, this works well as a means of evoking the sense of alienation she feels from her atomised life. But Tierce\'s uneven handling of the form can rob her tale of momentum and contributes to a sense of incompleteness that afflicts the novel as a whole ... What really holds Love Me Back together is the strange magnetism of Marie\'s voice. Like the story it chronicles, it is direct and reflective, impassioned and affectless, brutal and tender – and full of affirmative force.
PanThe Times (UK)... a curious, disappointing and, above all, mundane affair that, for all its talk of magical territories, fantastic occurrences, strange mutations and obscure disruptions, is peculiarly devoid of atmosphere, tension and mystery. Almost all of this blandness can be attributed to Morgenstern’s prose, which suffers from a predilection for cliché, irritating antiquities and overemphasis ... Writing of this kind prevents the reader from feeling such change, and dispels the fantasy it tries so awkwardly to generate.
PositiveThe Spectator...a curious affair that, for all the travelling at play, is almost impressively static and devoid of suspense. What it offers instead is a tender, attentive and engaging account of the ways in which an individual sensibility might be altered by ironies of history, chance alliances and climatological mutations ... There are shortcomings. Deen is given a voice that sometimes feels as if it is about to buckle from a surfeit of literary dead freight ... And certain characters, especially the women, feel as if they have found their way on to the page for the sole purpose of affording Deen a moment of reflective resonance. But on the whole, Gun Island is a rich and rewarding novel that reaffirms the transformative power of topographical and human connection, and registers the rhythms of the quiet and the unquiet life.
PanThe Irish TimesThe novel...is exhausting, perfunctory and inelegant. Welsh has a habit of ascribing to his characters mini-political and metaphysical speeches that are often at variance with their natures, and which are almost always clumsily deployed. Such irritations, however, are minor in comparison to the broader concerns of the book. Like much of Welsh’s work, Dead Men’s Trousers delivers a near parodic onslaught of sexual sleaze, savage exploitation, miserable cynicism, grotesque violence and male sentimentality. Yet it does so with almost none of the stylistic precision, or satiric distance, necessary to prevent these things proving wearisome ... we are subjected to numerous instances of overwriting...and prose so unintentionally melodramatic as to be funny ... The characters brought to life with such aesthetic vigour a quarter of a century ago deserve a better valediction than this. It would be wise for Welsh to release them, and us, from our now far-from-exuberant miseries.
Jean Moorcroft Wilson
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s commanding new biography reveals the poet to be a slipperier character than we imagined ... Wilson tells this story with meticulous attention to detail and an almost omniscient command of her sources. In doing so she offers a number of small but necessary corrections to the sometimes self-serving inaccuracies of Graves’s own account of the same period, and persuasively argues that Graves’s father made a more significant contribution to his son’s poetic success than Graves was prepared to allow. The real strength of this biography, however, lies in the care and vigour with which it animates the conflicting strands of Graves’s personality. To encounter him in these pages is to feel something of the relentlessly explosive energy with which he lived the first half of his life. Wilson lands him like a Zeppelin bomb.
Mary V. Dearborn
PositiveThe Washington PostThe result is a work in which 'the Hemingway legend' — a phenomenon in which Dearborn has 'no investment' — emerges more or less intact. Only here it is presented with an array of qualifications that cast Hemingway as a more troubled, complex and tragic figure than most previous biographies have allowed ... Dearborn explores these corners of his sensibility more fully than previous biographers, and she does so with subtlety and insight — qualities that are also present in her discussions of Hemingway’s work ... But Dearborn is not always convincing when writing admiringly. Her claim that Hemingway was uniquely adept at transforming life into literature is unverifiable, and vulnerable to the example of countless other writers ... On the whole, though, this is an admirable, affecting and thoughtful biography, distinguished by a scrupulousness and good sense that animates its subject with vigor.
PositiveThe Washington PostThere is a magnificently frank and angry letter to Roman Polanski concerning his child-rape case; she devotes a chapter to analyzing herself as if she were the subject of a scientific case study. These sections are vivid and bracing, and free from the occasionally rebarbative colloquialism and knowing sarcasm that appear in her more conventionally confessional (and otherwise moving) pages.
RaveThe Washington PostLockwood proceeds with a near unflagging sense of ironic exuberance and verbal inventiveness. Her consideration of the complexity of her feelings about her father — which includes reflections on the church’s history of sexual abuse and encounters with enthusiastic pro-lifers — features on almost every page instances of memorable and original expression, and moments of witty observation ... This superabundance of comic energy and literary vigor is a measure of Lockwood’s seriousness...She might not nudge us any closer to understanding, but perhaps this is because she has absorbed the importance of a lesson bequeathed to her by her father: to learn to 'live in the mystery' of life — and perhaps 'even to love it.'
RaveThe Washington PostFor Stubbs, Swift was neither a monster nor an angel but, in his life as in his work, a man of radical ambivalence and profound contradiction, forever pulling (or being pulled) in opposite directions ... As Stubbs demonstrates so persuasively in this fine biography, Swift, more than most, was a divided soul. He was an ostensibly devout believer who held that religion could teach us how to hate but not how to love. He was undoubtedly misanthropic, yet he was a formidable opponent of slavery and war and could be gentle and sympathetic when dealing with people in person. He hated Ireland and the Irish, yet thought it proper to defend the country and its inhabitants from English force ... he focuses on illuminating the profound fissures of Swift’s sensibility and on examining the ways in which they inform his works and relate to the religious and political turmoil of his era. He does so with grace, verve and great care (at times this book is almost oppressively thorough), and he considers the subtleties of Swift’s character, and the intricacy and importance of his thought and writing, with insight, intelligence and an appealing commitment to seeing his subject whole.
PositiveThe Financial TimesDinosaurs On Other Planets is full of such arresting, resonant and precise writing. Yet McLaughlin’s prose also suffers at times from inexactness and cliché...This kind of writing dilutes the strength and intensity of McLaughlin’s otherwise careful and particular prose ... Dinosaurs On Other Planets is an impressive achievement. It makes the world feel ancient and alien, familiar and new.