RaveThe Guardian[The Sound of Things Falling] confirms Vásquez's mastery of a sophisticated form of Latin American literary noir that leads the reader through Borgesian labyrinths. In navigating them, with guiding lights ranging from Conrad to Le Carré, his fiction also reveals the role of outsiders in a violent history … Although characters make flawed choices, the novel also hints at how little control they have, their lives ‘moulded by distant events, by other people's wills.’ Vásquez offers no polemic. Yet as debates on the legalisation of drugs remain weighted towards suffering in consumer countries, this novel affords a rare understanding of the inhuman costs on the other side.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
PositiveThe GuardianA novel that descends into dire hunger begins with Ugwu's devoted creativity in the kitchen, confecting pepper soup, spicy jollof rice and chicken boiled in herbs. Beer and brandy flow as he serves the Master's friends while absorbing snippets of intellectual debate in the era of Sharpeville, de Gaulle in Algeria and the struggle for US civil rights … A history of colonisation is alluded to, not least in the tragicomic figure of Richard's anglophile servant Harrison, who prides himself on serving roast beef and rhubarb crumble, but adapts in wartime to roasting lizards and bush rats ‘as though they were rack of lamb.' While Richard identifies with Biafra and intends to write the history of the war, it is Ugwu who takes up the pen and the mantle.
Alain Mabanckou, Trans. by Helen Stevenson
RaveThe GuardianIts ebullient humour recalls Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty, Mabanckou’s fictionalised autobiography of growing up in the 1970s under a Marxist-Leninist regime. Yet unlike in that buoyantly mischievous child’s-eye satire, the laughter here has an undertow of grief, outrage and survivor’s guilt ... [a] picaresque tour-de-force ... Mabanckou’s indignation at times recalls Wizard of the Crow, Ng?g? wa Thiong’o’s grotesque satire on dictatorship and kleptocracy – together with its spirit of resistance and hope of salvation. Yet there is also a touching personal homage in this retelling of the lives of some of those unable to escape the asylum.
MixedThe Guardian[The Lacuna] probes, with only partial success, the source of the vexed historical relationship between art and politics in the United States, as well as the gap between a life lived and a life reported … The story comes to us in the elusive form of diaries and memoirs, letters and press cuttings. Locked for 50 years in a bank vault until all parties are dead, these fragments were saved by the novelist's stenographer, Violet Brown, from his despairing wish that they be burned … The novel's later sections are marred by overstated irony, the dialogue too often staged between characters who agree, making for an authorial soapbox. More satisfying is an unexpectedly touching coda.
PositiveThe GuardianWhile Property reveals the corrupting, dehumanising power of ownership on those who own, it also explores the jockeying intimacy of women forced to share a man – though with incomparable degrees of powerlessness. Manon persists in seeing Sarah as a sexual rival, despite her having resisted and been brutally subjugated, first by Manon's uncle, then by her husband. Sarah's life emerges between the lines of her mistress's self-regarding tale, as Manon prepares her ultimate act of vindictiveness and revenge … Martin is adept at maintaining dramatic irony. Yet though it is presented as uncensored, it seems curiously free of the south's cruder racial epithets. And…Property, for all its authorial irony, remains Manon's story.