RaveThe New StatesmanHjorth’s precision becomes a quietly devastating mimicry of the effects of trauma, and of ambiguous and conflicting memories, on a human being ... The particulars of Bergljot’s experiences are revealed with immaculate restraint, earning Hjorth comparisons with Ibsen, but as she goes further into the past, that restraint transcends its beauty and becomes profoundly sad, the relationship of style to the pain it is describing growing more disturbing. The tension and reserve begin to seem not just a formal choice but a necessary way of being that has been bred in the narrator by the physiological imprint of trauma ... The insistent clarity, and the avoidance of gratuitous emotion – something like a gorgeously written police report at times – show the indiscriminate self-awareness one witnesses in traumatised adults ... Part of what makes this such an extraordinary book is Bergljot’s awareness of the competing pain that surrounds her, including that of the people who caused her own pain.
RaveNew StatesmanThough I found it depressing in many ways, its very presence—the fact a book like this could be written and published—is profound and hopeful. It’s a flawed, messy work of art, and of inventive journalism. Its style is conversational and compulsively readable, but occasionally veers into overly florid, distracting language ... Maggie is the only one of the three [women] whose surroundings feel fully realized and whose location is specified. The other two, though just as vivid as people, live in vaguer settings ... It is quietly thrilling to read certain parts about being a girl and woman in love or in lust, things that are so fundamentally familiar to my own experience but which I have never read articulated quite so plainly ... this is a very simple book, as suggested by the title, but its simplicity is what makes it so important. To spend years on these ordinary stories, as Taddeo has done, is an act of generosity and faith. It’s what storytelling is for, why we need it: to lend grace to parts of life that are easily diminished, to grant value to experiences that are shameful and humiliating. This is an unusual, startling and gripping debut. It feels to me like the kind of bold, timely, once-in-a-generation book that every house should have a copy of, and probably will before too long.
PositiveThe White Review (UK)... [a] thrilling, maddening debut novel ... Quatro writes wonderful prose. Many of the details of Maggie’s domestic life with Thomas rang around my head for days after I read them ... a fresh, startling thing, a strange and beautiful book I could imagine pressing into the hands of my women friends. So why, then, was I also so bothered by it? Why did I have to go back to the beginning as soon as I finished, to search out clues for my unrest? How had I come away from a work of such intensity with the feeling of anticlimax? ... Maybe it is because women’s desire has always been so secretive and smuggled that it is often spoken of in awed tones of this kind, that this religious ecstasy seems fitting, even if it grates on me—but grate it did. I found myself wanting both more and less from this book, less of the earnest theatricality of desire, more reason to believe in it ... In the end many of the criticisms I feel most keenly, and feel most conflicted about voicing, come from a place which proves Fire Sermon\'s necessity; a book like this is so rare, relatively speaking, that I wanted it to do everything ... the final pages...and much else which is so good here, make me grateful for Fire Sermon, despite its frustrations, and hopeful that it will eventually be just one book of a great many which speak seriously about woman’s desire.