RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)This is simply the best modern biography of Wilde ... You read this account with a sense of anticipation, wanting to find out what comes next, even though you know you know what comes next. That’s a terrific achievement ... This biographical method, of writing about Wilde’s life as it happened rather than as a series of precursors to the last act of an inevitable tragedy, means the crucial early part of his life isn’t rushed over in the haste to arrive at the Wilde of the immortal epigrams ... sympathetic and insightful.
PanEvening Standard (UK)It’s tosh, of course, but amiable tosh. Yet what’s baffling is that for someone who presumably knows her way around the aristocracy, our author sounds so very much like an outsider with her nose pressed against the glass, who doesn’t know how grandees actually talk but tries to make up for it by the lavish use of titles and refined diction; there’s a pinkie held aloft in every sentence. The language is a kind of parody of genteel Victorian when it’s not weirdly contemporary—Lady Margaret never puts on clothes when she can don attire and her friends are never helpful so much as inordinately accommodating - and absolutely none of it reads as if it’s written by someone who knows actual dukes to the point of being formerly married to one. Actually if you bear in mind that Her Heart for a Compass is published for Mills and Boon, you could say it’s a perfect example of the genre.
Jordan B Peterson
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)The new 12 Rules are very like the old 12 Rules; there’s no sign that Jordan P has lost it ... Where he is more opaque but very much in American middle brow mode, is illustrating his ideas with assorted myth, legend or archetype: he gives us Mesopotamian epic to make a point about order and chaos, or the story of Osiris and Horus to illustrate a point about the importance of tradition plus youthful vigour. Sometimes the attempt falls flat as when he deploys Harry Potter anecdotes, and can I just say that he got Peter Pan all wrong when he asserts that Peter’s problem is that Captain Hook is his role model ... But Jordan Peterson is by profession a clinical psychologist and some of his most useful insights come from encounters with people ... most of this book is given to similarly humane and perfectly sensible observations about human nature. Indeed, when he describes his clients, you note the compassion as well as the rigour. And his prescription against chaos, that you should start by tidying your own room and sorting yourself out before you deal with the universe, has much to commend it ... there are useful big ideas here which are all the more useful in being, as he admits, unoriginal ... There’s plenty here for his critics to get stuck into.
Vanessa Springora, tr. Natasha Lehrer
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)... a short book, but it unpicks just how little the notion of consent means when there’s no equality ... This book – sensitively translated by Natasha Lehrer - would be devastating at any time, but now it’s part of a movement in France against the generation of ’68, for whom \'the freedom to f***\' (Mme Duchamel’s words) was absolute ... Now the day of reckoning has come. Consent could just as well be called Backlash.
Ismail Kadare, trans. by John Hodgson
RaveEvening Standard (UK)In a properly ordered world, Ismail Kadare would by now have got the Nobel prize for literature. By any reckoning, he is one of the most important living European writers, a man whose work is as compelling as any novelist to have emerged from the vanished world that was the Communist bloc ... His latest work is about his mother and wouldn’t be the first book you’d give to someone to introduce Kadare. It’s not one of his almost dreamlike symbolic novels to do with the Ottoman incursion into Europe, such as The Three-Arched Bridge, or his invocations of Albanian Communism — it’s entirely personal. But because it’s such a simple story, a son’s account of his mother, it has the engaging qualities of tenderness and immediacy ... This is an account of the evolution of a writer — Kadare is funny about his schooldays and interesting about his time at the writers’ institute in Moscow — but it’s the haunting, fragile figure of the doll that stays with you. She has the last laugh.
MixedThe Evening Standard (UK)Is it possible for a male Irish author to channel the persona of a Native American woman? Of course; don’t be silly. Interestingly, the girl’s voice as narrator is fluent; when she talks, however, it’s in flawed English ... The narrative does grip you ... in the unravelling of the plot...the story seems weakest. Barry lays it on just too thick ... And there are other aspects of the book that grate: all the good people are outsiders ... And the moral, that love is all that matters, while no doubt true, seems here to have a polemical aspect ... But the massacres, the lynchings...the worthlessness of Indians under US law; that’s all true.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)The question is, does The Mirror and the Light, so long in the making, match its predecessors – two Booker prize-winners? Yes, it does. Hilary Mantel has achieved something remarkable: she has turned Thomas Cromwell, one of the biggest bastards in English history, maker of the English Reformation, into a living, sympathetic, almost admirable, human being ... It’s not just that she has the gift of bringing the past to life. She does that, with her extraordinary gift of lighting on the details of existence and making them real ... This is brilliant, concrete prose, grounded in the realities but it’s also germane to Cromwell’s own character – the king’s butcher ... But it’s not just the hero who is absolutely convincing. Henry VIII in his terrifying capriciousness, his vulnerability, anxiety, pride and vanity – we feel if we met him, we’d know him ... And what Mantel gets so brilliantly right are the intimate details that counted for everything in a Renaissance court – the gossip, the importance of sheer proximity to the monarch, how rumour passes through ladies in waiting, the way the king’s very chamber pot is treated reverently. She’s also brilliant on food – cod done in saffron, eels cooked with orange, pike with onions – the dinners Cromwell shares with the slippery (real) Imperial envoy make your mouth water. So, to cut to the chase, does it merit another Booker? Yes it does.
RaveEvening Standard (UK)Anne Enright has an unmistakable diction and a genius for arresting detail. Her novel, a daughter’s account of her once-famous actress mother’s life, is a many-sided thing ... It’s a tender account of mother-daughter love and how protective it is at heart ... Actress is especially good in its evocation of an Ireland and a Dublin that is vanished ... Enright, has a knack for identifying a female perspective ... It’s a good read in the sense of a story well told, but not in the sense that you really must find out what happens next; if you want a novel that’s compelling rather than elegiac, this isn’t it.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)... one of the achievements of this splendid book is to make our world view seem more narrow and fragmented than that of the extensive period we place somewhere between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance ... You can read the chapters separately — several reviewers seem to have chanced on genitalia — and at every point you’ll encounter wit, learning and riveting stories. A wonderful read.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)The book has already usefully ruffled feathers; contemporary liberals do not particularly like to be reminded of their debt to a world view that they feel they have outgrown and discarded; indeed which many regard as an obstacle in the way of social progress ... The account is peppered with particularity — anecdotes, human portraits and the traces left on the landscape by vanished civilisations, all conveyed in lyrical, vivid language ... The past comes to life in smelly ascetics, authoritarian popes, queen-saints, mad philosophers and landladies — women are prominent in this narrative ... the church has often been oppressive and persecuting, and Holland makes that point vividly. But as he points out, the standard by which the abuses are found wanting is Christianity itself ... What this book may do is persuade others to recognise the revolutionary character of the beliefs that our generation is hastening to discard.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)... one of those books that adults can read with as much pleasure as clever children but then Philip Pullman has form ... Pullman is a storyteller with a dressing-up box of any amount of battered treasures, from which he plucks all sorts of abstruse learning, old ideas, antique language and spelling ... What seems evident is that Pullman is aware he may have been gunning for the wrong target all along. Christianity is the Great Satan in these series, except as anyone who loves Blake would know, Christianity isn’t the impediment to the world of the imagination. Rather, it’s the underpinning for the things he values as a storyteller: myth, fantasy and fairytales ... It’s a cross, then, between AJ Ayer and Richard Dawkins with a bit of Nietzsche thrown in. But I’m afraid you can’t have it both ways. You can’t gun for Christianity and for logical positivists; you can’t have faeries and boggarts and be an atheist. Pullman’s grandfather was a clergyman; he’s still essentially CofE ... He is here in a bog of his own making, even if it’s a bog with lots of marsh sprites. But it’s still a cracking story.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Felipe Fernández-Armesto is a big-canvas historian...and he’s sticking with the broad-brush approach in his latest ... The book is, in fact, a very useful crib of the intellectual history of the West — mostly dead white males then — though [Fernández-Armesto] does roam further afield at intervals and is at pains to express the debt Europe owes to China for some of its most important technological innovations. His section on Mao, incidentally, is admirably savage ... What we get here is an urbane and civilised observer, broad in his sympathies, mildly distrustful of religion, very distrustful of certainties and enthusiastic about pluralism. You may not always agree with him, but he’s very good company.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)It is true and it is tragic and it is almost unreadable ... it’s all true. Yet, bizarrely, the feminist must-read of the day is Margaret Atwood’s fictional account of made-up female subjugation in a Trumped-up state. The Boko Haram camp is the real Gilead, only it’s much, much worse. It too has forced marriages; as well as organised gang rape, girls are actually sold to rich Arabs by their captors. So why are we obsessed by Atwood’s fictional misyogyny when there are actual horrors happening to real girls, then and now? Read it if you can bear to.
MixedThe Evening Standard (UK)There\'s weird and wonderful, and then there’s just weird. Into the latter category falls Frank Kiss Stein ... The best bit is the retelling of the story from Mary’s perspective: the tiresome misogyny of Byron, the affectionate, fickle Shelley, the ghastliness of a peripatetic life, the deaths of her children. Not many people could ventriloquise plausibly for Shelley but Winterson makes a good stab at it. The trouble comes in our day ... The reworking of the original book can get laboured, including the black American Evangelical Christian, Claire, who represents Mary’s dopey stepsister. Ron Lord, however, presumably the priapic Lord Byron, provides the comic element, with his sexbots for all tastes. That bit, at least, of this appalling vision of our future sounds plausible.