MixedThe Guardian (UK)Given the richness of the source material it’s disappointing that large parts of Cabrera’s life story really drag ... Although Vásquez does invent some dialogue for his real-life characters, we are never fully inside their consciousnesses: the events of their lives, both large and small, flicker and glow at a historical remove, as though we are watching a magic lantern show ... Retrospective is a dogged and conscientious account of a family whose lives have been bound up in some of Europe’s key historical moments, but it lacks the pliancy and texture of, say, Keggie Carew’s moving and compelling story of her extraordinary father, Dadland, which was rightly billed as memoir. While undoubtedly an achievement in its ordering of history, is Retrospective a novel? Not in my book. A memoir-by-proxy? Yes, perhaps.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)A kind of writing so rare and accomplished that it seems to erase the very nuts and bolts of its own construction ... Barry skilfully leads the reader gently and slowly into Tom’s imaginative world, a place of great humour as well as great sadness ... Even on second reading it is hard to unravel the “true” story of what Tom has experienced, and this is entirely cognate with the corroding effects of trauma on memory ... All of this could make a good story in another writer’s hands; what elevates this novel is Barry’s sustained, ventriloquial, impressionistic evocation of a unique, living consciousness, which at times takes flight into immersive transports of thought, feeling and memory in which nothing is fixed beyond the simple lodestar of Tom’s love for June ... The ending is a tour de force of transcendent power and complexity. I don’t expect to read anything as moving for many years.
Johan Eklöf, trans. Elizabeth DeNoma
PositiveThe New Statesman... well-researched and surprisingly lyrical ... I’d have liked greater detail about how this can be achieved; though there is a manifesto at the end of the book, it’s more motivational than practical. Even so, The Darkness Manifesto is a powerful contribution to our understanding of the harm we’re causing, and a clarion call for change
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)Beguilingly fantastical and written with great visual acuity, it is almost impossible to read it without trying to cast its central characters in your mind ... despite its elevated central theme — wisely only hinted at, rather than laboured over — this is overwhelmingly a work of action: a fabulist thriller, in fact. Kinetic and pacy, it is a page-turner in the very best sense of the term, with a central scene of extraordinary heart-in-mouth excitement. Much of this is due to O’Donnell’s ability to create strong images with just a few well-chosen words, allowing events to unfold quickly without getting bogged down in description. He is particularly good at small, visual details: the tics and gestures that reveal character or intention, create a beat between scenes, or bring dialogue to life. Despite the measured elegance of its prose, this really is a novel that one sees in the mind’s eye, rather than reads ... Where it may frustrate fans of books like Jonathan Strange is in the way its magical cosmology is alluded to but not fully revealed — something that risks leaving some readers unsure at its close as to what exactly has taken place, and why ... Still, \'Always leave them wanting more\' is famously good advice when it comes to the silver screen, and given the potential for a further book set in the world of Clara, Eustace and Mr Crowe it would not be surprising if the reading public clamours for a second instalment of this vividly imagined and deeply pleasurable gothic fantasy — not to mention a film.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Where it excels is in its characters’ recollection of the slow, incremental progress towards disaster, and the effort ordinary people made, every day, to block their knowledge of it out ... Despite its bleak subject matter, this is a book suffused with the joy and fulfilment of raising a child ... Greengrass is excellent on the complex currents that can develop between people who live in close proximity ... But as the novel jumps back and forth in time, the very gradual filling-in of information about the High House and who Sally is creates something of a slow start ... Short, numbered sections and fragmented speech presentation also get in the way of a truly immersive reading experience, so the book is ultimately not as emotionally affecting as it deserves to be ... The High House stands out, for Greengrass understands that perhaps the best writers and artists can hope for now is to help us admit, accept and process our collective failure to act.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)\"Challenging, but also funny and refreshingly low in sanctimony, this book is no frothing polemic. It will doubtless alter many readers’ understanding of the systems we all participate in and lead them to make different choices ... Mance is an amiable guide: curious and open-minded enough to alter his position when the facts seem to demand it ... The author makes a strong ethical case for giving up meat and dairy if you live in America, and that extends to the proposed import of many US animal products.
Edward St. Aubyn
MixedFinancial Times (UK)There are a lot of big ideas in the mix, from neuroscience to rewilding, to empiricism; there are those St Aubyn standards, psychoanalysis and recreational drug use; and there’s page upon page of research and exposition stuffed rather carelessly into the mouths and minds of a large cast of characters. All this is leavened with the odd comic set-piece, sparkling passage of dialogue or shaft of empathetic insight to remind you that St Aubyn is a writer who can — and should — do so much more with this set of ideas ... promising but ultimately unresolved plot points ... it seems certain that St Aubyn has planned some kind of spectacular denouement to pull all the strands of this chaotic novel together. But, instead, it all just . . . stops ... Reading Double Blind is a frustrating experience. It contains some genuinely important ideas that St Aubyn might have gone to town on, had they been thinned out and focused on, instead of merely gestured towards. There are also some promising allusions that are never actually made good. Fragments of memoir seep in, one suspects, as Hunter recalls his schooldays at Westminster in a late set of passages that add nothing to the development of the plot ... Yet the dialogue between Lucy and Olivia — the jokes they share and the way they use them to navigate difficult subjects — feels absolutely true, as does much of the psychological nuance of Olivia’s father’s consulting room; had St Aubyn been more interested in creating believable characters with real depth, he clearly could have ... After connecting so richly with the depths in his semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels, it’s as though St Aubyn no longer wishes to use them to imagine strenuously. Unfortunately, thinking quite hard is never going to produce the same effect ... doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be a novel of ideas, but it’s nowhere near limber enough to be a literary farce. Instead, it feels like a sprawling first draft, following which the writer would normally go back and remove all the plot strands that are surplus to requirements, integrate or banish any swaths of regurgitated research, decide on a central argument, even up the tone so that, in this case, the reader knows whether they’re in a satire, an Iris Murdoch tribute or a roman-à-clef, and give it an ending. Why this hasn’t happened is a mystery — and a great shame.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The novel begins at dawn and ends in the dark, and from the first page you know something terrible is going to happen, but you don’t know on whose neck the axe will fall ... Moss’s ability to conjure up the fleeting and sometimes agonised tenderness of family life is unmatched, and here, as in The Tidal Zone in particular, she sketches so lightly the all-but-invisible conflicts and compromises that can make cohabitation both a joy and a living hell ... Summerwater feels very much like a pandemic novel, despite the fact that it must have been completed months before Covid-19 ... A great part of a novelist’s skill lies in the breadth of their sympathies and their ability to enter into the lives of people unlike themselves. Moss does this so naturally and comprehensively that at times her simple, pellucid prose and perfectly judged free indirect speech feel almost like documentary or nonfiction – there is an artfulness to her writing so accomplished as to conceal itself.
Julia Blackburn, Illus. Enrique Brinkmann
PositiveThe Financial TimesJulia Blackburn—who lives on the Suffolk coast—is an ideal guide to such territory, her oblique, allusive paragraphs leavening pure pedagogy with memoir and the often startling richness of her own imagination ... Suffice to say, Time Song is not a straightforward book about Doggerland. It is much more interesting than that ... A book like this could easily be dry and academic, or if not, very heavy on the singular first person pronoun. But Time Song is richly peopled, Blackburn’s unflagging curiosity and sharp eye bringing a diverse cast of characters vividly to life. She sifts their stories not just for information, but for meaning; she’s conjuring for us not merely the facts of Doggerland, but the weight of its omission from our history books, our collective memory and our imaginations.
MixedThe Financial Times... it’s possible that the faults that mar On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous for me will be outshone, for others, by the clarity and honesty of its vision, its powerful emotional payload and vivid imagery ... Some parts read like essays and may have started out like that...This material, written in a different register from the lyrical, dreamlike voice of the rest of the novel, doesn’t feel evenly woven into the story ... frequent changes of tone and an inconsistent point of view run the risk of destabilising readers unless handled with great control ... As a poet, Vuong is a prodigious talent, his handling of words and images both brutal and delicate, his treatment of violence, sex and the body radically clear-eyed. In a novel, though, metaphors don’t always detonate in the same way that they do in the confined space of a poem, especially if they are devalued by being too frequent or thrown out casually, their meaning not fully mined ... My friend who loved it said that she had to read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in small doses. I did too, but out of a sense of frustration that a valuable testament from such a promising writer should be so hard to read. It’s possible that the novel simply isn’t Vuong’s form; it’s also possible that given more time, and further drafts, this book could have been brought to perfection. Either way, it will be fascinating to see what this extraordinarily gifted writer does next.
RaveThe GuardianThe writing is often dazzling...and this...lifts what might have been a sentimental story into different territory altogether ... as well as being a deft social history, it is a love story ... This is a book suffused with parental affection: fierce, physical and almost inexpressibly tender. Liardet describes beautifully the almost animal quality of that feeling, called up by the smell of a child’s neck, the curve of a chubby arm, even an outgrown dress. She’s also good on the changes time wreaks in childhood, both on the child, who alters from one month to the next, and on the parent ... Liardet is a masterful observer of the telling minutiae of life ... It’s rare to find a novel in which everyday items are so carefully and luminously rendered, and the effect is powerful ... the 30s and 40s are brilliantly evoked, as is the present century, but the period in between feels temporally unclear. Also a little unevenly handled is the movement of the characters through time ... Nevertheless, as a testament to parental love and its relationship to the heartbreaking, healing, almost ungraspable passage of time, We Must Be Brave is a great success: richly observed, lovingly drawn and determinedly clear-eyed to the last.
PositiveFinancial Times\"... as teeming and complex as an ecosystem ... Again and again, what [Macfarlane] identifies is years of utterly focused looking distilled into rarefied and highly charged prose. Yet there is plenty of texture here, created by the variety of relationships Macfarlane has with his subjects ...
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Elegant and scholarly, but never po-faced, Landmarks is both a bid to save our rich haul of landscape language, and a blow struck for the power of a deep, creative relationship to place...\
Walter Kempowski, Trans. by Charlotte Collins
MixedThe Guardian\"Homeland, interestingly, is not such a smooth read. Throughout, there is an instability around free indirect speech, and there are some unattributed lines of spoken dialogue, too. The result is a slightly distancing sense of uncertainty about who is telling the story and how we should relate to it – which may have been deliberate on Kempowski’s part ... Homeland walks a tightrope between black humour and horror...\
PositiveThe GuardianResist[s] superficial analysis in a way that is interesting in itself. Power is an extraordinarily unshowy craftsman, so that discussing the writing itself feels like trying to focus on the glass of a window, rather than the view beyond. This is partly a function of the transparency of the prose, which so lacks ornament as to almost feel bald in places, and partly to do with the disposition of his narrators, all of whom share a kind of emotional reserve that is close to affectlessness ... So much is left unsaid that the result is a deliberately frustrating gap in interpretation ... internationalist in outlook...This gives the collection a flavour that might have been less noticeable five years ago, but in today’s political climate feels eloquent ... a uniquely unsettling and subtle debut collection; one wonders if a longer work might also be on the cards.
RaveThe GuardianIt is...quite mystical...some passages are steeped in the kind of fuzzy, pantheistic spirituality that would usually make me wince ... And yet it rises effortlessly above these potential hazards; the quality of the writing and the depth and clarity of Carter’s imagination turning it into something almost inexpressibly beautiful. His vision of Dartmoor as a complex living ecosystem is extraordinary; he seems to be able to hold everything in his mind at once ... His prose slips subtly from lyrical description to earthy humor, its rhythms sunk deep into my DNA as something to aim for, if never achieve.
RaveFinancial TimesWhile Samantha Harvey’s fourth novel is on the surface a medieval whodunnit, it is also a fine character study, and a brilliantly convincing evocation of both time and place ... the experience her book engenders is less like reading a novel and more akin to time travel ... There is great pleasure to be had in those vertiginous moments when authentic, banal reality...seems briefly to make itself known to the imagination, and The Western Wind is almost uniquely satisfying in this regard ... I was left with unanswered questions, and a nagging sense of doubt...And yet the book’s flaws are far outweighed by the luminosity of the writing and the masterly evocation of a world so utterly different from the one we live in.
RaveThe Financial TImesTo fans of Philip Pullman, lovers of literature and writers of all stripes, it’s a gold mine. Many books about writing take an elevated tone, bandying about obscure terms from literary theory, or treating the process of inspiration as a holy mystery. Pullman puts on no airs and graces. He seems not to feel the need, as many do, to cloak the job in smoke and mirrors; instead, he is funny, honest and very down to earth ... Pullman is also refreshingly open about the business side of being a writer ... There’s so much richness to be found in this collection: essays on Dickens, Blake and Paradise Lost; explorations of both science and religion; powerful asides on the damage done to children’s imaginations by the national curriculum (Pullman was a teacher for many years); pieces on the moral power of fiction and on the different kind of storytelling found in theater and film. Humane, wise and immensely readable, Daemon Voices is a fascinating tour of Pullman’s teeming imagination and an inestimable illumination of the writing life.
MixedThe Financial TimesMoran has always been a gloriously acute and funny writer, and the combination of memoir and make-believe here gives her plenty of scope to exercise her considerable ability to entertain. Her descriptions of the music and media worlds of 1990s London are brilliantly recognisable, and Suzanne Banks, the chaotic and charismatic lead singer of feminist girl band The Branks, leaps off the page—she’s a fantastic creation. Naturally, the book is peppered with jokes, Moran’s trademark wordplay and some snappy one-liners ... But there are problems. Would an impoverished teenage music journalist in 1994 really have owned a laptop, but not a Walkman? ... there is the issue of the book’s tense, which slides around unpredictably ... Such a slip may be surprising from such an experienced writer, but it’s the result of an instability at the very heart of ... this funny, warm, insightful but ultimately half-formed book.
RaveThe Financial TimesWith such strange brushstrokes as to render the story almost a parable, American novelist Jesse Ball creates something uniquely memorable and utterly profound ... The work that Ball asks the reader to undertake in filling in the missing information is the wellspring of the book’s transformative power. For having created the boy with Down syndrome yourself — having brought him into being, imaginatively — it does not feel possible to return to a previous state of ignorance, or lack of sympathy, or avoidance ... The strange subjects of clowning and cormorants become ways of asking what it might be like to move through the world in a different, less intellectualised but no less meaningful way.
RaveThe Financial TimesWith such strange brushstrokes as to render the story almost a parable, American novelist Jesse Ball creates something uniquely memorable and utterly profound ... The work that Ball asks the reader to undertake in filling in the missing information is the wellspring of the book’s transformative power. For having created the boy with Down syndrome yourself — having brought him into being, imaginatively — it does not feel possible to return to a previous state of ignorance, or lack of sympathy, or avoidance.
PositiveThe Financial Times\"The diaries lend Educated a forensic level of detail, so it stands out when information is withheld. Perhaps this is prurient, but given that Westover describes so honestly the shame she’s made to feel in relation to her body and her sexuality at the hands of both her brother and fundamentalist religion, I wanted to hear more about her journey out of \'modesty\' and towards the healthy relationship hinted at towards the end of the book ... In the end, Westover’s triumph in forging a grounded self, and a coherent narrative, from such a maelstrom, come to the same thing: for it is in the often complex and sometimes long-delayed act of assembling the story of our lives that we discover who we really are.\
RaveFinancial Times“It is these letters, along with Hick’s journalism and other historical documents that American novelist Amy Bloom draws on to paint an imagined portrait of the relationship between the two women, a short novel both breathtakingly intimate and with the grandest of historical sweeps … The letters, and the conversations between the two women, allow Bloom to range back and forth in time, drawing a vivid and vividly satisfying picture of life at the White House … Hick’s wry, perceptive narratorial voice is conjured brilliantly; she is both hard-bitten hack and hopeless romantic. Bloom has a keen ear for dialogue … If White Houses isn’t an example of the great American novel then frankly, I don’t know what is.”
MixedThe Financial TimesThere is much to enjoy in the successive revelations of the plot, as well as a good sense of a city so familiar now as a friendly, laid-back European destination but then at the heart of a vast trading empire. The richly drawn interiors are nicely claustrophobic, while the flavours and smells of the food are both seductive and sickening. Burton is good at atmospheres, too, and much of the book is imbued with a sense of indefinable threat … The Miniaturist is not perfect, however. Key scenes waver out of Burton’s control, leaving the reader unclear about what has happened and why; the flow of time is uneven, and some characters’ motivations (including that of the miniaturist) are unclear. A general sense of imprecision runs through the book, from plot right down to the level of metaphor and language.
RaveThe Financial TimesHall writes brilliantly about women, particularly women as they are observed and imagined by men, and when she adopts the male gaze for her narrators and characters it is both virtuoso and troubling ... All Hall’s short stories have at their heart an interest in base instinct rather than social convention, physical reaction rather than rational thought; and the intensity with which she explores the transgression of psychological, geographical and corporeal boundaries lends her work a darkly sensuous precariousness that’s uniquely challenging and compelling. Madame Zero may not be for milquetoasts, but it’s all the richer for it.
RaveThe Financial TimesDadland is part family memoir, part history book, and is compelling and moving from start to finish ... She brings the wartime sections to life by drawing on a remarkable facility for description ... There’s a risk, in a book that aims for a general readership, that the historical sections will weigh the narrative down, but Carew leavens them with flashbacks to her unusual childhood, research into her complex family history and incidents — often comic, sometimes heartbreakingly poignant — from her father’s later life ... [a] funny, fascinating and unflinching tribute.
RaveThe Financial TimesThe stories of the people of Amgash and beyond relate to one another sometimes closely, sometimes obliquely; there are glimpses of other people that feel exactly like the glimpses one has of those with whom our own lives intersect … It is an extraordinary — almost miraculous — exercise in imaginative empathy, unsentimental and unflinching, yet full of respect for the moments in friendships and relationships that remain mysterious and half-understood … [Strout’s] writing is supple, subtle and almost completely transparent, eschewing showiness of any kind and instead relying on a mastery of free indirect speech so complete as to create a perfect illusion of eavesdropping on others’ thoughts and feelings at the very moment they are having them.
RaveThe Financial TimesAt the beginning of their careers, writers are often told 'write what you know,' but it is Baume’s second novel and not her first that does this, its imaginative scope less ambitious, its subject matter far closer to home than that of her previous work ... If you eschew conventional plot and its attendant devices, all that’s left to retain your readers’ attention is the pleasure they take in your prose. Baume’s writing is near-faultless: instinctively balanced, precise and often surprising ... A Line Made By Walking is an insightful exploration of the psychological processes and potential emotional toll of a life whose goal is to turn experience into art — or books. The acuity of Baume’s observations and the exacting lyricism of her writing are just as strong as in her debut.
PositiveThe Financial Times...playful, shrewd and illuminating … Passarello is at her best when subtly dissecting modern cultural mores and attitudes to animals rather than working to recreate the thought-worlds of the past. In consequence, the second half is where the real treasure lies … These essays dance along the margins of what is humanly possible when it comes to understanding other forms of life. Our relationship with animals takes in whimsy and monstering; selfless love and vile cruelty; anthropomorphism, projection and pragmatic, profitable utility. It describes far better our own nature than it illuminates theirs.
PositiveThe Financial TimesHis style on the page mirrors that on the small screen: deeply knowledgeable, enthusiastic, avuncular and a little bit old-fashioned ... he exists in the book largely as an observant and curious eye, his interest always outward. Objectivity, rather than subjectivity, is his goal — although whether that is possible is another matter ... it’s strange that the picture of Grim’s Dyke Wood that emerges from Fortey’s fascinating and thorough book is not as pin-sharp as it might have been, the sense of it as a real place somehow just out of reach. Fortey illuminates its flora and fauna, history and geology with indisputable expertise; but perhaps, in focusing so closely on the trees and their inhabitants, the lay reader is denied a clear enough view of the wood.