PositiveIrish Times (IRE)A rare peek behind the curtain of the creative process of one of our most elusive authors ... In the Margins is not a book on craft; I suspect it will hold limited interest for nonfans. But for those of us whose Ferrante fever runs high, it is nothing short of a thrill to have light shed on her magic.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)In her new novel Pure Colour, Heti continues to pose existential questions but returns to the form of the fable, albeit with a surreal twist ... The book is loosely plotted, with long philosophical digressions. But then Heti has never shown much interest in conventional literary devices ... Heti’s narrative voice employs a simple syntax. At its best, the result is beautiful: the repetitions and resonances in her alphabetised diary have a poetic effect. Her prose can be clunky ... She also has a penchant for provocation ... Prurience aside, the deliberately primitive quality of the book hovers perilously close to kitsch ... Heti is not, alas, the Virgil to guide us out of the dark wood ... Despite having recently lost my own father, the book’s meditations on grief left me cold. The closing lines suggest a framing device: the birds, fish and bears were a bedtime story the narrator’s father told her as a child. If only our adult anxieties were as easily allayed as in fairy tales.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Hadley has crafted an aesthetic that inspires trust, and the author’s free indirect style...allows us access to the characters’ inner lives. She is also a superb portraitist, rendering people with the tiniest of details ... Free Love is not, to my mind, the strongest of Hadley’s eight novels ... The denouement of Free Love, following the revelation of a family secret \'as fatally twisted as a Greek drama\', feels rushed. No matter: a sumptuous stylist, Hadley is a writer for whom language trumps all else. Any publication of hers, whether of short or long fiction, is cause for celebration for the pure pleasure of the prose.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Danielle Friedman shows the tremendous gains women have made in obtaining their right to exercise ... Well-researched and engaging, Let’s Get Physical shares the stories of the pioneers who pushed through barriers in women’s exercise ... Friedman addresses the dichotomy between beauty culture and exercising for wellbeing. And she reminds readers that for all of its feminist gains, fitness has been a bastion of privilege, accessible primarily to white women with the time and the resources to pursue it. In a moving final chapter, she highlights the contemporary pioneers working to make exercise more inclusive—of race, of body shape, and of income.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)With Moss’s trademark attention to both the beauty and danger of the natural world, the moors come alive as almost another character ... Covering only a few hours, The Fell conveys not only Kate’s and Matt’s fears but the particular anxieties of the time: the precautions about touching surfaces, the financial stress of furlough, and the dread of denunciation by neighbours ... The book also captures what was lost—from missed celebrations to more everyday delights ... The Fell is a slim book covering a lot of ground. In unfussy prose, Moss seamlessly blends quotidian concerns ... For Moss, the idea of control over one’s life is itself a sign of privilege.
PanThe Irish Times (IRE)The good—or bad—news, depending on whether you’re after a tearjerker, is that To Paradise leaves readers’ eyes dry ... The themes of To Paradise—pandemics, colonialism, unequal rights, the quest for compassion and care—are urgent, and the idea of an alternate America is all too real in a post-Trump era with Roe v Wade in jeopardy. For fiction to work, however, it has to transcend the ideas it aspires to represent. Unlike the precise rendering of the fictional Micronesian island in Yanagihara’s 2013 debut, The People in the Trees, the world-building in To Paradise feels laboured. The characters often act as mouthpieces for concepts, with exposition eliding emotion. Despite the plethora of pages accorded to their development, they remain, alas, as unachieved as the American dream.
RaveFinancial TimesFans of King’s novels will find much to enjoy in the 10 short stories in her first collection, half of which are previously unpublished ... While certain contemporary novelists steer clear of affect, King dives into the emotional worlds of her characters whole-hog, her wry humour ensuring that tenderness never veers into sentimentality ... With their plot and character development, King’s stories remain novelistic. Indeed, it’s the longer works, which allow sufficient space for the subtleties of the push and pull of relationships, that are the most successful ... King joins authors including Sarah Hall and Megan Hunter in invoking magical realism for their heroines to avenge wrongs inflicted by men ... it is the exquisite attention with which King articulates all that roils inside us that secures her place in the contemporary canon.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)... the pleasure of Hall’s prose — visceral, intimate — is a balm to our collective wound.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)What sets Strout’s work apart is her characterisation ... crafted such that a reader need not have read its predecessors to understand and enjoy it. Taken as an ensemble, the triptych offers a fuller portrait of Lucy Barton ... With its spotlight on her first marriage, Oh William! allows us to put another piece in the jigsaw with a satisfying click.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)With Crossroads, his sixth novel, Franzen returns to a structure that has served him well: close third-person narratives that circle back to cover some of the same ground from varying points of view ... Like most of Franzen’s oeuvre, Crossroads could have been trimmed by a good hundred pages ... Crossroads is a better book than both Freedom and Purity ... While Franzen now steers clear of the \'fancy words\' that alienated some readers of his earlier work, his style can’t help but insist on its cleverness ... Still, when Franzen is good, he’s very, very good. And having invested 580 pages in the Hildebrandt clan, I can’t wait to see what they get up to next.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)Harrow’s dark humour, nihilism and absurdist bent bear the author’s idiosyncratic stamp. With even less plot and narrative cohesion than usual, however, reading it can be disorienting, as characters float in and out of the story and the perspective shifts from first person to third, occasionally slipping back again ... it reminded me more of Jenny Offill’s fragmentary novel Weather—minable for glistening nuggets of humour and wordplay amid the doom. Language is, of course, inadequate in the face of the abyss ... Unlike other contemporary climate novels, Harrow does not offer a warning and little in the way of hope.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Although art, sexual freedom and drugs are more natural subject areas for Nelson, the section on climate change is, to my mind, the most edifying ... Part of what makes her writing so compelling is a comfort with uncertainty ... It is a delight to spend time with Nelson’s erudite mind. She admits, however, that On Freedom is \'littered to a fault\' with quotations. At its best, the effect is of being privy to an engaging conversation, but at times the citations feel poorly integrated. Nelson’s prose sings most when the critical theory is grounded in personal experience.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksOne of the pleasures of this volume is Levy’s relating to her daughters as adults ... Levy’s wry humor and attention to the art of living make her good company on the page, with wisdom weaved in from her touchstone authors, including James Baldwin, Walter Benjamin, and Leonora Carrington. At a time when the pandemic restricted travel, I appreciated the armchair travel on offer in Real Estate: I could taste the guava ice cream with salt and chili powder in Mumbai and feel the chill of December sleet at a café in Berlin ... stays on safe — if scenic — ground.
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)Radtke weaves together snippets of scientific research, pop culture and memoir with her own evocative artwork. Forgoing the panel format typical to graphic novels in favour of one or two-page spreads, she captures the architecture of aloneness and the protective postures our bodies assume in shared spaces ... Radtke draws an important distinction between solitude and feeling lonely ... doesn’t so much suggest solutions as the salve of solidarity.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)The seemingly civilised setting of a midwestern college town allows Taylor to illuminate internal states of unrest ... Redolent of the work of Garth Greenwell and Bryan Washington, Taylor is also a master craftsman of sex scenes, with all of their attendant awkwardness. He deftly explores those strange bedfellows of tenderness and violence and the ever-changing geometries between people ... The stories in Filthy Animals, some of which have appeared in publications including American Short Fiction and Guernica, are more tautly composed than Real Life, which was written in a five-week sprint ... Taylor’s characters are sincere without being sentimental – their pain too palpable to perform the cool detachment in vogue among his cohort. The agency he affords them provides dramatic tension and is a refreshing counterpoint to the passive ennui increasingly prevalent in contemporary fiction.
RaveIrish Times (IRE)Joycean Dublin is well-trodden ground, not least by Edna O’Brien, but O’Connor keeps the story fresh with the vivid language of her fictionalised biography. A chambermaid from Galway, Nora’s voice is frank and earthy ... O’Connor deftly depicts the strength of Nora’s attachment to an adoring but exasperatingly unreliable man ... Whether Nora directly influenced Joyce’s writing, as some scholars have argued, or was more of a muse, O’Connor’s fleshed-out \'little f**kbird\' is no adjunct.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... electrifying ... free, indirect style...lends itself to irony, which Galgut further punctuates with moralising narrative interventions. The sly asides add levity, but also implicate the reader as a co-conspirator in the family’s failings ... The Promise has a decisively Joycean Dead end, with diluvian rain washing over the veld. Galgut refuses redemption, however, by likening the storm to \'some cheap redemptive symbol in a story, falling from a turbulent sky on to rich and poor, happy and unhappy alike.\'
PanFinancial Times (UK)Despite the novel’s picturesque setting, cosy armchair travel this is not. The narrator laments a life misspent and displays a certain surliness ... The book is so devoid of joy that I found myself startled by an exclamation mark, when friends wish the narrator \'good luck!\' as she agrees to take up a fellowship abroad ... Literary fiction can hold loneliness (as exemplified by the novels of Anita Brookner) and plotlessness (Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy springs to mind). Lahiri’s Italian, alas, is not yet capacious enough to carry off either. Unlike her works in English—which depict dislocation with an intimate precision—the prose in Whereabouts is spare but inexact, the translation intentionally retaining a rough edge ... her self-imposed exile limits rather than liberates.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Angel uses snippets of contemporary culture to illustrate her arguments ... The problem with an over-emphasis on consent, she points out, is that it shifts the responsibility for societal imbalances of power onto individuals. Consent only works as a standard if one feels one has the right to refuse ... Armed now with the tools of consent and sex research, \'we are, yet again, in a moment in which it seems to be tomorrow … that sex will be good again,\' writes Angel. In her view, neither offers the emancipatory potential that their proponents would have us believe, as both underplay the contextual and emergent nature of desire.
Maria Stepanova tr. Sasha Dugdale
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... sweeping ... superbly translated ... More than just a family and cultural history, Stepanova’s meditations on the nature of memory place themselves on a continuum of Proust, Nabokov’s Speak, Memory (1951) and the work of WG Sebald ... Stepanova harbours no illusions about the feasibility of preserving the past.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)No One Is Talking About This cleaves into two distinct parts. In the first, the unnamed protagonist – propelled to internet fame after tweeting “Can a dog be twins?” – meets fans on an international speaking tour. Two text messages from her mother cut the trip short ... Part two of No One Is Talking About This explores what happens when corporeal realities come to the fore ... The book lacks the visual aid of the slideshow accompanying the lecture and incorporated online in the London Review. The jokes struggle to land on their own and, alas, already feel dated ... By design, the first half of No One Is Talking About This recreates the sensation of too much time scrolling ... So, does the change of tack in the second half offer more sustenance? The baby’s caretaking is meant to be in sharp contrast to what Lockwood calls \'the portal\', although the story continues to be told in fragments ... Here the humour feels not brave but adolescent: on seeing her mother after receiving the devastating news, the protagonist’s first thought is that the last maternal text contained the spurting three droplets emoji ... While the baby’s world is rendered in detail, the characters of the baby’s parents and the shape of their grief remain impressionistic.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)Part intro to Russian literature, part musings on craft, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is all pleasure ... It’s rich pickings ... Saunders’ commentary on the stories reads like the coffee-stained notes of a professor fond of the subject—and his students. Where the text sparkles in particular is in his attempts at articulating the mystery of the muse.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)With exquisite attention to the ever-shifting spaces between people, Memorial deftly renders both grief and moments of quotidian joy, often in shared meals ... race, class and identity are addressed in an unforced way ... characters’ lack of self-involvement, despite the first-person narration, is a breath of fresh air ... Digital forms of communication are integrated seamlessly in a way that doesn’t grate.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)Klay clearly understands the complexities of the Colombian conflict ... He does not shy away from the brutalities of war ... In addition to such evocative imagery, Klay touchingly relays the difficulties of maintaining intimacy with civilians while deployed ... The unspooling of Klay’s exhaustive research can get exhausting, however. The first section drags, lacking the sniper focus of his short stories, particularly for Abel, whose story pulls heartstrings but whose character never feels fully formed ... While exposing the sprawling web of American counter-terrorist warfare is an admirable aim, musings on military policy placed in the mouths and minds of the characters are heavy-handed.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)While the two posthumously-published pieces are, unsurprisingly, not fully developed, the voice is unmistakably Hazzard’s, containing her characteristically clever repartee ... Hazzard’s prose is marked by its precision; she took her vocation seriously, redrafting each page up to 30 times ... It’s not only an elevated register and omniscient asides that lend Hazzard’s oeuvre an air of formality but the bygone era of intellectualism she evokes, with cosmopolitan characters slipping into Italian or French and quoting poetry ... With an ear attuned to dialogue – both internal and external – Hazzard believed that speech \'can crucially suggest what is not said\'. Nestled in her characters’ exchanges are gut-punching aphorisms ... Carefully crafted and astutely observed.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Exquisitely translated, as ever, by Ann Goldstein, Ferrante masterfully evokes the agonies and insecurities of adolescence ... Like the face of an adolescent, The Lying Life of Adults is not flawless: the last line is somewhat wan compared with the bold strokes preceding it, and a talismanic heirloom bracelet used as a plot device is clunky in parts. But Ferrante has once again written a story meeting her own criterion for narrative, in which \'the facts of ordinary life – are extraordinarily gripping when read\'. I devoured it greedily, in big gulps ... For an author who has fabricated elements of her biography beyond the necessities of protecting her identity, truth may be less about an accurate representation of facts than forging a deeper emotional resonance.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)Only a handful of rock-star memoirs attract a wide audience outside of their fanbase, such as Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (2004) or Patti Smith’s Just Kids (2010). Resistance is unlikely to enjoy such breakout success: the narrative can be hard to follow as Amos criss-crosses chronology, skipping, for example, from the Iran hostage crisis to Trump’s current immigration policies before circling back to 9/11 ... Her devoted fans, however, will no doubt relish the book’s release. Reading the backstory of her often-abstract lyrics recreates the bygone intimacy of studying liner notes to suss out meaning.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)... a seamless translation by Megan McDowell ... Schweblin enjoys hovering just above the normal. Inspired by Samuel Beckett, she is interested in exposing absurdities ... Little Eyes presents a plausible picture of unintended consequences from the surveillance by smart technology in our homes and our pockets.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)Enright deftly depicts [Katherine\'s] assault and Norah’s self-recrimination in its aftermath ... The emotional core of Actress takes some time to emerge, as the narrative gets waylaid by a barrage of biographical detail ... If Actress lacks the robust characterisations of some of her other novels, it does leave you with things to think about: we come away considering complex gender dynamics in a more nuanced way.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)She paints a precise portrait of the dynamics of working in a restaurant as well as the world inhabited by Oscar’s children. She gently lampoons the literary scene, including the different ways in which men and women are treated ... Infused with tenderness and wry wit in equal measure, Writers & Lovers is King’s best book yet.
PositiveFinancial TimesOut of force of habit, perhaps, the book is more essayistic than biographical. While memoirists are often criticised for navel gazing, Solnit is more at ease depicting exterior landscapes. She paints a picture of a gentrifying San Francisco in broad strokes ... Solnit reiterates her confidence that culture can shape politics, pointing to the evolution in equal rights that she has witnessed in her lifetime.
MixedThe Irish TimesWhat emerges instead of an addendum is a picture of the persistent sexism Bair encountered throughout her career ... Bair has a tendency to derail into detail, with a writing style that can charm but mostly grates. There’s a lack of rigour in Parisian Lives that is troubling from someone whose currency is accuracy: the book would have benefited from an index, and an assertion that Bair became a biographer when she was \'not yet thirty\' does not square with the dates. Still, as a glimpse of the art of biography in a bygone era, the book is not without its pleasures ... Most importantly, Parisian Lives serves simultaneously a reminder of how far women have and have not come.
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)\"What a pleasure...to linger longer within the mechanisms of Davis’s mind in this collection of her non-fiction work ... To read Davis is to be jolted out of complacency. One comes away from Essays optimistic that such hyperfocus can be honed ... At some 500 pages, Essays hasn’t quite the heft of Davis’s Collected Stories, which one critic reported using to jack a car to change a flat tyre. Even for the most hardcore of Davis devotees, however, the volume might have merited further culling. A handful of essays on visual artists, including a piece on her husband, the abstract painter Alan Cote, feel extraneous.
But that aside, Essays is a treasure trove of wisdom on the pleasures of reading and writing. I eagerly await bedding down with further reflections from Davis — on translation and learning languages — with the publication of volume two.
RaveThe Financial TimesIf only achieving Smith’s mastery was as easy as following the instructions on a class handout. An A+ to her for reaching the goals of stirring empathy (\'the aim and purpose of all stories, everywhere, always\') and of drawing in the reader. A few stories with a surreal bent play less to her strengths but, overall, Grand Union, had me feeling like a fourth-grader, lying \'upon the floor, reading delightedly from a book, lost in it completely\'.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)A grandmaster of the incongruous, Keret’s flights of fancy range from a dash of fantasy to the outright absurd ... The strongest stories are those that maintain some tether to reality, making the discrepancies between our expectations and the outrageous occurrences concocted by Keret all the funnier. His dips into dystopia...are less compelling. The whimsical scenarios belie a deeper gloom ... Keret has always conveyed an underlying awareness of mortality in his work. But Fly Already displays a particular gravitas: most of its protagonists are grieving, or alienated ... It’s Keret’s particular brand of brilliance that can simultaneously hold tragedy and comedy, and in such compact packages.
PositiveThe Financial TimesIn Coventry...Cusk explains that her parents periodically withdraw contact without explanation. When her mother reaches out to reconnect after one such absence, Cusk decides not to re-engage, preferring to take up permanent residence in Coventry. It is from this place of exile that she observes the workings of the world ... As the themes of her autofiction and non-fiction converge, the essays also chip away at Cusk’s preoccupations — the tenuous agreements of civility, the tension between family life and the creative process, the making of a home — from multiple angles in order to chisel towards some sort of truth ... Perhaps in part in reaction to her parents’ silent treatment, as the language in her work becomes more streamlined, Cusk’s voice in Coventry resonates loud and clear.
MixedFinancial Times... while Fleishman Is in Trouble holds up a mirror to Manhattanites practising \'self-care\' in athleisurewear, the portrait remains a still. Plot is propelled by desire, and it is difficult to determine here what the characters are after ... A glimmer of optimism at the end of the book reads more like resignation than redemption—unsurprising, perhaps, when the pathway out of a mid-life muddle is illuminated only by the dull, cold glow of a smartphone screen.
MixedFinancial TimesReaders looking to You Know You Want This for further insights into \'sex, dating, and modern life\' (as it says on the tin), however, may be disappointed to find that the majority of the stories involve a supernatural or macabre twist. When Roupenian stretches plausibility to provoke, as in the grisly denouement of the opening story, she loses her hold on our attention ... it is in rendering reality with fine brushstrokes, as in her depiction of the wavering line between attraction and repulsion in \'Cat Person,\' that Roupenian is at her best ... some of the collection — the bulk of which was written before Roupenian stepped into the spotlight — may have benefited from more time to incubate ... when Roupenian remains rooted in realism, she gives pause by exposing the sinister side of sexuality, and one looks forward to seeing what she might accomplish with the novel form.
PositiveFinancial Times\"... engaging ... While Devlin admits that there are ethical issues that will need to be ironed out... she is unequivocally upbeat about their potential.\