RaveThe Guardian (UK)One criticism sometimes levelled at Hadley’s astutely observed narratives is that, for all their finesse, they lack propulsion and verve ... Some readers may consider the conclusion of Free Love in similar terms, feeling that the plot fizzles out, or that the resolution for the Fischers is partial or underwhelming. But on rereading, the final pages struck me as achingly moving and real. This novel does not close as a triumphant bildungsroman of middle life, replete with self-discovery. Instead, Hadley’s poignant drawing together of a situation that ultimately becomes \'as fatally twisted as a Greek drama\' shows a writer with boundless compassion. Yet again, she offers insightful and sensitive understanding of the quiet compromises people make to survive in a deeply compromised world.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Mohamed’s refashioning of this story takes time to develop its momentum. Largely, this is because of an understandable attempt at even-handedness ... The novel becomes most powerfully compelling when attention is squarely focused on spiky, maverick Mattan and the fight to clear his name. Mattan is a shape-shifting character, variously positioned as a rakish antihero, plucky picaro, petty thief, charismatic dreamer, prideful gambler, doting father, anti-colonial firebrand and speaker of truth to power. It is predominately through her depiction of Mattan’s imprisonment that Mohamed achieves this layered complexity ... In her determined, nuanced and compassionate exposure of injustice, Mohamed gives the terrible story of Mattan’s life and death meaning and dignity.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Accomplished ... In her acknowledgments, Onuzo identifies Rachel Cusk’s work as providing her with inspiration. Both the portrayal of a coolly distant protagonist who closely controls her emotions and the artfully spare sentences demonstrate Cusk’s influence on this lean novel. While the uncluttered style is admirable, at times it leads to some of the book’s potentially complex messages about identity landing in a slightly heavy-handed manner. However, the slick pacing and unpredictable developments – especially in the depiction of Anna’s enigmatic father – keep the reader alert right up to the novel’s exhilarating ending. Here, though some might find the tonal shift jarring, Onuzo lifts the narrative into an entirely unexpected space. She shows that the healing of fractures and a desire for wholeness can be achieved in the most unexpected of places.
RaveiNews (UK)... a wildly meandering thing, whose porousness of structure and resistance to neatness echo Orwell’s own advocacy of freedom ... At no point do we feel lost during this freewheeling roaming. Solnit is a sure-footed, often witty navigator. Her nuanced prose has a distinct purposefulness. One of the wonders of this work is the careful but effortless grounding of wide-ranging discussion in an engagement with the radically humane beliefs underpinning Orwell’s writing ... It is, evidently, not an orthodox survey of Orwell’s life and works. However, some of its most absorbing episodes involve Solnit’s examination of Orwell’s lineage ... While there are glorious \'moments of delight\' throughout – such as Solnit’s recollection of the miraculous discovery of flint paths in fields surrounding Orwell’s cottage – her willingness to confront the discomfiting is notable ... In this idiosyncratic, immensely original work, these lingering sections are powerful proof of Solnit’s view that \'to plant a rose […] can mean so many things\'.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Crackling with energy, interdisciplinary artist Tice Cin’s debut is a kind of textual collage. It offers vistas of the Turkish communities of north London between 1999 and 2012, in pacy, often impressionistic chapters that glitter with inventive descriptions and are dotted with Turkish terms. This is a novel brimming with evocative renderings of gossip-mongering in grocery shops, belly dancing lessons, \'sweated onions and potatoes … meals that slid oil into you\'. Cin’s characters inhabit a noirish cityscape of smoky snooker halls, pawnshops, boarded-up houses ... The nuances of [an] adolescent relationship are finely, unsentimentally and empathetically observed: it is a vision of sisterly love from a writer who understands the potency of restraint. An exhilaratingly idiosyncratic first novel, Keeping the House has \'cult classic\' written all over it.
PositiveiNews (UK)... haunting ... Far from being a site of youthful abandon, Hamya’s rendering of the campus experience is melancholic, calling to mind Brandon Taylor and Sally Rooney’s work ... Hamya’s portrayal of the entitlement and toxic hostility of this world and the narrator’s ambivalence towards it can feel unremitting...Arguably, however, this only adds to the novel’s confronting social realism: the pervasive financial, professional and emotional precarity experienced by the narrator despite being well educated and privileged ... There are also, in these chapters, some extraordinarily well-observed set pieces: a vignette concerning the announcement of Boris Johnson’s victory in the Conservative leadership contest is breathtaking in its absurdity ... Hamya’s depiction of the narrator disclosing the difficulties she has trying to make space for herself in the world rings with authenticity ... The unequivocally critical tone of the narration will, no doubt, trouble some readers. Equally, the lack of a propulsive plot and the unknowable central character perhaps make this a testing read ... clearly demonstrates, however, that Jo Hamya possesses a powerful and powerfully enquiring intellect. In this brave, experimental book, she asks pertinent and pressing questions about what progress really means for \'a lost generation\'.
Ravei (UK)With remarkable sensitivity and empathy, Colm Tóibín fictionalises the rise and extraordinary life of the German writer Thomas Mann ... Mann’s unfulfilled sexual desires also lend the narrative a longing undertone and feeling of being unmoored, despite Mann’s loving marriage to Katia Pringsheim. Most notably, some of the finest writing in the novel finds Tóibín bringing to life Mann’s profound questions about the role of the German artist as a public figure as Hitler ascended to power. Another feat of this towering work is that the hallmarks of Tóibín’s diaphanous prose—stillness, precision, intimacy—remain intact despite the wide-ranging, voluminous material of Mann’s biography. Tóibín deftly moves the reader between different facets of Mann’s persona while also allowing space for the novel to read as a finely observed and wholly absorbing family saga ... in a quietly epic tale, Tóibín expertly captures the layers of a richly multiple self and surely reasserts his own status as one of our greatest living novelists.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... occasionally, slightly laboured jokes undermine the overall comic force. Nevertheless, these comic turns often made me chuckle: the depiction of a hen do dominated by a passive-aggressive maid of honour is brilliant ... Max’s singular brand of cruelty and the novel’s other darker themes show Alderton’s writing at its strongest. The unnerving introduction of Nina’s threatening neighbour Angelo is a particular highlight. The depiction of her mother’s reaction to her new role as a carer – a brittle but steadfast denial that there is a problem – also makes for effectively unsettling reading that tests the boundaries of what used to be called chick-lit. It would be good to see this element of her writing – the difficult, the ambivalent – find an even fuller voice in Alderton’s subsequent novels.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Ross undertakes the task of world-building this trippy realm with tremendous gusto, wit and style. Lushly chromatic landscapes reminiscent of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road teem with tangled bougainvillea, \'polymorphic butterflies\' and trees whose blue fruit is covered with lines of poetry ... This focus brings solidity to an expansive plot as it meanders towards a dramatic climax ... There are moments when fulsome description, a digressive tendency, overemphasis or repetition cause the narrative propulsion to snag ... Impressively, however, Ross almost always handles the vast range of material and the multi-tonal quality of the text with an adroitness that keeps the reader involved ... Ross invites us also to suspend our scepticism, to take a risk and wholly immerse ourselves in the wildness and weirdness of Popisho. This is a novel that will reward those who are able to surrender to its capaciousness and eccentricities, to revel in its oddness and delight in each surprise...provides us not merely with a welcome opportunity to enjoy a madcap, freewheeling ride through surreal and supernatural territory. It also asserts the importance of interacting with our own unpredictable world with openness, unfettered awe and wide-eyed wonder.
Caleb Azumah Nelson
RaveThe Guardian (UK)It is Azumah Nelson’s expressive style that most startlingly reanimates this formula. His presentation of the narrative in sensual but precisely paced sentences with elegant refrains and motifs imbues Open Water with a rhythm of its own. Azumah Nelson’s descriptions of his lovers’ physicality provide the clearest examples of his supple prose. ... While an elegance of style is a hallmark of Azumah Nelson’s storytelling, there is bold risk-taking in his choices too: he writes in the second person, using its immediacy and potency to create an emotional intensity that replicates the emotional intensity with which the protagonist experiences his bond with the dancer and his wider world. ... In its interweaving of the romantic arc with meditations on blackness and black masculinity, this affecting novel makes us again consider the personal through a political lens; systematic racism necessarily politicises the everyday experiences of black people. ... Running alongside is a glorious celebration of the exuberance of blackness. The photographer stresses that he and his community are \'more than the sum of [their] traumas\'. As the protagonist explores the influences underpinning his own work, and in tender dialogue between the lovers, Azumah Nelson namechecks black artistry of all kinds, often drawing attention to its immersive power and transcendental effect. ...Given its slim size, the novel sometimes seems slightly crowded – not just with these enthusiastic references to black artists, but in other ways too. Alongside the main narrative, other topics fleetingly referred to include the difficulties of being a black person in a private school, curling at the Winter Olympics, the Notting Hill Carnival, basketball, Kierkegaard, the loss of grandparents ... This engaging breadth of interest might make us wish the book, at 176 pages, were a little longer to accommodate its investigative spirit. However, this range and the desire to record the variety of a particular black perspective demonstrate a key feature of Azumah Nelson’s work: his exciting ambition.
RaveThe GuardianWith a judicious hand, Bennett outlines how this regulating of racial purity comes with no small measure of emotional cruelty ... among the novel’s great technical accomplishments are the parallels it draws between characters’ experiences across the decades. Stella and Desiree’s struggles are elegantly and inventively echoed in the future challenges encountered by their children ... Images and subplots associated with this performative aspect of identity are prevalent in the text. We regularly find ourselves in the company of shapeshifting drag queens, a chameleon-like bounty hunter, extravagant soap stars, theatrical estate agents. Some might find this repeated allusion to the theme of pretence grinding or overly emphatic. For me, it mirrored the daily self-policing and continuous effort required in order for Stella to maintain her facade ... Bennett is a gifted storyteller. This generous, humane novel has many merits, not least its engrossing plot and richly detailed settings, from smoky small-town diners to gleaming laboratories. The handling of Stella’s secret struggles is, however, an especial achievement ... the novel proves to be a timely testament to the redemptive powers of community, connection and looking beyond the self.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... formally and conceptually testing ... With its icily cool sentences, mysterious tonal shifts and determinedly open ending, Taylor’s novel is also a curiously liquid thing, with troubling, opaque depths ... a nuanced portrayal of gay desire ... Wallace’s principal struggle throughout the novel is with the legacy of sexual violence. Taylor sensitively records his protagonist’s attempts to excavate these deeply buried personal tragedies. In terms of craft, the passage in which Wallace reveals the horrors of his past is a disturbing, virtuosic piece of writing ... Taylor’s treatment of racial politics in the novel is sophisticated and forceful too. Wallace astutely diagnoses the ways his privileged white peers \'have a vested interest in underestimating racism;\' the depictions of the micro and macroaggressions he faces as he moves through a predominantly white world are figured with piercing accuracy ... aspects of Wallace’s characterisation...might discourage readers. Taylor is committed to precisely portraying Wallace’s inner life and lived experience as a deeply withdrawn individual, born no doubt from Wallace’s history of abuse. This dedication to psychological verisimilitude involves showing that, for victims, progressing beyond trauma is not always possible. It also involves asserting that people, often and especially those closest to us, might be unknowable. These tendencies mean that, by the end of the book, the narrative often has a somewhat inert, ponderous quality, and Wallace feels curiously indistinct. Ultimately, Taylor renders Wallace always at a remove from us; a figure frustratingly out of reach.