RaveThe New York Review of BooksAgathe is 350 pages, a respectable length, and yet it feels—especially against the perspective of the nihil alienum, all-singing, all-dancing Man Without Qualities—almost like a novella ... Edenic prose as beautiful as any poetry ... Agathe, or, The Forgotten Sister absolutely works as a book—a fractal fractal, an unfinished novel lifted from within another unfinished novel. It seems to have been reasonably straightforward to isolate this strand of the narrative from the others ... one of those books where writer and translator keep company. It reads like a book Agee was born to translate. I wonder if I have ever read a better translation. The book shines with pleasure, the complex sentences opening in front of you, balanced and sequential and easy to follow in all their twists and curlicues. Here, two writers have truly found each other, the intelligent slither of polysyllables, sometimes amusing, sometimes drily determined to make some vanishingly small distinction of vast implications, suddenly giving way to a line or two of dialogue, a small action, and some note of haiku-like compression ... A superlative translation, it is equally good over long distances (making it less susceptible to quotation), and in bravura passages timed to perfection[.]
Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell, Ed. by Saskia Hamilton
PositiveThe Times Literary SupplementHardwick...emerging belatedly as the heroine of her own, takes over The Dolphin Letters...It seems increasingly that since his death, Lowell has lost and lost and gone on losing. Yes, others have come up, but it is strange how quickly he seems to have gone backwards as well. He suffers here not merely because as the deserting husband he is the villain of the piece, but also because he is less in evidence; either he is absent (silent, often, or in arrears), or sheepishly asserting a presence that often seemed, even to him, misplaced and hard to credit ... Hardwick emerges as a superior person altogether, so much more diligent, more intense, more compassionate, more aware, more committed than anyone else around. This is the unsurprising revelation of the book. Her white pieces overwhelm his black. Sometimes, reading her, you think she is even better at being Lowell than he is, the more literary, the more acute, the more inspired, the better phrasemaker ... The Dolphin Letters reads not like soap opera or life (thank God), but maybe an epistolary novel among high-strung, intelligent, well-intentioned characters; it is an agreeable and surprising aspect of the book that it doesn’t show us people at their worst. Mercifully, we do not have the squalid feeling that we are reading something we shouldn’t be ... Through all these years Hardwick and Lowell somehow carried on talking to each other.
PanThe New York Review of BooksIf this collection of Bertolt Brecht’s poems in English were half its length, it would be great; if a third, spectacular; if a quarter, indispensable ... The gigantism perplexes me ... Do we really have such gargantuan appetites for (mostly small) poems? It seems to take an unduly long time in the new collection before one reaches familiar ground ... the first time I encountered a little run of poems I enjoyed and thought were worth reading (which is surely how a big book like this sinks or swims), it was after page 50 ... I have every expectation that when a 200- or 300-page selection is made from this collection—what the film people call \'exploiting the rights\' to it—it will be an important book, and something everyone should have.
MixedLondon Review of BooksFlorida feels like a clever and bold title to me ... [it] sells and oversells Groff\'s new publication ... an uneven collection ... The pieces (one doesn’t want to use the word stories here, or not always) are sometimes more fictionary (to use Tom Paulin’s word), sometimes less so; the wilder, more strenuous ones are usually the weaker, and end up merely irking the unflapped, flapped-at reader. Read here, in situ, it seems, in patches, an adorably local book. A selfie stick of a book ... Groff writes under pressure to make event, to make drama, to make fear. The reader feels this, continually, sympathises, and is puzzled ... Certainly, the book gives voice to the ambient fear that these days gets slathered over everything in America ... There are several references to ‘bad men’ in the book or ‘possibly terrible men’, but there aren’t any bad or possibly terrible men in it ... the supposed victims here are far more competent and alarming and capable of inflicting damage than any of the agencies of their looked-for doom.
PanThe London Review BooksThis novel is truly an entitled thing: it demands both action and high-value misty contemplation or ‘memory’. It is a universal solvent, or claims to be. You want love, it says; I got love! You want death? I got it. All the kinds. Any amount. It is all bite, and no chew … In construction, the book is the half-hearted retrospective of a dying old man (the life flashing before the eyes – think of something like Hermann Broch’s Death of Virgil) that forsakes its tether for the more leisurely freedom of an impersonal series of chronological flashbacks; only to leave that in turn for an account of other characters in their own personal circumstances, in Australia, in Japan, in Korea, of which Dorrigo Evans can have known little or nothing at all. The final effect is of an unplanned collage, a rather sticky collage.