RaveThe London Review of Books (UK)Questions about fiction are everywhere in the book, and this is the deep connection to Cervantes, to the realm of conceptual play, of worries about reality and the imagination, and the reason neither wants to behave in an orderly way ... Faced with a world in which truth seems to be dead or dying, Rushdie like Cervantes raises the stakes, lets the imagination loose as a form of inquiry, and refuses to simplify the question. Truth is not dead but it was never flat or neat, a quick response to packs of lies. It includes lies, and we need to know where they are and what they look like. Rushdie makes great pictures of how fiction can ‘become real’, and of ‘the dizzying union of the real and the imagined’. And I’ve left his real tour de force till last, the fiction about fiction that takes the breath away ... Rushdie’s Sancho is not an example of the power of fiction to turn fantasy into reality, even within the story, although that is how we have to see him at first. He is an instance of fiction telling truths we can’t get at otherwise. Novels do this all the time, of course, and Quichotte expertly does it again. But it does it strangely, for a strange time. At one point the author of the Quichotte story (and Sancho’s ‘real’ father) is ‘deafened by the echo between the fiction which he had made and the fiction in which he had been made to live’ – the first is a fantasy and the second is a lie. Sancho is not deafened by anything, and because he is not entirely real, he can read reality, and defend it, better than anyone else in the book.
PositiveThe London Review of BooksWhat’s striking about McEwan’s later work and his new novel Enduring Love is its intimacy with evasion and failure, combined with an alert intelligence about these things which itself looks like grounds for hope ... opens with a moral puzzle so beautifully posed that you wonder if the book is ever going to escape from the parable into the larger, looser fiction ... As the story unfolds, it is evident that dependence and interdependence are the ideas McEwan wants us to think through, although nothing prepares us, or Joe, for what happens next or the turn these ideas take. This is where the parable opens brilliantly into a novel.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Trans. by Edith Grossman
MixedThe London Review of BooksThe novel has a triple storyline, and the narrative machinery, although skilfully assembled, creaks a bit for the first third or so of the book … If Vargas Llosa tells us much less about the lure of dictators than the other novelists, takes us less deeply into the ways power is imagined and lived by the people who dream of it and suffer from it, he tells us far more about the details of day-to-day intrigue, and the sordid, sadistic minutiae of torture and murder … There is a tidy novelistic completeness to this story, and I don’t mean to diminish its horror or the firmness with which Vargas Llosa goes through with the telling of it. But it’s hard, in a historical novel, to think of fictional characters as suffering in quite the same way as the historical ones do.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksWe see him at three moments of his increasingly disordered life—in 2000, 2005, and 2009—and we might, given Beard’s addiction to booze, food, sex, cheating, and intricate malevolence, think of the whole novel as a shaggy hog story, an adventure that can’t end because it never began … Of course it’s fun to think of this rascal as engaged in trying to save the earth—a man who hates the very word ‘planet’ gets caught up in doing good because he thinks it will do him good—but the irony is rather broad, and tends to soften our view of Beard … Generally, even the slowness works in the novel’s favor. There is a patient precision in the language … There is an aphorism lurking here: we ourselves can only be punished too much, others can never be punished enough.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksPeter Carey’s inventive, zigzagging novel Parrot and Olivier in America is chiefly set in...this America, a place of great physical beauty, eccentrically ambitious people, and social institutions that are both stolid and skimpy … Olivier is a jumpy, snobbish, sickly fellow whom his servant calls Lord Migraine, and his angle on the world makes up only half of Carey’s novel. Well, to be precise, although this precision is not confirmed for us until the very last page, his angle on the world is not the angle it seems. It turns out that Olivier’s English servant, John Larrit alias Parrot, has not only written his own half of the text, like Esther Summerson in Dickens’s Bleak House, but has conjured up Olivier as well. His farewell to us and his master, which he calls his ‘Dedication,’ is a tour de force of suggestion and complication.
RaveThe London Review of BooksAmerica, for the seven-year-old Philip Roth of the start of the book, was a synonym for safety...What robs the boy of this endowment is not a terrorist attack but an election, and behind the election – behind the whole book in many ways – are a few sentences from a speech which the historical Charles Lindbergh gave to an America First Committee rally in 1941 … What’s astonishing is still the quiet domesticity of the story and its telling. The small scale of these lives almost allows us to miss – and this is the point – the large scale of the threat. History is not only what happens to everybody, and not only the narrative of our fear; it is also seen from another angle, the way we tame our surprises. America is bowled over by Lindbergh’s landslide victory, but ‘by the day after . . . everybody seemed to understand everything.’
William T. Vollmann
MixedThe New York Review of BooksWhat Vollmann calls a parable is actually closer to a good cartoon. It works by tightening up and paring down rather than through exaggeration, so that the confusions of reality give way to a series of schematic moments … The book is always lucid, even as it hovers between the obvious and the recondite, and the under- and over-examined, but it is not seeking a conclusion, only a new framing of moral options, and the pathos of Europe Central is that it reminds us that a moral calculus is only as good as its local practitioners can make it … One of the consistent pleasures of this book, and a feature that makes the woodenness of the impersonation of certain of the major characters all the more surprising, is the variety of narrative positions Vollmann skillfully takes up.
PositiveLondon Review of BooksGrief has its reasons, or rather its mode of reasoning. The premises are wild, but the logic is irresistible. This is what Joan Didion means when she writes, in her title and on the page, of ‘magical thinking’ ... Clarity. This is the voice of Didion the mistress of form, the stylish, tireless enemy of muddle ...delicate, harrowing memoir...Didion was being too insistent on her slippage from right reason, too hard on the alternative rationality of her thought. There is nothing disordered about the single-minded logic of grief ... the slippage was Didion’s subject. She couldn’t celebrate it, but she knew she had to be true to it.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewGottlieb is fully aware of the monsters in the dream, but doesn’t allow them to dominate his book. He is committed to the positive aspects of inquiry, especially where scientific advances are involved...Gottlieb often makes fun of his philosophers, but gently, as a way of bringing us closer to them, and they emerge as brilliant, vulnerable humans rather than monsters of any kind.
A. O. Scott
RaveThe New York TimesWhat haunts Mr. Scott’s book, and makes it so satisfyingly inconclusive, is the deceptively simple notion of thinking. Here is where the professional and the amateur meet ... Mr. Scott’s book moves swiftly through its elusive topics. Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? What does it mean to visit a museum? What sort of creature is a critic? What are the virtues of being wrong?