MixedThe London Review of BooksGyasi is, for the most part, gentle with her narrator, gentler than Gifty is with herself. She seems less interested in cross-examining her, or in having fun at her expense, than in building a layered and complex picture of her character ... But Gyasi never allows the tone to dissolve into anything as straightforward as shame ... In a neat conclusion that jumps forward to show her happily married and running her own lab at Princeton, Gifty tells us that, thanks to her experiments, she understands ‘transcendence, holiness, redemption’. It seems a little convenient.
Kamel Daoud, trans. by John Cullen
Positiven+1Although the novel is presented as an investigation, it’s never entirely clear whether the crime is Meursault’s murder or Camus’s book. This persistent ambiguity sets the tone of Daoud’s narrative, which plays with its original in varied and often contradictory ways, sometimes running counter to it, sometimes repeating it almost line for line. The result is at once an attack on Camus and an homage to Camus, a postcolonial novel and a parody of a postcolonial novel, an examination of the trauma of French rule and a critique of the failures of postrevolutionary Algeria — a counterpoint to The Stranger that challenges its author on his own ground, struggles with him, emulates him, and, in a final twist, looks past him.
PositiveThe London Review of BooksGuestbook is divided into 33 numbered chapters combining fragments of text and found images. Nominally a collection of ghost stories, it’s a messier affair than Shapton’s other books: ‘ghosts’ can cover almost anything. The stories are vivid and impressionistic, and seem to have been built around whatever caught Shapton’s eye: old Christmas wrapping paper; hand-tinted photographs of roses and sunsets; watercolour reproductions of the final sequence from Visconti’s Death in Venice; black and white snapshots of blurred figures and leafless trees; a sculpture, in soft white stone, of a woman turned away, as if protecting a secret ... Running through the book is a question about hospitality: how do you treat uninvited guests? Several stories express a fear of mirrors, doubles, photographs – all the hungry ghosts that try to sneak in ... Others seem written from the perspective of the ghosts themselves, cold, lonely, waiting in the dark for someone to notice them.
PositiveLondon Review of Books... [an] elaborate study of the desire for initiation and the fear of exposure ... Sabrina is not a thriller in any conventional sense ... Drnaso’s style is flat, deliberately restrained, with little variation from panel to panel. The bland settings – the apartment, the featureless military complex – seem to allow the suspicion that nameless horrors are lurking ... Rather than acting as a sedative, the sameness produces a heightened alertness. You find yourself scanning the faces – all dots and dashes like Morse code – trying to decode the signals.
PositiveThe London Review of BooksHis [Ezra\'s] love and affection, his air-conditioning unit, his envelopes of cash, his Walnettos, are all the spoils of playing the daughter/lover/protégée in a drama of his devising, a role stamped with a clear expiration date followed by an uncertain future. What war could she write about? What does she even have to write about besides Ezra—Ezra’s books, Ezra’s music, Ezra’s holiday home, the way the steam rises from Ezra’s heated swimming pool? No one is going to give you a Nobel Prize for a novel about Ezra ... The second voice belongs to Amar Jaafari, an Iraqi-American economist detained at Heathrow on his way to Turkey’s border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Amar’s story is a funhouse distortion of Alice’s ... By showing author and character side by side, Alice’s raw material and Amar’s polished sentences, Halliday attempts to demonstrate how experience becomes a work of the imagination and then holds up the result to be evaluated alongside its origins. Alice’s book within a book clearly owes something to Ezra’s advice, his coaching, his library. It also hints at her conflicting feelings about him. Aspects of Amar’s time in the holding room—the tedium while waiting to be seen, the ‘almost filial affection’ he begins to feel for the customs officer managing his case, his involuntary arousal while being fingerprinted—seem drawn from Alice’s own asymmetrical relationship with the more powerful Ezra, reframing what had seemed like an airy confection as something darker and more ambiguous ... Only in hindsight do you realize the cost of abdicating your responsibility.
Nicola Lagioia, Trans. by Antony Shugaar
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewThough Ferocity adopts the trappings of a stylish thriller, it has the ambitions of a social novel. Here is where Clara’s real usefulness as a device emerges. Like the baseball in Don DeLillo’s Underworld, her role is to link characters who would otherwise have been difficult to bring together ... But having assembled this material, Lagioia doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. In place of insight, his characters dispense banalities about globalization and the facts of industrial pollution. The book’s main target is the corruption of Italy’s ruling class by decades of neoliberal economic policies. This would be a good subject for a novel; but rather than pursue it, Ferocity retreats into abstraction. Its message, underscored by the interstitial vignettes of predator and prey in the animal world that punctuate the action, is that life is a jungle. Man is wolf to man. The strong take what they want and the weak suffer — although perhaps it is possible to gain a temporary reprieve from this state through the love of a good woman. Did another beautiful female character have to die just for this?
PositiveThe NationAs Edmund Gordon emphasizes in his new biography, The Invention of Angela Carter, the allure of remaking oneself remained a constant throughout her life … The critic John Bayley infamously accused her novels of succumbing to ‘political correctness’...Gordon intelligently contests this claim, pointing out that Carter was always an iconoclast and ?arguing that to charge her novels with following a party line is ridiculous. But if Carter’s political commitments came into conflict with her literary imagination anywhere, it would be her last two.
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewJay, the son, is the other main character of the book, which alternates between the third-person telling of Yuki’s story and Jay’s first-person narration. The tones of their chapters are vastly different, proving Buchanan’s versatility as a writer in her ability to both maintain distance from and be intimate with her characters ... Few people in Harmless Like You are particularly likeable, which is another strength of the book; the novel’s inhabitants are still entirely relatable, their motives and methods so natural and understandable that even when entirely unexpected, readers are unlikely to avoid emotionally connecting with them ... It’s hard to describe art well in fiction, but the concepts Buchanan gives Yuki to work with are both brilliant and brilliantly gimmicky ... Looking at the book as a whole, there are so many mature notions of patience, sacrifice, and terrible sadness that it’s startling to realize how young the author of the book is — she was 27 when the novel came out in the United Kingdom, younger when she wrote it. Buchanan must be, like Yuki herself, an old soul. But unlike Yuki, there is no doubt about how good an artist she is, for this book demonstrates that she is an excellent one.
RaveThe NationSmith’s sly and ambitious novel attempts to overturn this [dramatic] way of thinking about climate change by bringing its less obvious effects into view ... while Smith’s love of complexity hasn’t always worked in her favor, here she’s found a subject that merits the full measure of her stylistic ingenuity. Autumn is one of the first novels to take climate change seriously as a problem of form ... By removing the traditional scaffolding of plot and causation, she invites the reader to make connections that other climate-change novels, in the key of apocalypse, drown out.
PanBookforumSweet Lamb of Heaven attempts a kind of triangulation between satire and sincerity. Millet plays the sudden arrival of a disembodied voice in her narrator’s mind for laughs, but she clearly also means us to take it seriously as an analogue for the experience of motherhood ... The language of sentience turns out to sound a lot like NPR ... Millet is an orderly writer; the prose’s smooth, unruffled clauses can’t capture the clammy unease of the domestic thriller. There is a flatness to the characters and a slapstick quality to the action, which is punctuated by long passages of needless exposition. The overall tone is that of the mild observational humor of a well-oiled stand-up routine ... Sweet Lamb of Heaven springs from a sense of urgency and despair over the failures of our current political system to confront these threats, but it is less a diagnosis than a symptom of the problem it means to describe.
PositiveThe New York TimesStagg’s slim novel deftly explores the shifting landscape of celebrity through the story of a young woman’s rise from obscurity to Internet stardom after an online flirtation with a semifamous social media personality ... Told in the affectless, minimal style of Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight, the novel avoids direct descriptions of the virtual world at its center, instead focusing on the anonymous hotel rooms and black-lit nightclubs that serve as its staging ground.