PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Ambitious ... Julia is a satisfying tribute act. Newman has deeply considered the language and culture of Orwell’s novel, which created its future setting by way of early 20th-century Britain, and takes us carefully through its familiar landscape ... But as she probes his vision and moves beyond it, Newman also provides an imaginative and intellectual critique of Orwell’s novel ... As she maps out this new territory, Newman forges a work that has its own emotional logic, and a character with her own vivid life. The portrait of Julia’s childhood is an ambitious mix of horror and freedom, and brings the reader to a deeper understanding of her gritty focus on survival ... Newman’s novel gradually turns into something like the replay of a video game, in which you are allowed to respawn as another avatar, to move through the same scenes with new lines, and get to a different place. This new trajectory is much less convincing than the original’s hard-won knowledge ... Afterwards, however, the book stayed powerfully with me. Julia’s will to survive, her childhood experiences, her sensual joys, her relationships with other women, all make this a complex and empathic vision that stands up well beside Orwell’s original, and at many points enriches it.
Jenny Erpenbeck, trans. by Michael Hofmann
RaveThe Guardian (UK)\"...one of the bleakest and most beautiful novels I have ever read ... Kairos is the apotheosis of this endeavor to fuse the personal and the political, as our two lovers experience and sometimes seem to embody the political reality of East Germany at the end of the communist dream. The relationship finds wider echoes in that country’s lost ideals and its insistence on holding on to the past long after its inhabitants know they must move on ... Throughout these personal and political journeys, Erpenbeck never reaches for the stock phrase or the known response. While the novel is indeed bleak in its view of love and politics, spending time with Erpenbeck’s rigorous and uncompromising imagination is invigorating all the way to the final page.\
RaveThe Independent (UK)With almost every sentence this book seems to be struggling with new takes on new emotions. Sometimes you come to them with a shock of delighted recognition; sometimes you\'re left alienated ... Davis writes of a love between equals that still has tragic modulations. This is the real thing, caught in a language that hovers enticingly between the laconic and the poetic ... Neat triangles and heavily symbolic images work because Davis has learnt to use metaphor in an attractive Nabokovian way, both flamboyantly upfront and much too mysteriously personal to be ironed out by the eye of the critic ... Davis gains our emotional and intellectual trust. And when the novel\'s denouement arrives, with its shots in the night and unexpected deaths in a sudden, symbolic downpour, we can appreciate the moment in many ways ... The thick layers of this novel only become transparent once you have reached the end and tripped over the tragedy. But re-read it, and you are struck by the piquant harmonies all the parts make. For once, this is a novel with secrets, one that repays work, and its prose is exquisitely rhythmic and open-ended.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Kurt Beals
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... this short volume did not entirely live up to my desire for it. It does not continue the journey of Go, Went, Gone, which I realise now was complete in itself, but it yields some insights, both into that novel and into her earlier fictional works, and into some of the influences and experiences that have forged Erpenbeck’s vision ... Erpenbeck’s talent comes across in the gradual accretion of detail ... It is this ability both to recognise the ways that political realities define us, and also to pay so much attention to the emotional and aesthetic experiences that may lie slantwise or in contradiction to those realities, that gives Erpenbeck’s writing its precious flavour ... In this attentive prose, in her desire to map stories that are suppressed and rhythms of the heart that keep being forgotten, Erpenbeck is one of the most vital writers working today. While this slim collection does not have the power of her fiction, it still reminds us of a humanity that, right now, feels terribly under threat, which keeps us connected to one another as well as to ourselves.
MixedThe Guardian\"These events unfold with a Tarantino-esque savagery, our narrator staggering through each awful moment. Yet Edugyan’s prose wraps elegantly over each blow. She has a taste for incessant similes, some of which are memorable, while others reduce rather than increase the immediacy of experiences ... Here, instead, we are looking at the art directly from the point of view of the artist, and although Edugyan tries to give the flavour of the art Black creates, it is almost too exquisite to be imaginable ... As the book develops, its coincidences and denouements appear to suggest something more like myth than realism...The increasingly magical tone is jarring, given the dark realities confronted in the beginning of the book ... I found myself wishing she had spent more time examining the repercussions of such complex realities on the inner lives of her characters, and less time on the mazes of her narrative ... The journey that Edugyan takes us on is fascinating and enjoyable, but rather like the hot air balloon that took Black from Barbados, it sometimes drifts off course.\
PositiveThe GuardianThere are Shafak’s trademark touches of magical realism in this book, too, as Peri experiences intermittent visions of a baby in a mist, who brings her into contact with a spiritual world that can be both comforting and unsettling. While continuing to explore spiritual themes, Shafak has become more adept at grounding her work in the real world. While continuing to explore spiritual themes, Shafak has become more adept at grounding her work in the real world. She is skilled at capturing the constraints as well as the pleasures of femininity ... The whole novel is marvellously rich in intention. Why, then, does it sometimes falter in execution? ... Shafak’s language shows no shortage of aplomb, sometimes it drifts into cliche ... Despite such caveats, as this complex heroine moves from Istanbul to Oxford and back again, as she jumps from surreal visions into inevitable compromise with real life, as she moves from compliance towards anger and finally understanding, there is an unflagging energy to her story. Perhaps because there is so much at stake for her that might be at stake for the reader, too, her dilemmas and desires seem to persist even after the novel is ended.
MixedThe GuardianIt is a big novel that stretches from India to New York; an ambitious novel that reaches into the lives of the middle class and the very poor; an exuberantly written novel that mixes colloquial and more literary styles; and yet it communicates nothing so much as how impossible it is to live a big, ambitious, exuberant life. Everything about it dramatises the fact that although we live in this mixed-up, messy, globalised world, for many people the dominant response is fear of change, based on a deep desire for security … The point of this novel, constantly brought home to us in small and big ways, is how individuals are always failing to communicate. Desai flicks from a failed telephone call to a failed marriage, a lost dog to lost parents, and the cumulative experience is of atomisation and thwarted yearning. I think this constant sense of disappointment is the reason why, although I admired this novel, I can't say I loved it.
PositiveThe GuardianAudrey Niffenegger throws you into a pretty perplexing scenario at the start of The Time Traveler's Wife...[Henry] has been travelling from his future to [Clare's] past, and in that past they fell in love, so he hasn't yet met her in his own present ... Somehow, that tangled mess of tenses sorts out on the page into a scene that is entirely comprehensible and rather charming ... Niffenegger goes on to exploit the possibilities of her fantasy scenario with immense skill ... Take away the time travel, and you have a writer reminiscent of Anne Tyler and Carol Shields, who captures the rhythms of intimacy, who burrows into the particularities of family life. Because she builds this scaffolding of domesticity, what you remember is the realism as well as the fantasy, and through much of the book the time travel works to enhance the reality rather than take over from it ... she certainly weaves her plot well.
MixedThe GuardianClearly, Roy’s scattershot narrative is deliberate; it reflects the fragmentation of the world around us. But there are dangers inherent in the attempt to become everybody and everything, and her clashing subplots and whimsical digressions can become rather unwieldy ... This fragmented effect is partly down to the vast cast of characters. At times, Roy’s desire to capture all sorts of diverse stories works brilliantly...But some characters are much less realised than Anjum; they brush past us and hardly draw us into their world. This decision to bring in so many varied voices feels political, as if it is Roy’s statement about the need to give attention to those who are so often overlooked by narrators of modern India ... This vision of building something fine and generous feels all the more honest and hopeful because of the harder journeys of much of the rest of the book. Stick with this novel, give it time to grow, and there are lasting rewards in Roy’s ability to create a bright mosaic out of these fragmented stories.