RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Outstanding ... Eng ingeniously inserts a further shocking twist. But what most gives his novel its grip is his masterly conjuring up of Maugham’s imaginative world and the steamy tropic latitudes in which it burgeoned ... Occasionally the prose becomes overclamorous ... Beautifully detailed and encompassing the vagaries of Maugham’s life, the contours of his creativity and the personal and political tensions covertly quivering through the sultry colony around him, The House of Doors is a finely accomplished piece of work.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Atwood’s new collection of stories isn’t short on the fantastic ... Vitality and virtuosity have been the hallmarks of Atwood’s literary career — and, as Old Babes in the Wood, published in her 84th year, shows, triumphantly continue to be so ... Counterpoint is central to these stories. Reminders of death — from Tennyson’s sonorous elegies on aloneness and forlornness to Mexican memento mori toy skeletons — pervade them. So do buoyantly vivid vignettes of life in all its quirky diversity. Mortality shadows the book. Vivacity makes it shine.
Orhan Pamuk tr. Ekin Oklap
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Orhan Pamuk moves into the genre with masterly assurance ... It’s an opening redolent of Orientalist sensation fiction — and the novel has much more to offer in the same vein: ratsbane in rose-scented biscuits, kidnappings and assassinations, a cruelly curtailed rapturous love affair, bandits in mountain villages, murderously malcontent dervishes in mosques, public executions, and an ironclad ring of battleships dispatched by the Great Powers to blockade the plague-stricken island from the rest of the world ... All this is just one facet of a multi-angled book ... A masterpiece of evocation, it conjures up its imaginary island with superb fullness and immediacy ... Skills displayed in Istanbul (2003), Pamuk’s haunting commemoration of a city steeped in post-imperial melancholy amid crumbling reminders of its Byzantine and Ottoman supremacy, are first gorgeously, then grimly, redeployed. Sensuousness wafts beguilingly from scenes of Mingheria in its healthful prime ... Never a minimalist, Pamuk has sometimes carried copious documentation to unusual extremes ... A murder-mystery sub-plot featuring the deductive techniques of Sherlock Holmes adds to the novel’s rich variety. There is gruesomeness in abundance, but there is also welcome humour, which Ekin Oklap’s supple translation from the Turkish nicely brings out ... The eruption of the Covid crisis towards the end of Pamuk’s five-year writing of his novel has given present pertinence to its tale of past pestilence, long-ago lockdowns, disastrous political dithering, crackpot disease deniers and defiers, recalcitrant resistance to life-saving strategies and heroic medical persistence. But it’s as a magnificent panorama of the last days of the Ottoman Empire that this outstanding addition to Pamuk’s fictional surveys of Turkishness will enthrallingly endure.
RaveThe Times (UK)Lessons, his 18th novel, is a tour de force of breadth. Written during the Covid lockdowns, it ranges widely across place and period, propelled by the memories and meditations of its central figure ... Although the final stages of this vividly detailed lifetime chronicle are clouded, too, by \'the long business of modern old age\' and its attendant ills, the novel is far from dispiriting. McEwan writes with invigorating alertness about social and political shifts over the past 70 years.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)... excels as superbly atmospheric reportage of a place and time. Hong Kong, within its “amphitheatre of subtropical hills”, is captured with confident sweep and in vivid detail ... Political upheavals, surfacing more and more in Osborne’s fiction, here lock on to his continuing preoccupation with unsettledness and menace, making this novel his most compulsive yet.
PositiveSunday Times (UK)Sections of a 2016 obituary tribute Barnes paid to his friend, the \'witty, glitteringly intelligent, reserved\' art historian and novelist Anita Brookner, reappear, sometimes word for word, in Neil’s recollections of his relationship with EF ... The narrative fitted around the central ideas in this book, a fictional focus on philosophy, is minimal ... The book’s central and most enthralling section, this deals with a figure EF esteemed as a kindred spirit ... A connoisseur and master of irony himself, he fills this book with instances of its exhilarating power.
Alaa Al Aswany, tr. S. R. Fellowes
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Politics, education, the media, industry, law, religion are shown as hopelessly bemired. Hypocrisy is endemic. Blistering satire crackles alongside burning indignation as graphic accounts of counter-revolutionary atrocities are interspersed with sarcastic CVs of characters who have prospered through ostensible conformity ... A masterly panorama of doomed revolution, Aswany’s novel puts him in the company of writers such as Joseph Conrad or Mario Vargas Llosa as an outstanding fictional confronter of authoritarianism and its entrenched evils.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)... the prevailing tone modulates between gentle humour and low-key poignancy. The small, often dashed hopes of the under-privileged...are affectingly noted ... Subtle with nuance and alive with immediacy, again adroitly using small-scale effects to enlarge understanding and extend empathy, the resulting novel is a masterly achievement.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Adroitly, Moss takes you into [the character\'s] thought patterns, emotional and physical responses, social backgrounds, past and present circumstances. From 5am, when one of them goes out for her early-morning run, to late-night disturbance when music pounds out from a cabin where a party is in raucous swing, briefly juxtaposed lives are caught in vignettes sharp with telling detail and acute observation ... Comedy often ripples across the surface. But gradually it becomes apparent that these holidaymakers have more in common than their location. Vulnerability is a shared theme ... Fissures in relationships and fault lines in personalities — agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder — become evident ... When disaster finally flares out, it feels slightly abrupt. The ending is sombre, but the scenes leading up to it in this latest display of Moss’s imaginative versatility shine with intelligence.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Trio sends an affably satiric shimmer over the making of [a] film, with the never-nonplussed Talbot adroitly manoeuvring his way through a maze of complications: ceaseless rewrites, grotesque miscastings, preposterous demands from investors, an absconding key performer ... Some of the figures involved seem like comic stereotypes from central casting ... But the plot keeps things moving along entertainingly. Although one of its storylines takes a darker turn than might have been expected, its prevailing tone is jaunty and its conclusion optimistic. Full of neat phrases (\'Brighton’s gull-clawed air\') and quirkily funny scenes (between takes naked actors in a porn film grouse about the rise in local vandalism), it’s an elating read.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Joseph O’Connor’s dazzling new novel puts Victorian theatre in the limelight. Resurrecting it in all its colourful wizardry, he places three figures centre stage ... Shadowplay is alive with Stoker’s ambivalent feelings towards the man he finds mesmerically compelling as an actor but resents as an exploiter draining his energies ... O’Connor, whose writing teems with brilliantly animated lists of everything from members of a rowdy London audience to catastrophes during the Lyceum company’s 72-city tour of America, controls it all with superb flair. The panache and subtlety of his prose perfectly match the gusto and creative finesse of the High Victorian world his novel wonderfully evokes.
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)Shifting between the consciousnesses of its three central figures, Here We Are lacks the intense focus of Mothering Sunday, concentrated within the mind of a single character, and at times seems rather diffuse ... What still makes Here We Are a haunting read is the way its grin-and-greasepaint milieu takes on wider significance. Around its flamboyant trio of troupers, more sombre kinds of illusion, deception and vanishing acts are brought into view. Under the chirpy vivacity at the end of the pier lurk chilly depths. With a wizardry of his own, Swift conjures up an about-to-disappear little world and turns it into something of wider resonance.
PositiveThe Times (UK)In the foreground of the novel, events among its young protagonists accelerate towards disaster. But it’s what’s happening in the background — the slippage of democratic decency, the tightening of state control, the inflaming of ethnic tensions — that most grips you. Harking back to the 1960s in a period piece suffused with foreboding, Gunesekera captures the first rumblings of the cataclysm that would ruinously engulf his nation and that has always compulsively engaged him.
RaveThe Times (UK)... it’s the wealth of brilliantly caught characters that’s her book’s greatest appeal. Micah’s visits to clients enable her to fill her pages with vivid cameos of a diversity of people ... Bursting with vitality and variety, it’s a tour de force display — funny, sharply alert — of Tyler’s acute enthralment with social interactions and idiosyncratic personalities ... [Tyler\'s] 23rd novel fizzes with the qualities — characters who almost leap off the page with authenticity, speech and body language wonderfully caught — that, for more than half a century, have won her such admiration and affection.
PanThe Sunday Times (UK)Clogged with researched data, The Mirror & the Light can be a painfully slow read, sometimes like wading through a Sargasso Sea of Tudor haberdashery, 16th-century foodstuffs, aristocratic genealogies and dynastic matrimonial entanglements ... Ominously prefaced by a five-and-a-half-page list of characters and two five-generation royal family trees, the novel is as overpopulated as it is overloaded ... Paradoxically, the novel seems at once voluminous and limited. Its concentration on the silky reptile pit of the court and the doublet-and-hose tribalism of the great families means that there’s only a very distanced sense of the shattering cataclysms wreaked by Cromwell’s religious policies. Though Mantel doesn’t flinch from conveying pain...she is less effective at transmitting dread, the clammy terror overshadowing the period ... Her trilogy is a phenomenal achievement, but in The Mirror & the Light it’s more a phenomenon of amassed information and tireless enthusiasm than triumphant creativity.
J. M Coetzee
PanThe Sunday Times (UK)...[an][ exercise in obfuscation. Like its predecessors...it has all the hallmarks of allegory but one: it eludes interpretation ... The narrative lurches through bizarre turns of event ... Roadblocks to comprehensibility are sedulously put in place. Phrases such as \'True but also not true\' abound. There’s much blind-alley allusiveness ... Given the persisting scriptural cross-reference, it’s possible David’s death may not be the end of this messianic mumbo jumbo. But you’d have to be a very devout devotee of Coetzee to hope for a resurrection.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Always excellent on social and family dynamics, Buckley surrounds Imogen and his narrator with keenly observed characters ... Buckley has a mind like a cabinet of curiosities crammed with weird and wonderful stuff. Combining images of Imogen with choice specimens from it, he pieces together what you gradually recognise as a meaningful mosaic. Matching the book’s central subject, post-mortem motifs predominate ... There’s engaging information about relics ... Among the book’s ravishingly visualised scenes of natural beauty, sunsets noticeably stand out. Transience and mortality suffuse Buckley’s novel but, in elating counterpoint, it sparkles with intelligence and zest for life’s pleasures.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Both accounts teem with lively detail and, though differing in their perspectives on the Republic, share an appealing youthful ingenuousness ... The transition from grim to grin isn’t without some bumpiness. A back story describing how Lydia was broken down into seeming submission to the regime contains material bleak even for black comedy. And Atwood has to detour into spoof gothic and semi-burlesque thriller to evade later risks of jarring discrepancy between suavely ironic tone and uncomfortable content ... What sweeps the book along, though, is its imaginative exuberance ... The twists and turns of an extravagantly suspenseful final race for freedom are done with bravura relish ... Shrewdly, instead of weakening The Handmaid’s Tale’s assured status as a horror-paradigm of ideological tyranny by stretching out its fearfulness, Atwood has complemented her menacing masterpiece with a mordantly entertaining look at the monstrosities of Gilead on the brink of its dis-integration.
RaveThe Times (UK)Preventing things from seeming over-schematic, rich period detail and grippingly peopled subplots about the era’s radical insurgency and reactionary repression add engrossing depth to this compelling tale of a ruinously backfiring experiment.
RaveThe Times (UK)Lanny, another packed compendium of the surreal and down-to-earth, stays close to the pattern of its predecessor ... Response to loss is painfully portrayed and acutely analysed. A phantasmagoric entity has a central role. Pungent immediacy emanates from prose as rich as poetry ... Very occasionally, a false note is struck. There’s some stridency in the presentation of Lanny’s father. The child himself doesn’t always escape feyness ... But more usually — whether offering psychological and emotional finesse, vigorous social comedy or vivid vignettes of the countryside...the book is expertly pitched. Shimmering with the uncanny, it’s a remarkable feat of literary virtuosity.
PanThe Times (UK)Given Foulds’s urge towards unpredictability, it’s no surprise to find that his new novel, Dream Sequence, launches out in yet another direction ... What is surprising, and disappointing, is that it is by far the feeblest thing Foulds has written ... sadly devoid of tension or drama. eagrely characterised, its central figures are so lacking in substance that the story is about as gripping as an empty glove. Kristin remains a virtual cipher. Henry is never filled out much beyond the cliché of the narcissistic actor ... for the most part, the novel is slackly put together. Its story drifts in and out of locales peopled with fleetingly seen characters. Plot lines oddly sputter out. Themes of celebrity and image vaguely float around. Haziness persists ... a powerful talent seems to have lapsed into near sleep-mode.
RaveThe Times\"Set against this absorption with mortality are reminders of [Nikolai\'s] vitality. Highlighting it, Li, whose prose normally eschews vibrant colour adjectives, vividly flecks remembered [colorful] scenes ... Responding to Nikolai’s just 16 years with aching intelligence, Where Reasons End is a remarkable novel of memory and mourning.\
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
RaveThe Times (UK)Stories here exhibit the wide reach of [Jhabvala\'s] imagination ... Storylines take you into temples bedecked with tinsel, marigolds and peacock feathers, past police barracks where men in vests and shorts oil their beards and wind their turbans...India’s sensuousness sizzles. Colours blaze. Immense dark-blue monsoon clouds release silver torrents of rain ... In one story, westernised Indians joke that they are \'like Chekhov characters\'. In fact, most of Jhabvala’s people are ... This collection offers (with detours to Manhattan and Hollywood) a marvellous passage around India.
PositiveThe Times\"There are flesh-creeping moments, but Moss resists making [the father] a mere ogre of sadistic patriarchy ... It’s writing that, along with vivid responses to the natural world and acute alertness to class, regional and sexual tensions, recalls the early fiction of DH Lawrence. It brings enriching complexity to this tale of escalating menace.\
Andrew Michael Hurley
PositiveThe Sunday TimesSet within hailing distance of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights not only geographically but imaginatively, the novel spreads a welter of rawly vivid injury and violence through its pages. From sadistic bullying among the young to long-nursed hostilities among the old, savagery lashes out. Physical damage—scars from childhood, loss of an eye or finger, a crushed hip—is pervasive ... Nevertheless, despite nerve-stabbing moments—a wild dog’s bark abruptly mutating into a child’s sobs—there’s sometimes a whiff of the recycled about the novel’s apparatus of Satanism. Hurley doesn’t need the devil’s help to grip you. His taut writing does that for him. Nature’s routine cruelties are caught with a fierce accuracy that Ted Hughes would have admired ... it’s the perils of living that Hurley most memorably conveys.
RaveThe Sunday TimesTyler’s 22nd novel brims with the qualities that have brought her legions of fans and high critical acclaim. Characters pulse with lifelikeness. The tone flickers between humorous relish and sardonic shrewdness. Dialogue crackles with authenticity. Beneath it all is an insistence that it’s never too soon to recognize how quickly life can speed by and never too late to make vitalizing changes. Unillusioned but uncynical, fascinated by family dynamics and the tension between independence and involvement, Clock Dance is a warmly appealing tale of timely recuperation.
RaveThe Times (UK)Its narrator Jaxie Clackton is a down-under descendant of Huckleberry Finn...Jaxie’s narrative is pungently laced with earthy obscenities and sexual frankness that Twain could never have published, but it has the same mix of toughness and delicacy as Huck’s, the same combination of survival know-how and adolescent awkwardness ... a finely nuanced picture of a damaged yet not defeated youngster nearing adulthood, along with sizzlingly rendered vistas of Western Australia, that this tour-de-force novel exerts its masterly grip.
RaveThe TimesA succession of fine novels and stories established him as a master of fictional nuance. Acutely sensitive to vulnerability, he delineated unassertive fortitude with steady expertise ... Colourfully idiomatic speech is caught with alert and often funny accuracy. Telling detail is unerringly pinpointed ... Delicacy of touch was his forte. Variations on his persisting motifs — polite stoicism, life’s injustices, regret at missed opportunities, the need for decency and kindness — are rendered with muted finesse.
MixedThe Times (UK)An immense and intense homage to the arboreal world (its biological sophistication, its rich panoply of environmental benefits), the book is alive with riveting data, cogent reasoning and urgent argument. Pages that take you into menaced remnants of primeval forest or contemplate singularly splendid or fascinating trees teem with knowledge and gleam with aesthetic appeal ... But large tracts of the book stay fictionally lifeless. Its main characters primarily function as stick figures displaying admirable attitudes towards trees ... One character contends that, in our present ecologically precarious state, what’s needed are compelling novels about the fate not of people but the planet. This valiant, lopsided book is Powers’s attempt to write one.