RaveFinancial TimesHaunting, tantalising, enigmatic, profound — it is all these and more. From the opening sentence the reader is plunged into the novel’s strange gravitational pull ... For the first 80 pages, I was enchanted by the exquisitely weird world Clarke conjures but also, I confess, utterly mystified as to what was going on ... Having lured us into the maze, Clarke gradually ramps up clues that all is not as it seems, and we slowly begin to suspect that Piranesi’s record of the world he inhabits might be less reliable than he believes ... this magnificent novel leaves us wondering if we are perhaps still living in Plato’s cave, mistaking shadows for the real thing.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)..superb ... Finding fertile soil in this already overworked field is not for the faint-hearted, but O’Farrell is more than equal to the task ... The world of Stratford and its surrounding countryside is evoked with lyrical precision: its strict social hierarchies, its quarrels and power struggles, its pressing physicality, the circling seasons and ceaseless round of domestic chores. This is a woman’s world, seen for the most part through female eyes ... One of the many pleasures of this novel is its close-grained portrayal of motherhood and the countless hours of care, joy and exasperation that go into the raising of children ... Maggie O’Farrell’s exquisitely wrought eighth novel proves once again what a very fine writer she is. Hamnet is a deeply felt honouring of the warp and weft of life, the pain and joy that are inextricably part of human experience, the many forms resilience can take, and the unexpected directions from which come grace and hope.
MixedThe Financial TimesWhether the contents justify the book’s title, however, is never satisfactorily answered. Lebrecht in the main leaves his subjects’ lives to speak for themselves ... The result is a riveting, gossipy, action-packed, seam-bursting blast through 100 years of (mainly) European history, which draws us into the complex, frequently messy lives of musicians and politicians, philosophers and scientists, bankers and scholars ... Lebrecht is an exuberant storyteller who ably brings these personalities to life ... Lebrecht’s warts-and-all portraits of these extraordinary people fails to land the provenance of genius, or its putative connection to Jewishness, but he makes a compelling case for the phenomenal energy and independence of thought that underpinned their achievements and far-reaching influence. Impressively wide-ranging in scope and unflaggingly fascinating in detail, his account is perhaps most remarkable of all for its striking absence of authorial anxiety.
MixedThe Financial TimesThis is, unrelentingly, a male world, hard-boiled and reeking of alcohol, stale cigarettes and rampant testosterone. The men hunker down and argue for hours about what to do next ... Women barely feature ... The only female characters with any presence in this version are Nellie (aka Helen), entrapped to tout for the British in exchange for an abortion, and Anna (aka Andromache) ... Mapping the Trojan war on to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland should work, yet somehow it doesn’t. The modern-day setting never quite manages to cut free from its source to establish a life of its own. Part of the reason is that Hughes’s central decision to translate the Trojans as the British is inherently problematic. Yes, the IRA want to drive them out, but then it was their country in the first place; having the Irish stand in for the invading Greeks severely strains the novel’s internal credibility.
PanFinancial Times (UK)Following up on a book like this was never going to be easy and The Testaments has a hard time of it ... While The Testaments will answer some of the many questions readers have put to Atwood over the years, it barely qualifies as a dystopia, and as a work of fiction it falls far short of Atwood’s best books. The hypnotic intensity of the prose in The Handmaid’s Tale is sadly absent here, as is the playful inventiveness of recent Atwood novels such as Penelopiad or Hagseed, or the wily depths of earlier ones such as Alias Grace or The Blind Assassin. Many of the plot twists in The Testaments seem predictable and contrived ...
Too often The Testaments reads like a novel pursued by its TV progeny, rushing to tie up the loose plot ends and have the final word ... Now is a good, even urgent, moment to be thinking about dystopias, but The Testaments offers frustratingly little to extend our knowledge or deepen our understanding. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, or perhaps because of it, the ground it treads is already well-worn. By inhabiting much the same territory as its predecessor, the sequel ends up feeling curiously dated. Being told in retrospect, it neuters its own menace.
RaveThe Financial Times[An] enchanting modern fairy tale, or more accurately, fable...like all good fables, this is a tale with a serious moral to impart ... Kennedy inflects a traditional storytelling voice with her own wry humour ... a little book with a big scope, encompassing in a deceptively simple tale of true friendship, the misery inflicted by war and corrupt leadership, the vacuity of unbridled capitalism and the tragedy of human greed and selfishness. This is a fable for our time, full of quiet warnings ... Kennedy’s humour and lightness of touch serves to underscore her serious intent: an urgent reminder of the small and great things that actually give life its meaning.
PositiveFinancial TimesApproaching 50, recently separated from her husband of 20 years, cash-strapped and juggling the needs of children and work, Levy is fully occupied with the task of simultaneously understanding life and living it. She moves with her two daughters to a sixth-floor flat in a dilapidated Art Deco building on the top of a hill in north London ... Slipstreaming between past and present, The Cost of Living lingers with wry delight on life’s absurdities. Levy buys herself an electric bike and whizzes around London, skirts flying, hands frequently oil-stained. She attends an important meeting to discuss the possible film adaptation of one of her novels, only later realizing that she has three small muddy leaves stuck in her hair. It was not a good look ... The subtle and blatant ways in which the lives and dreams of women are constrained by their societal roles, and how one might step out of those roles, is the pressing concern at the heart of The Cost of Living, as it is in Levy’s fiction.
PositiveThe Financial TimesUpstate, at times, suffers from a superfluity of noticing, from an abundance of detail that leaves the reader unsure what to notice. Like the drifts of snow outside Vanessa’s house, the observations pile up, cumulatively smoothing over the contours of the characters’ interior lives and leaving them strangely featureless. If this is the novel’s weakness, it is also its strength. Upstate is a meditation on happiness, but it offers no neat conclusions or satisfying resolutions. Wood resists any temptation to tie up loose ends, in this respect remaining stubbornly true to life. Things remain infuriatingly and realistically unsaid.
RaveThe Financial TimesSeiffert’s spare, taut prose gives little away about how any of the characters think and feel, as if the events taking place defy articulation, even to oneself ... [a] superb, delicately poised and deeply disturbing novel.
RaveThe Financial TimesThe warmth and humour of Simpson’s writing is coupled with a sharp-eyed clarity and a steady gift for the descriptive detail ... If something of the vitality and poetic lyricism of Simpson’s early stories is absent in this latest collection, her stories, as ever, have a sly staying power. Lines rise up in your mind days later ... Simpson has been conducting her thoughtful voyage round the hearts and houses of middle-class England for the past 25 years, each collection an update on the last. Her stories are steadily accumulating into a literary equivalent of a longitudinal sociological study, a chronicle of contemporary women’s experiences.
PositiveThe Financial TimesVann strips away the softer parts of Medea’s character as ruthlessly as Medea slits throats. She is not blinded by love for Jason but steered by cool calculation, exchanging one kind of bondage for another ... Vann evokes this visceral, sensual, brutal world of warring city states, capricious gods and fragile human agency in a fractured prose style, reminiscent of ancient Greek drama and poetry...The airless intensity of page after page of this takes some getting used to but keeps us located in time and in Medea’s point of view, hinting at something within her that is broken and damaged ... At the heart of this ambitious, dazzling, disturbing and memorable novel lies the uneasy juxtaposing of the wild and the civilised, and the complex, shifting relationship between the two.
RaveThe Financial TimesGrossman renders in second-by-second detail the comedian’s art of keeping an audience on a knife-edge with his verbal acrobatics...But as Dov’s act takes a steadily darker turn, the reader’s unease mounts along with that of his audience ... A Horse Walks Into A Bar is, at one level, an extended riff on Jewish humour and Grossman draws on a plentiful stock of much-loved gags, but we grimace as we grin, because equally the novel is a searing dissection of the more dangerous functions of humour ... Few writers hold a more unflinching mirror up to Israeli society than Grossman, for which he has been both hailed and reviled by Israelis and Palestinians alike. His work stubbornly refuses to flatter or console, but it is also suffused with compassion, acutely attuned to the complexity of individual lives and the solutions people find to the challenge of that complexity ... a work of sombre brilliance and disquieting rage, an unsparing exploration of the seductive spell of escapism.
RaveThe Financial Times...an exuberant revisioning of The Tempest that teems with twins and doubles ... Hag-Seed is the latest in a series of novels from Hogarth Press in which leading writers rework Shakespeare, and it is far and away the most successful to date, in part because Atwood never loses sight of the original ... Hag-Seed displays Atwood’s inventiveness at its shining best, a novel that enchants on its own terms and returns you to the enchantments of the original.
RaveThe Financial TimesGaitskill depicts this world with skill and sensitivity, both the ubiquitous violence and material misery, and at the same time its heady, chaotic vitality ... Gaitskill is particularly good at conveying the sensual charge between girl and horse, preventing the horse-whisperer elements of the novel from descending into whimsy ... a dark, dreamlike novel, at times nightmarish, at others offering glimpses of the sublime, shocking in its raw depiction of violence, and beautiful in its evocation of flawed love.