RaveThe Guardian (UK)... feels timely ... Such a premise could be ponderous and pretentious but isn’t at all, because there’s murder: this is a very good plot-driven thriller dressed in a glittery jumpsuit. The story is multilayered, touching on sex, female friendship, queerness, Berlin nightlife, drugs, celebrity culture and art in ways that in less confident hands could easily have become a mess ... Instead, there’s an exuberance to this novel that makes it highly lovable ... very funny ... there are laugh-out-loud lines throughout, and Henkel’s turn of phrase adds beauty to the mundane ... With so much going on, the murder strand of the plot could end up as little more than corsetry, but instead it keeps you hooked, keeping the novel’s more profound questions about the intersection of art and life, and the cannibalisation of human experience for fiction, from becoming pompous. It’s a whirlwind that leaves you slightly hungover, with the lingering feeling that Henkel has pulled off something very clever, while making it look easy. Which it isn’t, at all.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)[Oshetsky\'s] depiction of a baby who misses its developmental milestones, doesn’t speak and lashes out when frightened will be familiar to some families with experience of disability or neurodiversity ... Disability is frequently used as a horror trope, and in the wrong hands it is a metaphor that can become tasteless and offensive. This is not the case here. Really, Chouette is a sublime parable of mother-love which ferociously eviscerates society’s failure to accept nonconformity. It features one of the most detestable son/mother-in-law duos that I have known in fiction ... full of moments of dark humour as the otherworldly elements of the narrative brush up against the mundanity of suburban life and the demands it places on wives and mothers. Like all works of \'fantastic\' literature, it leaves the reader uncertain: is this a book about the truly supernatural, or the manifestation of a maternal coping mechanism? ... It would not surprise me if Chouette finds a place in the feminist literary canon. It has lingered in my mind in a way that only the most original works do. In its exploration of difference – of disability, of queerness – it feels truly modern, but in its themes of love and sacrifice, it is the oldest tale in the world.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Layla AlAmmar is a writer who understands trauma, how it fragments the memory and turns people into startled animals ... At times, the reader shares the editor’s feelings of frustration: just tell us what happened, you want to say. This is cleverly deployed; are we being unreasonable in demanding an organised narrative? AlAmmar offers trickles of information that are just enough to hint at the terrors of war [...] woven in with shrewd observations about Britain and immigration ... Despite [...] the use of several cliches and some dialogue that doesn’t ring true, I admire this book. It is an intelligent, insightful novel that asks vital questions about how we can begin to express trauma, and in what form. It faces up to its linguistic challenges. It doesn’t quite meet them, but perhaps no words, however they are deployed, truly can. That, after all, is the nature of trauma.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)When a novel is described as \'unflinching,\' you know you are in for a tough read ... The titular \'one-armed sister\' is drawn from a tale she is told by her grandmother, the moral of which is to avoid the temptation of darkness lest you end up maimed by the monster that lives there. It can also be read as a metaphorical question: how can a woman make a life for herself when her body is under siege? ... This novel, at times, feels relentless. It includes murder, rape, sexual assault at gunpoint, incest/child abuse, domestic violence, and the death of a baby. Jones’s descriptions are vividly haunting, and she uses setting and landscape to compound the horror ... intensely compelling ... It’s a startling achievement. There is very little light in this novel, but what shines through instead is a pitiless truth that stays with you long after the story ends.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... offers a young female perspective on a life overshadowed by violence, laced with black humour amid the ruins ... Milkman, from which Big Girl, Small Town’s epigraph is taken, was extremely funny, something many critics failed to convey in all those column inches bemoaning its apparent difficulty, and so is this novel. Written far more conventionally but similarly immersive, it has been set up to have broad commercial appeal ... It’s hard to write a funny novel, and as a reader even harder to find one, so to say that this book made me laugh out loud several times is no small thing ... Pain and trauma lie beneath the jokes ... I felt as though I knew Majella intimately by the end. We are told in the blurb that she is autistic, but the only hints in the text are a certain matter of factness and her occasional habit of rocking and flicking her fingers to calm herself down. Majella simply is a young woman with a sex drive and a sense of humour, so much more than a caricature of her disability, and this feels revolutionary. Big Girl, Small Town is a darkly hilarious novel about small-town life, which manages to be wildly entertaining despite being mostly set in a chip shop – a fine place in which to loiter with such a filthy, funny, clever companion.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Aboulela’s prose is restrained but warm. There is a calm amusement in her tone when the women mock the overly conservative men in their lives ... For western readers, Aboulela offers rare and precious insight into the minds of women who believe that husbands should be obeyed ... The characters are well drawn, Moni in particular. However, the author’s talents are sadly undermined by the arrival of a bird who speaks in parables, and the book descends into an extended fantastical sequence that pays tribute to magic realism but lacks the scaffolding to pull it off. The overlapping of Muslim and Celtic myths shows ambition, but the bird’s extended moralising and the cursory way in which Lady Evelyn’s story is treated frustrate the quest for deeper meaning.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It’s a standard coming-of-age narrative, but also features something very rare in literary fiction: a working-class heroine, written by a young working-class author ... Saltwater is billed as \'for fans of Sally Rooney and Olivia Laing\', but Andrews has little in common with either. You can draw a much stronger line to Sara Baume ... The writing is disarmingly honest – sometimes, when it comes to Lucy’s relationship with her mother, uncomfortably so This is a courageous book dealing frankly with youth, puberty, mother-daughter relationships, class, disability and alcoholism. There are difficult truths, but no wallowing ... There is little dialogue, but if the interiority can occasionally feel wearing, it is worth it for its refreshing perspective. Lucy feels the acute tension and anxiety that arises between leaving your community and staying. I found parts of this novel intensely moving – I wish I had read it when I was 19.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Indelicacy is ekphrastic, but sparingly so. You get the sense that our author, as well as our heroine, is aware of the limits of words; the visual is conjured as much by what is absent. Her bone-clean prose creates a sense of immersion in a story that feels both mythic and true ... A woman’s search for creativity is not a new subject, yet Cain has made it so. \'How happy I was. I had created an experience for someone; I hadn’t been sure I could actually do that,\' says Vitória, when a friend reads her writing—the goal of all art, and one that the author fulfils with an intricate grace that endures long after the setting down of this deceptively slim book.
PositiveThe GuardianThe New Me is a depressing novel ... It is also bleakly funny ... Millie is from the now well-established school of the privileged antiheroine ... When the reader starts to feel compassion for Millie, it feels like a literary feat. That place of tension between the expectations of privilege and the colourless reality of life in an advanced service economy is fertile territory for art and comedy. Capitalism makes people behave odiously, the office becoming a backdrop for petty acts of psychopathy, revenge and narcissism, but opting out, or trying to, comes at a price. It’s the only reality we know. And that is a depressing thought.