RaveThe New York TimesIt is a novel of lesser scope than its grand and magical predecessor and more narrowly focused, although it is enriched by the author's same mesmerizing mixes: cruelty and farce, poetry and violence, and a voice whose timbres range from a storyteller's playfulness to the dark torment of an explorer, lost. All this finds voices through characters whose tactile immediacy fades imperceptibly into a fog of ambiguousness and contradiction … In his picaresque wanderings through the streets, symbolically blurred and isolated under a weeklong blizzard, [Ka] goes from one encounter to the next. Some are sinister, some alluring, some surreal … For Mr. Pamuk beauty does not redeem the tragic horrors begotten by human passions and obstinate memory. Neither do the horrors diminish it.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesSmith gives her highly maneuvered magical-mystery woman some strained religious overtones. Amber's origin is a postmodern, decidedly maculate version of the immaculate conception doctrine. Her mother, briefly mentioned at the start, was equivalently sprite-like … Interesting methods — at times — but terribly pat purposes. The purposes swell up didactically as Amber moves between the ferociously canny and driftily uncanny. (Ayn Rand dips a toe into Garcia Marquez waters). They cut off the novel's breath, and the reader's. Breathing is simultaneously accelerated and blocked by a prose style that ranges between grandiose and convoluted.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Trans. by Lucia Graves
RaveThe New York TimesThe Shadow of the Wind opens in 1945 in Barcelona, bleak and still shattered by the Spanish Civil War. Throughout, in fact, the residue of the war's fraternal horror is the grave thematic substratum beneath capers and mystifications … Ruiz Zafón gives us a panoply of alluring and savage personages and stories. His novel eddies in currents of passion, revenge and mysteries whose layers peel away onionlike yet persist in growing back … The melodrama and complications of Shadow, expertly translated by Lucia Graves, can approach excess, though it's a pleasurable and exceedingly well-managed excess. We are taken on a wild ride — for a ride, we may occasionally feel — that executes its hairpin bends with breathtaking lurches.
RaveThe Boston GlobeInherent Vice, seemingly a confection of spoofs on its genre, belongs to a wider group as well: the personal-liberation mythology of the ’60s and ’70s … What Pynchon is after with the prodigal absurdities of Doc’s adventures is not really parody, but something larger. They are a way to enter into a time and place of extravagant delusions, innocent freedoms, and an intoxicated (literally) sense of possibility. And to do it without sententiousness, to write in psychedelic colors disciplined by a steel-on-flint intelligence (thus the incandescent sparks). He writes with a rich mastery of the era’s detail: rock groups now forgotten, odd hangouts (a Japanese greasy spoon that offers the best Swedish pancakes in Los Angeles), surfing, motorcycle brands, and the generosity of forbearance among the ’60s generation.
Orhan Pamuk, trans. by Erda? Göknar
PositiveThe New York TimesMy Name Is Red is not just a novel of ideas. Eastern or Western, good or bad, ideas precipitate once they sink to human level, unleashing passions and violence. Red is chockful of sublimity and sin. The story is told by each of a dozen characters, and now and then by a dog, a tree, a gold coin, several querulous corpses and the color crimson ('My Name Is Red'). It concerns investigation of the murders, the tales of the three master miniaturists who survive Elegant — one of them the killer — and Master Osman's long (considerably too long) perusal of the classic Persian miniatures in the sultan's library. Also myriad other incidents, scenes and characters gyrating wildly in an era of seismic shift … Readers will have spells of feeling lost and miserable in a deliberate unreliability that so mirrors its subject: a world governed by fog.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThe novel's most appealing and artful achievement is the small circle of second-year students around Skippy. Perpetually quarreling, sardonic and mutually suspicious, and portrayed with a comically aching individuality, they are held together by a frail, us-against-the-world loyalty. It is a thing of time and circumstance; one of Murray's achievements is to evoke the mournfully short-lived nature of adolescent forevers … The climax generates a lot less flame than many of the passages — by turns comic, shrewd and sometimes profoundly affecting — in Murray's portraits of students and teachers.
PositiveThe Boston Globe'Five Stories of Music and Nightfall' is the subtitle of Nocturnes, Ishiguro’s first collection of short pieces. Music, mainly pop (the writer is a devotee and amateur practitioner), provides the common plot link. But nightfall is the deeper connection ... Ishiguro, whose complex ambiguity is his form of affirmation, simultaneously shatters and restores characters ... Its theme is essentially the life/art struggle of the other stories.
MixedThe Boston GlobeCarey adapts his style to each [Parrot and Olivier]. Olivier relates his younger life with dream-like obliviousness; he is snug in his own cosseting, and his fears swim far beneath the surface. Parrot’s past is all harshness; and Carey writes it jagged and disjointed, sometimes to the point of incoherence. This can be irritating, yet it conveys a violence and pain so acute that it suggests traumatic amnesia, as well as a child’s patchy understanding of what is going on … There are a great many more permutations, twists, and characters in the novel; so many, indeed, as to display the occasional weakness of Carey’s strengths: a virtuosity overload and a piling-on of incident.
RaveThe Boston GlobeWith The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Mitchell has retained his virtuoso variety and restrained it; he makes it serve as well as enrich a human narrative that grips and moves. Its pages boast enough intricate turns to invite lingering; nevertheless they refuse it. Thousand Autumns is a page-turner. It is Mitchell’s masterpiece … The richness of Thousand Autumns, its innumerable side stories, its minor characters who refuse to be minor, can hardly be replicated in a brief review. And too much of the suspense would be given away — some already has, but the supply is barely scratched — by more detail. What remains to note, after my masterpiece tag, is the poetic fineness of the writing.
MixedThe New York TimesIn truth, much that we expect in a love story is missing; a reader will miss it. What beats in Ms. Hazzard's restrained but tingling pulse is something else: not feelings, but the painting that memory makes of them – haunting as a portrait that instigates the imagination more than the sitter could. Her sentences are insidious strokes of a finely haired badger brush … Ms. Hazzard has written a romance, in a way, though far closer to Rilke than Barbara Cartland. We realize that whatever feyness tugged at earlier parts of the story has come to serve its theme. Only a young belief that the world is boundless assures that the bounds accepted in maturity will not be a prison.
RaveThe New York TimesThe realm of Mr. Crace's new novel is the strangest of all. It is death, or more exactly, it is the life in death and the death in life. For the former there are the flies' and crabs' assorted meals – for a moment we seem conjured into a sort of restaurant review – and the minute day-by-day charting of the changes in the two bodies on the beach. Not the bodies that were, but the bodies that still are Celice and Joseph … While Mr. Crace is imparting life, even jaunty life, to dissolution he is introducing death repeatedly into the knottily individual lives of Celice, Joseph and those they know … If the characters...are ostensibly on high-flown literary missions (dying, inhabiting prehistory, being God), their flights swoop so near ground level, in fact, that they whip up gravel, grass, gestures of startlement, and the smoke of human cooking fires.
Jonathan Safran Foer
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesTo a child with the overnourished intelligence and jittery nerve ends of a Maurice Sendak character comes a double invasion of Wild Things … Touching as some might be, inventions recur nonstop as he visits Blacks all over New York … The search goes on for eight months, gradually flagging as Oskar's peculiar hyperactive form of mourning works itself out … Foer took a risk in using a 9-year-old as the voice of this ambitious and in some ways impressive book. Children can personify tragedy, but perhaps they cannot speak it, at least in a sustained way. Oskar's precocious piping over the abyss is ultimately a sentimental, not a transfiguring, irony. Tragedy doesn't seek pity and terror; it arouses it.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesAn implied evil lurks in the early parts of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, a futuristic novel that ends, in fact, in the late 1990s (as if the future had already arrived but hadn't shown itself yet). It is all odd puzzles and hints; then gradually the evil becomes evident and by the end chokingly visceral … Ishiguro has the audacity and technical mastery to wind us through a mystification as irritating as it is ingenious in a novel that may be his best, and which is certainly his most resonant and moving … The young people live in a limbo of rumor, partly knowing, partly not knowing, partly not wanting to know their origins as part of a state cloning program for medical purposes or their fate.
MixedThe Boston GlobeLet the Great World Spin is a set of larger and smaller stories that approach, intersect, and diverge. Mainly they coincide with the twin towers walk, though some begin earlier and extend decades afterward … McCann gives a superb account of the walker’s long practicing, and his careful handling and rigging of the wire. His description of the walk itself would do a ballet critic proud. And if some of his other attempts to elevate work into myth are strained, he succeeds with his image of a flight that lifts the heaviness of a whole city.
W. G. Sebald
PositiveThe New York TimesSebald's past is a parabola. It arcs up to meet us, and when it arcs down it pulls us with it...The past cripples Sebald's characters. They are subject to illness and sudden breakdown, invaded by dreams less specific than nightmares and, on that account, more estranging … Sebald stands with Primo Levi as the prime speaker of the Holocaust and, with him, the prime contradiction of Adorno's dictum that after it, there can be no art. After it, perhaps, only art … Sebald, though in no current sense a postmodernist, has left far behind modernism's vision of a world in fragments. His vision, on the contrary, is of a terrible connectedness. In Austerlitz he deploys it unremittingly.
RaveThe Boston GlobeMantel makes her characters very strange indeed. Instead of bringing the past to us, her writing, brilliant and black, launches us disconcertingly into the past. We are space-time travelers landed on an alien world … Cromwell is the novel’s central character, drawn with an extraordinary mix of astute complexity and powerful simplicity … Mantel gives rich detail. She is able to powerfully advance the main line of the story, while conducting fascinating side excursions … History is a feast whose various and vital excitements and intrigues make the book a long and complex pleasure. A feast held under a lowering darkness that makes the book a desolation.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesGay and severe, tender and horrifying...an archetypal coming-of-age quest … In most fiction, these would be psychic wounds worked out in roughly naturalistic fashion; here they come to life like the chess pieces over which Lewis Carroll's Alice falls asleep. Instead of the analyst's couch, Murakami deals with them in the living ferocity of the Sophoclean tragedy from which Freud derived his dead metaphor. Kafka's Oedipus complex is fought in the jousting pit, where most of the action takes place … Murakami's novel, though wearying at times and confusing at others, has the faintly absurd loft of some great festive balloon. He addresses the fantastic and the natural, each with the same mix of gravity and lightness.