RaveThe Observer (UK)\"It reads like a seance with the spirits of the still-living. Immaculately paced, A Thread of Violence generates a suspense that is formal and narratorial as much as it is a corollary of genre: we read it rapt with curiosity as to how the author will avoid the ethical pitfalls up ahead, how he can possibly pull this off without sensationalism or vulgarity. The moral murkiness of writing such a book at all is intrinsic to its architecture: there’s no getting around that, by fixing his attention on a double murderer, the prestigious writer effectively signs an endorsement on the jacket cover of Malcolm Macarthur’s life, declaring it darkly riveting, profound in its moral implications ... Eschewing the jokes and stylistic brio of his earlier work in favor of a stark lucidity, O’Connell sees in the \'highborn savage\' Macarthur a grotesque mirror to his own upper middle-class privilege, and in his crimes an irreducible mystery that is indistinguishable from blunt mundanity. Resolved not to lose sight of the horror of what Macarthur calls his \'criminal episode,\' O’Connell nonetheless grants his subject a fair hearing, writing about the elderly murderer with, if not quite a redeeming empathy, a spooked and perplexed grace ... A Thread of Violence instils the certitude not only that no one else could have written this book, but that no other need ever be written on the subject. It’s a marvel of tact, attentiveness, and unclouded moral acuity.\
PositiveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)Enjoyable and astute ... There is something enduringly attractive in the youngster abroad setup: we witness a world of heightened perception, stoked by the romance of life in a new, exotic location, burnished by youth’s glamour, the proximity to sex and various picturesque troubles. Daphne initially seems to conform to type ... Flirts with the psychosexual claustrophobia of an early Roman Polanski film, but its wry tone and fidelity to the comedy of manners motif mean it never quite goes full Repulsion.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The Guest is the...controlled work of a fine talent maturing on its own terms. Sultry and engrossing, with a note of menace, it’s a gorgeously smart affair whose deceptive lightness conceals strange depths and an arresting originality ... One of this novel’s pleasures is how it keeps setting up such expectations only to confound them, so that even halfway through you’re not entirely sure what kind of story this is, save a good one ... Without smothering her narrative in subtext, Cline gets at something universal – or at least late-capitalist – about the prostitution of experience and the commodification of sex and personality ... You don’t have to read The Guest as a slant treatise on neoliberal precariousness and alienation, or as an even broader one on metaphysical estrangement – but it’s all there should you want it. Or just take it to the beach and savour every page.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)In electing Koba/Stalin as his lead character, May sets up a dynamic whereby on every page we compulsively compare the figure before us, domineering and vengeful, yet not without sensitivity and even kindness – indeed a sometime poet – with the dread tyrant he is to become ... I wasn’t always sure if Sell Us the Rope adds up emotionally. Koba’s Rosebud-like attachment to an urchin named Arthur, who symbolises the abused child he once was... seem oddly generous traits to imaginatively grant a man who would go on to coldly order the deaths of millions ... Sell Us the Rope... reveals the texture of history as an all too human bricolage of private resentments, sexual slights, flawed personalities and mixed motives. At times, May too obviously projects contemporary attitudes into the past, as when Lenin strategises about winning over philanthropists by appealing to their desire to be on that fabled plane, \'the right side of history.\'
Bret Easton Ellis
PositiveThe Observer (UK)A pleasingly slippery, impish author, Ellis uses all the up-to-date autofictional techniques to far more exciting effect than, say, Ben Lerner’s superficially tasteful and objectionably dull novel The Topeka School ... The author gleefully details his elite teens’ rampant sex lives ... The novel is the imaginatively expressed biography of a style ... Initially a reminder of how exhilarating a stylist Ellis can be – lyrical and cool and compulsive...across 600 pages the prose becomes undifferentiated and humdrum. It’s a shame this needlessly baggy novel wasn’t pruned of bloat and workmanlike exposition. Insight is too much stacked in the former half, the latter gassy with melodramatic dialogues and fitfully thrilling set pieces as the plot’s outlandish artificialities work themselves out ... That’s not quite enough to spoil the surprise this novel delivers ... As vital as anything he\'s ever written.
MixedThe Observer (UK)The apparently slighter sister-novel [to The Passenger], Stella Maris proves a better vessel for McCarthy’s lofty scientific concerns. Consisting purely of dialogue, it records Alicia Western’s DeLillo-esque conversations with a middle-aged, male psychiatrist at the titular mental institution in 1972, where she is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Through these heady exchanges McCarthy thoroughly outs himself as the dark gnostic he always was – void-mystic and cartographer of a satanic dominion ... At base it’s an impressionistic treatise on the nature of reality, tracing the outlines of a dread architecture beyond the visible and the intuitive. The soaringly pretentious dialogue between a troubled autodidact (conveniently, Alicia has spent a decade reading several books a day and can remember all of it) and her awed shrink generates nihilist koans that double as jokes ... Whether or not the ominous physics and math-mysticism add up to a novel in the sense commonly understood – or enjoyed – is debatable. But it is something, not least the vehicle for a specifically novelistic kind of philosophising less concerned with establishing systems than with the dark fire of wild insight and forbidden revelation.
MixedThe Observer (UK)Bobby Western endures such a low-intensity, relaxed persecution that The Passenger only fitfully functions as the thriller it gestures at being – the vibe is more Kafka on the bayou. Having absorbed modernism and the dislocations of the technological society, literary novelists of McCarthy’s generation decided that while it was fair game to present a mystery, it was gauche to resolve one, and so the enigma of the downed plane and its absent passenger sinks into the background, beacon of a broader metaphysical disquietude. Meanwhile, Bobby hangs out at bars conversing about desultory subjects – the Vietnam war, string theory, even the Kennedy assassination – with a shifty cast of demi-monders ... This ambling, messy novel is in many ways unmistakably a Cormac McCarthy joint. We get the polysyndetic sentences of numbly procedural description, the severely pessimistic vision of human nature, the near-total absence of interiority, and of course the Melvilleian blasts of end times lyricism – there’s a lot of that. McCarthy has always walked a fine line between the profound and the preposterous and The Passenger shows cavalier disdain for the risks of self-parody run by a singular stylist writing deep into his 80s. While some writers betray an ambition to be priest or president, McCarthy remains shamelessly bent on prophet status, preferably in the Old Testament lineage ... not knowing what to do with all his brain-breaking research, the author simply dumps it on his readers. The formal problem is one of incommensurability: spooky physics and quantum indeterminacy confound classical fiction by destabilising the reality to which realism defers. In short, you can’t dramatise this stuff – laudable ambition smashes into the wall of its impossible fulfilment ... Whether or not the ominous physics and math-mysticism add up to a novel in the sense commonly understood – or enjoyed – is debatable. But it is something, not least the vehicle for a specifically novelistic kind of philosophising less concerned with establishing systems than with the dark fire of wild insight and forbidden revelation.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)Sections detailing Stephen’s army life, and particularly those covering his tour of duty in Belfast, are excellent: immersive in their detail and atmosphere ... The novel feels rudderless after the traumatic event is finally recounted, but gets back on track when the Commission renews its efforts to persuade Stephen to attend a special hearing ... Andrew Miller...has sufficient decorum, talent and sensitivity to do justice to his delicate subject matter.
Emmanuel Carrère, tr. John Lambert
RaveThe Observer (UK)... what makes it a Carrère book – and what makes me look forward to them so keenly – is his way of telling it, the trademark blend of extreme exhibitionism and digressive interest. His skill in constructing a narrative from disparate materials is exceptional, with all manner of insights, anecdotes and conjectures stacked up like hoops around the long slender \'I\'. One minute you’re observing him in a drunken rave-up to a Chopin polonaise with an American woman, the next he’s retelling a science-fiction story he read as a teenager – the beat never falters. It is relentlessly interesting ... Carrère’s books are wantonly self-referential. Meditation, jihad in France and refugees are all secondary to the writer’s true subjects of being Emmanuel Carrère and the writing and reception of his previous books (he even quotes one of them at length). It’s not so much self-karaoke as self-cannibalism, with Carrère’s past work continually offering him a way forward ... There is little point in accusing Carrère of vanity and narcissism when he is so upfront about these writerly vices, and yet he confesses to them so energetically that even the self-criticism comes to seem an aspect of that narcissism ... The book’s ending on a rote – and, it seemed to me, delusive – note of hopefulness left me suspended in the ambivalence his books typically induce. Carrère’s body of work now strikes me as the product of a devil’s bargain wherein he keeps offering up everything, including his soul, to become a great writer – but even this, his becoming known as one who sacrificed it all for literature, is written into the fine print, a subclause in his diabolical vanity. All of which is not necessarily to denigrate what he’s doing. In a sense, his faintly sinister agenda is a testament to the resilience of the writer, of writing – a protective existential casing wherein even ardent pain can be rendered comfortable, can be material.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)As I began reading I kept asking myself: \'What’s she up to? What skin has she got in this game?\' Three hundred pages later, I still didn’t fully have my answers, though by then I’d realised that the (pseudo) historical setting wrenches us out of history and into a timeless, interior landscape of drives, impulses and cravings ... Lapvona’s grotesque, shameless world shows us not how it used to be, but how it’s always been ... it soon becomes clear that this plot, like the medieval setting, is secondary to the pulsing, quivering tissue of incident and carnality that it facilitates ... Particularly in her morally neutral scenes of physical and sexual humiliation, Moshfegh seems to write from a shady confraternity that includes the Marquis de Sade, Georges Bataille and Angela Carter ... In the past, Moshfegh has trollishly floated the notion that she might be a bit of a hack, but Lapvona confirms that such ploys served the author’s deeper agenda of getting the weird shit in front of a mass audience. What impresses here is not so much Moshfegh’s abilities with character or narrative, or even her language (which excels more in her short stories), as the qualities Lapvona shares with a Francis Bacon painting: depicting in blood-red vitality, without morals or judgment, the human animal in its native chaos.
Werner Herzog, trans. by Michael Hofmann
MixedThe Observer (UK)Stretches of The Twilight World read like a screenplay or documentary outline that’s been injected with prose fiction growth hormones. In the expository and digressive passages, it’s impossible not to hear Herzog’s famous voice ringing charismatically in the inner ear ... If a less celebrated figure than Herzog presented their editor with a book this slight, they’d probably be sent back to their desk to imagine their way deeper into the psychic jungle, fleshing it out with a few more chapters. Which is to say: we’re here for the writer as much as for the story ... The start is shaky – if they ever award a prize for ropiest opening lines, my money is on Herzog ... Happily, this hallucinatory nonsense is a false alarm: the prose soon settles into a less hysterical descriptiveness, with only the odd surreal apocalyptic flourish. The author wisely trusts in the story he’s telling – and with one this good, he can well afford to move out of the way ... In its brevity, The Twilight World is sometimes as superficial as a Wikipedia entry – whole decades are skimmed over in a line or two – and at times frustratingly withholding ... provokes – and thwarts – an appetite to know more. Nearing his 80th birthday, Herzog gives off the megalomaniacal vibe of one who won’t let old age slow him down, perhaps won’t even notice that it’s happening.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... fabulously impressive ... cannonballs straight into heady existential questions, magicking up a vision of human life at once generous and absurd while wearing its considerable ambition lightly. Very lightly. A few pages in, realising that the story is told in a compulsively jokey, determined-to-impress voice with even the dialogue consisting entirely of well-timed one-liners and off-the-cuff aphorisms, I groaned: \'Oh Christ – 400 pages.\' But a headstrong novelist sets the parameters of their own realism, and soon the style clicked. Once it did, I struggled to keep track of how much there was to admire in Toltz’s relentlessly lively sentences, offbeat insights and unfaltering narrative energy ... Toltz takes his time with each book – new ones have appeared at seven-year intervals – and Here Goes Nothing is a funny, clever, entertaining argument in favour of cultivating the patience to get it right.
Peter Handke, tr. Krishna Winston
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewA dozen pages into reading The Fruit Thief, I had the not unexciting realization that, if nothing else, for the next 300 pages I was in for an experience of unadulterated literature: that is, a work that would pay not the slightest heed to genre conventions, commercial imperatives or even — this I was less enthusiastic about — the reader’s timid expectation that he might be shown a good time. I was also reminded that I was dealing here with a very slippery fish ... The phantom limb pain of expecting that we will revert to the \'I\' perspective fades into an acceptance that we’re stuck with Alexia for the remainder ... While there is no shortage of descriptive color and incident, albeit of a low-voltage variety, this long stretch — the bulk of the novel — is, frankly, hard going ... As an avant-garde firebrand in the 1960s, Handke wrote an \'anti-play\' titled Offending the Audience, but now his strategy has shifted perilously close to Boring the Audience to Tears. Much like the narrator imagining the character of the fruit thief, I kept trying to envision a subset of readers who genuinely find this stuff delightful. Lacking most of the elements that draw people to fiction — insight, suspense and so on — it falls to either the language or the narrative material itself to make the novel worth the reader’s while. Although both have their moments — a mad speech in the final pages, an interlude at an inn that takes on the lighting and atmosphere of old European folk tales — the meal served up by this deeply eccentric novelist is spare and saltless, with no wine and no dessert. I suspect it’s the destiny of such an uncompromising writer as Peter Handke to end up writing basically for an audience of one. His most loyal readers, perhaps, adopt an attitude of veneration, hushed and solemn and more or less bored, the way many people attend Mass.
Sean Thor Conroe
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)The challenge [Conroe] confronts is a real pickle: how to update the tradition of the American male autobiographical novelist, writing about the concerns of a twentysomething on the make (which naturally include wrong-think and that notoriously problematic condition, lust) without censoring himself into insipidity ... This isn’t a plot novel, nor even much of a story novel. Conroe bets most of his chips on voice and by and large his writing has enough charm and freshness to keep him solvent ... Conroe’s punchy variant includes rap slang and internet speak, bc that’s how it is now, bruh ... Fuccboi’s main claim to newness lies in the narrator’s middle-way attitude to the ball-aching social justice religion that clogs the air of American cultural life, demanding moral and doctrinal purity ... By this meandering novel’s final third, I was no longer sure what the story was meant to be about, beyond the narrator’s ongoing presence on the page. The auto-novelist’s liberation from plot comes at the cost of submergence in life’s essential formlessness. Nevertheless, I enjoyed being led through the vagaries of Sean’s \'sus hetero bro\' existence and appreciated his attempt to do what in 2020s America is tricky verging on taboo: to write like a man, not an ideal.
Sasa Stanišić, Tr. Damion Searls
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Where You Come From has arguably been overpraised in Germany, where it won a major national book prize, but it’s understandable that a rattled liberal establishment would want to celebrate its implied politics of tolerance, post-nationalism and integration. At times, Stanišić’s tone resembles a Der Spiegel editorial ... Stanišić enjoys including lists, lyrics, transcripts and assorted documentary titbits as he muses on the experiences of exile and assimilation, shame and family. A mild, fairly likable narrator, Saša is most engaging when discussing either his efforts to adjust to German life or his earlier, youthful adventures as the fog of war came rolling towards his homeland. Parts of the book read like a family photo album, interesting or not depending on how curious we are about another person’s grandparents, uncles, cousins ... The book’s final third is its weakest ... the novel morphs into a Choose Your Own Adventure story ... it’s a nice idea, but its emotional core—the death of a man’s grandmother—is not enough to carry the formal whimsy, and so it becomes a slightly irritating frippery. Where You Come From is most rewarding when it cleaves closest to straightforward memoir: a story about place and displacement, where you begin and where you end up, and how much—and in what way—this matters.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Kudos to Dave Eggers. In this follow-up to the admirable, big-tech, dystopian thriller The Circle (which you needn’t have read to enjoy the current book), he again squares up to the new enemies of everything untamed and brilliant in humankind. If you meant to read Shoshana Zuboff’s important and demanding The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, but were too worn down by surveillance capitalism’s intrusions to get round to it, The Every tackles the same concerns from a shared perspective of humanist outrage, in the form of a gulpable fictive entertainment ... The spectre of an overtly darker and less comic novel floats through The Every, which is equal parts science-fiction nightmare of the next five seconds and broad, Silicon Valley satire ... unabashedly partisan and polemical. Eggers’s adversary is the war on subjectivity, nuance and wildness being waged by the clever yet mediocre men and women who wield more power than any government in history. About halfway through, the plot leans into the outlandish, then teeters towards the apocalyptic. And what a feeble anticlimax may await our cowed species – going out not with a bang, but with a sad-face emoji ... At 577 pages – the number diagnosed by an odious lit-streamlining app as the limit of readerly tolerance – The Every is not as tight as The Circle. As momentum builds, the plotting gets clunky, while the novel’s comic exuberance means it lacks the cathartic brutality of, say, Nineteen Eighty-Four. But Eggers is a wonderful storyteller with an alert and defiant vision. His down-home decency means he pulls short of articulating a thought that recurred for me throughout reading The Every: threatened with spiritual extinction through conformism, sanitisation, shame, inanity and surveillance, it might yet be our evil, our perversity, our psychopathology, our hate that prove the saving of us.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The tenderness and delicacy with which the father-son relationship is depicted repeatedly brought to my mind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, though it is a pre-apocalyptic planet on which Theo and Robin struggle to find fortitude and hope ... Among the novel’s many virtues is the mood it radiates of sheer cosmic awe ... Powers is coming to seem a gift to those of us who admire Stapledon’s genre but regret its indifference to human complexities. Impressively precise in its scientific conjectures, Bewilderment is no less rich or wise in its emotionality. Moreover, science fiction is not just a looming generic presence, but part of the novel’s narrative mechanism ... channels both the cosmic sublime and that of the vast American outdoors, resting confidently in a lineage with Thoreau and Whitman, Dillard and Kerouac. It’s also a ghostly and affecting love story ... Sorrowing awe is Bewilderment’s primary tone, and its many remarkable scenes are controlled with high novelistic intelligence. Robin is as compelling a fictional creation as I’ve encountered in some time – fierce, lovable and otherworldly. In dreaming him up, Powers was clearly working out a bold fictive question: what must it be like to father a Greta Thunberg?
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... far better than I expected it to be. Anyone who admired the movie will have a great time with this spin-off work ... I haven’t read a film-to-book novelisation since I was a teenager; among disreputable genres it’s down there with the reality TV star autobiography. Yet Tarantino has such fun expanding his fictional world, and the results are sufficiently intriguing, as to suggest that more auteurs might consider becoming authors. As a pop culture polymath, he exploits the novel format to lay on thick his lavishly detailed, period Hollywood shop talk and industry gossip. With its garrulously omniscient third-person narration, the book serves as an essay on cinema and televisual history. Sometimes, the fictive mask comes off and it’s unmistakably Tarantino talking right at us ... the process of novelisation anchors the meandering story. There is little actual structure here, but the backlighting provided by the film means it doesn’t really matter: the characters and settings benefit from a charisma emanating across media ... Tarantino is no Henry James. He over-explains, repeats himself and dishes out stock phrases to get the descriptive job done ... So it goes – Tarantino is inventive and playful in other ways ... As in his films, Tarantino’s insatiable enthusiasm for pop culture trivia is infectious and thrilling. I will be reading the memoir.
Virginie Despentes tr. Frank Wynne
PanThe Guardian (UK)The problem is that these rock’n’roll raves are woefully underimagined, and come across as a bathetic travesty of resistance ... It’s one problem among many in this sagging, unkempt novel. The peripheral characters lack distinctiveness, their urban melodramas unfurling in soap operatic sameness so it’s hard to care about what’s happening. The prose is a mush of stale formulations ... The impression is of a writer always racing towards a deadline or a word-count, rarely stopping to think whether a fresher or more vital approach might be found. While there are flashes of the vulgar energy and trademark cynicism that animate Despentes’s best writing, I found myself wishing she had taken the time to write a shorter book, compressing three sloppy volumes into a lean, focused one ... Despentes’s characters are wont to accuse one another of mansplaining, but I’d gladly have had someone mansplain to me what she was getting at when, in this half-assed it’s in Collins! speculative coda, she suggests that Subutex’s Cobain-and-Cohen playlists have opened up some sort of cosmic portal by way of \'a genotypic communion of synchronous energies, corresponding waves and cardiac rhythm progressions\'. The trouble is, Despentes hasn’t tried hard enough to make her readers believe even she knew what she is on about.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Philip Gabriel
PanThe ObserverI can divulge up front that his latest, First Person Singular, is not very good ... Among its themes are nostalgia, music and erotic reminiscence. The book is not without its charms and Murakami’s mild and affable authorial persona will please his fans. While his novels tend towards the baroque and the fantastical, First Person Singular works best when Murakami keeps it simple in stories that resemble memoir and recount affairs, friendships or one-night stands from bygone decades ... While Murakami’s more thrilling novels contain war crimes, sexual deviancy and other sinister elements, the abiding tone here is of grandfatherly niceness. It leaves you craving an edge, which only arrives in the final, titular story, and even then inconclusively. First Person Singular’s blandly nostalgic musings on, say, watching baseball at a stadium in Tokyo would go down without much friction if only Murakami wrote better prose ... what I find instead is lazy, halfhearted prose and what I’ve come to think of as Murakami’s trademark banality ... To be charitable, we might put all this down to the late-career trailing off of a much-loved storyteller. The cynic in me wonders if the bizarrely limp style is a performance calculated to disarm: insipid Murakami the non-threatening crowdpleaser – the Forrest Gump of global literature.
Edward St. Aubyn
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewDouble Blind sees St. Aubyn strike out for unfamiliar territory—science, ecology and venture capital. It is distinctly the product of a mind processing some very big data ... the flaws are considerable. Double Blind is an often cluttered work crying out for tighter narrative control and thematic unity. Two-thirds of the way through, I still had the impression of a throng of subplots in search of a story ... The breadth and density of scientific knowledge crammed into Double Blind can make for hard going, and the material does not always fit naturally into the novel’s social-realist structure ... While commendable in its intellectual ambition, Double Blind fumbles in its delivery.
Pola Oloixarac, tr. Adam Morris
MixedThe Guardian (UK)There is plenty of this kind of spiky scepticism in the first half of this short, enjoyable and flawed novel. Provocations abound ... Insofar as she sticks to such lit-world theorising and piss-taking, Oloixarac is on steady ground. Unfortunately, having set the narrative’s wheels in motion, she has no viable plan to guide the vehicle home. The novel’s credibility collapses in the final third. A lazy appeal to Nordic mythology for unearned profundity rings jarringly false, while a gesture towards an exploration of male on female violence never follows through. Grasping for gravitas by appeal to secondhand signifiers and conscious symbolism, Oloixarac overburdens a novel that might more effectively have kept its focus on the egos and libidos of the literary set. In doing so, she falls face first into a condition with which she would be swift to diagnose her characters: pretentiousness ... It’s a shame that Mona is not both more fleshed out and tightly focused. In a literary culture swamped by clenched, worthy fiction and the writer as activist, her satirist’s misanthropy and taste for provocation are a tonic.
Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Like virtually everything the incomparable Chilean wrote, a newly excavated trio of unarguably minor novellas, Cowboy Graves, is companionable, exotic, witty and glamorously suggestive ... To an extent, the value and interest of Cowboy Graves depend on a prior familiarity with the sprawling, hyperlinked metaverse of Bolaño’s fiction ... In fact, Cowboy Graves may be the most plainly autobiographical fiction Bolaño ever wrote ... A primary element in the compound that keeps Bolañoites hooked is the voice: it hardly matters what it’s saying, or what the torrent of words ultimately amounts to, when it speaks so seductively (as it does in Natasha Wimmer’s dependably limpid translations) ... Characters, fictional cities and real-life poets recognisable from other novels flicker briefly into sight and then vanish. Cowboy Graves is a minor chamber in the labyrinth of Bolaño’s fiction, but it’s one with many doors.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, tr. Martin Aitken
MixedThe Guardian (UK)In the Land of the Cyclops heightens the suspicion that Knausgaard fulfilled his authorial project with the completion of his six-part autofictional epic in 2011 ... A lengthy review here of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission opens with a plodding explanation of why Knausgaard has never before read the author, and labours on under the presumption that we are as interested in the underqualified reviewer as we are in his subject ... Knausgaard can be engaging on art and photography (subjects include Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer, Francesca Woodman), but as a novelist turned philosopher-critic, he often reads as an Aristotelian particularist trying to be a universalising Plato. Whenever he looks up from the concrete, sensuous and personal, he drifts into watery abstraction. His essays are wide ranging in the sense that they tend to cover too much ground ... At his worst, Knausgaard the essayist is a monological bore ... The Knausgaard diehard will appreciate the reminiscences of childhood journeys and youthful misadventures, even if some of these are recycled ... did find myself hoping he’d take a hint and let me usher him out of the door, so I could collapse into my armchair, knackered.
Jonas Lüscher, tr. Tess Lewis
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... resembles a German free-market ideologue’s High Fidelity ... Composed in wry, long sentences agreeably translated from the German by Tess Lewis, “Kraft” serves up a digestible treatise on Europe’s economic and political history of the last few decades, with the laissez-faire duo of Kraft and Istvan as cartoonish vessels for their author’s findings. It’s also an amusing study in how intellectuals become neutered and co-opted through venal self-interest. The scene in which Kraft finally writes a lecture to suit the benefactor’s facile prejudices is a finely handled, comic dramatization of the microcompromises, stifled shame and bad-faith gymnastics of sham writers who tell the Culture whatever it wants to hear ... The novel’s broad satirical strokes limit its emotional heft, and a too-tidy ending fails to convince. But Lüscher is a perceptive commentator on Silicon Valley’s heady and hubristic ideological climate ... Lüscher sniffs out the fraudulence in the very roots of his characters’ political stances.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)After reading Clare Carlisle’s biography, I’m still not sure how much Kierkegaard the religious philosopher has to say to the non-Christian in the 21st century ... This is one of those biographies of a life that was outwardly not all that dramatic ... Wisely, Carlisle focuses on this inward struggle, but we only occasionally descend to the emotional depths Kierkegaard sought to plumb ... Philosopher of the Heart is weakened by a confusing structure ... It’s clear that Kierkegaard’s religious and existential concerns are very much alive to [Carlisle], even if she cannot entirely convey the urgency of those concerns to the reader. For that, it seems, we must return to the original works – Søren Kierkegaard’s strange, difficult, contrary books, wherein we might \'grasp the secret of suffering as the form of the highest life, higher than all good fortune\'.
Daniel Kehlmann, Trans. by Ross Benjamin
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)While Tyll shows impressive imagination, learning and ambition, it is quite a slog—there’s lots of history and not enough story ... Choosing Tyll as the binding element in this sprawling epic leads to a certain narrative awkwardness. While the novel requires him to perform as the charismatic, mercurial figure of legend, Kehlmann also makes efforts to flesh him out as a feeling, thinking, embodied human being. The result is that he dangles in an unsatisfying limbo between mythos and character, never fully convincing as either ... Much of Tyll, however, rumbles along in rather plain, magic realism-tinged prose. The most amusing passages riff on arcane theological, philosophical and scientific intrigues ... These Borgesian tidbits, though, are insufficient nourishment over Tyll’s long march.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
MixedThe Irish TimesIn her great works, while allowing her witnesses to speak for themselves, Alexievich occasionally intervenes to comment on the challenges she underwent while composing the work, her feelings around the material, and so on ... In Last Witnesses, she is entirely absent: on the first page, a voice begins to speak – an adult recalling childhood experiences of war. A few pages later, another voice takes over, and this relay continues till the end, with no particular shape to the material nor any authorial comment at all ... Resultantly, there is no real structure to the book, nor much to suggest that Alexievich has sequenced the testimonies so that they might become more than the sum of their parts ... somewhat lesser than its author’s greatest books, yet the project of which it is an instalment elicits deepening awe at what this still-living Belarusian has accomplished: an irreplaceable \'living history\' of the Soviet Union and its people. Alexievich stands among the greatest chroniclers of hell, but she is also an affirmer of that grizzled and unfashionable entity, the human spirit. Few have done so much to trace the emotional contours of the 20th century’s cataclysms before they tumble into oblivion.
PositiveThe Irish TimesAs Mezrich acknowledges in his new book, Bitcoin Billionaires, the image needs revising ... An author who keeps using the word \'Billionaires\' in his book titles likely keeps one eye firmly on the bottom line himself, and Bitcoin Billionaires feels like a draft of the screenplay for the film that Mezrich wills into being on every page (the rights have already been sold) ... The real function of a book like this, though, is to serve as a painless primer on Bitcoin, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and the metaphysics of money ... As Mezrich concludes, cryptocurrency is not going away.
PositiveThe Irish Times\"It shares with All That Man Is a fluent internationalism, and a structure that plants it in a fertile borderland between the novel and the collection of stories ... Those who struggle to muster zeal for fiction set in drably familiar locales can rely on Szalay for the pleasures of armchair wanderlust ...
Szalay works within the classical tradition of the short story, crafting epiphanies and heightened moments that throw light on a character’s past, present and future ... It’s powerful stuff. The problem is, a few such arresting moments aside, the sections are so brief that we don’t get time or space for the characters’ crises to wholly captivate our sympathy. At its weakest—for example, when a pilot recalls his sister’s drowning in childhood—it comes across as melodrama, an appeal for unearned emotion. There is enough deftness of portraiture and incisive writing to make Turbulence worth the time of day, but the best way to regard this book is as a stepping stone, an exercise to maintain authorial fitness between one major work and—let us hope—the next.\
RaveThe Irish TimesIn The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner vaults over any such obstacles to produce one of the greatest novels I have read in years ... richer and deeper, more ambitious in its moral vision ... Kushner has been compared to Don DeLillo, and he is a clear influence – the cool humour, the alert and swerving prose – but Kushner is streets ahead in terms of pacing and the feel for story, and her characters are quickened by a warmth of authorial feeling that is sparse in DeLillo’s work ... Like all great fiction, The Mars Room is by native instinct a carnival of human complexity, emphasising the vast unknowability of human lives against systems and ideologies that would reduce them to manageable binaries ... Kushner has a flair for portraying awful men ... Ultimately, this very great and very American novel is a paean to amor fati, to embracing one’s fate no matter how strange or terrible.