PositiveNew Statesman (UK)...engaging and animated ... Robert McCrum helps us see just how many other dimensions there are to a \'Shakespearean\' sensibility. For one thing, there is the intoxicating, addictive spiral of self exploration in words, words and more words ... there is the not unrelated intoxication of writing in code: how far can you go in dangerous allusion, inviting your audience – an audience that regularly includes the most powerful, suspicious and merciless in the land – to see (without ever quite naming) their own danger, their own fragility and lack of substance? ... McCrum makes good use of Philip Davis’s recent work on the measurable neurological impact of some of Shakespeare’s verbal violences – adjectives or nouns turned into verbs (\'He childed as I father’d\'), pronouns into nouns (\'the cruellest she alive\'), and the like ... McCrum does not analyse Shakespeare’s supposed theories or trace any arguments through the plays; he offers a loose biographical framework and guides us rather like someone walking through a gallery – pointing here, hurrying past there because time’s getting on, stopping to turn and elucidate or invite a response ... One of my few moments of disagreement with McCrum is when he describes the late plays as inviting the judgement that they are \'dramatised poems\' more than dramas. It’s clear what he means; but in fact these are plays that outrageously display their theatricality, making fewer and fewer concessions to anything you could call realism ... McCrum’s Shakespeare for \'times of disruption\' is a welcome participant in the contemporary conversation about the insanities that are taking over \'democratic\' politics.
PositiveThe New Statesman (UK)Bate’s subtitle comes dangerously near to trivialising the notion, and does less than justice to the book itself. It seems to imply that the two writers are primarily examples of a common type...But Bate’s typically lively and well-researched narrative shows clearly enough that Keats’s tragically early death had nothing to do with any self-destructive impulses, and that Fitzgerald’s most distinctive and mature work has a sparseness, tightness and irony that cannot be reduced to a bundle of exotic special effects ... Bate’s book is certainly an excellent introduction to each writer, but I think it is Fitzgerald whom we learn more about ... Bate’s interweaving of Keats’s story with Fitzgerald’s has its moments of strain, but it illuminates both writers and re-emphasises a depth of sheer literary intelligence in Fitzgerald that can be overlooked in the unflattering overhead lighting of the Jazz Age. For a book that returns frequently to the visual elements of Keats’s imagination and the representations of it in art, it is a shame that the illustrations in the text are so often cramped for room and appear rather muddy.
RaveThe New StatesmanClarke gives the initially unnamed narrator of this story a remarkable voice, of washed simplicity, blending compassion, obsessive observation and childlike directness ... The pace of Clarke’s storytelling is mesmerising. The slow accumulation of bizarre detail, related in Piranesi’s quiet, even voice, builds steadily so as to increase the reader’s disquiet: this is a World that makes orderly sense to Piranesi and is utterly bewildering to the reader, for whom stray clues, hints and unfinished business constantly press up against the calm of the narrative surface. The cliché that this book is hard to put down is for once true; I can think of few recent books that keep the reader so passionately hungry to know what happens next and to understand the hints and guesses that appear in greater and greater profusion. And – quite properly – we are left at the end with plenty of unresolved questions: the conclusion is profoundly satisfying without being neat ... This is a novel of exceptional beauty, something which surpasses even the lovely, gratifyingly ironic prose familiar from Clarke’s first book. There is at the heart of her writing a rare capacity for the immediate: the stripped, wide-eyed descriptive simplicity of someone who, like her Piranesi, has gone through some sort of barrier and brought back news. A person who has lived in the House and learned its strange kindness.
RaveThe New Statesman (UK)Much has been made of the idiosyncrasy of Mantel’s treatment of Cromwell in the earlier novels, her brilliantly contrary interpretation of a man often regarded as a conscienceless instrument of tyranny. But the truth is that Mantel has never simply given Cromwell a moral free pass ... This makes him deeply sympathetic to a modern secular readership. But it also makes him an uncomfortable hero and leaves us wondering whether his confidence that martyrdom is always egotistical theatre locks us in a smaller world than we might otherwise inhabit ... readers of the earlier books will not be disappointed. This is a worthy conclusion to what is undoubtedly one of the great historical fictions of the age, sustaining clarity, tension and depth with a rare consistency.
RaveThe New StatesmanNoel Malcolm’s brilliant study looks at a period not wholly unlike the Cold War ... But his interest, as he states clearly in his introduction, is not so much in the details of diplomatic relations (though the book is a splendid guide to much of this history), nor in the actual development of social and political institutions in the Ottoman world. The focus is on the ways in which Western thinkers used what they knew about Islam and the Levantine world to make points to their own European readership ... The book’s importance is thus not only to do with its nuanced account of the varieties of western European responses to Islam – though this is valuable enough ... It is also about how Europe has thought through – and often failed to think through – its own political identities ... [Malcolm\'s] most important contribution is to help us think again about the clichés we still recycle that presuppose a radical ideological incompatibility between an innately pre-modern Islam and a timelessly liberal or pluralist West.
PositiveNew Statesman...what Pullman does is to lock together a simple adventure story – of a resourceful young boy facing risks and challenges in his little boat – with a resonant mythical underpinning... The chemistry between the two children is to some extent a reworking of the relationship between Lyra and Will in His Dark Materials...the narrative energy keeps up well: Pullman’s style is lively and physically specific, and the descriptions of the flood and its consequences are brilliantly done ...Pullman is as a storyteller who wants to persuade us to start attending again to the connections that we have lost the ability to see...Pullman’s world is not a 'disenchanted' one; it is a world where matter and meaning are woven inseparably.