PanThe New Left ReviewRegular readers of McEwan will also find incidents and thematic preoccupations from his earlier novels alluded to or repurposed in omnibus-fashion for this one ... far too short ... Because the third person narrator does not stray from Roland’s point of view, the lives and motives of the book’s vastly-more intriguing villains – Peter, Alissa, and his Berners Hall piano teacher Miriam Cornell – are left in various stages of underdevelopment ... Everything in Lessons, whose story concludes within a year and a half of its publication date, gives the impression of having been written in extreme haste. Its prose, for example, is pocked with first-order clichés, second-order clichés, dull metaphors, mixed metaphors, limp similes, oxymorons, pleonasms, catachresis, jejune diction, trivializing double entendres, pomposities, flagrant abuse of self-reflexive questions, and barely-concealed cribbings from more talented stylists like Nabokov ... Within the first fifty or so pages, Roland experiences no fewer than three portentous epiphanies, none of which turn out to have any bearing on the subsequent four hundred, as though they were narrative coupons McEwan cut out but forgot to cash in ... McEwan’s novel is not so much an epic as it is three novellas in a trench coat ... If this all sounds pat, it has less to do with the necessary evil that is plot summary in book reviewing, than to the didacticism with which McEwan imparts these and other praecepta in the novel itself. Yet perhaps worse than the way the book comes pre-interpreted for the reader is the way it comes pre-criticized ... The trench coat is History. Draped loosely from the backs of these three narratives are hundreds of named political and cultural events, persons, and phenomena, starting with Dunkirk and ending with the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, which range from the genuinely consequential to the merely newsworthy to the unmentionably trivial.
Yoko Tawada, tr. Margaret Mitsutani
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... mordantly funny ... More than simply international, her writing is translingual; she leaves the borders between languages open and allows them to cross-pollinate. To translate her into English is to excavate linguistic strata: Panska reads like a Japonic parody of Nordic syntax translated into a West Germanic language ... Each character in Tawada’s \'band of zigzag travelers\' is given chapters to narrate in the first person. These limited perspectives give rise to a comedy of intercultural misunderstandings that both move the plot forward and provide targets for Tawada’s sharp satire ... Judging by the recent migrant crises that informed Tawada’s novel, it is a long-overdue lesson. By the time we are reading the trilogy’s final volume, the climate-fiction scenario Tawada drapes in the trappings of picaresque comedy will no longer seem speculative.
PanNew Left ReviewThe truth of the matter is that the para-Franzen is the masterpiece, whereas the Franzen-texts are essentially mediocre. This is not an insult, exactly. Most novels are mediocre, and mediocrity has been more than enough to satisfy the basic needs of reading publics – for entertainment, for edification, for recognition of self, for communal totems, for the idle passage of time – since the days of Amadís de Gaula. For all these needs, Franzen-texts are perfectly satisfactory ... What ought to distinguish a great novel from a passable one is not the social position of its audience, but the quality of its prose ... These forty-nine words – the opening of Crossroads, the first book of Franzen’s trilogy A Key to All Mythologies, which is being touted as a culminating achievement – contain a series of errors so basic the hypothetical Franzen would not have failed to circle them in red pen had one of his eager-to-impress students turned it in for their first workshop ... this is not the sort of merely competent, work-a-day, unexciting prose for which young, degree-holding American novelists are often chastised; it is nonetheless prose of a very deep shade of purple, and its author is not in a position to plead inexperience, time pressure, editorial meddling, or the need to appease the public ... The question, for Franzen, is whether, in telling his story about the Hildebrandts, he provides a richer, more complex, more profound aetiology than the ones we’re used to ... we are served yet another helping of sex (adulterous desire for Russ; incestuous desire for Clem; first love for Becky), drugs (‘ludes for Marion; pot, ‘ludes, Dexies and coke for Perry), and rock n’ roll (whose cachet in the person of Tanner Evans is responsible for the popularity of Crossroads) with a side of War, What Is It Good For, all of which is covered with an insipid gravy of period signifiers ... Neither ‘new’ nor particularly ‘strong’ let alone ‘counterintuitive’, the first volume of A Key to All Mythologies gives little indication that Franzen is up to it ... Crossroads is far from the novel that America needs; unfortunately, it is exactly the one it deserves.