RaveThe Guardian (UK)On the surface, then, this is a novel of glaring privilege, steeped in a mode of middle-class existence so rarified that the \'lower things\' must never be allowed to intrude. This is, however, a Cusk novel, and in Cusk novels the surface, as experienced by reader and characters alike, invariably proves too fragile to be trusted. Second Place, it turns out, is a novel less about property, and more about the boundaries and misplaced emotional investment for which property is a proxy ... The novel’s emotional nuance, its stylistic poise, has been as perfectly and painstakingly constructed as the life it describes, only to be blown apart by a flat and shattering statement, weighted around a central, immovable truth ... Towards the end of the novel, the narrator says of L, whom she both admires and loathes, and by whom she knows herself to be loathed in turn: \'He drew me with the cruelty of his rightness closer to the truth.\' We might say the same of Cusk, our arch chronicler of the nullifying choice between suffocation and explosion. Her genius is that in deliberately blurring a boundary of her own – that between a writer and her subject, between the expectation of autobiography so often attached to writing by women, and the carapace of pure invention so often unthinkably afforded to men – she tricks us into believing that her preoccupations and failings, her privileges and apparent assumptions, are not our own. By the time we realise what has happened, it is too late: our own surface has been disturbed, our own complacent compartment dismantled. It is a shock, but as the narrator of Second Place reminds us, \'shock is sometimes necessary, for without it we would drift into entropy\'. Cusk is necessary too – deeply so, and Second Place, exquisite in the cruelty of its rightness, reminds us why.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Deborah Levy’s exquisite new novel The Man Who Saw Everything – her seventh, and her third in a row to be nominated for the Booker prize – both unmasks and confronts [the] convenient denial of individual culpability ... Saul’s life, we come to understand, functions as a kind of psychoanalytic mirror of Europe, with events in the material world finding their emotional counterparts in his disordered memories ... Towards the end of the book, when Saul attends an exhibition of...photographic work, he thinks: \'There is a spectre inside every photograph.\' The spectre, of course, is the subject: Saul himself. Levy’s singular achievement in this novel is that it is not simply these spectres that shapeshift. Saul’s entire emotional and psychological topography is unstable, questionable, and within that fluid context, everything has the power to haunt ... Levy’s writing is, no doubt, deeply attuned to human anguish and loss, but her real talent is to remind us of fiction’s other great function: the loosening of boundaries ... Perhaps, Levy seems to be saying, we have gone about things in the wrong way. Instead of resisting cruelty and injustice at a national or global level, it’s possible that each of us might need to endure the same process of disassembling as Saul, so that we can see, as in the clear light cast by this novel, the awful power we have over others, the unthinking emotional destruction we are capable of wreaking, the regimes we not only suffer under, but enforce.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Frankissstein is a fragmented, at times dazzlingly intelligent meditation on the responsibilities of creation, the possibilities of artificial intelligence and the implications of both transsexuality and transhumanism ... As is to be expected from a novel both constructed from and beholden to the nebulous realm of ideas, there are moments when the book’s speculative nature threatens to overwhelm its sense of tangible reality ... As a result, readers may occasionally begin to feel rather disembodied themselves, immersed in the deoxygenated atmosphere of pure thought. Winterson’s great gift as a writer, though, is the ability to inject pure thought with such freewheeling enthusiasm and energy that ideas take on their own kind of joyous life. Frankissstein abounds with invention ... Such is Winterson’s comfort across modes and forms, she’s also able to leaven the hyperinvention of rogue science with deeply evocative historical realism balanced by hilarious, almost bawdy set pieces ... this is a work of both pleasure and profundity, robustly and skilfully structured, and suffused with all Winterson’s usual preoccupations – gender, language, sexuality, the limits of individual liberty and the life of ideas.
RaveThe SpectatorRachel Kushner’s third, extraordinarily accomplished novel, The Mars Room, glows with the kind of authentic hyper-detail only a good deal of hanging out can capture ... Kushner’s great skill lies in her manipulation of focus. Through the accretion of small detail, she builds a formidably systemic world view, one in which capitalism is both merciless and inescapable ... Her project is to show how those rhythms collide, and what happens to a person when they do. She succeeds beautifully.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis is a bold novel, one that confronts and inhabits a distinctly British masculine unease ... A Natural is overtly concerned with shame. It picks at the conflict between socially conditioned masculinity and gay desire. As is noticeable in the sex scenes between Tom and Liam, this is a space in which pleasure is seemingly impossible...For about a third of the novel, this feels uncomfortable. Raisin risks diluting queer experience to a washed-out sadness. In emphasizing shame over pleasure, he gave this reader concern that a distinctly heteronormative gaze was being manipulated...As the book progresses, though, Raisin’s careful path through self-imposed pitfalls becomes clear. The way is lit by his keen perceptions; the novel suggests the frustrations that arise when lived experience fails to align with what was imagined, and analyzes the gap between spectatorship and participation ... What enables Raisin to navigate such fraught terrain is his deep and unwavering empathy for others, and an ability to find flashes of beauty in life’s unforgiving ugliness. His language might be spare, but his turn of phrase is strikingly elegant ... If Raisin has chosen to focus on that which stifles rather than frees us, he has done so to demonstrate precisely why we need all the things that society and circumstance suppress.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn Tempest’s London, no one is insignificant; everyone has a story. The devotion and care with which she recounts these tales may initially seem distracting, but the cumulative effect is deeply affecting: cinematic in scope; touching in its empathic humanity. The city, for better or for worse, makes these people who they are, and they in turn make London the city Tempest unflinchingly evokes: cold, gray, profoundly lonely, but shot through with homely chatter and rare warmth...Tempest’s voice — by turns raging and tender — never falters. By the time the novel reaches its cleareyed climax, cleverly undercutting its own promised happy ending, the reader is left with the impression of a work that hums with human life.