RaveThe Guardian (UK)A few completed chapters of the original novel are included towards the end of this wonderful book, but it’s the diary and its strange blend of fancy, fiction and daily reality that forms the bulk of its 500-plus pages. The entries... [are] translated into delightfully clear and readable English by Annie McDermott ... \'Writing every day about events that have just taken place is a mistake,\' he informs us, a mere 300 pages in. By this point, it’s impossible to agree. With witty and thoughtful argumentation accompanying every such statement in the book, this is procrastination as high art. Levrero makes the quotidian seem extraordinary. You may not think you’re interested in the purchase of a new armchair, but it’s described here with such surprising humour and drama that its significance begins to feel cosmic ... knowledge of mortality makes his continual terror that time is slipping through his fingers yet more poignant. Every wasted moment in this book feels precious.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Step back from this story and it seems absurd. But Russell\'s gift is to provide deep immersion in the details, and in Trish\'s haunting, urgent emotions. It\'s easy to ignore the wider picture in favour of a series of wonderful moments ... Swirling around this rich imaginative world are sinister hints of conspiracy and exploitation ... Russell offsets this expertly-induced unease with humour and wry social commentary ... It isn\'t always subtle. By the time Trish is lecturing on mining shale gas and environmental exploitation it even starts to feel finger-waggy, but that\'s a small price to pay for such enjoyable and effectively-realised speculative fiction.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)It takes a brave writer to put words in William Shakespeare’s mouth. In Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell almost gets away with it ... for once, Shakespeare isn’t the main draw: his wife Agnes is this novel’s star and treads the boards with style ... Agnes and her world feel real and bright, most of the time. But you do have to accept a certain amount of mumbo-jumbo about her \'foresight\' and her ability to tell things about people by holding their hands in a special way ... It would be just about possible to forgive such nonsense as a reflection on the more superstitious world of the 16th century, if there weren’t also an uncomfortable feeling that this book reflects our own concerns and morality more than the Elizabethans’. Would anyone then care, for instance, about the fate of farm animals and think \'of the private cruelty behind something as beautiful and perfect as a glove\'? It is not impossible, but it is also not entirely convincing ... What is convincing is O’Farrell’s portrayal of grief and pain ... O’Farrell describes these agonies with such power that Hamnet would resonate at any time. It is easy to understand why it has moved so many people now, in spite of its flaws.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Abi Daré is a writer who not only knows how to create a powerful sensory impression, but also one who can really work the rhythm, texture and music of language. The words jump off the page ... e get to see her experimenting with language in real time and helps make the novel’s linguistic exuberance an important, and very appealing factor in the story ... Such a plight is familiar in fiction, but The Girl with the Louding Voice never feels like standard fare. It’s lifted not only by the verve of its prose, but also its touching explorations of friendship and solidarity. It has an emotional connection that remains strong even in the final pages, when the story occasionally pushes over into melodrama ... moment like this one highlight a wider tendency in the book to preach down to its readers. Still, the whiff of sanctimony never gets strong enough to crowd out the book’s more powerful flavours. The Girl with the Louding Voice remains vibrant.
PositiveThe Guardian...there’s no doubting that Innes’s debut novel, Fishnet, is an effective act of empathy. It took four years to write and research ... The tone can...seem hectoring. Innes has sneaked in quite a few lectures on prostitution in the guise of blog entries. They make interesting points, but feel clumsy. There’s also occasional awkwardness in the style. I bristled at the apparent casual racism in the use of \'English accents\' as a shorthand for a moral turpitude, for instance. Worst of all, Fishnet is written in the modish present tense when it would be much better in the past. The timeline gets confused and absurdities creep in ... Elsewhere, however, this is an impressive debut. When it isn’t supposed to be inebriated, that sober voice is one of the novel’s great assets ... And there’s no doubt that Innes is brave to march headlong into such an unforgiving landscape. She asks difficult and brave questions about prostitution. She is clever enough to avoid direct answers, but also able enough to give a considered exploration of all sides of the issues. Crucially, the novel works because it shows how these questions matter to individual humans. Because it’s so full of empathy. Innes presents convincing characters, living believable lives, and so she is able to dig deeper into these emotive issues than facts and stats alone can hope to go ... In spite of the lectures, reading Fishnet never felt like a duty. I wanted to know what happened to the sister and it felt like it mattered. This is an important book, in spite of those rough edges.
PositiveThe Guardian...a bracing, discomforting read ... The elements of speculative fiction, meanwhile, are given an interesting edge because they are shown through the eyes of a woman who is heavily pregnant—and hugely paranoid ... Booth does a good job of making us question both Alice’s world and our own reactions to it, even if she sometimes falters ... I had to suspend my disbelief in parts, in order to remain caught up in the story. I had many unanswered questions ... But this is just an unfortunate blemish on writing that is otherwise sharp, insightful and physical. Booth makes us feel the weight and discomfort of Alice’s pregnant body, as well as newly aware of our own skin. There are some fine descriptions ... There’s genuine emotional tension, especially as the book builds to its admirably gory ending. I didn’t quite believe in every aspect of these bloody final scenes—but there was more than enough to keep me going. This is a promising debut novel.
MixedThe GuardianThis is typical of Akin: the words roll off the page, the image is tender and sad, conjuring not only the awfulness of that grasp on emptiness, but its repetition too ... something about Donoghue’s story doesn’t feel quite real ... The main narrative gets off to a shaky start ... Donaghue carefully walks the tightrope between comedy and tragedy, making Rosa a convincing blend of compassion and fatigue, honest humanity and bureaucratic double-speak ... There are also moments of real poignancy. Donoghue takes care to show how vulnerable Michael is ... There are moments of real horror and pathos in the descriptions of the Nazi occupation, but it’s a plot strand that again relies heavily on coincidence, scant documentation and the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief ... All of this would be more forgivable from a lesser writer – but not from someone with Donoghue’s talent and track record. It just feels too silly to be credible. She has been reaching for a good story, but ultimately closed on nothing.
PanThe Guardian... there are plenty of complaints to make about a plot that moves forward with all the subtlety and grace of an England rugby scrum ... There are also characters dumped into strategic positions throughout the book who have no life beyond their role in the plot ... everyone else is equally spectral. There is nothing to grasp in any of them ... Sentence by sentence [McEwan] is a fine craftsman. Even in a book as awful as Amsterdam there are moments of pleasure ... The slightness of characterisation, the over-the-top prose, the obtrusiveness of the plotting and the idiocy of the premise might be more easy to forgive as sacrifices made in the service of comedy...The trouble is, that there are no laughs ... The only really laughable thing is the fact that Amsterdam won the Booker Prize when it so clearly didn\'t deserve it, but that too leaves a sour taste.
MixedThe GuardianOur present nightmare either bulges out of the main narrative like the proverbial sore thumb, or is served up in breathless, on-the-nose sections taken from the notebooks of a 12-year-old girl ... Perhaps future generations will find these summaries of our current woes more useful – but for now they’re too familiar. The plot, in contrast, suffers from feeling too unreal ... Smith has an impressive ability to skip backwards and forwards through time ... Florence’s persuasive powers are almost entirely unconvincing and she never feels true on the page ... Credit to Smith’s prescience in writing about a powerful child just before Greta Thunberg arrived on the scene. But what a shame she’s written such a patronising approximation of a 12-year-old. It’s a pity that Brit and Florence’s strand derails Richard’s – perhaps their chance meeting and everything that comes after is supposed to feel featherweight, but that doesn’t make all the flimsy whimsy easier to indulge ... It’s arguable that Smith has earned some forbearance. But would we forgive such obvious flaws in a less beloved writer? By the same token, I might perhaps have been easier on this book if it were a debut. There’s enough quality writing to have me applauding a fine talent – but not enough to call Spring a good book.
Willem Frederik Hermans, Trans. by David Colmer
RaveThe GuardianIn a sharp new translation, the first standalone English-language edition arrives more than half a century after the book first appeared in Dutch. But be glad that it has finally emerged. It remains a shocking read ... exploding the prevailing postwar discourse of brave resistance to the Nazi occupation with a story of selfish opportunism and amoral nihilism ... The narrator turns out to be just as foul as the Nazis, while maintaining a gallows humor and deadpan clarity that make him a disturbingly engaging presence. This is a brutal story that’s all the more shocking because it packs its ferocious series of punches into just 80 pages. It takes an hour or two to read, but An Untouched House is the kind of book that stays with you for ever.
MixedThe Guardian...relentless, hard to take and all the better for it ... Melanie Finn does a fine job of holding off the details until we have spent a little time with her shattered narrator ... there’s an impressive intensity and urgency as Pilgrim tells her sorry story. At first. Unfortunately, Melanie Finn hasn’t quite managed to keep her hand on the wheel. After a while, too many coincidences and contrivances creep in. It starts to feel too much ... After the taut opening, it all starts to feel a little loose and directionless.