RaveThe New YorkerIt is the very smallness of Forbidden Notebook’s scope that makes it so powerful. It was originally published as a serial in the weekly magazine La Settimana Incom Illustrata .... Reading it, I often imagined what it would have been like to encounter these installments in real time, perhaps reading them at a kitchen table, in a cramped apartment, after the rest of the household had gone to bed—in the very same kind of moments that Valeria spends writing in the notebook.
PositiveVultureIt’s an exciting ride: critical, admiring, and fascinating if not totally revelatory. In the end, it feels like containing Acker between two neat covers is not just difficult, but impossible. Eat Your Mind often feels chaotically jam-packed with people, texts, and fascinating but compressed social histories of the wild literary and artistic scenes of New York, London, and San Francisco in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s ... There are productive moments when McBride admits to not being sure what to believe. The book fluctuates between factual certainty (confirming or clarifying some events familiar from Acker’s self-mythology), open-ended speculation and detective work based on the textual evidence she left, and the vivid memories, both good and bad, of those who knew her...But there are also times when he seems to crave unmediated closeness with his subject, a questionable goal ... Perhaps it’s Acker’s sense of frenetic atomization that makes Eat Your Mind itself both compulsively readable and maddening. Due to the sheer volume of books and people that comprised the fabric of Acker’s life, the book might have offered a little more help to readers and scholars of her work — like a condensed timeline of her published and unpublished works, or a timeline of her own reading, or even a map of her complicated and far-reaching social, romantic, and professional entanglements. At the same time, compiling something as straightforward as that could grate against Acker’s own work and ideas ... best read alongside other Acker-inspired works that have come out in the last several years ... To read McBride’s biography as just one of many different versions of Acker’s story seems fitting — as a supplement to her own lifelong project of creating endlessly refracted images of the self.
PositiveThe New YorkerThe book’s base ingredient is research-packed historical fiction, but there’s also a generous measure of mystery, a dash of romance, and a barely there float of playful authorial provocation. Like the sherry flip that one of its characters orders, this concoction is rich, frothy, but safely lightweight ... many of the novel’s characters fall into types, one of the risks of a book whose enthusiastic curiosity is sometimes greater than its capacity ... Atkinson is a meticulous researcher, and her fascination with the material, daily life of past eras shows in the detailed scene dressing of her novels ... the book can seem more interested in wide shots than closeups. Shrines of Gaiety, like Transcription before it, risks making the reader more invested in the world that it unfolds than in the characters it involves ... fulfills the guidelines of the genres it adopts: the missing girls are found, the historical setting richly elaborated, the romantic confusion conveniently sorted out, if not fully resolved. Yet, despite these technical satisfactions, Atkinson is never content to let her readers steep in the enjoyment of a plot tidily concluded. In this case, she hints at the idea that undergirds all of her historical fiction: no matter how closely we examine or imagine the past, the idea that we might fully understand it is always an illusion.
RaveThe Atlantic... take the knife that Li offers, cut through all these outer trappings, and you find something much more mysterious. Though it is ostensibly a realist historical novel about the lives of women and girls in mid-century France, as its fablelike title indicates, The Book of Goose secretly dwells in the realm of fairy tale ... Li depicts Fabienne as almost superhuman in both marvelous and terrible ways. As a character, she gives Li a chance to explore the strange power of the myths we form about the people who shape us. Yet what really lies in Agnès’s own heart, and the novel’s, is only dimly revealed and much harder to bring to light. To do so is the real work—and pleasure—of reading this subtle and evasive book ... the plot is, in some ways, a distraction. The book’s eventfulness is all on the surface, and the exciting things that happen to Agnès mean nothing to her. All the while she longs to return to Saint Rémy and to Fabienne, the one person in the world who is real to her, and with whom she feels real. This pull is at the book’s core: the effect of a friend whose presence feels so essential that her arrival was like a cosmological event that determined the color of the sky or the pull of gravity—there was nothing until she came. Li’s attention to the illogic of childhood friendships is evocative of the strangeness of that kind of relationship, which is not like a family bond, and not like romantic love ... In Agnès’s retrospective telling, Fabienne is not a girl but a mythic figure, at once human and inhuman, whose presence is a clue to Li’s larger argument. We are all, whether we realize it or not, constantly engaged in the process of mythmaking in an attempt to understand the inexplicable—namely, the motivations and desires of those who are dear to us, and the curious grip they have over our emotions ... The more you cut into this book, the more the problem of the \'hideous or tedious\' becomes visible ... This is what makes The Book of Goose demand a careful, incisive reading. The pleasure lies in seeing, obliquely and incompletely, glimpses not of the stories she tells, but of the secrets that she keeps.
PanThe Nation\"While the broad scope of Lessons, which follows Roland from the 1950s to the present, occasionally indicates the author’s vague desire to take his fellow baby boomers to task, the novel is primarily a lenient and sincere depiction of one man reconciling himself to his own historical smallness, while wishing that the past was not entirely past ... mostly McEwan has taken big stylistic swings, offering unsubtle morality plays that are, at best, devastating and, at worst, daddishly pedantic. Lessons, as its title promises, has more than a little daddish pendaticism, but it is mostly gimmick-free. Unlike with many of his previous novels, McEwan cultivates a careful distance here from the showy drama of form and content ... One gets the feeling that this is his big soul-searching book, especially since Roland is, in some respects, an only slightly altered version of McEwan ... in the cautious balance that McEwan achieves here, he ends up providing readers with a novel that lacks dramatic and emotional tension. The problem, simply, is this: Lessons is a very boring book. One can appreciate the intellectual exercises it undertakes and the diligence with which it rehearses them, but in the end, a good idea does not a good novel of ideas make.\
RaveVultureWe learn to trust Batuman’s way of capturing how feeling can leverage temporality ... As the book goes on, Selin poses unanswered and unanswerable questions that are by turns funny, profound, and sometimes both. These accumulating, inwardly directed queries generate the book’s momentum more than the events of the exterior world. Occasionally, you get the feeling Batuman has been waiting to deploy some of these one-liners since her actual undergraduate conversations in 1996. Yet miraculously, they work perfectly in this book, which moves unpredictably at the pace of deliberation ... As I got further into Either/Or, all the things I’d found unsatisfactory and even irritating about The Idiot gradually started to make sense. Together, the two books give an honest depiction of how growing up actually works ... The progressive structure of the conventional coming-of-age novel can’t account for the long, uneven periods of processing that really enable emotional, intellectual, or artistic development; this baggy sequel is necessary because growing up, Batuman suggests, can’t be contained in a single plot arc ... manages to be easy to read while provoking hard thoughts — and its thrillingly sudden ending dismisses the very idea of \'endings.\' It’s truer to life for a story to unfurl unpredictably, to spill out of its own leaky container.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksLike Kristeva’s abject, Ferrante’s ugly is \'edged with the sublime,\' a keen edge that slices open experience and allows it to bleed out \'boundlessly\' ... nowhere else, as much as in The Lying Life of Adults, do we see Ferrante’s splendidly harsh laws of physics so clearly laid out. Ugliness may hurt, but it is a hurt that strikes clean and true; ugliness may not be pretty, but sometimes it is unbearably beautiful ... [the] non-specificity of perspective gives the novel a necessary immediacy and contingency that none of Ferrante’s earlier accounts of adolescence possess; the reader has nowhere to ground herself but the present moment of the narrative ... reading The Lying Life of Adults is like joyously plunging into a filthy city river on a hot day ... the idea is revolting. But the plunge—might not the plunge be sublime?
Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett and David Boyd
RaveThe New York Review of BooksReading Mieko Kawakami’s novel Breasts and Eggs, one experiences the pain of women coming to terms with what they do and don’t want, almost too acutely ... the novel initially seems to be laser-focused on two of the most blandly traditional wants that women are still expected to foster: first, the desire to be sexually attractive, and second, the desire to have a baby ... Its critical engagement with those desires enters via the sharp-eyed detachment of the narrator ... The novel works to make all of its readers feel the fundamental strangeness of inhabiting the cis-female body during the interval of its supposed biological utility, between adolescence and menopause. The clinical detail with which Kawakami’s characters discuss breast augmentation surgery or the proper usage of sanitary pads makes the female body a disconcertingly alien entity, estranged even from those of us who live in one ... The book’s distanced, occasionally disgusted view of the female form dances between body horror and bawdy humor ... Kawakami’s [has the] knack of shifting registers with lightning speed ... Enigmatic scenes...are scattered throughout the novel, giving a bizarre and fantastical edge to its otherwise dryly realistic account ... The contrast between will and desire is vague but suggestive; it seems that in moving from one to the other, the issue becomes not what women want, but what women do ... Yet the novel does not present a facile, unifying theory of womanhood. Class divisions between women are foregrounded, as the novel’s halves begin with confrontational questions ... This intensity of address forces readers to define themselves in direct relation to the lives of women depicted in the novel—an uncomfortable demand that left me feeling at once far too close, and far too far, from Natsu and her experience of the world ... Kawakami’s prose...can feel as shallow or as deep as you want it to be ... I found this tone hard to parse; I laughed out loud in moments when I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, and didn’t laugh at times that seemed the most conventionally humorous ... The novel leaves us wondering ... One might see in this a kind of hopefulness. Or a kind of despair. Or maybe they are the same feeling.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe easiest way to read Tamaki’s title is formally: Boundless is a book that plays with the malleable conventions of graphic storytelling ... The stories contained between these bookends require the same readerly dexterity ...layouts are kinetic, fluid, and unexpected. Her style is similarly mobile, as each of these nine stories articulate their own distinct idioms of color and line ...eddying images and narratives visually enact the thematic questions of personal boundary and boundlessness that Tamaki’s half-melancholy, half-funny prose explores powerfully — namely, what crosses the margins between the internal and external self? ...even after this cheekily literal act of closure, Tamaki’s inextricable tones of dark humor and oddly bright sadness linger with the reader, uncontained by the arbitrary limits of the book’s covers. Both, it seems, are infinite.