RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)Her style is concise. The Fell, like its two predecessors, is elegantly brief ... The novel slips gracefully between Kate’s perspective on the fell, her teenage son Matt’s increasing anxiety as he waits for her at home, their neighbour Alice, and Rob, a member of the mountain rescue team. The greater tension here comes from the question of Kate’s survival—Moss can create drama from the effort to eat a fig roll—but all four characters reveal their own night thoughts as they worry in their various ways about Kate ... The astonishing thing is that Moss can write so compassionately about human frailty while her own work is as close to perfect as a novelist’s can be.
MixedThe Times (UK)... a good shout of being 2021’s weirdest novel ... Luckenbooth takes place entirely at that pitch of incident and oddness, which gives it a peculiar sameness despite the shifting cast ... There are occasional threats of a sociology lecture under the fantastical trappings ... Thankfully, Luckenbooth is too fanciful for the didactic tone to stick, and reality is very much beside the point. Small anachronisms abound ... This could be sloppiness. But it might also be the point: Luckenbooth is a place of compacted time, where the past manifests as unquiet ghosts and the future bleeds into the present ... more an anthology than a single narrative. Some parts succeed better than others. A Tarantino-esque hot lady gangster is exhausting; a middle-aged female medium has appealing shades of Victoria Wood ... But...there’s a force in Luckenbooth’s bizarre assemblage that could come only from an author ambitious enough to risk making a mess.
PanThe Sunday Times (UK)After all this build-up, you might be expecting something as shocking as Germaine Greer, as analytical as Simone de Beauvoir, as radical as Andrea Dworkin. The Right to Sex does not, sadly, deliver the bang it promises ... too often Srinivasan seems hemmed in by her awareness of what the \'correct\' answer should be ... Srinivasan’s proposal of an anti-carceral feminism...hand-waves the practicalities. Sometimes, this aloofness from the real world produces strange omissions ... There is very little sense in her essays of how people get up to sex in the real world, which is a problem for a book about sex ... Srinivasan, for all her dazzle, offers no way out of the universal sex pickle.
RaveThe Times (UK)... a truly brilliant novel ... Groff describes the pangs of Marie’s exile piercingly ... thrilling study in audacity as Marie takes on any challengers with brutal decisiveness. The possibility of her slipping up makes every calculation as tense as a duel ... That tension is heightened by the knowledge that the more power Marie accrues, the more she is liable to be punished as a usurper of the natural order. Against a convincingly filthy and precarious medieval backdrop, Marie is a figure of dazzling complexity, and as much a hero as any of the chivalric idols her sex prevents her from being. When you google the title, it will all make sense.
RaveThe Times (UK)McDonnell packs jokes into every layer of his writing — narration, description, dialogue — and they always propel, rather than hold up, the business of storytelling, which is the real test of a comic author ... He’s also got an enjoyable sense of the macabre; these dark forces are not messing around. There’s no disgrace in being formulaic when the formula is good, and The Stranger Times is ripping entertainment from start to finish.
PositiveThe Times (UK)It’s a story that will be familiar to many women, even if it makes her sound intermittently neurotic: at one point she starts asking everyone she meets whether she should be a mother ... Regrets accrue at every age, but for women in their fertile years the possibility of regret can feel especially sharp — will you be sorrier about the baby you don’t have or the one you do, the almost-good-enough man you break up with or the almost-good-enough man you decide to marry? ... Frizzell has turned her attention to a compelling part of women’s experience, a time when choices harden into fate and female biology slams headlong into an economic system that was built with the male in mind ... It’s possible that there is some slice of female life not yet packaged as a publishing trend — maybe on the vernal equinox of the seventh year after the onset of menarche a woman can stretch out in her body and know, briefly, that no one has written about the essential experience of this critical juncture — but Frizzell’s landgrab of the long thirties doesn’t leave much over. The compulsive division of women’s lives into disconnected phases is a tiresome habit of the literary business (men do not seem to get this treatment) and the effort to wring profundity from each of them is exhausting ... If this were purely a memoir, my only ground for complaint would be the writing. Frizzell is prone to sloppy imagery ... But these are tolerable annoyances and towards the end, where Frizzell writes frankly about the raw experience of maternity, the prose becomes fresh and incisive ... Frizzell merely puts a fashionable new spin on the old idea that a woman is only as interesting as her reproductive potential.
PositiveThe Times (UK)This is a bewitching, frustrating, strange and perverse novel. And it’s quite right that it should be this way ... Knox takes a hefty risk with reader sympathy too, baiting us with Taryn’s story and then switching to the grander machinations. Yet I wanted to stick with it, largely because of the wonders Knox can summon—a river conjured into a wall of water to shield soldiers from a fire, a boy turned into a fish, a pair of talking sister ravens ... It’s also because the world view of the book, specifically the world view embodied in Taryn, is an appealing one set against the vogue for cancellation ... Overburdened as this novel might be by all the astonishment it contains, it’s still a marvellous argument for stories.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... short, infuriating and very entertaining ... As Patricia Lockwood piles up allusions to Twitter memes and in-jokes about that social media site, only two reactions are possible: the not-online will feel total and healthy incomprehension, but the too-online will know that they are in the company of a kindred spirit ... So there is no point complaining about this novel’s disjointedness (it’s written as a series of short, sequential vignettes), its precocious and knowing tone, its insular references to the world of the internet. If you understand these things well enough, you belong to the world of the novel, and any annoyance rebounds on yourself ... full of sharp, funny observations about life in \'the portal\', as Twitter is referred to throughout ... this is a terrible thing to say about fiction drawing on a personal tragedy — the baby feels like a sentimental device. Loving such a child is often (and I’m drawing on someone else’s personal tragedy here) shatteringly painful, but in the novel the baby is a visitation from a wiser sphere, \'a little Golden Girl who had lived a hundred years, who stared out . . . with the scepticism that came from having seen everything\' ... The child fortuitously resets the narrator’s dysfunctional relationship with the internet. If I find that too much, perhaps I’m not after all the exact same amount of online as Lockwood.
MixedAirMail\"As Patricia Lockwood piles up allusions to Twitter memes and in-jokes about that social media site, only two reactions are possible: the not-online will feel total and healthy incomprehension, but the too-online will know that they are in the company of a kindred spirit...So there is no point complaining about this novel’s disjointedness (it’s written as a series of short, sequential vignettes), its precocious and knowing tone, its insular references to the world of the internet. If you understand these things well enough, you belong to the world of the novel, and any annoyance rebounds on yourself ... But — and this is a terrible thing to say about fiction drawing on a personal tragedy — the baby feels like a sentimental device ... The child fortuitously resets the narrator’s dysfunctional relationship with the internet. If I find that too much, perhaps I’m not after all the exact same amount of online as Lockwood.\
PositiveThe Times (UK)Several dysfunctional families have simultaneously miserable holidays in inadequate accommodation. The scene is a complex of sagging wooden cabins beside a loch — a place that was once the stuff of middle-class attainment and is now a thrifty if depressing alternative to an aspirational Euro break ... Chapter by chapter, Moss takes us into the consciousness of this temporary community. The story is told through 12 monologues, covering the summer solstice from a damp and fractious dawn to something dreadful in the middle of the night ... There’s no connection in Summerwater . Actually as well as metaphorically: the absence of a phone signal is a constant theme ... What Summerwater does have plenty of is foreboding as Moss heaps up the pointers to something terrible with the cruel skill of a horror technician. By the midpoint, reading feels as stressful and claustrophobic as any wet-weather getaway, and just as impossible to get out of before the appalling end ... Moss only seems to be growing more brilliant.
MixedThe Spectator (UK)The problem is with the claim that this is an autobiography through essays. It isn’t. It’s a compilation of pieces previously published elsewhere — some autobiographical, some critical works on writers and artists. The disappointment of not receiving quite what was promised compounds the frustrations which are common to this kind of anthology ... What feels like well-crafted conciseness in the columns of a periodical comes over as abrupt between the covers of a book. The tone jolts around ... Then there’s the tendency of all writers to repeat themselves, which is exposed by gathering everything in one place ... But Messud is a very good critic, the kind whose writing makes you bring new eyes to the familiar and creates inviting familiarity with what’s new to you. I’ve never read Jane Bowles, but Messud’s description of Two Serious Ladies means I will; her precise diagnosis of the tragedy in Never Let Me Go as the murder of hope means I will be rereading Ishiguro shortly ... Best of all is her commentary on Camus, which also comes closest to fulfilling the title...In her hands, it is obvious that to call him simply a ‘French author’ is to blot out his essential Algerian-ness, and both her family’s story and Camus’s writing are enriched by the contact. A whole book of that — a true autobiography through essays — would be a deep pleasure to read.
PanThe Times (UK)This is a novel about second chances, and wondering if you made the right decisions, and the unforgiving finiteness of life. Which makes it thematically fitting, if not very enjoyable, that reading it is one long reminder (and gosh The Book of Two Ways does feel long) of your dwindling mortal days ... Why wear your research lightly when you could build a pyramid in its honour and force your reader to crawl through every chamber? ... an ambitious novel — Picoult’s publishers claim it is her most ambitious yet — but even an experienced storyteller like Picoult cannot save it from being smothered by its concept. However, it succeeds in one way: you will at least come out determined to make some better choices about how you spend your life.
PositiveThe Times (UK)this is really a book about love. It’s about love as the unacknowledged force driving the unpaid and indispensable work of women; and it’s about, specifically, Moran’s love for her daughter Nancy (a pseudonym), whose mental health struggles emerge as the heart of this book ... Moran’s other main subject, besides love, is herself, which means the \'everywoman\' pose is sometimes a strain ... [Her] honesty is at its fiercest in the sections about Nancy. Here Moran is at her best, all swooping rhythm and perfectly apt, gorgeously unexpected imagery ... She captures all the horror and hope of being an onlooker to your child’s breakdown, and I could have read a whole book on the agonies of teenage girlhood ... The tone for the most part, though, is light. Moran is more humourist than polemicist, and there are some drop-dead funny lines here ...Where More Than a Woman stumbles is in trying to be more than it can feasibly manage: a memoir, a feminist analysis, a call to arms — while being funny. But then, isn’t the middle-aged woman’s ultimate predicament that she’s trying to do too many things at once?
PositiveThe Times (UK)... especially good at observing the sweet caution and recklessness of early attraction: the almost-empty messages sent with the breath stopped in your throat, half from fear the other won’t understand you and half from fear that they will ... has plenty of witty observation, zeroing in on the cringe of white people fishing for black approval and the adorable embarrassment of the age gap ... One of the problems with the rash of Brexit novels is that novelists as a group tend to be Remain-inclined. Robust and sympathetic pro-Leave characters are consequently in short supply. Joseph is hedging his bets, but so is Hornby: it’s as though he doesn’t trust his readers to stay onside with a full-blown Brexiteer hero. Given his savvy portrayal of Lucy’s self-righteous social circle, perhaps that’s a reasonable judgment for him to make, but it lowers the stakes and makes the relationship between Lucy and Joseph at times feel glib ... In other ways, though, it’s a quietly brave novel ... Hornby is making a modest argument for his art, sliding into the consciousness of two people who are not like him and showing how their mutual affection can cut through the seemingly fixed lines of society. On that point, Just Like You is an endearing success.
RaveThe Times (UK)The only way in which Piranesi falls short of its predecessor is length; it spans a pleasingly concise 245 pages. As a work of fiction, it’s spectacular; an irresistibly unspooling mystery set in a world of original strangeness, revealing a set of ideas that will stay lodged in your head long after you’ve finished reading ... Where are these southwestern halls? Why did an albatross come to them? And why has the recorder of these events lost access to the standard measure of time? I cannot tell you any of these things, because one of the intense pleasures of Piranesi is making your own guesses, and being proved wrong ... Clarke has the same skill Flann O’Brien poured into The Third Policeman for making insane worlds feel as solid as our own. After all that time, she has produced a second novel that is close to perfect.
PositiveThe Literary Review (UK)Smith is a great artist of possibility ... These are first thoughts, but they’re made to last, in a way that makes you wonder how well something that feels so raw really can last ... That rawness has not diminished much since Autumn ... what is to be done with hope? I can’t decide if Smith wants us to have it or not – or rather, I cannot decide if the novel she has written justifies it or not. The reconciliation the Greenlaws find is not sentimental or overdone, but is it too (and it’s strange to say this of Smith) unpolitical? All they needed was love after all. The interlinked nature of the four novels in the quartet invites rereading of the earlier ones to hunt down more connections, and I can imagine going back to the books after another five or ten years in this febrile world to find them both dated and vindicated – assuming, that is, that Sacha is wrong and there still is a world.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)... by the end of the first 20 pages, debut author Ani Katz has racked up a whole armoury over the mantelpiece. If you were to guess where all this is heading, it’s highly likely that you’d be right: every single narrative gun (or billy club) goes off in exactly the way you would expect. For some, perhaps that will be a recommendation ... No one is likely to call A Good Man problematic, no matter how unpleasant the events it describes. What Katz gains in political clarity, though, she loses in artistry. The novel is deeply atmospheric and morbidly compelling, with a near-total commitment to character that suggests a powerful talent. But fiction needs problems and ambiguity and – when writing about unsettling things – a willingness to lead the reader into moral peril. The most enduring monsters are the ones we have to acknowledge as partly ourselves ... While Thomas is obviously bad, none of the women in his life reaches the level of characterisation where we might feel something for them beyond the pity due to victims. This is a problem created by first-person narration, but it is also a problem that can be solved, as Jackson and Nabokov show. Without that tension of sympathies, however accomplished this novel is in many ways, it leaves nothing of itself when the last page is turned.
RaveLiterary Review (UK)‘Half written or recovered in pieces’ could describe Offill’s own style: short, luminous paragraphs, with a story dispensed through implication and allusion rather than conventional exposition. It is the sort of writing which suggests the brief intervals of liberty that punctuate days of maternal drudge, the shafts of light between clouds of obligation. Offill has invented a literature of the scraps, and as a creature of the scraps myself, I am grateful ... The resonance between the world she describes and the one I live in is so emphatic that reading her can feel like having my own interior narrative externalised – a disarming sensation that is a mark of her craft.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Sarah Davis-Goff has Orpen inform us regularly that the world she moves through is \'beautiful\', but there’s so little specific texture that it could be anywhere. It’s a shame, because the force of a post-apocalyptic novel lies largely in how vividly it evokes the things we have to lose ... Although Last Ones Left Alive courts comparison with Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, it doesn’t deliver that novel’s transcendent sense of art’s absurd persistence. It lacks the extinctionist glee of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. Nor is there much new here in terms of zombie lore, although there’s a sequel still to come, and perhaps Davis-Goff has bigger plans to unveil ... Last Ones Left Alive doesn’t bring much new to its genre. Instead, it puts old elements to its own purpose; and, like the skrake, it runs compellingly enough to an irresistible internal logic of violence.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)From the first page, Phillips is writing in several registers of horror at the same time: it’s a juggling act as awe-inspiring as watching a harassed mother pump milk while answering work emails while responding to a nagging toddler ... The terror of the home invasion is perfectly vivid, and so is the disturbing prospect that we’re embedded in the consciousness of a woman who is dangerously split off from reality. Phillips can conjure pure nightmare in a single sentence as she narrates Molly’s thought processes ... Like short-story writers Kristen Roupenian in You Know You Want This and Mariana Enríquez in Things We Lost in the Fire, Phillips revitalises horror tropes by running them through a female point of view ... Phillips’s attentive, unsentimental observations of Molly’s threatened domesticity catch at the heart. Thrillingly disturbing, frighteningly insightful about motherhood and love, and spilling over with offhand invention, The Need is one of this year’s most necessary novels.
PanThe Guardian (UK)\"I cannot say exactly what substance, and in how many units, would make Cari Mora consumable. All I can say is that I did it sober, and I regret it ... Without Harris’s extremely recognisable name hanging over proceedings, it would be hard to believe Cari Mora was the work of someone who has so much as read a novel, never mind written a blockbuster series ... Harris is liveliest when he’s furthest from straight thriller writing. In the descriptions of Miami’s ecology, Cari Mora ascends fleetingly to the level of diverting, and Cari Mora’s backstory, based on real-life case studies of children in combat, delivers some relatively vivid passages. The worst of the novel is the violence. Not because it’s notably unpleasant, but because it’s empty. Without a driving plot or memorable characters to give them weight, the death scenes are just ketchup sprayed on the page. The real three-pipe problem here is what happened to Harris–and his publisher.\
PositiveNew StatesmanIn his new book Porter retains what was strong about its predecessor, and ditches most of the weaker parts. Like [Grief is the Thing with Feathers], Lanny has an enticing seam of magic realism ... Another continuity from Grief is the half-poetry style of prose. In Lanny, the technique is refined so that each character speaks in their own register ... The formal experimentation is joined by typographic play ... There’s a charming Mass Observation Project quality to it, although it is also quite hard to read ... The description of...the devastation of both parents and the turmoil of the village are all sharply rendered; and the effect on the novel is galvanizing ... Toothwort himself is a marvellous work of amorality who seems to have emerged whole from folklore ... Porter’s novel reminded me of...Watership Down ...It’s a savage sketch of the ambivalence—and exhaustion—that comes with love. And if the purpose of Lanny is to teach us how to love a place in all its beauty and all its pettiness, that maternal spikiness is a more resonant note that the airless purity of the boy hero.
MixedThe GuardianNow we have Emma Glass’s absurdist, word-playing debut Peach, which has learned the art of female suffering but not escaped the snare ... Glass’s prose [is] propelled not so much by story or character as by sheer sound ... It’s arresting, if not always effective. The superficial association makes it easy to resist engaging with the scene described—and it’s so implausibly grim that when you do imagine it, it’s still hard to accept ... Glass aims for a woozy territory where the hilarious skirts the horrible. It’s at its best when Peach takes her grotesque revenge ... The climax is a generic formality, and it feels as unearned as it is preordained.
RaveThe GuardianGeorge’s journalistic eye is combined with sharp moral judgment ...[George] is painfully aware of the price of ignorance about blood, especially women’s blood This absorbing, vital book by one of the best non-fiction writers working today is a wonder in its own right.
Maria Dahvana Headley
PositiveThe Guardian\"... muscular, bloodthirsty ... Headley hits the beats of the original story while shifting the focus entirely ... The question rippling through Headley’s ambitious novel is why we need to cast anyone as a monster at all.\
MixedThe GuardianBreak.up goes further still than Walsh’s previous work in challenging genre boundaries. The contract between reader and writer is as uncertain as the one between the woman and the man, who never agreed what kind of relationship they were forming together. It’s a novel, because it says fiction on the jacket. But this is a novel that is very strangely written, with quotes from other writers in the margins (Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, an unexpected appearance from Nazi architect Albert Speer, a line from Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick—another novel in which a female writer turns a consuming crush into fiction). It’s also travel writing, because as the woman passes through Europe’s cities, she notes down her observations ... There are parts of Break.up that thrill ... But when she uses the women of Amsterdam’s red light district as a backdrop for a digression on sex as performance art, she seems as culpable as the men in Bluebeard’s library of turning them into props ...What I feel in the end is admiration without pleasure. Walsh places feelings on display, yet keeps them austerely inaccessible, and I see the point of this without enjoying the effect ... Break.up is a book you could fall for if you like your fiction and your love objects hard-to-get, but not one, I suspect, that will repay your trust.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... one of the strangest features is that several of these articles have been unsubtly amended to be more representative of the contemporary Tea than the one who originally wrote them. The effect is disconcerting. You can be rattling along under the spell of, say, 2003 Tea (and she is an intoxicating writer, a mix of swagger and bathos, delivering sentences that land with the snap and force of a punch); then suddenly a voice cuts in from the present, and the whole vehicle shudders on its wheels ... in the text of a speech called How Not to Be a Queer Douchebag, she commands her audience to\'“Stop policing each other like little queer police officers\' (unless the people they’re policing are lesbians born before Tea, who hold unacceptable beliefs, I guess). This is the whiplash way of Tea: passionate attachments, lightly worn ... As a collection, this book suffers from the bittiness that afflicts many writers who work for multiple outlets primarily on the internet. One thing Tea hasn’t tried to fix for republication is the jolt of moving from smartmouthed xoJane-style blogging to the frank and fierce pieces about her own pregnancies or her family’s poverty. But the jaggedness is also the point. Against Memoir chronicles a spectacularly fraught couple of decades for feminism and lesbianism, sometimes dramatising those stresses in the clash of voices between then-Michelle and now-Michelle. Times change and people change and new information comes to light, but Tea crashes on in the thrilling project of continually inventing herself.
MixedThe Guardian... [an] absurdist, word-playing debut...Glass is not operating in the realm of realism. Her characters are both human and not-human ... It’s not obvious, though, why Peach must be made to disintegrate, other than that this is what must happen in the novel of female pain when a character has suffered as much as she can be made to suffer. The climax is a generic formality, and it feels as unearned as it is preordained. Peach outdoes her fellow wound-dwellers by becoming nothing but wound, yet the words, skipping along on the surface of language, touch little of the trauma they want to harness ... Glass has a poet’s ear for the architecture of sound and an imagination full of the bizarre. But there must be other kinds of story to tell about being female than ones that end in nothing.
MixedThe GuardianLacey is better at building an intriguing setup than she is at delivering on plot. The one she assembles here, however, is an ingenious sci-fi scenario that tweaks at the edges of what we believe about that part of us we call a self ... Male brutality and sexual violence erupt into the novel, sometimes luridly. Why things should be this way, and whether they can be better, are great questions. Maybe, if Lacey had put them more precisely, she could have given more in the way of resolution.
RaveThe GuardianGod and grooming, child death and grotty sex, blame and betrayal – this should be a recipe for morbid curiosity. But when everything is explicitly foreshadowed, nothing is at stake. Fridlund carries on meticulously dressing her traps long after they’ve been sprung. In some ways, this is the standard literary fiction shortcoming of thinking plot is the least important part. In others, Fridlund’s weaknesses are her own. Characters tend to be vague outlines with tics. Leo tucks his shirt in a lot; Linda’s mother baptises her obsessively. But there are none of the subtle mechanisms that make characters coherent – and capable of acting surprisingly. There is only one mood: slow and sad ... For a novel that aspires to say something about about power, History of Wolves is strikingly impotent.
PanThe GuardianWhere Middlemarch achieved understanding for even its most flawed characters, no one in Private Citizens rises above the level of detestable ... Maybe if Tulathimutte had allowed himself to play the classic realist narrator, his characters could have enjoyed a little more space to act. Instead, they are cramped and inert. Very little happens to or is done by them for most of the book, and the flimsy threads of plot run alongside each other rather than intersecting ... In the absence of complex characters and a detailed social world, Private Citizens is less Middlemarch and more I Love the 00s.
RaveThe GuardianWhere Yapa succeeds is in evoking the interconnectedness that the antiglobalisation movement both responded to and attempted to transcend ... The question of what makes violence legitimate runs through the novel, but the novel is also in love with violence. The means overwhelm the ends.
PanThe GuardianAlthough Samantha Hunt turns out the creepy imagery and Christianity, suspense runs short and horror is too often undercut by an infuriating structure that serves symbolism over story...the writing seems to aim for a Cormac McCarthy-ish American gothic spareness, but the simplicity it attains is only superficial