RaveThe Irish Times (UK)Richard Powers’s most unusual novel lives up to the hype, not only because it is, technically speaking, a great read, a story with striking characterisation of a father-and-son duo, written in precise, enlightening prose, but also because it stretches beyond fiction to make the reader care about the real world ... Bewilderment wears its mammoth subject matter lightly. In a dexterous narrative, the various strains complement each other, with the connections left to the reader to figure out ... It is at once a thoughtful exploration of individual grief, a study in empathy for the biosphere, a questioning of the medical profession’s pathologising of children and a beginner’s guide to astrobiology ... both cerebral and heartfelt, a rigorous and damning assessment of the state of the world today.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)In the neat rendering of interiority and the stark eloquence of Barker’s prose, there are also echoes of Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, and, indeed, his stage adaptation with the actress Lisa Dwan, Pale Sister, a retelling of the Antigone myth from the perspective of the silenced sister Ismene ... Occasionally there is too much exposition or explaining of past events, particularly in dialogue. But overall The Women of Troy is a deft and convincing retelling of a weary camp turning on itself, allegiances faltering and new alliances forming. The female solidarity storyline is kept in check.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Tom Gatti’s new anthology has all the hallmarks of a great playlist—the big hitters, the slow burners, the randomness of the selection, the relinquishing of control, the ones you never heard before, the ones forgotten by time. Starting with a superb introduction by Gatti...Long Players is informative and entertaining, charting the evolution of music formats over the past century, while giving glimpses of the cultural predilections and personal lives of the various contributors. Like a book equivalent of Desert Island Discs, the joy is in discovering what celebrated authors choose as their favourite music. The answers are considered, colourful and frequently surprising ... Those contributions that stand out have clarity of expression, something that can be hard to do when describing an aural form ... In this pandemic-riddled age, Long Players harks to good times past and better ones to come, through that most universal of languages—music.
Leila Slimani tr. Sam Taylor
PositiveIrish Times (IRE)The book’s chief success is its depiction of the historical context, particularly the clash of Arab and European cultures ... Realistic details pepper the narrative ... Scenes begin randomly and finish abruptly. Characters come and go ... Structurally, the biggest problem is with time ... Nevertheless, there is much that entertains and informs ... Small moments bring history to life.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)A takedown of the greed and superficiality of the film industry is only one strand of this multifaceted book ... a wide-ranging, ambitious novel that has plenty to say about the current state of the world. Mixing styles in a way that is inventive and deliberately disconcerting, the book is more focused on ideas than plot. As with many eco-parables, the end is largely and tragically predetermined. The story is more about how we got here. Along the way, Kleeman takes on capitalism, corruption and environmental disaster in a book that is part eco-horror story, part Californian noir ... At times it can all feel a bit much, though Kleeman is skilled at finetuning details to give a convincing picture of the apocalypse ... There is the sense that little gets past this author. Whether the observations are real-world or metafictional, they are delivered in the same stylishly cutting manner ... The strength of this novel is in the stark way that Kleeman sets out a wholly believable near-future apocalypse.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)There is a special kind of reading pleasure in books that feature seemingly disconnected stories of interlocking lives ... Ridgway has returned to interlinked stories for his clever and provocative seventh novel, which has interesting things to say about loss and survival ... Readers are instantly involved in the action of Ridgway’s worlds, the characters he writes with great compassion and clarity ... A Shock is a more postmodern affair than his previous books ... To give too much away about the characters and scenarios detracts from the art of the book. The delights are in the surprises and shocks, the connections that may or may not be there ... A book like this hinges on the power of the connections, and Ridgway puts his
own stamp on the genre by surprising the reader. There are crumbs that don’t lead anywhere. There are forests with no way out.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)... 11 engaging stories ... tells the kind of subtle, graceful stories that often get overlooked ... There are no shocking plot twists or hypersardonic voices in Objects of Desire, just an astute chronicling of ordinary life that results in sharp and sometimes surprising tales of people in crisis or undergoing change. They are quiet dramas, rich with unique detail and moments of recognition. In shape and tone, there are echoes of writers such as Elizabeth Strout and Alice Munro, though the storylines have a more contemporary feel ... Stylistically, the writing is taut, full of short, staccato sentences. Some variation in length would add cadence, but it is a small point in a book brimming with original detail and insights ... These kinds of pithy, precise observations are on almost every page of Objects of Desire, a collection of small details that illuminate the big picture.
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)Ryan is a master of the unexpected who looks to take stock characters and situations and upend them in colourful, thoughtful ways...In Strange Flowers, this only partly comes off. The novel is steeped in religion and its inherent moral lessons seep into the narrative, resulting in unwelcome traces of sentimentality and a somewhat hokey feel to proceedings ... This opening line puts us in familiar Ryan territory — cliché that we trust will be made fresh again — but the problem with Strange Flowers is that this doesn’t always pan out ... While the love story between Moll’s son Josh and English girl Honey feels fresh and true, her adulation for his creative writing — a religious parable that echoes the themes of the wider novel — is overdone, with the story itself inserted into the narrative with little finesse ... The points of enjoyment in this book lie in its plot surprises and in the deft way Ryan handles his \'strange flowers\' that crop up in unlikely places. Important issues of race, identity, sexuality and class are all worn remarkably lightly. This is something that the author excels at: allowing readers the space to think for themselves on the bigger issues that drive his books ... Elsewhere, the lyricism of the prose can be pitch perfect, placing Ryan among the great writers of rural Ireland such as John McGahern and Mary Lavin, or his contemporaries Claire Keegan and Colm Tóibín ... The natural world is brilliantly showcased throughout ... Ryan’s other success is to pack intense emotion into short scenes, as with Paddy and Kit’s heartbreaking trip to Dublin to look for their daughter. Readers will stay the course for these nuggets, and for the unravelling mysteries of the author’s strange flowers.
Taylor Jenkins Reid
PositiveThe Irish TimesStructurally, Malibu Rising is tight and propulsive ...Each sibling has their own storyline, subplots that have a gossipy and compelling, if slightly obvious feel ... Their parents’ story is equally engrossing, in a Netflix bingeworthy kind of way ... Malibu Rising is finely crafted commercial fiction, escapism in high definition, a quintessential beach read.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Throughout the book, the scale works to give cohesion and suspense, as the reader anticipates the result at the end of the written commentary. It is a cleverly interactive device. At times I found myself nodding in agreement with ratings for things I’ve never experienced ... Green’s skills as a novelist and communicator are put to good use...He blends the personal and political with ease. Many of the reviews work as jumping off points for memoiristic writing that deals sensitively and viscerally with topics that range from bullying to depression to obsessive compulsive behaviour. The result is a moving, entertaining and mind-expanding collection that looks at the role of the individual in the world at large ... Green has a Gladwell-esque ability to explain complex phenomena to the masses. The broad and seemingly random scope of his book also bears comparison to the writings of Bill Bryson. Green’s sense of humour and eye for life’s absurdities bring lightness to difficult and sometimes harrowing topic ... very much a book of the moment, which is to say timely and compelling. I suspect I won’t be the only critic to end the review the following way. Nevertheless, I give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)Luckily for the reader, there is a lot more going on than first meets the eye. This is an intricate and elegant story, and cleverly metatextual. A Lonely Man is an exploration of the creative process, and the sacrifices that are made in real life in the pursuit of art ... Power’s style of plain, unshowy prose comes into its own. In loftier hands, the narrative of Patrick, a British ghostwriter drawn into the treacherous world of Russian oligarchs, might seem far-fetched. In A Lonely Man , this second story adds depth to Robert’s narrative, leading to interesting questions about ownership when it comes to telling stories ... The dialogue can feel stilted at times, particularly in the sections involving the Russians. There is not the same level of intimacy with these parts—in contrast, for example, to a brilliant set-piece that sees Robert travel to London after the suicide of his friend—and sustaining interest in the subplot will hinge on how much the reader cares about the machinations of Russian oligarchs and politicians ... Ultimately the book offers an original exploration of the creative process: writer as tortured artist, writer as thief, writer as predator. By the shrewd ending, Robert comes to realise what it means to jeopardise the real world and the people he loves. Beware, the book seems to say, of the dangers of prizing fiction above life itself.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)There is much to admire in Paul Mendez’ semi-autobiographical debut novel Rainbow Milk, a vibrant exploration of sexuality, race and religion set in the UK across generation ... Although the opening section is only 40 odd pages of a lengthy novel, it stands alone as a virtuosic piece of writing – urgent, original and heartbreaking ... Mendez’ ear for dialect gets us close to his characters. Norman’s voice is sympathetic and convincing ... The problem with Rainbow Milk is a baggy middle section whose shocking subject matter grows tiresome by the book’s final third. Jesse finds work as a rent boy in London, the details of which are initially related in powerful, sensual scenes. Disgust drips from the page in a grotesque set piece with a drugged-up client in a grimy flat. There are numerous encounters in bathrooms and nightclubs depicted in language that is not easily forgotten ... After a while, though, the obsessive level of sexual detail – there are more bulges and dicks in this book than there are hot dinners – lessens the impact. Crucial moments get lost amid the memories ... Pacing is a big issue, and while Mendez is clearly a talented writer, the less interesting parts of Rainbow Milk – the intricacies of the service industry, the views about his favourite music, a rambling episode at a publisher’s house, an overly long lunch break with friends – leave us longing for the brilliance of earlier. Published by Dialogue in an initiative to give a platform to underrepresented writers, Rainbow Milk has much to recommend it. Much like its title, it is a bright, brash colourful read by an author who has plenty to say for himself.
Caleb Azumah Nelson
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)As a piece of work that seeks to make clear the experiences of a young black man in contemporary London, the culture of ingrained and pervasive racism that he endures on a daily basis, Open Water is a resounding success. There are many moving and insightful passages that relay with devastating accuracy on how systemic violence negatively affects the life of Azumah Nelson’s protagonist and the relationship he tries to build with a new girlfriend over the course of the novel ... For all its important messages, however, Open Water falters somewhat on fictional merit. Azumah Nelson’s use of the second-person voice gets the reader close to the experience of his character but the style is less than seamless, which sometimes holds up his narrative. Stylistically, the book is also problematic. The lyricism of the prose and the use of rhetorical devices are more suited to poetry or polemic than to fiction ... The biggest issue with Open Water is that it is too short on action for a novel. Most of the book sees the character reflecting in his head. It is a shame, as the small number of given scenes work really well to open up the book and let the reader dive into water along with the characters. Azumah Nelson is clearly a talented writer who may need further time to perfect the form. In the meantime, we have a worthy book, one that is both political and personal, that speaks its important message out to the world.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Kushner might have made drinks with a Rolling Stone all night long, but a part of her is also the observer, noting things down for later use...In this, and in other sections throughout the book, are echoes of her great predecessor, Joan Didion, in particular the latter’s charting of the hedonism of San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s...That same sentiment of mining life’s experiences for precious nuggets is evident throughout The Hard Crowd ... Reader engagement with some of the cultural commentary essays, which range from obscure Italian cinema, to the writing and life of Marguerite Duras, to the artwork of Jeff Koons, will depend on the level of interest in these particular topics. It is clear that Kushner is a sharp cultural commentator, offering original insights on her subjects, often making cross-cultural comparisons that show the breadth of her knowledge ... And the prose is always engaging ... Whether the material is personal, cultural or political – there are essays on Palestinian refugee camps and reform of the US prison system – one thing is clear: for a writer of Rachel Kushner’s ability, everything is gold.
RaveIrish Times (IRE)Michelle Zauner’s new book shows that the lauded lyricist of indie-pop band Japanese Breakfast is capable of impressing in longer-form writing ... [A] multifaceted and astute memoir ... Crying in H Mart is at once a testament to a lost loved one, a charting of the ravages of terminal illness and a celebration of a mixed-race heritage that helps one young woman manage her grief.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)...the unnamed protagonist of Megan Nolan’s debut novel Acts of Desperation exists in a kind of semi-state of inebriation and debauchery that is magnificently, at times excruciatingly, depicted by an author whose mission seems to be to tell it like it is ... There is an emotional heft to the novel that many will call \'raw\' but that would do a disservice to the level of craft Nolan applies to her subject matter ... With her narrator’s whipsmart tone, low self-esteem issues and penchant for sexual debasement, Nolan will likely be compared to contemporary writers such as Sally Rooney, Kristen Roupenian and Ottessa Moshfegh ... Her debut novel has a state-of-the-nation feel to it, with a strong awareness of the gender inequalities that exist in modern society ... Nolan has interesting things to say on how women are socially conditioned to hate their bodies from a young age and to fit into certain roles or feel guilty for not conforming ... There are many killer descriptions of this ilk in the book, moments of recognition for female readers.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)The 17 chapters that make up this most unusual book see its author sacrificing something of herself for any number of higher purposes, though there is a wilfulness to Ní Ghríofa’s narrative that saves it from martyrdom. There is the sense throughout of a woman who has figured out what it means to be alive and who wants others to join her at the party ... Ní Ghríofa isn’t the first to translate the poem...but the way she weaves this years-long process with tales from her own life results in a truly unique project that comes alive on the page ... it would in fact be hard to imagine another person who could match her consideration of the poem, the way she lives the verses and is emotionally impacted by their meaning ... This obsession, though heartfelt, can occasionally be long-winded for the reader, who cannot hope to match the author’s level of interest in her subject. Sections on Eibhlín and Art’s relatives are one example where the pace flags. But it is a minor criticism in a searing debut whose voice speaks loudly to the reader right from its opening line, and oft-repeated mantra: \'This is a female text.\'
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)The chief success of Sarah Pearse’s debut novel, The Sanatorium, is her use of place ... There is a pleasing pressure-cooker feel to proceedings, reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None. Pearse uses clever red herrings – secrets, pills, affairs, mental illness – and the stand-off scenes between Elin and the murderer are genuinely scary. The setting proves ideal: slippery outdoor swimming pools, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the austere beauty of the glacial mountains, the shadows and low lighting of the posh hotel. Right from the beginning, in a claustrophobic scene in a mountain funicular, there is the sense of no escape.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)... anyone who has read Dinosaurs, with its breathtaking details and insights, may be surprised at the shift into more commercial territory for the Cork author’s first novel. There is not the same exactitude in the prose, there is a little too much exposition in dialogue, and at times certain confrontation scenes feel overly dramatic, which detracts from the tension in an otherwise well-paced novel ... Happily, at least for this reviewer, who has long been a fan of McLaughlin’s writing, there is also much to love about The Art of Falling ... Nessa is an authentic and interesting creation whose self-awareness and dry wit will appeal to readers ... The book has insightful things to say on the creative process and the damage that can be done in the name of art.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)...the voice is self-aware, reflective, intelligent ... Watts joins the ranks of authors such as the late Jade Sharma, Jen Beagin and Ottessa Moshfegh – brave female writers who mine their own lives and the lives of their characters to create searing, insightful debuts – but she sets her novel apart by including a historical narrative of an early 19th-century British explorer ... Vivid mini-narratives from callers in trouble give great pace to the novel ... In The Inland Sea, she writes brilliantly on identity and the female body ... The Inland Sea is at heart an inquiry into hostile climates and our slim chances of survival.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... carefully-crafted ... The mother’s complicated infidelity is the first of many interesting twists in a narrative full of quiet surprises and revelations ... If this makes Mannion’s novel sound hackneyed, it is anything but. The classic coming-of-age tale gets new life from the original setting, the nostalgic 1980s atmosphere, and the clash of Irish and American cultures as witnessed and related by the intuitive narrator Libby ... would make a fine addition to a school curriculum. It is a book full of knowledge ... The mysteries are engaging; the lessons are dexterously laid down; the sense of discovery, for both reader and character, is palpable ... rich in imagery ... Occasionally the book falters, as with climactic scenes that see Libby ask too many leading questions, or with her musings on bad-boy neighbour Wilson, which feel slightly overdone. But these are minor points in a book that is brimming with curiosity and wonder. Mannion imparts Libby’s development in a series of subtle, suspenseful scenes that will leave the reader wanting more. An evocative and convincing coming-of-age story that is centred on the most important tree of all, the tree of life.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... a captivating anti-picaresque, featuring as it does a young woman afraid of going anywhere ... there is a jaunty feel to her portrayal of small-town Ireland similar in style to Ithaca by Alan McMonagle, Upperdown by David Brennan and even the multilayered murder mysteries of Jess Kidd ... This no-nonsense attitude from our narrator is easy to get on board with in a town where so many people are out to harm. The locals with their memorable names – Jimmy Nine Pints, Hairy Feely – see Majella not as a human being but as someone to exploit. Gallen manages to give her protagonist agency despite this ... Chief among these needs is sex, and Gallen writes with searing detail on everything from periods to body odour to masturbation. Majella’s attitude to casual sex is, for a woman of her era, entirely refreshing ... Not everything in the book flows as seamlessly. The phonetic dialogue can grate, the pacing is off – at a major turning point we’re learning about how Majella got her name, for example – and the inheritance subplot is underdeveloped. Questions remain also about the missing members of Majella’s family, though that is arguably a deliberate marker of the landscape rather than a plot misstep ... Gallen’s prose is not literary in nature – but the subject of how impossible it can be for the individual to escape a hopeless environment makes for a compelling story irrespective of style. Big Girl, Small Town is a confident debut with a very memorable protagonist in Majella, a woman who is desperate to lead an untroubled life.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)...the former Laureate na nÓg Sarah Crossan chooses a subject matter that makes it clear she’s no longer writing for teens ... a cleverly conceived, fast-paced tale about the tragic end of an affair ... It is a vivid, unusual beginning that unnerves the reader, landing us straight into the messy aftermath of an affair that ended abruptly ... The form is an inspired choice for a novel about infidelity – the snatched evenings and weekends, the deleted text messages and emails, love in an elliptical fashion ... What does a person get out an affair? What are they left with in the end? Who can they turn to when the only person who really understood their world is no longer alive? These questions give great momentum to Here is the Beehive. Ana’s reeling, off-kilter voice also keeps us guessing, particularly as the book takes a more menacing tone in later parts ... With both the style and structure of the book, the smallness of the affair comes through, how it can mean so much but ultimately represent so little.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... the prose throughout is fresh and sometimes startling, and the details have a poetic beauty ... Sometimes, as with Old Stock, Barry chooses a more comic tone which lightens proceedings but doesn’t bring the same heft. Elsewhere the humour works a treat, as with the grotesquely funny mother-and-son alcoholics in Toronto and The State of Grace ... Some stories don’t quite land ... Fans of the Limerick author might also be disappointed that a number of these stories have already been published elsewhere. But these criticisms are only to judge Barry against the incredibly high bar he has set for himself. That Old Country Music is still one of the best collections you’ll read this year.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)In her smart and provocative debut novel, White Ivy, Susie Yang explores the subject of privilege through the character of Ivy Lin, a second-generation Chinese-American desperate to cash in on the great American dream. Desperate is a word that suits the manipulative and enterprising Ivy, whose coming-of-age story in the Boston suburbs proves a multifaceted, riveting read ... If the path of true love never runs smoothly, in White Ivy it is a rickety old bridge with missing steps thousands of feet over a dusty canyon. Yang is excellent at pacing and surprises, which leave the reader guessing and conflicted when it comes to the romantic decision-making. This is Austen mixed with the hyperreal sharpness of Donna Tartt.
Sayaka Murata, tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)... ends with one of the most visceral, unforgettable descriptions of lives gone awry that you might ever read ... deftly translated ... The book should come with a warning on the cover: not for the squeamish or faint of heart ... a radical rollercoaster of a story that zips along from one outlandish scenario to the next ... lacks the restraint of Convenience Store Woman, and Murata doesn’t care if it’s palatable to readers. This is both a good and bad thing. Sometimes the zaniness of the plot leads to rushed transitions and gaps in information and character development, but ultimately the author is to be applauded in her aim, namely to provoke revulsion and anger at the way people, women in particular, are viewed by society as procreators.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Alam creates an atmosphere of dread so convincing and prescient that it stays with the reader long after reading. This beautifully paced story about a sudden and catastrophic unknown event lures the reader into a tale of sun, sea and holidaymaking before ripping the beach towel from under us to leave us shivering on the shore alone ... An emotionally resonant read, it taps into our age of anxiety and confirms the worst. If this novel can be categorised as science fiction, it is in the most literal sense: Alam has made up a story that has its basis in science and reality. You feel as if the terrible things in this book could happen tomorrow ... Alam’s pacing of events is exemplar ... Even with the cataclysmic events, the writing has a darkly comic undertone that recalls Jenny Offill and, particularly, Taffy Brodesser-Akner ... The subject of race is also deftly examined ... Not everything works. The omniscient voice is too busy in early chapters, with Alam needing to show more restraint in explaining, especially when it comes to dialogue. There is the sense that he doesn’t trust his reader. But this peters out over time as the magnificent mood of dread takes hold ... An undeniably skilled writer, Alam leaves us with an indelible image of what it feels like to truly leave the world as we know it behind.
Peace Adzo Medie
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... an engaging, quietly provocative debut ... a well-paced story of awakenings, a coming-of-age tale where the girl is already married but has yet to grow up. From the outset, Adzo Medie gets us close to Aki, a heroine to root for, naive and courageous, compliant and ambitious, loyal to her husband and his family, but not to a fault ... there is an easy, fluid style to the writing, quick intimacy with character and a kind of innocent humour that recalls Rónán Hession’s Leonard and Hungry Paul, though the backdrops obviously differ immensely ... Throughout the book there are bright daubs of Ghanian life – kontomire and garden egg stew, the durbar at the yam festival, a neem tree, greetings and everyday phrases such as Woede or Ehn. It all flows remarkably well in a memorable debut from a writer whose frustrations with certain aspects of the culture of her homeland come brilliantly to life.
Yuri Herrera, Trans. by Lisa Dillman
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)The rigour that is so integral to the genre of narrative journalism is clear from the opening pages of Yuri Herrera’s A Silent Fury. Giving further weight to the book is the fact that, unlike Capote, Herrera is looking to right a wrong ... Herrera’s mission is to reclaim the voices of the dead and point the finger at the real culprits. The searing details are delivered in sparse, lucid prose that allows the horrific facts to speak for themselves ... The style...is similar to the witness literature of Primo Levi. Both writers interrogate the facts and the humanity or lack thereof that underpins them. The recent TV drama Chernobyl is another touchstone ... The book is beautifully paced – the huge twist at the end of the second chapter is a case in point – and the more we learn about the cruelties of the mining company in the aftermath of the fire, the more we come to care for the lives and families they destroyed ... With an excellent translation by Lisa Dillman, the book leaves the reader without doubt as to culpability of the company. It shows what was lost and the legacy that Herrera says is still palpable within the city today. On March 10th, 1920, the shafts of the El Bordo mine were sealed without consideration for the men below ground. A hundred years after the tragedy, Herrera succeeds in setting their stories free.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)If good writing has the capacity to make the reader feel something, then Rebecca Watson’s debut novel certainly deserves to be praised. The reading experience is intense and visceral – through Watson’s inventive style and linguistic flair the reader may literally find themselves fighting the itch along with the book’s unnamed narrator ... To quote from the book like this does a disservice to the formal style employed by Watson on the page. Line breaks, blank spaces, time stamping in bold, fragmented passages and epeated words are just some of the ways the author arranges her text to convey the thoughts of her character. Underneath is a story of trauma and the strange ways in which a mind works to help a person through the darkest times ... Tackling traumatic subject matter in a defiantly playful format, Little Scratch is a thought-provoking and original debut from a writer not afraid to push boundaries. If style is what makes an author distinctive, Watson will stand out among her peers for her experimentation with text and formatting ... at once a simple and onerous task: the timespan is relatively easy to structure, but to capture the hundreds of thousands of thoughts a person might have over a given day, and to mould them into a coherent novel, is a form of art ... There is a Prufrock-esque quality.
PositiveIrish Times...a brutal and moving story about the legacy of abuse passed down through generations and the power of words to stop the cycle ... It is an insightful book that takes on sexual abuse, racism, sexism and suicide and weaves them together into a compelling narrative ... McDaniel draws a line from this cultural rape to the history of sexual abuse within one family. To say too much about these incidences would detract from the plot, but abuse and mental health issues are passed down through the generations like a grenade ... With its troubling subject matter, emotional punch and the backdrop of racism in mid-century America, Betty has echoes of Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple. McDaniel’s writing, however, lacks the rigour of her predecessor. The heavily lyrical style misfires at times ... As the litany of abuses piles up, the book veers more towards Flowers in the Attic than The Color Purple ... What saves Betty from a total descent into melodrama is the very serious intent that underpins each section ... Betty is not an easy read but it’s an important book that seeks to free those in the present from the injustices of the past.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... an urgent and inventive look at the climate crisis ... There is a purgatorial feel to the novel, which is hugely appropriate to its subject matter. Cook doesn’t spell it out – she is a subtle writer who eschews the dramatic – but beneath the events of this ecological horror story, the point is clear: humans will soon pay for the damage being done in the present day ... There is a purgatorial feel to the novel, which is hugely appropriate to its subject matter. Cook doesn’t spell it out – she is a subtle writer who eschews the dramatic – but beneath the events of this ecological horror story, the point is clear: humans will soon pay for the damage being done in the present day ... Although set in the near future, the success of the novel is that Cook returns her characters to a Neanderthal age where primal instincts rule supreme ... There are desperate leavings and reunions, love and hate in equal measure, and the brutality of the wilderness, the only place they can really call home, is matched by the fierceness of their feelings for another ... This quietly raging novel deserves its place on the Booker longlist. People who switch off when they hear the phrase \'climate change\' should read it. And so should everyone else.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... a razor-sharp snapshot of a family and a nation in trouble, in language that is vital and richly inventive ... That Hughes manages to breathe so much life into such a depressing and well-trodden period of recent Irish history is a remarkable achievement ... The subject of assisted suicide is an inspired metaphor for boom-to-bust Ireland. Later parts of the novel vividly capture the unfairness of a trial that seeks to punish the family for helping their father carry out his dying wishes and leave the world with a modicum of respect ... poignant, impressionistic prose ... Hughes gets us incredibly close to her characters with descriptions that come alive on the page ... a dynamic narrative ... The tension between Hart’s innocence and the more jaunty, authorial tone of the book is wielded skilfully by Hughes. The tragicomic style is reminiscent of Kevin Barry, the brutal truths told in a slick, offhand manner. In The Wild Laughter, there are frequent flashes of humour delivered in a style that uses exaggeration to great effect to point out the absurd (and the blindingly obvious) ... From the opening pages, the narrative is appropriately fast-paced, swerving from scene to scene...There is a maniacal quality to proceedings that makes the loss more gut-wrenching when it comes ... Hughes has interesting things to say on various cherished Irish institutions: the theatre, the Catholic Church, the idealised matriarch figure ... [The Wild Laughter] will surely see her gain further acclaim – it’s an exhilarating and moving story of an Ireland in disarray.
Kate Reed Petty
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)Multiple narrators and perspectives alert us to the fallibility of storytelling, the blurring of fact and fiction, the unreliability of memory, and the power of a group when it comes to swaying opinion ... This gives way to the most impressive section of the novel, a first-person-plural narrative through the lens of Nick, a lacrosse player whose team members stand accused of the assault. There is an immediacy to the voice that lands us straight into the macho, oppressive world of team sports and the imperative to support your teammates at all costs ... Nick’s youth and impressionability is well rendered, as is the predatory culture of the lacrosse scene ... In this visceral first quarter, the book has echoes of Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word and Sarah Bannan’s Weightless, both of which offer intricate pictures of transgression in close-knit American communities. Some readers will be disappointed when True Story moves away from this territory. Not everything that follows reads as fluidly ... A section with an overly attentive boyfriend/psychopath lacks depth compared with previous parts, reading more like horror pulp. Although it is a deliberate choice by the author, the writing style slackens considerably with this move into genre ... The style is not problematic in its own right but becomes an issue when it continues in the same vein in subsequent parts with Alice as narrator ... Elsewhere, the metafictional aspects become convoluted at times and there are a few too many knowing nods ... Despite these issues, there is a lightness to Petty’s genre hopping that will keep readers entertained throughout. The horror scripts are so terrible they’re great. The plot twists in later sections, where Alice works as a ghostwriter for rich businessmen, keep us guessing until the end. Even her friendship with Haley, her lone supporter back in the days of the assault, has interesting developments ... Petty is a clever writer with a sardonic wit. In the less believable parts of the book, such as Alice’s stint with Q, there are still moments that ping ... For a book with strong feminist overtones, it is perhaps surprising that the strongest voice, and the most seamless writing, come in the form of Nick ... Petty’s success is to give voice to these characters in stasis whose lives have forever been altered by a true-or-false story in the past.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)... a book whose plot is driven by mystery, but whose success is less so in the discoveries than in the telling ... Aitken’s evocative prose immerses us in island life and in the book’s central themes: motherhood, loss, the transformative power of stories ... Italicised passages at the end of sections bring an otherworldly feel to the book ... pacing is a problem, particularly in the book’s later stages where huge, life-altering events are dealt with in a matter of pages ... The success of the book is the vibrancy of its writing and narrative voice. Readers will be carried along by Oona whose struggles are full of pathos ... Character description and dialogue are also notably strong throughout, with welcome flashes of humour in the latter.
PositiveThe Irish TimesAt first glance, Luster falls into a by-now familiar category of debut novels: a young woman whose life is in a mess tells her story in a deadpan, nihilistic tone of voice that makes change or redemption seem unlikely. But underpinning Raven Leilani’s book is a sense of humour so sharp we don’t realise we’re laughing until we see blood ... Much of her writing is brilliantly clear, but there are times when she overreaches and the narrative suffers under the weight of its descriptions ... Regardless, readers will stick with this book for its painfully funny story told with wisdom and courage. Leilani has an MFA from NYU, where she is currently writer-in-residence, and her work has been published in Granta, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and The Cut. She is an agile writer whose intellect fires on the page at an impressive, relentless pace ... Full of sharp social commentary and justified outrage, the book is saved from polemic by the vividness of Edie’s everyday experience.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)Ambivalence, the state of having contradictory feelings or ideas about something or someone, runs like a dark river through Zaina Arafat’s powerful debut novel ... Ambivalence is mined again as the narrator reflects on a period in her life during college when she had outpatient treatment for an eating disorder. These vignettes feel slighter than other narrative strains due to their retrospective quality, but the paradoxes of eating disorders are evident, the denial set against enormous need, the starvation amid plenty, the rejection of and desire for different aspects of femininity, the ferocious visibility of an illness whose sufferer yearns to go unseen ... Arafat skilfully mirrors these themes with other aspects of the narrator’s life: her job as a DJ, \'the ecstasy of performance, the unrelenting command of attention,\' and the multiple affairs throughout the book as she seeks out sex or obsessively focuses her attentions on various unattainable people to dampen other more painful emotions ... Treatment for this so called \'love addiction\' forms the core of the book ... Structurally, this doesn’t quite come off ... With You Exist Too Much , Arafat announces herself as a provocative and insightful writer willing to delve into unpleasant aspects of family and society. The level of self-awareness elevates the novel from misery literature.
Jean Kyoung Frazier
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)By turns witty and moving, it is a sharp shock of a novel that gets us remarkably close to the experiences of its protagonist ... Frazier is a stylish writer who wears her skills lightly. She is particularly good at time, shifting into the past, the recent past and occasionally giving glimpses of the future as she relates the character’s present experiences ... these kind of details that make the book sing ... Frazier gives the reader just the right details, including nuggets from her Korean heritage that add further layers to the text ... Frazier makes excellent use of side characters ... There is no doubting that Pizza Girl holds its own in an increasingly crowded field. Frazier is a name we will hear from again. Her debut is a blistering base with all the toppings.
Nina Renata Aron
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... brilliant ... Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls grabs you right from its wonderful title and doesn’t let go ... the reader will want to know why she stays with [an addict]. The book not only answers this question but does so in scenes that surprise right from the beginning of Nina’s story ... temperance movement...interludes are well chosen and interesting, particularly the passages from wives of alcoholics who are sick of being seen as enablers, or as adjuncts to their problematic husbands rather than as people in their own right ... She is a deft writer whose memoir reads like fiction—colourful details, elliptical dialogue, twists and turns, the relentless needs of the characters ... Aron is brutally self-aware ... But in telling the story of a codependent, her other great success is to humanise the addict.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)The arch title of Naoise Dolan’s whipsmart debut novel, Exciting Times, is the first indicator of the author’s style ... The voice is astute, sardonic and highly emotionally aware. The exciting times mainly take place inside her head, where a vast, neurotic mind constantly analyses her own behaviour and second-guesses the actions of others ... Exciting Times is an impressive, cerebral debut written with brio and humour ... There are strong parallels with the intelligent female narrators in the writing of Nicole Flattery and Sally Rooney ... The self-aware commentary...over-reaches at times ... but it is a minor criticism of a debut that is as intricate as it is brash, with a style that is charmingly belligerent from start to finish ... The observations are keen, heartfelt and delivered in a brutally nonchalant style ... For a novel that spends most of its time inside the protagonist’s head, it is a surprisingly exciting read, heralding for sure a new star in Irish writing.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)A sometimes riveting, sometimes long-winded journey through physical and metaphysical landscapes ... beautifully written in lush, lyrical prose ... a huge amount of research went into Latitudes of Longing. To Swarup’s credit the novel never feels weighed down with its ambitious backdrop. Her narrative may encompass everything from the ecology of tropical islands to the mistreatment of Burmese political prisoners, but she manages to keep it all within the vivid, living world of her characters ... Swarup’s mind-bending narrative gives us talking ghosts and glaciers, but in a way that feels original and real ... The novel is full of interesting historical and cultural details ... Readers will stay with Swarup for these vibrant creations, and for the depth of her insights. Her novel on the importance of connectedness and the dangers of repeating past mistakes feels particularly pertinent right now.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)Callan Wink is an understated writer who doesn’t go in for obvious symbolism, choosing instead details that bring the backdrop of his fiction to life ... It is an elegant, considered novel that charts the joys and traumas that shape an individual. Wink eschews drama for the ordinary revelations of everyday life, but that’s not to say that nothing dramatic happens ... What it means to be a young man growing up in the heartland of America is deftly explored. Wink is interested less in the dramas themselves than in the response of his protagonist ... Those looking for a classical Hollywood structure will be disappointed. There is little build or resolution around events. The narrative progresses as time moves forward and characters come and go. They are no less memorable for it ... The details of farm life in August’s early days in Michigan, his stint in the city and his time spent working for farmer Ancient in rural Montana are all brightly rendered. This rich, clear prose has the rare quality of making anything seem interesting, from the mechanics of a baler machine to the backdrop of a dive bar. Wink’s writing has the deceptive simplicity of greats such as Hemingway or Carver, and the melancholy and pathos underpinning the book has echoes of John Williams’s Stoner ... a writer who is able to take a step back, to flip the obvious on its head.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)Tyler is famous for writing extraordinary novels about ordinary people. Redhead is no different in this respect, but it has a slighter feel to it than some of her masterpieces. A short book that gives a brilliantly detailed, tender depiction of one man’s regrettable way of living ... Though sparingly used, the omniscient voice is Dickensian, alerting us to the moral of the tale. There are overtones of Scrooge, and Melville’s Bartleby. Afraid of letting anyone too close to him, Micah is miserly with his time and love. Neglect is a major theme. In Tyler’s nuanced world, this manifests as a lack of cultivation ... Other trademark Tyler traits include quiet humour, emotional intelligence and razor-sharp insight ... The message is patently clear: by choosing to close himself off from the stresses and emotions of everyday life, Micah dehumanises himself and others...But it takes a writer like Tyler to deliver that message in language we won’t forget.
Deb Olin Unferth
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)... dazzling ... At times, particularly in the latter half of the book, the structure, or lack thereof, leads to confusion. Readers may struggle to move from section to section. Scenes frequently start after the action has occurred and work backwards to explain. Snapshots of side characters become impenetrable as the cast count rises ... We spend so much time trying to figure out where we are in the story, it can, on occasion, be hard to care – a shame in an otherwise vibrant novel. The plot itself is thankfully more straightforward ... Janey is a wonderful creation, alive on the page, full of spiky dialogue with the adults who surround her ... Unferth turns on its head the old line that all it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. The author captures the frenetic quality of 21st century activism, asking us to consider both activism and refusal to act ... the prose is intricate and vibrant, and the pace is relentless as the author pushes her story to its inventive end. Characters are brightly drawn, dialogue is snappy, and the topicality of the book, at a time when many are questioning the manufacturing processes behind animal food produce, makes it read like a comi-tragic manifesto of our age.
PositiveThe Irish TimesJessica Andrews’ debut novel Saltwater is, much like its title, fluid, crisp and bracing. Quietly experimental in form – short numbered snippets that recall the writing of Maggie Nelson and Jennie Offill – the book explores familial bonds, class identity, the longing for home and the simultaneous desire to escape it ... What emerges is a beautifully structured coming-of-age tale that shows a family’s enduring love for each other through difficult years of alcoholism and loss ... Through Andrews’ lyrical style, her character’s interiority is laid bare ... Lucy is both self-reflective and outward looking in her love of nature, a creative, deep-thinking protagonist not unlike those of Sara Baume or Lisa Owens. The poet and novelist Angela Readman’s recent debut Something Like Breathing also comes to mind. But Saltwater is uniquely its own: a love note to a mother, a bildungsroman, a young woman on the cusp of new adventures and a more considered way of living.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... bewitching ... Cain takes this bare-bones fairy tale and writes back in extraordinary fashion. Indelicacy is part feminist fable, part ghost story, a book that reaches backwards and forwards in time as it seeks to talk back to literature and art, all the while rendering in clean, crisp prose one woman’s desire to find a place for herself to live as she wants – namely, without guilt ... Cain’s cleverness is to give her the opportunity, a double-edged sword that brings further self-knowledge ... For a short book, Cain’s debut is remarkable in its scope. Desire, guilt, class, female friendship, marriage and art all feel thoroughly examined ... The voice is perfect – intrepid but assured, appreciative and curious, an outsider, in short, a writer ... a call-out to female artists and would-be artists across the ages.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... a debut novel that is teaming with life despite its deadly subject matter ... captivating ... Anappara shifts skilfully between different narrative voices throughout her novel ... a masterful eye-opener to the casual cruelties of contemporary India ... The chief success of Anappara’s novel is her depiction of the basti, and the exploration of the cultural and societal issues that underpin it. Through the innocent eyes of Jai and his friends, the details are striking ... [a] vibrant rendering of an unequal, corrupt Indian society ... A particular strength of Anappara’s writing is her portrayal of the plight of young Indian women.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)Offill introduces the world with ease. Her style seems effortless. She is a wizard at letting the story tell itself and knows exactly how much detail to give the reader. If there was a motto for her writing it might be: never confusing, never dull ... The sections on marriage and motherhood are full of unsentimental, astute observations ... There is perhaps a slightness to this storyline that was not apparent in Dept of Speculation. Both novels are slender and both use the same formal invention where snippets of conversations, jokes, various media and correspondence combine to an impressive whole ... If there is a negative to Weather, it is that we are left wanting more from all of these characters. By turns profound and hilarious, it is the kind of book where you don’t want to miss a line ... To read a Jenny Offill novel is to come away feeling more engaged with the world and a little less alone.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)Weinberg herself has an aversion to neat endings, or neatness in general – her plot takes surprising turns, her characters are multifaceted, and their dialogue pings with curious anecdotes and diversions that, unusually, add rather than detract from the whole ... Weinberg makes the mentor-student dynamic her own, mixing it with an engaging plot centred around love, betrayal and murder ... Sex plays a large part in The Truants, and Weinberg writes it well ... marks [Weinberg] out as a natural storyteller – in the vein of Christie herself – who spins a decent yarn with lots of smaller yarns along the way. At times we’re bombarded with information and the plot momentum can be ferocious ... Sometimes this lacks plausibility ... The final few chapters of the book are also too dragged out, with the plot mostly sewn up and the most engaging characters off-stage ... It is to Weinberg’s credit that the above doesn’t take away from the book. Her prose is fluid, at times startling, and her insights into society and human behaviour sharp. She knows the difference between drama and tension, and frequently underplays scenes and back story ... Dialogue is a particular strength in this book, hitting the sweet spot between exposition and naturalism. Chats are interesting, intelligent, fresh, and cover everything from literature to monogamy to politics. This is a debut that may sell itself as a murder mystery but there is much more going on between the covers.
MixedThe Irish Times (UK)The past is a clever place from which to discuss modern preoccupations around ownership, identity and the body ... In the present-day narrative, a handful of young women choose to attend the elite boarding school. Initially well drawn and vibrant, most of these characters sadly fade to obscurity, which is a particular shame given the subject matter of the book. The problem is one of overloading – Caroline’s mother’s back story, and the mystery of her death, is given too much prominence ... Beams’ depiction of the treatment of women at the hands of men – even supposedly enlightened men – recalls The Fever by Megan Abbott. There are echoes of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, too. Beams keeps us guessing as to the girls’ culpability, though a rushed ending sweeps them off stage, choosing instead to focus on Caroline’s story ... The Illness Lesson is a colourful, memorable story about women’s minds and bodies, and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.
Sok Fong Ho, Trans. by Natascha Bruce
PositiveThe Irish TImes (IRELAND)... [a] striking, fluid translation ... The nine stories in this second collection are troubling and enigmatic, as they try to make sense of a society that seeks to oppress freedom. In precise and unsettling prose, each one considers, in its own unique way, the words that go unsaid and the lives that go unlived ... Sok Fong uses...multiple women in her narrative. Their lives in captivity blur, as do the traditional structures of storytelling, with elements from the first story bleeding in to the next ... complex, unwieldy ... [some] stories in the collection are less challenging, and arguably offer more pleasure to the reader. Their surrealness is grounded in everyday life, bringing us closer to the characters at the centre. In this, Sok Fung’s collection is reminiscent of the stories of Jan Carson or Diane Cook, or even Miranda July in some of the more offbeat situations.
MixedThe Irish Times (IRE)Fans of the movie Birdman will not be surprised that its co-author, Nicolas Giacobone, has written a debut novel full of metafictional twists and turns. The layered storytelling of the Oscar-winning movie doesn’t quite come off in the novel form, but there is much within to keep readers – and especially aspiring writers – interested along the way ... a prose style that is breezy, easy to read and packed with witty one liners ... With a plot that has strains of Stephen King’s Misery, there is, however, none of the dread or horror of crippled writer Paul Sheldon’s situation...a small amount of suspense early on is derived more from the absurd premise rather than any deliberate attempt on Giacobone’s part to evoke a malevolent atmosphere. His novel is Misery mined for laughs. For much of the book, this is enough to sustain us. Like any good screenwriter, Giacobone skilfully sets up the world ... Sadly, the charm starts to wear thin midway through the book and, ironically, Giacobone would do well to heed his character’s own advice about plot points and getting through the difficult middle. Perhaps it’s on purpose – the book frequently satirises its own plot and premise – but the repetitive musings and labyrinthine storytelling grow tiresome...The diversions become boring and jarring time shifts and reminders that the battery on his laptop is running out start to grate.
RaveIrish Times (IRE)The eight stories in the collection have a snappy, wry humour to them. Think early Lorrie Moore, or here at home, the stories that launched Anne Enright’s career. Flattery has a similarly sharp sense of humour and justice, and a writing style that uses contrast to great effect ... Flattery’s ability to switch, sometimes in the same line, from sorrow to comedy gives the collection depth and momentum. There is an international scope to her writing that recalls contemporary American authors such as Laura van den Berg and Kristen Roupenian ... Flattery’s style...is bold and bracing and has no bones about it ... \'Track\', which won the 2017 White Review Short Story Prize, is set in New York city as a young Irish woman charts her relationship highs and lows with a famous comedian. A startling tale of loneliness and degradation, it is also a bitingly funny account of talent on the wane. The opposite is true for the Mullingar author herself, whose debut collection heralds a rising star.
PositiveThe Irish TimesReal fears are given a surreal makeover in this collection, with 12 stories that range from absurd to dystopian to postapocalyptic ... A central theme of Man V Nature danger is reflected in Cook’s inventive style ... For all its grim predicaments, these are stories about shelter and surviving. Life is the fight, Cook seems to be saying, and how we tackle it ultimately defines us.
RaveThe Irish TimesTexan Merritt Tierce’s powerful debut novel gives an uncomfortable and unsentimental portrayal of the American restaurant scene ... Sexually explicit and unashamedly fierce, Love Me Back is at once an exposé of bad practices in the service industry and a searing portrait of a smart young woman in freefall. It is a gut-wrenching story of pain and the lengths people will go to block out guilt and shame. Mordant and pensive, weary and innocent, wildly irresponsible and a diligent worker, Marie is a mess of contradictions, a human being bent on destruction but desperate to survive ... The short story structure of the book brings suspense and makes the reader work, as each chapter delves into a new predicament, most of them unpleasant. These situations are continually undercut with a grim humour and a sharp eye for social insight ... Shooting straight from the hip, Love Me Back is the story of a woman who hits bottom while working her way to the top.
PositiveThe Irish Times\"Follow Me to Ground mixes elements of horror, fairytale and myth to deliver a compelling, odd beast of a book ... Rainsford is not concerned with plot – she deliberately obscures her narrative at key points, preferring instead to immerse the reader in Ada’s strange world of death and desire ... Ada may be non-human, but Rainsford’s lyrical, hypnotic prose allows us to relate to her with ease. There is a furtiveness in the book, both in story and style, with Rainsford artfully bringing the reader along even as Ada’s desires grow ever more dangerous ... Her novel recalls Alexandra Kleeman’s debut You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, another nightmarish, cerebral examination of the female body ... Readers looking for a conventional plot or hand-holding through a murky world will be disappointed. In her pursuit of her desires, Ada embarks on a kind of madcap eugenics scheme that weaves and wanders, and frequently deceives, but we keep reading, following after her, into the ground.\
Laura van den Berg
RaveThe Irish TimesIn the meantime, readers looking for a fresh, emotive and darkly comic take on the modern US and its problems will be highly satisfied with this short collection ... Comparisons to Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore are well founded, with van den Berg’s poignant and funny stories laying bare vulnerabilities in even the most horrible of characters ... Humour is seen throughout the collection, lightening the sombre themes of loss, loneliness, neglect, marital dysfunction and despair ... Van den Berg keeps the reader guessing with twists that seem at once absurd but highly apt for the emotional traumas her characters undergo ... Such burning holes are evident in all of the protagonists in this collection, a vibrant and memorable bunch shouting out in pleasure and pain.
MixedThe Irish Times... the book’s first half is a masterclass in storytelling and suspense ... does fall prey to the danger of multiple narrators. The voice of 369B is less convincing, the twists far more obvious, her motivations and capacity for memory and loss bizarrely obscured. There is a tendency to direct the reader when it comes to the more mechanical aspects of the plot ... Even Lydia’s narrative, arguably the most accomplished, does not escape from the occasional heavy hand...Her wry, doom-laden asides, which often close a section or chapter, start to seem formulaic by the second half ... Lydia is nonetheless a formidable creation and, ironically, the beating heart of this sequel. Like a master sculptor, Atwood has taken the imprint of her former character and used it to cast something that is both new and chillingly recognisable.
PositiveThe Irish TimesIn her young female protagonist, Jochems has succeeded in creating a highly original voice that both intrigues and repels. With strong overtones of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels, Baby sees two women – Cynthia and her cherished Pilates instructor. Anahera – embark on an extraordinary journey and friendship as they uproot their lives to go on the run ... short chapters that give a propulsive feel to the book ... Jochems gives us little else in the way of backstory, which works to heighten the sense of unease we feel about Cynthia as her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic ... There are glimmers of dark humour throughout the book that help to cut through the boredom and repetitiveness of life in an enclosed space. A minor issue with the narrative is the character’s lack of objectives. Cynthia never reveals to us what she wants, not really, and it can be hard to care sometimes because of this. But Jochems does enough with the plot to keep us interested and her plain but precise prose style also helps to keep things buoyant ... In Cynthia, her reality TV-loving psychopath, she has created a fresh voice, a memorable monster who could well have her own series of books if the author chooses to go down that road. As it is, we leave Baby with an almost dirty level of zoom lens detail, as if we’ve binged on reality TV ourselves.
RaveThe Irish TimesQuick-witted and sharp-tongued, lovable and flawed, Claire is a super narrator that readers will easily connect with. Her predicaments are at once universal and unique. Owens isolates her narrator not only from the working world but also from her family, in a subplot that is traumatic and yet bizarrely funny ... The storyline is sensitively handled; Owens steers clear of melodrama, presenting instead two sympathetic sides for the reader to assess ... Not Working is a gem of a debut, a delayed coming-of-age of a woman who stops to consider life’s big questions through humour ... With her warmth and insights, Claire is a more intelligent Bridget Jones ... In the novel, the relationship between Claire and her boyfriend Luke is laugh-out-loud funny ... The convincing banter between the pair sees even their most intense arguments take a comic turn ...With her eagle eye on human behaviour, her inquisitive mind and her attraction to random trivia and detail...Claire’s ideal job should be clear to the discerning reader.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRE)... deftly written ... Cha skilfully weaves reality into her fiction. We’ve seen the stories in the news but being immersed in the world of the families affected by the violence proves a more enlightening experience. The dual narratives work well to highlight how issues of race have evolved in the last three decades ... The Korean immigrant experience is where the novel really comes into its own, offering an interesting, lesser known history of the riots ... Your House Will Pay is an urgent portrait of a time not so long ago where civil blood made civil hands unclean.
PositiveThe Irish Times (IRELAND)That Orpen’s childhood is the most idyllic part of the narrative says much about the brutal world of Last Ones Left Alive. A story of a young woman’s survival against an army of zombie-like creatures known as skrakes, the book has strong feminist overtones and a style that places it in the crossover genre of adult and young adult readers. This comes through in the prose, which is clear and visual and seeks to show through example the almost impossible odds stacked against the heroine ... The author excels at macabre detail...Davis-Goff blends narrow and wide lens writing to good effect ... Davis-Goff...is particularly good at writing violence ... Orpen is an admirably fierce heroine, and not just in her physicality.
RaveThe Irish Times...a captivating collection whose quality is all the more remarkable for the fact that its author had never been published before coming to the attention of The Stinging Fly’s Declan Meade ... Erskine’s voice is noticeably Northern, however, with a dry wit that is often found in the most unlikely places ...
The downtrodden in the community is a focus for Erskine, as is the importance of work for people who are struggling or rebuilding their lives after trauma ... Erskine shows restraint as a writer, dealing sensitively with material that has the potential to be salacious or overdramatised ... Erksine is at her best when she gives the narrative over to the authoritative, pulsating voices of her characters.
Geovani Martins, Trans. by Julia Sanches
MixedThe Irish Times... while the stories in The Sun on My Head offer a vibrant and modern view of life in Rio’s favelas, the writing lacks the precision and craft of authors such as Junot Díaz, Daniel Alarcón and fellow Brazilian Adriana Lisboa ... Martins struggles with endings. His stories mostly jolt to a finish, or occasionally spring an unearned epiphany on reader and character. They are fleeting snapshots of favela life, usually from the perspective of young male characters whose struggles range from finding \'bud\' and caring for infants to disposing of bodies. Yet if the aim of Martins’s writing is to give a flavour of how fraught it is to grow up in a hugely underprivileged community of the \'Broken City,\' he has achieved this in his book. There are many strengths to his storytelling, not least a way with color and energy that bring most settings and scenarios to life ... Martins is good at dialogue, particularly the back and forth between authorities and the young men they so obviously fail to protect ... Elsewhere, narrative flow is halted by clunky descriptions ... Frequent tense shifting seems arbitrary rather than related to the text, and occasionally an awkward metaphor or description takes us away from the narrator and into a more judgmental authorial voice ... The collection really shines when it comes to setting. Martins is an evocative writer who knows his city well.
RaveThe Irish TimesA plot summary of Mislaid will certainly reel in an audience, but it is Zink’s singular way of telling her story and upending just about every societal norm you can think of that keeps us gripped ... Full of irony, contradiction and parody of southern American culture, the book takes on taboos ...with a narrative that chops and changes between adult characters and their children, who mature into surprisingly well-adjusted teenagers. Mislaid is unsentimental in the extreme ... The novel is highly quotable, with so many memorable lines that you almost miss them with the speed of the plot ... Nothing is sacrosanct in this novel – racism, gender, sexual violence, patriarchy, family – and Zink’s feverish, intelligent writing carries the reader along for the unholy duration.
PositiveThe Irish Times (UK)... best enjoyed as a meandering trip through the mind of an ageing, troubled man trying to figure out where he stands in his career, marriage and life. Written with Koch’s characteristic humour and sharp eye ... an entertaining if sometimes long-winded read ... There is a dizzying number of subplots ... an original treatment of tragedy ... Readers familiar with Koch’s other novels will recognise the writer’s talent for depicting complex characters. This new book is also full of his trademark social commentary ... The unnecessary diversions into the mechanics of civic life can be tiresome at times, and although the ambiguity works well for much of the novel, it fails to deliver an impactful ending. But ultimately Koch gets away with his digressions in a story whose charm is in the telling and less so in the discoveries. A playful and fluid translation by Sam Garrett does much to help the book on its way. For all its tangents and phoney tribulations, this is a book firmly rooted in reality.
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... a deft, elegant style that instantly captivates the reader ... In the hands of a lesser author, the narrative strains would struggle to cohere, but Chung manages her plots and subplots with the precision of a mathematician meticulously piecing together different parts of a puzzle ... The title, and short prologue, are a nod to the book’s wider achievement in mixing fiction with historical fact ... strong overtones of Jenny Offill’s wonderful debut Last Things ... a most memorable heroine, a sympathetic, mesmerising voice who tells a deceptively simple story centred on identity and a never-ending quest for knowledge and truth ... The thriller aspect that develops later on in Bonn – involving a notebook of equations and some dodgy academics – doesn’t quite come together but it is a minor criticism in a book whose vast capacity for knowledge and wonder is skilfully transferred to the reader. The retrospective narrative works a treat in this instance, like listening to a wise old sage divulge not just the mysteries of mathematics but of life itself.
MixedThe Irish Times... gripping ... A Ripley-esque novel that loses the plot in the final quarter, it is nonetheless a decent bet for readers looking for a well-written page-turner ... The awkwardness of Abby arriving uninvited is beautifully written by Acampora, as is the conniving, convincing way she makes herself indispensable to Elise. Directing the story to her former friend, Abby is creepy and compelling from the outset, an underdog voice that many will root for ... Acampora writes about the subject of female friendship with nuance ... Though The Paper Wasp turns highly fictional, and somewhat ludicrous, in the end, the hard truths and insights that are notable in Acampora’s short fiction enliven the journey along the way. Meaty topics underpinning the story – art, ambition, class, power – are thoughtfully explored and an arch eye is cast over life in the Hollywood bubble ... Where the book falls down is in its subplot involving the Rhizome, and its leader Perren. Initially intriguing Abby’s sessions with Rhizome practitioner Telo are too vague and nonsensical to hold our interest ... a rushed and unsatisfying end.
Gabriela Ybarra, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
PositiveThe Irish Times... succinct and inventive ... Ybarra’s research is evident ... Ybarra brings us through the process with the objectivity and forensic eye of a true crime writer, allowing glimpses of poignancy through her connection to her subject ... Ybarra expertly blends techniques of fiction and non-fiction ... The tone of her debut has the conversational appeal of a really well written blog; it makes the reader think about the subjects and connect with their plight ... the writing sparkles throughout ... Although short on word count, by the end of The Dinner Guest, Ybarra has done herself and her family proud in a story that is full of light and shade.
PositiveThe Irish Times (UK)A book that delves deep into the gender inequalities of sex, marriage, divorce and online dating in modern day New York, it is teeming with insights and humour, a genuine tour-de-force ... The style can feel too busy at times, with a dense narrative structure that works well to get in different perspectives but also draws attention to the artifice of the novel ... gives an enticing fly-on-the-wall feel to proceedings, and says much about the marginalisation of women and mothers, but it’s also a stretch that Libby could possibly know all the details, dialogue and interior monologues of her friend. The frame takes us outside the story, which is perhaps the point – likeable, everyman Toby is giving us a one-sided view of the breakdown of his marriage ... There is plenty of humour throughout, but the heft comes from Brodesser-Akner’s analysis of a marriage breakdown ... There are so many quotable lines and observations that the reader may feel dizzy by the end ... the real success of the book, the reason it is justifiably being touted as a Great Novel, is that it makes us take stock and appreciate what we have even as it shows us how easily things fall apart. For all its entertainment value and virtuoso writing, readers will remember Fleishman is in Trouble for its chastening lessons.
PositiveThe Irish Times... an otherwise charming debut that doesn’t quite earn its length. An original and evocative tale with elements of Gothic fiction, its story becomes unwieldly in later parts and the mysteries that are so skilfully established in the early chapters are buried under the weight of too much action. There is, however, plenty to recommend in Collins’ writing: vivid characters, lush settings, a captivating heroine and an intelligent, unsentimental analysis of her tragic history ... Snippets of the trial and testimony from other servants are deftly weaved into the plot, with convincing legal detail and good courtroom momentum. Less successful are the diary entries of George Benham, which do not reveal enough to earn their place, and side stories involving other characters of race who are romantically linked to Mrs Benham ... issues with length aside, Collins has achieved her aim in a beguiling story with strong feminist overtones.
RaveThe Irish Times...eminently readable ... Billed as a cross between The Great Gatsby and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, for once the marketing blurbs seem accurate, in plot and theme if not quite in terms of the writing ... Their opening-up to each other is tenderly depicted by Creek, whose sensual writing brings immediate intimacy with his characters and their situation ... In his debut Creek makes good use of the Cape’s emptiness in off-season. The eerie landscape that threatens to ruin the honeymoon turns into an lawless playground ... Creek’s success is that the tension of his book lies not just in the promise of an affair between Henry and Alma but also in watching Effie, albeit through her husband’s eyes, draw ever closer to the hedonism ... The latter half of the book is given over to the affair, written brilliantly by Creek ... Creek is also good on the hypocrisies of the era, the double standards ... While a flash-forward technique at the book’s end feels like a bit of a cheat, it shows the repercussions of betrayal over decades.
Alia Trabucco Zerán, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
PositiveThe Irish TimesIn a notable translation by Sophie Hughes, Zerán’s lyricism and eye for detail shine on the page. The opening chapters are particularly gripping, documenting Iquela’s coming-of-age at a time when the regime is ending ... A preoccupation with language and translation, the way in which we interpret things, saturates the novel ... Zerán focuses on the present in a storyline that is original and macabre but ultimately underdeveloped ... The book’s problem lies with Felipe, whose story is told in alternating chapters and never reveals itself. Initially intriguing, and stylistically impressive as it spins a single sentence into a chapter, the character’s obsession with death and gore becomes repetitive in later sections. Far more interesting is the dynamic between Iquela and Paloma, recalling the disturbed female relationships in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye.
Pajtim Statovci, Trans. by David Hackston
RaveThe Irish Times (IRE)... timely ... In a deft narrative that splices both voices with myriad backdrops – Berlin, New York, Madrid, Rome and Helsinki— Statovci tells a quietly subversive tale that seeks to highlight the devastating effects of shame ... Unlike many contemporary novels, the dual narratives here support each other and each feels rounded and distinct. Statovci is particularly good at writing loss ... full of insights and thought-provoking reflection ... Statovci writes sensitively of his topics, in clear, vivid prose ... The backdrops of the novel all come easily to life.
RaveThe Irish TimesThe dark poetic world of Emma Glass’s debut, Peach, immerses the reader in a young woman’s personal hell ... Through prose that is lyrical, mythic and yet wonderfully clear, Peach expounds on themes of good versus evil, and the base nature of desire, consumption and carnality ... The author’s care when it comes to language is evident throughout, with a rhythmic flow to her sentences and examples of wordplay in both headings and text ... Food and the natural world make for fitting metaphors throughout ... Not since Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy has such symbolism been used so effectively to make clear one woman’s brutal experiences[.]
MixedThe Irish Times\"Golden Child is a beautifully written debut novel ... Life in Trinidad is brilliantly depicted ... By giving so many perspectives, however, Adam dilutes the power of her story ... The boy’s voice is wonderfully alive with all the insecurities piled on him by his family since birth, however, his heroism and plight are cut away too abruptly, denying both reader and character a proper end. The worst of the criticism though is to lament the fact that the book is not longer. Mostly, it shines, from the dialogue full of island cadence... to the observations peppered throughout the book ... It is a fine start to a writing career of an author who shows signs of having the Midas touch herself.\
William Melvin Kelley
RaveThe Irish TimesBroken into 11 chapters, A Different Drummer is frequently told from the perspective of white characters, which in the hands of another writer could mean further marginalization of a voice already so suppressed in literature, but Kelley deliberately gives the book over to white narrators—who range from brutally to casually racist—to make the struggles of his own race all the more impactful ... Kelley delivers his observations with caustic humor and surprising compassion. The comparisons of his debut to the books of James Baldwin and Faulkner are justified ... A Different Drummer is a fascinating account of a man, weary of words and politicking, who makes a seemingly nonsensical decision in the eyes of society.
PositiveThe Irish TimesThe collection as a whole is engaging and rarely flags, with characters’ dilemmas playing out in various interesting scenarios from Swedish burial sites to dance clubs in Paris to treacherous river crossings in the English countryside. The way Power skilfully mixes the petty resentments of domestic life with the wider world recalls Elske Rahill’s recent collection In White Ink, and the wonderful drawing on nature and science in the stories of Danielle McLaughlin.
PositiveThe Irish Times\"... an entertaining debut ... Not every story in the collection feels as gut-wrenching or as finely observed as \'Cat Person\' ... The rest of the collection, however, has much to recommend it with stories that offer abrasive, painfully aware accounts of relationships in turmoil ... You know you want this collection. Of course you do.\
RaveThe Irish TimesTold in a clear, powerful prose that grabs the reader from the off, the novel is an unflinching look at a life of a young woman recovering from trauma ... [Beagin] wrote the book after cleaning houses for five years...These details make it into her debut—including one hilarious scene where she stages her own bloody death in a client’s house—and give the book the authenticity and immediacy of a memoir ... Minor characters are brought to life in mere sentences, to the extent that even those introduced in later stages of the novel seem to have earned their place ... Beagin is excellent at physical description, in particular how the body memorises or processes trauma ... These details are given as backstory to a darker history of abuse that is told with great care and tension, leaving the reader as mired in ambiguities as Mona finds herself decades later ... With the clarity and vision of a more established writer, Beagin pieces together Mona’s past and, hopefully, her future. Wiping the floor with other, more hyped debuts this year, Pretend I’m Dead should clean up with readers and awards lists alike.
MixedIrish TimesThe Bus on Thursday, Barrett’s second novel, tackles the absurdity of surviving cancer in a zany, energetic tale that doesn’t quite come off. In a similar vein to Patty Yumi Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, Barrett’s novel is as highly original in concept and as funny in parts, but lacks the former’s rigour in style and language ... The Bus on Thursday is black and profane in its comedy – scenes of paedophilia are mixed with cupcake baking – and the force of its humour shocks the reader into realising the desperate loneliness of cancer ... however the clipped sentences don’t flow well and the conversational tone frequently veers into a whiny overshare ... Despite its obvious farcical overtones, the cumulative effect is that not enough care has been taken with language or editing.
Cristina Rivera Garza, trans. by Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
PositiveThe Irish Times (UK)... a beguiling, mind-bending take on the relentless pursuit of lost love ... Garza’s style can be sparse and startling, as with many opening lines of the various sections ... Elsewhere it is wonderfully poetic, dense as her boreal landscape ...
Through her powerful command of language, she eases the reader into her nightmarish fairytale ... [a] slippery gem of a book ... translated with a wonderfully light touch ... the short sections have a compulsive quality, even as the reader feels lured into the taiga themselves. The setting is atmospheric and frequently disconcerting ... ll this and more comes through in Rivera Garza’s expressive prose. From murderous lumberjacks, to astute wolves, to feral little boys, this is a short novel whose multiple stories stay in the memory long after reading.
PositiveThe Irish TimesHow Are You Going to Save Yourself for the most part achieves what it sets out to do, offering a layered and occasionally unsettling look at race, relationships and sex among a group of men in early adulthood ... Holmes switches clumsily between characters in his stories, diluting the power of scenes ... a clever and emotive piece of writing ... Holmes is strong on dialogue, and the dialect of the four friends when they’re hanging out together ... A neat circuity links the collection’s opening and closing stories, both steeped in the politics of race, sex and violence.
MixedThe Irish Times (UK)While the subject matter of Moore’s novel is certainly focused on humanity, specifically the lack of humanity shown by white people to black people down through the centuries, it is a stretch to say her novel dazzles with anything close to transcendence. The problem lies less in the genre mixing – Moore is an inventive writer who makes good use of African myth – but in the language, which is for the most part functional and forgettable, and eventually struggles to hold up the weight of all the subplots ... a clever and interesting reimagining of a history of subordination ... Occasionally the descriptions are noteworthy...But more often than not – particularly as Moore tries to make the strains of her narrative cohere with an effortful omniscient voice that watches over the characters – there is frequent exposition and convoluted expression.
R O Kwon
MixedThe Irish TimesThe raw materials are there for an explosive novel ... But despite promising a tale of obsession, fanaticism and loss, RO Kwon’s debut The Incendiaries fails to ignite. The stylish writing and interesting subject matter are lost in a plodding narrative that feels like a paint-by-numbers attempt at Donna Tartt’s The Secret History ... This is no doubt about Kwon’s prose, which is at times beautiful and eloquent and worthy of attention ... Aesthetically pleasing in parts, Kwon’s novel is let down by a startling awkwardness in narrative style ... The raw materials might be there for a powerful book, but The Incendiaries is an overhyped debut that lacks a fuse.
Sayaka Murata, Trans. by Ginny Tapley Takemori
RaveThe Irish Times\"Marx’s theories on work and alienation are beneath the surface of Keiko’s story, though the novel is never preachy on its themes.
Instead Murata uses her oddball narrator to deliver quips at an impressive rate about so-called normal social behavior ... Murata excels at highlighting the human need to rationalise things we don’t understand ... Ginny Tapley Takemori’s skilful translation captures the balance between the quirky and the profound that propels the novel to its rather abrupt end. This is a story that readers could easily stay with all over again were it to be longer. It is a small complaint for a book that invites us into its world of social normalcy and refuses a convenient exit. Irasshaimasé! to a sure-fire hit of the summer.\
PositiveThe Irish TimesThe book is overloaded with action but it does not, for the most part, detract from Li’s achievement in creating a vivid world full of sensual imagery. She is, as one would expect for the subject matter, particularly strong on taste and smell ... The details of the restaurant world are finely chosen, from the 28 slices that make up a Peking duck, to the action in the kitchens ... Li frequently mines the restaurant world for humour ... But she also incorporates more insightful observations ... Her prose is colourful and unforced, with an easy flow that makes up for the voice hopping and slightness in perspectives ... a debut novel whose lessons can be savoured.
Hanne Ørstavik, Trans. by Martin Aitken
RaveThe Irish Times (IRELAND)For a short novel that spans only a few hours in time—there is little in the way of back story and no flashbacks to the past – Ørstavik brings us remarkably close to both her characters, shifting effortlessly between them in stark, lucid prose. There is a timeless feel to this novel that is similar to Ghost Wall and West, stories that are universal in nature even as their worlds are wonderfully unique. All three books carry from the opening pages an impending sense of doom that unfolds in tense sequences over the course of the narrative ... Ørstavik’s twinned themes of love and neglect manifest on every page. Her style, brilliantly translated by Martin Aitken, is quiet and mesmeric ... for all the potential dangers of this one night, the book’s achievement is that we come to the end of it seeing a wider picture. The focus is not necessarily on the neglect of one evening, but rather on the miracle of the thousands of preceding days that a mother has managed to keep her son alive.
MixedThe Irish Times\"Billed as \'a tragedy, a comedy and a road trip novel,\' perhaps even the publishers of Dan Sheehan’s debut Restless Souls know there’s too much going on in one book for it all to work cohesively ... As the novel progresses, distinct voices do emerge, but this is more a factor of circumstance than style. Where Sheehan...comes into his own as a writer is the descriptions of a war-torn Sarajevo ... The characterization of peripheral characters is also skillfully done ... The problem with Restless Souls is a subplot that easily could have made a novel in its own right.\