PositiveThe Times (UK)... It’s a painfully recognisable adolescent yearning that’s captured well in Rebecca Rukeyser’s quirky, wry debut ... Miles from any sort of civilisation, the scene is set for a spiral into disaster — which Mira relates, from the perspective of some years’ distance, with a deftly juggled mix of mercilessly sharp character judgment and gentle compassion for each person’s failings. But mainly Rukeyser lets Mira’s solipsistic wranglings with her sexual desires take centre stage — this is not a novel for anyone who demands lots of plot, but definitely one for readers who enjoy the sort of dive into dysfunction championed by Ottessa Moshfegh.
RaveThe Times (UK)What a joy ... from its opening pages I was hooked ... there is a viperish wit wriggling beneath every sentence ... Keane has wicked fun with Aroon, less an unreliable narrator than an utterly blinkered one, who manages to relay her story without ever understanding what is going on within it. But we know—and what larks we have watching these callous, deluded, selfishly unloveable people yearn for a bygone era that has slipped through their fingers ... Aroon’s aching loneliness and unsatisfied desires are bitterly funny to see played out, her mother’s put-downs always devastating ... Keane’s prose is deliciously insouciant—she was born to this life and could strike to the very heart of its ludicrousness with a few deft strokes.
Virginie Despentes tr. Frank Wynne
PositiveThe Times (UK)Despentes’ fearless dissection of contemporary France through a chorus of extraordinary, often extreme voices. It’s grim out there, she attests, but, with a Gallic shrug and a mischievous humour, she also shows that there’s a kind of joy to be found in that chaos ... Despentes’ achievement is French realism rebooted: a modern-day Comédie humaine stacked with profanity and fury. It’s often deeply uncomfortable reading — that’s the point. Yet the unexpected friendships and sense of mutual concern within this wildly disparate group offer just enough hope for you to hang in there. Just don’t expect Despentes to give you a happily ever after.
Robert Jones Jr
PositiveThe Times (UK)Jones’s rich cast of characters are in large part carefully drawn and feel real. Each person’s survival strategy is explored; appalling, selfish acts occur, but we know the past experiences, internal justifications and external extreme pressures that have led to them. There’s often compassion for them, without an attempt to condone their behaviour...Jones plants us into the heart of their desperate world ... Being so immersed, it is a shame when we leave them, but Jones is keen to think about being black and gay in a wider historical sweep (as a black gay man, he says, the subject has been erased from the history books and popular memory)...feels rather bolted on ... Jones also reaches hard for poeticism, hence the comparisons to Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. But it is not always successful; his meanderingly overblown passages and sidesteps into philosophising slow the pace. Yet there are stabs of real beauty in his descriptions, a sense of building tragedy that draws you in, and characters you want to live with for a good while after you’ve turned the last page.
Agustina Bazterrica trans. by Sarah Moses
PositiveThe Times (UK)... not for the faint-hearted ... The science behind this may be a bit dodgy, but go with it ... Bazterrica pulls no punches in describing the breeding and slaughtering of the \'heads\' — a tour of the processing plant takes five agonising chapters, from unloading and ante-mortem inspections to the carcasses being divided up. There’s an almost puckish delight in making us squirm. This sits in counterpoint to the authorities’ Orwellian attempts to normalise what’s happening ... It’s not an elegant read, but it’s grimly engrossing, with a sucker-punch ending. And it may well put you off that bacon sandwich.
MixedThe Times (UK)Certainly, the descriptions of Casey’s interminable shifts at a high-end restaurant on Harvard Square—the bewildering, relentless pressure, the catty staff politics, the vicious head chef—were so alarmingly immersive that I started having PTSD flashbacks to my waitressing days ... Novels about writing novels usually set pseud alarms ringing, but Writers & Lovers anchors itself in the mundane, the wry and the relatable. It’s just a shame that amid the ragged, all-too-real emotions King summons up so deftly, the plot resolution is so predictable and neat.
Nino Haratischvili, Trans. by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
MixedThe Sunday Times (UK)No one emerges well—but the episodic recounting of the 20th century from a Georgian perspective that’s woven through this novel emphasises how they’ve been crushed by history with a capital H. That’s interesting, particularly when we touch on little-known events, and, for instance, a less charitable view of Mikhail Gorbachev. Yet it’s odd how infrequently Nino Haratischvili...achieves a sense of place in her epic tale; her interest remains with the interior angst of her characters, to the detriment of the bigger picture of her settings. As we move through the decades, The Eighth Life becomes rather baggy, and the appeal of its soap-opera-ish melodrama starts to wane. It’s a novel that aims for exhaustive and ends up rather exhausting—but you do learn a lot about Georgia.
Javier Cercas, Trans. by Anne McLean
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)\"Cercas’s candid wranglings with how to tell this tale, his own deep discomfort and the grave maturity with which he acknowledges he can’t feel morally superior to Mena make him a wonderfully warm and wise guide through this sad, small chapter of the Spanish Civil War ... It is also that of Spain, and its telling is another step on the difficult path to abandoning the \'pact of forgetting\' and finally reconciling with the past.\
PositiveThe Times (UK)...[a] vigorous, polyphonic, Booker-shortlisted novel, which devotes a chapter each to 12 characters, mostly black women. It provides a reframed picture of Britain across the decades from a mixed-race orphan at the turn of the previous century to the gender-neutral Megan/Morgan, a social-media influencer ... If this sounds like some sort of \'woke\' nightmare, Evaristo’s skill lies in making this more than a worthy exercise in tick-box inclusiveness ... Her writing, as in previous books, is free-flowing, eschewing normal sentence structure and sometimes slipping closer to poetry, catching the cadences of the characters’ voices and the force of their emotions ... Here, the women, with all their flaws, mistakes and desires on show, bite back, with wit, force, fierceness and wisdom.
RaveThe Times (UK)Hughes has created more than a party trick ... by tapping into western literature’s greatest war story he reveals the elemental brutality of the Troubles — he spares nothing of its sordidness, especially when it comes to the way the women are used and abused. And his greatest triumph (helped no doubt by his acting credentials) is that he renders it all in a lively, convincing demotic that captures an Irish idiomatic flow and an echo of Homer’s formalities and hexametric lines. It begs to be read aloud.
MixedThe Times (UK)Flitting across continents, Ghosh deftly summons up a pungent sense of place, whether in the mangrove swamps of Bengal or the misty, cobbled streets of Venice. The past lurks convincingly in the present. However, you can’t help feeling bashed over the head by all the talk of cyclones, wildfires, oceanic dead zones, dolphin beachings and flooding crises. And with such a host of characters representing opinions or merely in place to move the plot along, the narrative, and particularly the dialogue, are often stilted. As such, sadly, is more a fusillade of finger-wagging than a display of sniper-like precision.
PositiveThe TimesBaker knowingly adds woman-in-peril tropes to her own protagonist’s story as she builds a slowly unspooling psychological thriller — of course the miles-from-anywhere house she rents is in a mobile-phone blackspot. But there’s something cleverer going on in The Body Lies; its clout is in the sexual politics behind its deft contrast between the fictional depiction of violence against women — as written in the postgrads’ work — and the stark, isolating reality.
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"It’s a tale of the pioneering west told from unexpected angles that, like her Orange prizewinning debut, is haunted with grief and ghosts, mysterious beasts and the heavy costs of conflict ... There’s a certain amount of heat-hazed meandering to Obreht’s tale as you wait to see how these lives will converge. For those with the patience to wait, she does lead us to a startling denouement. But there’s a ponderousness to the tone that can be off-putting ... Yet there are sparkling descriptions here...and she convincingly conjures the jagged anxiety of clinging on to life and livelihood in the face of terrible odds.\
Robert Menasse, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
PositiveThe Times... a merciless W1A meets Yes, Minister send-up of the worst excesses of choking Brussels bureaucracy ... juggles a multitude of wryly amusing storylines and skewers the commission’s \'comitology-speak\'. Lively pen sketches of characters are skilfully done ... an unexpectedly downbeat ending.
PositiveThe Times (UK)There is...something unremittingly dark at the heart of Big Sky. It bubbles under the surface as Atkinson — once again — gleefully upends crime-fiction convention and spends the first chunk of her book introducing her wide range of characters, old and new. You start to wonder where the crime is ... Atkinson’s nimble and endearing skill across all her fiction...is to take the determinedly domestic, find the wry, sometimes waspish humour in it, and yet reveal something profoundly humane. She set up Brodie in Case Histories, his first appearance, as a man who, despite a horribly bruised past, held on to the belief \'that his job was to help people be good rather than punish them for being bad\'. It’s this moral bedrock that underlies all his misadventures, including Big Sky, in which his enduring preoccupation with lost girls flows into the ghastly case of abuse and sex trafficking that slowly emerges. Yet Atkinson doesn’t forget that crime fans enjoy the \'cheerfully unrealistic\' too. Her beloved coincidences abound ... And deft misdirection, cheeky literary references and Brodie’s flailing attempts to offer sympathy by quoting country-and-western lyrics are constantly entertaining. You finish Big Sky feeling battered — but thoroughly cheered up.
PositiveThe Times\"The writing is raw and deeply affecting; Li’s free-flowing recreation of the sparring, sometimes prickly back-and-forth between a highly intelligent, perfectionist teenager and his mum is interspersed with her acknowledgements that it is all a construction, and that, at the crucial moment, language fails her...\
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"Lost Children Archive is, in short, probably not a beach read ... The narrative structure is difficult, the language sometimes clunky. But then Luiselli dazzles with a poetic description, or a trenchant observation about the power and danger of stories. And the motivating crisis — those thousands of unaccompanied, \'undocumented\' children — forces itself through with moving insistence.\
PositiveThe Times (UK)The feverish inventiveness of Jasper Fforde’s latest novel is exhaustive — and at times exhausting. His imagined world is thoroughly packed with detail, but reading lines such as, \'He’s womad stock; Oldivician, I think. Part of his midwinter freezerthon,\' can make you wilt ... Fforde’s comic touch — which includes unexpected references to everything from Showaddywaddy to Tunnock’s teacakes — just about balances out the geekery of this alternate reality, and the thriller side of the tale is addictively propulsive.
Luke Jones and Anna Mill
MixedThe Times[I]f a clearly delineated story is important to your reading experience, Square Eyes is not the book for you. The designer and illustrator Anna Mill and the architect Luke Jones have come up with a spiky tale set in a dystopian near-future ... Mill’s graphics, clearly influenced by manga, zoom in dizzyingly on details, then fling us into vast industrial landscapes. Augmented reality images bewilderingly overlay seamy real-life; dialogue is terse and full of invented jargon. This is not a book that you can race through and if you understand what happens at the end, you’re doing better than me—but it certainly is a wild ride.
Javier Cercas, trans. by Frank Wynne
RaveThe Times (UK)...a fascinating, highly charged, scalpel-sharp dissection of Marco’s deception ... In the vein of true-crime accounts, such as In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Emmanuel Carrère’s The Adversary, Cercas inserts himself into this analysis, applying a ruthless logic to his own role and the consequences of his choices.
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"Amid the recent slew of rewritings of the great Greek myths and classics, Barker’s stands out for its forcefulness of purpose and earthy compassion ... If Achilles’ anger powers The Iliad, the anger of Briseis powers her through to her survival. \'The death of young men in battle is a tragedy,\' she notes, \'but theirs is not the worst fate.\' Barker puts a searing twist on The Iliad to show us what that \'worst fate\' can be.\
PanThe TimesIt’s only in the final straight that Ryan reveals how [the characters are] all connected. This is quite annoying. Not least because there’s a woman who acts as the fulcrum for this slightly improbable coming-together, and she gets short shrift. There’s a message here about compassion (the notion of being kind crops up more than once), but in this instance Ryan has let the structuring of his story overwhelm its humanity.
PositiveThe TimesBestowing modern feminist mores on classical texts may seem unwise, but it’s marvellous to see this Circe emerge through the haze, sympathetic and ringing true to 21st-century motivations ... Miller’s Me Too-era, kickass portrait of a woman trying to defy the men and Fates arrayed against her may be light reading, but it is rather enchanting.