PositiveThe Financial Times\"Biss’s impressive work...has many modes ...Though she ranges widely, Biss keeps a tight focus, and asks a simple question: why do people turn against what evidence suggests is best for them? What are we so afraid of? Her answers are as varied as her sources. Biss is the daughter of an oncologist and a poet and her writing is a distillation of the two disciplines. She has done the medical reading, she knows her facts, but she allows herself to feel on the page, to follow more imaginative trains of thought ... Sometimes she becomes almost too entangled in language, frequently defining her terms, tracing back etymologies and usage, but she’s quick to pan out too. On Immunity is as political as it is personal — Biss rails against a capitalism that has made unnatural individuals of us all — and as philosophical as it is political ... What Biss does best, however, is doubt. She develops arguments and amasses detail but she also allows her writing to be shot through with uncertainty. Not often does a writer baldly admit that they don’t know what something means...It is a very human non-fiction that emerges, comfortable with its questions. As a style, it supports the substance of Biss’s argument. We are, as a species, imperfect and interdependent, reliant on each other and irretrievably vulnerable. And that’s no bad thing.
PositiveThe Financial TimesSuicide humour is a niche skill: the writer needs bravery and an acquaintance with the act that means the gags aren’t ghoulish, but empathetic. The Canadian novelist Miriam Toews...is an old hand ... One of Toews’ trademarks is the high-speed paragraph, sentences rattling at the speed of thought until it suddenly stops, pulled up by horror ... To describe the tone as black humour wouldn’t quite do it justice. These are the jokes of someone trying to cling on to the mundanity of a sane world while a loved one repeatedly attempts to take her own life ... Toews’ style won’t be for everyone. Those busy, cascading sentences create drama but they can also grate ... To write powerful fiction out of personal events of such magnitude is hard, surely almost unbearably so, but the result is a novel that reaches beyond the limits of itself.
RaveThe Financial TimesJulavits’ version is confessional, certainly, but it is also a work of finely tuned artifice, an unashamed performance of privacy ... By the end you come to realise that this is a work of careful, conscious assembly — a life told in tessellated pieces, fitting perfectly together. The effect is closer to reading an essayistic memoir than that of stumbling on a locked notebook in a drawer ... Of course, it’s all the better for it. All that artifice adds up to a truer depiction of the interior self than the \'authentic\' version ... In a hyperactive excess of thought and counter-thought, the only thing that feels occasionally lacking is mundanity. At times the entries read like the witty and neurotic accompaniment to an Instagram feed, all ocean swims, picturesque graveyards and slightly awkward encounters with German artists. You’re grateful when she writes about being in a supermarket ... By offering a release from linear experience, Julavits rearranges her life so that it assumes a new pattern — one that is entirely contrived and yet, in its way, revelatory.
RaveThe Financial Times\"Outline is an exploration of the ‘secret pain’ of existence, as one of Faye’s writing students puts it. From the first page – a lunch meeting with a billionaire hoping to start a literary magazine (though the conversation never reaches that subject) – our narrator records her encounters with a varied cast. Character after character swerves into view, tells her their tale, and then disappears … As in all her writing, Cusk’s uncompromising, often brutal intelligence is at full power. So is her technique. The novel is written in a voice so supremely controlled, sometimes to the point of coldness, that its speaker’s profound pain is almost entirely masked. Precise, lyrical writing (the ‘baked, broken angles’ of rooftops) rubs against mundanity. And throughout, destabilising everything, there are moments of sudden and violent honesty.\
RaveThe Financial TimesSmith’s purpose in New York remains obscure until the closing pages of the novel. The narrative gamble pays off — you read to find out. But it wouldn’t have worked without Smith’s seductive, near-superheroic charisma. He’s a leading man blessed with wit, sympathy and an unending capacity for trouble ... the intoxicating effect of Golden Hill is much more than an experiment in form. Spufford has created a complete world, employing his archivist skills to the great advantage of his novel ... This is a book born of patience, of knowledge accrued and distilled over decades, a style honed by practice. There are single scenes here more illuminating, more lovingly wrought, than entire books.
RaveThe GuardianWe inhabit, indirectly, Lila’s mind as it leaps from her present discomfort as the preacher’s pregnant wife to raw memories of her shambolic childhood. In Lila, Robinson has created perhaps the fiercest test of Ames’s faith, and therefore her own, the Christian belief that forms and infuses all the Gilead books … You don’t need an ounce of faith to be stunned and moved by Lila. God has never been so attractive as he is in Robinson’s depiction, but her heart is with the human experience, in all its forms.