MixedThe AtlanticMy Dark Vanessa is a minefield in which language itself has been weaponized. Vanessa is both a smothering presence and a troubling void, a narrator who often feels disassociated from her own story ... To spend substantial time—roughly 350 pages—in the mind of a person defending the assault of an underage girl isn’t particularly pleasant. The more salient question, though, is whether it’s illuminating—whether Vanessa’s narrative offers something distinct about the mental aftermath of teenage trauma that makes its graphic descriptions of abuse worthwhile. The answer may depend on the reader’s tolerance for a character so intent on defending her own damage ... Vanessa’s story veers so wildly between obsession and disgust, between her steadfast defenses of Strane and her flashes of insight ... To the reader, Strane is a textbook predator, his behavior so predictable it’s almost banal ... Nabokov...uses language so floral, so ornate, that the brutality of an adult raping a child is kept at a distance. Russell isn’t so generous. Vanessa’s description of the first time Strane violates her is written like an assault ... What makes other fictional narratives of teenage abuse more bearable...is that the person telling the story has enough distance and perception to be able to see what they’re really portraying. Vanessa is infinitely more challenging ... Is she a valuable [character], in the end? I still can’t decide.
Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
PositiveThe AtlanticThe book is a dance between candor and diplomacy, as Andrews navigates the imperative of honesty with the courteousness that seems to be her governing instinct ... Andrews’s authorial voice in Home Work is authentic; her narrative is stately, funny, open, and characterized by an outright refusal to indulge in self-pity. It’s also enhanced by excerpts from her diaries, which convey some sense of how heavy she could find the emotional burden of performing.
John Le Carre
PositiveThe AtlanticLe Carré is perhaps the preeminent cartographer of international malfeasance, and his portrayal of spycraft is as enthralling as ever. Although he eschews more modern kinds of espionage for old-fashioned, in-person document drops and the careful cultivation of human intelligence, his stories don’t feel remotely anachronistic. But his characters, at this point, might. Nat, a man in his mid-40s, has a diction that feels decidedly out of joint with his age and his era ... In many ways, the intrigue of Agent Running in the Field is secondary to its function as a renowned author’s scathing indictment of a country selling itself out ... the payoff, in the end, is less surprising and compelling than the setting: a country that, in le Carré’s portrayal, seems to be decaying from the inside out. Agents Running in the Field captures a Britain whose power, influence, and claims to integrity are shown to be absurdly overblown. Even so, as a new installment in le Carré’s canon, the book also demonstrates that Britain is still a potent cultural force. Film and TV producers are more enthused by le Carré’s novels than ever before, while the author himself—a little crankier, perhaps, than he once was—remains one of the most shrewd and sonorous voices willing to speak truth to power.
PositiveThe AtlanticThe witnesses she portrays in her fiction aren’t saviors; they are (or hope to be) survivors, people constrained and compromised by circumstances, and especially worth listening to for that very reason. The Testaments highlights this fact by making a more loaded demand than its predecessor did—that readers place themselves in the seat of an oppressor, not one of the subjugated ... In Aunt Lydia—whose dry humor, ironic grandiosity, and contrarian instincts, not to mention her fame, call to mind Atwood’s own—Atwood continues to blur stark villain-victim distinctions. She gives readers a witness who has claimed not just agency for herself, but an agenda ... Bearing witness, [Atwood\'s] work has implied all along and now makes explicit, is a crucial step toward liberation in times of crisis, but witness-bearers shouldn’t mistake themselves for heroes—or hope to be heralded as heroes by others. Readers or listeners (or viewers, thanks to the Hulu TV adaptation) eager to anoint them risk confusing I was there testimony for an unblinkered claim to clarity and justice ... Aunt Lydia, having climbed up, can bear witness to what that has cost her. Wisdom like hers could hardly be more timely.
E. L. James
PanThe AtlanticIt’s not just that The Mister is bad. It’s that it’s bad in ways that seem to cause the space-time continuum itself to wobble, slightly, as the words on the page rearrange themselves into kaleidoscopic fragments of repetition and product placement ... The one positive thing you can say about The Mister is that it steers (mostly) clear of BDSM, and so doesn’t misinform millions of readers about the dynamics of consent ... The Mister is no different, really, in that its male characters have power and its female characters cook and clean ... She gives us internal monologues that have the breadth and emotional resonance of the white pages ... This kind of indiscriminate detail explains why The Mister is more than 500 pages long, but what’s baffling is that despite this exhaustive access to the inner workings of Maxim’s mind, he’s as wooden and charmless as a sideboard ... Even more than it’s offensive, though, The Mister is tedious. It’s laborious. James retains her capacity to write sex scenes that last thousands of words in a row, but not without including turns of phrase that make you, as the reader, want to bleach your own brain ... Stories like The Mister, which seem to want to wrench female sexuality and status back into the realm of feudalism, have a long distance to go to catch up.
PositiveThe Atlantic... an elaborate trick; it’s a meta work of construction and deconstruction, building a persuasive fictional world and then showing you the girders, the scaffolding underneath, and how it’s all been welded together. It’s also a work that lives in the gray area between art and reality: the space where alchemy happens ... The layers in Trust Exercise are so profuse that trying to perceive them all can feel dizzying ... what we’re left with, in the end, is fragments of testimony, each colored by its own particular kind of trauma, its own distorted perspective. And yet it’s possible to see all these elements independently and take away some kind of abiding reality that supersedes them all.
Leila Slimani Trans. by Sam Taylor
PanThe Atlantic\"... grimly vacant ... It’s challenging to identify what Slimani wanted to do with Adèle, a novel that’s almost as reluctant as its title character to engage in any hard work or deep reflection ... Adèle is a strikingly dull, joyless book ... If Slimani has achieved anything, it’s that she’s written a book that doesn’t even pretend to find pleasure in its heroine’s predilections. Only pain.\
PositiveNew York Times Book Review\"His Favorites isn’t so much a novel — or even, at a slender 150 pages, a novella — as an experiment in taking control of a narrative ... The result is that her abuser — a 34-year-old modern literature professor called \'Master, or Master Aikens, or M,\' is the flimsiest part of His Favorites, a shadow rather than a substantive presence ... And His Favorites isn’t a simple narrative of trauma and survival, but something more challenging, and potentially more valuable — a reckoning not just with the reality of abuse, but with the pernicious ways it can shape and inform everything, even the stories you tell yourself.\
PositiveThe AtlanticThe great trick of The Silence of the Girls is that it fills in the borders of one character in literature while uncovering the vast gaps that persist in the rest of the Western canon ... Barker’s language is often coarse and colloquial, as if she’s trying to erase the notion that art can make war beautiful ... Barker also includes anachronisms that can be jarring ... If the moments sometimes clash awkwardly with the more classical sections of prose, they also force readers to compare the misogyny of ancient Greece with the misogyny of the present ... Reading The Silence of the Girls almost a year into the #MeToo moment means confronting a literary tradition that’s long pushed women’s voices into the margins of history ... Books like this one prove not just how absurd that sentiment is, but also how powerful the silent voices have been all along.
PositiveThe AtlanticWriting Salander wasn’t easy. In the beginning Lagercrantz exaggerated her too much, making her \'a sort of terrible punk warrior,\' and giving her emotions that just didn’t fit her persona ... The Girl in the Spider’s Web, then, is masterful in the way it negotiates mining Larsson’s weaknesses for authenticity’s sake while polishing the rough edges. Lagercrantz’s story is intricate and ambitious, and his new antagonists for Salander and Blomkvist are appreciably exaggerated, without crossing a line into ridiculousness.
RaveThe AtlanticGroff’s environment is so sentient it seems to breathe; smells are \'exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.\' But her characters are passive, watchful, having long ago learned the futility of fighting the elements. Florida, in Florida, is more than a state. It’s a state of mind. It’s an encumbrance, drowning bodies in humidity. It’s a violent partner, constantly erupting ... As a collection, Florida is as eerie and ominous as it’s exquisite ... Existential anxiety pervades the collection ... And yet Groff provides occasional flashes forward that stave off despair, giving some reassurance that a few souls might make it after all ... Groff’s stories, turbulent and enthralling, are...\'dazzled by the frenzied flora and fauna\' of Florida, hyperalert to its dangers, and charged by its vitality.
PositiveThe Atlantic\"The Recovering is a sprawling, compelling, fiercely ambitious book that considers excess with full control, and strives for both exceptionalism and utility at the same time ... The parts of The Recovering that I found the most compelling were precisely the parts whose sameness I cherished—and whose sameness I suspect most of her readers will cherish, too. Not the reckoning with cult icons of literary boozing, but the parts about why Jamison drank—how it quelled her anxiety and made her feel alive ... Her writing throughout is spectacularly evocative and sensuous...And she thinks with elegant precision, cutting through the whiskey-soaked myths and the history of why people, particularly writers, put so much stock in drinking as a creative act ... If The Recovering has a stylistic flaw, it’s that it’s relentlessly, deliberately earnest ... Jamison is interested in something else: the possibility that sobriety can form its own kind of legend, no less electric, and more generative in the end.\
RaveThe Atlantic\"The cleverness of Zumas’s narrative structure is that it allows readers to understand the characters both from their own perspective and as they exist in the minds of others ... Red Clocks instead is deeply, intentionally personal. Rather than trafficking in sweeping generalizations or one-size-fits-all dictates, it focuses on the uniqueness of all of its characters, who are nevertheless linked by the immutability of their bodies. The familiarity of the book’s world, just a step removed from our own reality, is the most shocking thing about it.\
PositiveThe Atlantic\"Winter is a triumph of imagination, riddled with wordplay, puns, and double entendres, but it lacks the emotional core of Autumn, whose redemptive elements of love and friendship seem to be in hibernation ... Winter is a spry, fascinating book, but not a wholly agreeable one. It’s almost too clever, too comfortable with the information it’s withholding ... Even an off-tempo Ali Smith, though, writes leaps and bounds around anyone else. Her prose is too luminous, her humanity too irrepressible, to be clouded over. There’s hope, too, in the constant examinations of the fragility of peace and the persistence of nature.\
RaveThe AtlanticThe brilliance of The Power, an award-winning speculative-fiction work by Naomi Alderman only now being released in the U.S., is that it conceives of a way to flip this power dynamic entirely upside down ...the story feels allegorical, like a signal of how the confidence and curiosity of a generation of Teen Vogue readers can change the world ...she [Alderman] dedicates considerable effort over its 378 pages to imagining how the sudden ability in women to inflict excruciating pain on men might upend the order of communities all over the world ...primary characters seems to represent a particular pillar of society — politics, religion, media, crime — which allows Alderman to examine the manifold implications of the power’s arrival ... The world of her book — richly imagined, ambitious, and propulsively written — isn’t any better than ours. It’s just different.
Edward St. Aubyn
PositiveThe AtlanticDunbar is the latest installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a collection of modern prose retellings of Shakespeare’s plays...It’s an intriguing matchmaking exercise, but the pairing of St. Aubyn with Lear seems predestined … The immediate pleasure of Dunbar is in St. Aubyn’s mimicry of Shakespeare’s gift for banter. Dunbar and Peter spar back and forth, Peter adopting various guises as a career impersonator, Dunbar struggling to collect his fragmented thoughts. Peter’s patter is the classic nonsense-wisdom of the tragic clown, updated for modern vaudeville … St. Aubyn’s own women characters are much more nuanced, and it’s hard not to long for a more thorough engagement with female ambition. But St. Aubyn rivals Shakespeare in his magnificently scathing language.
RaveThe AtlanticThe parallels between the two characters, and the possibility that Francescho is either some sort of guardian angel or a spirit who’s unconsciously been summoned, could seem contrived. But Smith’s deliberate obfuscation of what, exactly, is going on makes the novel feel less mawkish and more metaphysical. It’s like a mystery to be marveled at rather than solved. Her writing is crisp and elegant throughout, elevating Francescho’s anachronistic observances of 21st-century life from predictably comic to poetic … In How To Be Both, Smith manages the rare feat of conjuring up opaqueness and clarity. There are mysteries and unanswered questions, but also hints that parallels and connections abound, that everything in the world is related.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSylvia Brownrigg’s Pages for You, a novel narrated by a naïve Yale freshman, was published in 2001 ... Yet Pages for Her, the novel’s long-awaited sequel, set 20 years later, is cut through with disappointment ...is the deflating thud of reality, rudely encountered ...Brownrigg delays this meeting between the two women until the last fifth of the novel, choosing instead to flesh out the vicissitudes of Flannery’s life as a parent ... One of the gratifying aspects of Pages for Her is that it spends its central section with Anne, offering more insight into a woman who was seen in Pages for You only through the lens of Flannery’s heady infatuation ... When Anne and Flannery finally meet, the novel kicks into gear.
RaveThe AtlanticHamid’s novel is both timely—a tale about refugees playing out against a global migrant crisis—and impossibly prescient. When it comes to the future, he posits, we will all be migrants, whether we hop from country to country or stay in one place until the day we die ... Meticulously but casually, Hamid charts a society’s descent, and how innate the human impulse is to endure ... Although the country Saeed and Nadia flee from is vague, the locations they flee to are specific, which allows Hamid to elucidate some of the more grimly absurd realities of migration ... Hamid’s writing—elegant and fluid, with long sentences that encapsulate the myriad contradictions of his characters’ lives—makes Exit West an absorbing read, but the ideas he expresses and the future he’s bold enough to imagine define it as an unmissable one.
RaveThe AtlanticWhat kind of art will come out of this moment? If Ali Smith’s Autumn is a harbinger of things to come, the work that emerges over the next decade will be extraordinarily rich ... Through Smith’s dazzling, whimsical feats of imagination, a news cycle described by Elisabeth as 'Thomas Hardy on speed' becomes the backdrop for a modernist interrogation of history ... As the novel proceeds, she layers together fragments of books and paintings and song lyrics in an act of literary decoupage, as if to mimic the fragile patchwork of national identity ... Smith, in reckoning with the catastrophe and wreckage of a fraught historical moment, picks through it just as precisely to reveal the beauty and the humanity buried deep below the surface.
PositiveThe AtlanticIt’s a slight and meandering work that essentially recounts the author’s life in cigarettes, but its most vital passages describe how smoking essentially shifted Hens’s reality, allowing him to access a meditative state in which he felt truly connected with himself and the world ... Nicotine is at its most interesting when Hens expounds on his chosen subject as though it’s the magical source of his inspiration ... his writing about smoking is focused, clear, and lyrical, while on other subjects he tends to wander about the page ... For smokers, this description might spark the same rapid heartbeat, the same liminal hit. For ex-smokers, Nicotine should probably come with a trigger warning. Hens writes so fondly of cigarettes and their role in his life that it’s almost difficult to understand why he gave up.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...[a] remarkable first novel ... Bitto’s scenes of the Trentham commune are vividly written, almost painterly ... Methodically, a sense of impending catastrophe is woven into the narrative, making it seem inevitable, given the egos of the painters and their deliberate disruptions. Bitto focuses most intently on the women of the commune, noting how they’re sidelined by their male peers and, ultimately, by history ... Late in the novel, when Lily — now middle-aged and a mother herself — is pulled once again into Eva’s orbit, the story loses some of its power. The grown-up Lily is less compelling as an interpreter of her own 'ordinary life' than she is as a youthful observer of the glamorous debauchery of the Trenthams and their acolytes.
RaveThe AtlanticIt’s almost impossible not to think of Black Mirror while reading Children of the New World, a remarkable new short-story collection ... By turns satirical, jarring, ludicrous, and sad, Weinstein’s stories take present-day anxieties about pornography, cloning, social media, and digital isolation, and follow them to their logical extremes. Thanks to wry prose and humor, the collection is less moody and horror-steeped than similar speculative works.
J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
MixedThe AtlanticAs Albus and Scorpius struggle with living under the shadows cast by their fathers, Cursed Child too seems to wrestle with its legacy, borrowing heavily from older stories while simultaneously challenging the confines of their world ... what’s most remarkable about Thorne’s work is how smoothly it flows. At its best, it’s as gripping as many of Rowling’s books were ... Thorne’s Harry Potter, all grown up, features prominently in the play, and the tension between him and his son is one of the most frustrating plot points, born out of dramatic necessity and riddled with cliché and angsty platitudes ... Reading Cursed Child, for all its compelling twists and turns, at many points feels like reading well-crafted fan fiction—the names are the same, and the characters feel familiar, but it’s apparent that they’re imitations nonetheless.