MixedThe Washington PostThe Elementary Particles has the added disadvantage of being so extreme in its views that it will be repugnant to most readers … Instead of regarding the '60s as a time of liberation, of the rejection of hypocrisy, repression and conformity, Houellebecq — like many reactionaries here as well as in France — considers the '60s a disaster, when community was rejected in favor of rampant individualism and morality thrown out the window along with constricting ties and bras. The legacy of the French student revolt of 1968 and hippies dancing in the mud at Woodstock is the soulless, immoral, consumer society we now live in — a thesis so ludicrous that Houellebecq needs to go to extremes to defend it … Despite its daft ideas, The Elementary Particles is a fascinating read, aided by an exceptionally smooth translation by Frank Wynne.
PositiveThe Washington PostAfter publishing the widely praised novel Well in 2003, Matthew McIntosh began this mammoth project. It’s a supersize version of Well: same desolate setting and downbeat prose style, same puzzling digressions, same unusual form and expressive typography. But everything here is blown up to Imax proportions ... the failure to achieve one’s ambitions is a theme of this deliberately disjointed book. The workings of memory is another, and in this way theMystery.doc resembles In Search of Lost Time. McIntosh is a slacker Proust, writing about the underclass of Spokane rather than the upper classes of Paris as he attempts to convert memories and experience into art ... I didn’t find the content of theMystery.doc particularly interesting — and I don’t think it’s meant to be, in the usual novelistic sense — but the form certainly is. At a time when most novels still resemble their Victorian forebears, it’s refreshing to encounter a novel that actually looks like a 21st-century production ... It’s too easy to say theMystery.doc is a 'Waste Land' for the 21st century — and that it would have benefited from an editor like Ezra Pound, who reduced the length of Eliot’s poem — but it is nonetheless a remarkable achievement. Those who prefer an afternoon at a cutting-edge art installation over an exhibit of Victorian art will be stoked.
William T. Vollmann
RaveThe Washington PostThe former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are the settings for his new novel, a grimly magnificent dramatization of the impossible moral choices forced on individuals by those totalitarian regimes. Ranging from 1914 to 1975, the book is organized as a series of paired stories, like Plutarch's Parallel Lives, comparing a German and a Russian facing similar situations … Like a method actor immersing himself in a role, Vollmann tells most of his stories from the point of view of their protagonists or a related character – the apparatchik Comrade Alexandrov relates many of the Soviet stories – relying on his immense research to empathize with his characters … Vollmann's language beautifully captures these warring conflicts, moving from lyricism to military strategy to hallucination to erotic longing as his characters navigate their way through a landscape of atrocities – and not just the ones perpetrated by the Nazis and the communists.
Mark Z. Danielewski
RaveThe Washington PostHouse of Leaves [is] the first major experimental novel of the new millennium. And it's a monster...like David Foster Wallace channeling H.P. Lovecraft for a literary counterpart to The Blair Witch Project … Navidson's documentary concerns a strange house in rural Virginia into which he moves with his family. All is well at first, but small spatial displacements soon occur … The accounts of the exploration of this dark abyss are hair-raising, and the physical impossibility of it all only deepens the metaphysical dread felt by the characters … Danielewski's achievement lies in taking some staples of horror fiction – the haunted house, the mysterious manuscript that casts a spell on its hapless reader – and using his impressive erudition to recover the mythological and psychological origins of horror, and then enlisting the full array of avant-garde literary techniques to reinvigorate a genre long abandoned to hacks.
Roberto Bolaño, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveThe Washington Post...2666 is at heart a fascinating meditation on violence and literature, on how writers 'turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive.' At its simplest level, 2666 leisurely follows a handful of characters who are drawn, like vultures to a rotting carcass, to the northern Mexican city of Santa Teresa in the 1990s ... Archimboldi never meets his critics, the reporters never solve the crimes, and nothing is resolved at the novel's end ... is a delightfully bookish novel, filled with writers, critics, publishers, copy editors, reporters — all illustrating how reading and writing help make sense of the world.
RaveThe Washington PostA novel that is intellectually profound but feels ‘like an Indiana Jones movie or something’ … On one level, the novel is about a 15-year-old boy's rite of passage into the adult world, but on a larger level it's a meditation on Plato's notion...that each of us is looking for a soul mate to complete us … Murakami's spin on this theme and the Oedipus myth is daringly original and compulsively readable … Kafka on the Shore is an excellent demonstration of why he's deservedly famous.