PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Though dark, even pitch-black, What Strange Paradise is also a deeply humanistic fable ... Their adventures are told in precise, keenly observed prose ... El Akkad’s vignettes of life at sea are especially textured ... El Akkad, an award-winning reporter who has covered the Arab spring and military trials in Guantánamo Bay, and whose debut fiction, 2017’s speculative American War, dealt with the climate emergency, gives the impression of wanting to write a rather different novel, one whose narrative arc isn’t so closely pegged to such young and psychologically elusive protagonists. Another important character, a one-legged colonel who doggedly pursues Amir, is rather undercooked ... For all that, there are many passages in What Strange Paradise that startle and are hard to forget ... This is truly a timely, unconsoling book.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... excellent ... Little escapes Majumdar’s roving eye for detail ... Immaculately constructed, acidly observed and gripping from start to finish, A Burning is a brilliant debut.
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Trans. by Ottilie Mulzet
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... may not bring joy or consolation, but reading it is a mesmerisingly strange experience: a slab of late modernist grindcore and a fiercely committed exercise in blacker-than-black absurdity ... These journeys and descents have a morose density that’s made all the more potent by the book’s syntax...Long stretches of the novel lie there, slow and exhausting, like call waiting, drone music, middle age ... This is a high-wire act on the part of the author, and a gamble – or act of faith – on the part of the reader. It’s also an experiment in suspense that recalls the shaggy-dog detours of improvisational comedy. Krasznahorkai, though he’s often presumed to be a miserabilist, Mitteleuropan chiliast, is a very funny writer. He unfurls dense, seemingly endless sentences that are suddenly punctuated with unlikely phrases ... gloomy, frequently inert, boring, frustrating. Its more vatic passages can feel superfluous ... Yet it has a madness and monomania that compel. Exhilaratingly out of step with most contemporary fiction, it’s closer in spirit to Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, a novel whose syntactic difficulty creates a literary no man’s land for intrepid readers to yomp through. Not even 600 pages, it’s both too long and – in this era of rolling news and data dumps – far too short.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)This rambunctious reworking of Cervantes’s Don Quixote judders between inland America and downturn Britain, euphoria and grief, picaresque and satire, postcolonial melancholia and posthuman futurism – often on the same page. It’s a novel less to be read than to be scrolled through, a seemingly endless feed of gags, thought spasms and larger-than-life happenings ... In Quichotte, [Rushdie] defends his roaming, sometimes befuddling storytelling ... But he also seems to hanker for a centre that can hold, worrying that fiction and cyberwar are two sides of the same coin ... This is not uninteresting territory for a writer to delve into, but Quichotte is too restless and in love with itself to be anything other than a symptom of the malaise it laments ... Bombastic and busy, always in control even when his story is meant to be spiralling out of control, in this novel Rushdie resembles a highbrow Robin Williams. Rarely does he give readers time to breathe ... This is lazy writing for lazy readers, eyeball-grabbing anti-prose for distracted device-users. It makes his attempts to craft more contemplative or lyrical passages particularly jarring ... In the end, [Quichotte mimics rather than offers an antidote to the \'flat caricature of the instant\' that it says it laments.
RaveThe Financial TimesNowhere is Ward’s radiant tenderness as evident as in her portrait of her father ... Ward’s background as a novelist serves her well in these vignettes. Her prose is poised, unshowy, mostly in control of the social agonies it illuminates ... There are truths in Men We Reaped that no amount of sociological reports or thundering op-ed columns could reveal.
PositiveThe GuardianThe book is diligently researched, calmly expository, and full of fascinating side-stories (most readers will be unaware of Hubbard\'s fondness for the teachings of English occultist Aleister Crowley or his influence on the writings of William Burroughs) ... Most batty detail? Hubbard\'s chronically awful thousand-page dystopia Battlefield Earth turns out to be Mitt Romney\'s favourite novel.
PanThe Guardian\"... hulking, exhausting ... A lot rests on Tracker. Not just the quest for the child, but the success of Black Leopard, Red Wolf itself. In a novel so dizzyingly populated, where geographies multiply and stack up, where the boundaries between the real, surreal and flat-out fantastic seem increasingly fluid, Tracker has to be a point of anchorage, someone to rely on and to care about ... It’s Heart of Darkness for video gamers, a colonial-era catalogue of cliches about Africa – a continent where life is cheap, the women sexual commodities, the inhabitants duplicitous, all values negotiable ... The language is meant to shock, but strangely, given that James is often heralded as a Tarantino-like genius at choreographing bones, thugs and disharmony, everything feels plywood-brittle ... How strange then that for long, bone-dry sections [the book] reads as if James has never set foot in an African forest ... If James could go easier on the bloodletting and muscle-bound prose, choose subtlety and sensuousness over teenage-testosterone swagger, there’s still time for him to queer rather than pastiche the franchise fare he’s avariciously eyeing.\
Positive4ColumnsHis prose could be cold, sad, sometimes deliberately estranging ... In its attempts to represent strange, emergent forms of experience and art, he believes pretentiousness can be a \'visionary force\' ... This volume, edited by Darren Ambrose, excludes some elements of what made k-punk so compelling: its stark graphics that resembled the sleeve notes of a chiliastic postpunk LP, the oblique photographs Fisher included, the comments section that, for a short while, made his and other blogs seem on the cusp of forming a genuine alternative public sphere ... What is clear is Fisher’s terrible acuity at describing the present day—its noise, its plenitude, mediations, flatness, psychological toil.
MixedThe Guardian\"Food inspires some of the most precise, textured writing in Heavy ... In general, [Laymon is] best when writing about his own feelings ... Although he talks often about the craft of writing, Laymon’s prose can be erratic, lurching between showy \'y’alls\' and academese such as \'modes of memory\'. There are many sententious and underdeveloped proclamations... Towards the end, when he includes his recipe for \'building the nation\', he sounds merely pompous. His account of struggles to get tenure as a Vassar College professor belong to another book altogether ... [Laymon\'s] mother – labouring hard, making bad choices in men – remains unknowable, two-dimensional, a character in a gothic melodrama.\
RaveThe GuardianWaldo, like Kureishi, is wholly unsentimental; he fantasises about revenge in language a Shakespearean hero — or a bragging rapper — might use … Part of the pleasure of The Nothing is not knowing whether Waldo is victim or sadist. Is he playing others or will he get played? … Admirers of his earlier fiction will be happy to learn that his appetite for sexual riffs, describing sucking and rimming, or anatomising ‘the humiliation of desire’ has not abated.
Danielle S. Allen
MixedThe GuardianThe most compelling sections of Cuz deal with how Michael, with the help of Allen and others, tried to start a new life after being released on parole … Cuz is a frustrating book. Allen’s uneven writing often reaches for a lyricism it fails to achieve … There’s another book lurking beneath the surface here. Allen’s father was a political scientist. He opposed affirmative action as well as being a member of Ronald Reagan’s US Civil Rights Commission; it’s strange, in what she asserts is a candid biography, that these facts don’t bleed into her discussion of the former president’s failures around the ‘war on drugs.’ The secrecy in Cuz is only partially Michael’s.
PositiveThe GuardianJesmyn Ward’s gnarly, freighted novel is a portrait of a broken family living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi ... Sing, Unburied, Sing is most effective as a poetic critique of US history. The landscapes it describes with forensic ferocity are toxic ... In drawing on William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – both in its multiple first-person narratives and its story of a poor rural family that embarks on a wagon trek to Mississippi – it comes across as self-consciously literary ... for all its occasional mis- and oversteps, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a brooding, pained meditation on the proposition, spelled out by Colson Whitehead in The Underground Railroad, that 'America is a ghost in the darkness.'
RaveThe GuardianLike a savvy social anthropologist, Kunzru is constantly on the move, toggling between Chelsea art galleries and rundown parts of the Bronx, the verdant estates of old-money America and shitty dive bars populated by 10am drinkers ... Kunzru’s novel skids and slaloms inexorably to Jackson, Mississippi, where Charlie Shaw may or may not have once sung. Its bandwidth gets increasingly congested with hysterical and urgent voices, as it deconstructs and unravels what it portrays as white privilege. It also performs a haunting, to remind us of the bloody conditions that leak through and constitute so much of the blues.
RaveThe GuardianArtfully dropped cultural and sociological theory – particularly about the choreography of self-identity – can be found in every chapter, but even more pleasing is Reynolds’s eye for odd details ... All told this is a wonderful celebration of – and reckoning with – a generation of chancers, chameleons and lunatic geniuses.
RaveThe GuardianIt’s hard not to be moved by Macy’s thumbnail sketches – of Krao Farini, a Laotian-born bearded lady who asked to be cremated so that spectators wouldn’t be able to view her body after death; of the Inuit who died shortly after being brought to America and had a funeral faked for him only for his son, nine years later, to discover that his body was inside a glass case at a museum; of Ota Benga, a pygmy exhibited at Bronx Zoo and stoned by local boys after ending up in Lynchburg, who shot himself in the heart next to a campfire he built in the woods ... It is quite some story, and Macy has told it skilfully, vividly, compassionately.
MixedThe GuardianA self-conscious step back from a present whose crimes and bloodiness it sees as consistent with American history, the volume is a rather strange blend of epistolary non-fiction, autobiography and political theory that has at its heart a simple message: 'In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage' ... Coates doesn’t write like a father so much as an apprentice theologian or a sophomoric logician. Sentences begin with 'Thus', 'I propose', 'This leads us to another equally important ideal.' The tone is consistently one of aspirational gravitas, of bewhiskered patriarchs and dollar-bill overlords ... In 2015, Coates is a more exalted writer, but his prose seems increasingly ventriloquised and his insistence on Afro-American exceptionalism a kind of parochialism.
RaveThe Financial TimesJefferson is as charming as she is enlightening; most readers of this fine book will hope for future volumes of recollection — unhappy or happy.