RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)For a book with a romantic-sounding title, First Love is decidedly brutal ... compelling from the beginning. In precise, economic prose Riley conveys a sense of Edwyn and Neve’s intimate relationship ... Neve’s mother is self-absorbed and chaotic and her stream of consciousness-based conversations will reverberate long after you finish reading the book ... Riley also evokes the sense of hot frustration that Neve feels as a result of her father’s bullying which, coupled with her sense of his vulnerability, makes it difficult to cut her ties with him ... it’s not all bleak. Neve’s exchanges with her hysterical, childlike mother and husband are both at times funny ... Nor does Riley shy away from unpleasant descriptions and bodily functions ... Through all these flawed relationships, what endures is Neve’s strong sense of herself, which prevents the subject matter from becoming unbearably depressing. She is able to detach herself and tolerate those closest to her in all their imperfect humanity, taking the reader with her in a conspiratorial way. There’s a certain romance in that. This is an engrossing novel and Riley’s writing shines through.
RaveEvening Standard (UK)Strout is such a brilliant writer that you don’t have to have read My Name is Lucy Barton or to enjoy Oh William! and she fills in the plot so you don’t feel lost ...But what sets Strout apart is the way she describes people’s innermost thoughts and the nuances of their feelings. She is an intimate writer with a particular skill for writing about the thoughts that people often brush away or bury, and the result is that you often forget you are reading fiction. You feel like Lucy’s confidante.
PositiveEvening Standard (UK)... the most successful aspect of this novel is the story of Theo and Robin, and Powers’s portrait of an intelligent man poleaxed by his feelings ... At its best, Robin and Theo’s relationship is like a boy’s own adventure—two geeky men talking at length about facts rather than feelings, so that when they do reveal their emotions it feels more poignant. There is a lot packed in and not everything works. Some may find the passages about the planet worthy, but I was so charmed by Theo and Robin that I didn’t mind a little preachiness. The plot is entirely implausible, like a Black Mirror episode, but all the feelings behind it ring true. This won’t be as successful as The Overstory: it’s less ambitious than that, and I think it is unlikely to win the Booker as parts of it are too niche. But I found it completely refreshing, original and moving.
RaveEvening Standard (UK)Real Estate is less dramatic [than The Cost of Living]. Levy has already made her break with the life that was dragging her down. But working out what comes next is no less challenging, even if it is a quieter, more interior sort of affair ... Levy’s gift is to transport you to wherever she is, giving a rich sense of what it is like through describing the food, smells and landscapes ... Typical Levy - curious about the world and seeing wonder in it. But it isn’t gushing, there is a poise to the writing. Levy makes astute observations about inequality and sexism without getting ranty or self-pitying. The result is a beautifully crafted and thought-provoking snapshot of a life. It’s not a satisfying conclusion but endings are always difficult. Hopefully Levy will reconsider this being the final part and write another. This is a generous book - Levy has shared her vulnerabilities and what makes her happy; it is a pleasure to spend time in her company.
Leila Slimani tr. Sam Taylor
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Mathilde’s story is happening against the backdrop of political turmoil and Slimani skillfully interweaves this with the narrative ... it is interesting to learn this period of history from the point of view of a woman torn between the French and Moroccan sides, for personal reasons ... The writing feels more subtle than in Slimani’s previous novels. The sentences are longer, more descriptive and less designed for instant impact. There is some repetition, which can feel a bit like Slimani is labouring the point ... Subplots keep pace and interest ... Slimani’s style, presenting her characters with all their faults, could make you hate them but actually seeing them in their complexity makes them human and the relationships she describes nuanced (especially Mathilde and Amine’s complicated marriage) ... the first in a planned trilogy, which is good news because when it finished I felt bereft, Mathilde’s voice lingering in my mind. It ends in 1955, when Moroccan independence is looming - and Aicha sees her world changing. This is a multi-layered, nuanced book, with moments of humour and a lot to empathise with. I look forward to the next instalment.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)[Lanchester] is a versatile writer with a gift for making sense of the modern world ... The best story here is Signal...It’s a masterfully crafted traditional ghost story ... The other stories feel more like uncanny morality tales than horror ... the overall impression is that Lanchester had fun with this collection, liberated from the constraints of writing a whole novel and free to do what he does best: to get inside people’s heads and explore what makes us tick.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Krauss has explored many of these themes - migration, family expectations and power dynamics between men and women - in her previous novels... A lot is implicit; we are inside the characters’ heads, noticing the significance of where peoples’ gazes land and reading meanings into certain gestures ... Krauss’s writing is beguiling and elegant but I wish she had taken some of the narratives further. She teases the reader offering just enough to pique our interest but then leaving us in suspense with images that linger, making us wonder what happened to all these complicated lives.
PositiveEvening Standard (UK)It’s as pretentious as it sounds, but redeemed by moments of humour, giving the book an intellectual rom com feel ... English is not Guo’s first language but her style makes an impact – she writes in short sentences, almost like haikus, making it feel abrupt and unsentimental, with lots of direct speech ... As the title suggests, it is more discourse than plot-driven novel, which at times feels leaden with too much analysis of emotions. But overall, the impression is of a story told with charm that will leave you in a ponderous mood.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)... a full throttle, explicit read ... No detail is spared in the descriptions of the sex; there are shades of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s complaint, told from an African American woman’s point of view ... Leilani’s confessional style is disarming and funny ... What makes it so successful is the way that Edie cuts to the quick in her observations, both making you laugh and empathise with her ... There is a surreal bent to the novel. You wonder if Rebecca would really have let Edie into the house and shared her life (and husband) with her, but it is so engagingly written that how realistic it is doesn’t feel like it matters. Even if parts of the plot don’t feel true, the experiences it describes do, in all their psychological complexity ... Leilani is only a bit older than Edie - she is 30 - but if this story is anything to go by she has a wonderful career ahead of her. I am excited to see what she writes next.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)... honest, moving and funny. A passage where [Heawood] realises she will always worry about whether her daughter is warm enough made me cry, but she never mentions her, or her daughter’s father by name, calling him only The Musician. The book is more about her experiences and will help other women who have to deal with insensitive health visitors assuming that their baby has a \'daddy\'. And although she puts a lot of effort into not hating The Musician, I felt exasperated at his behaviour ... There are a few celebrity cameos. She interviews Goldie Hawn and Jodie Foster, who come across as kind, but then Heawood knows how to play the Hollywood publicity machine, \'kiss arse\' and write in a way that’s sharp enough to impress but not offend ... Heawood has a good sense of humour, but is never bitter or cruel. Above all, she has written a tender book about parental love that she and her daughter should be proud of.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)LeÏla Slimani’s novels are described in France as \'livres chocs\', meaning books that scandalise. She ventures into dark corners of the psyche, describing base impulses that many are ashamed to even think about ... Sex and Lies tells the stories of 14 of these women and two men, from a range of backgrounds. Slimani, a former journalist, reports their words directly — they need no embellishment. As an account of sex lives, it is as revealing as American journalist Lisa Taddeo’s bestseller Three Women, but it has a more urgent political mission ... Sex and Lies tells devastating stories in a spare style, but it’s not all bleak — Slimani is too clever and nuanced for that. It’s a positive sign that the people she speaks to refuse to be cowed by the repressive regime ... There is a quiet revolution under way where behind closed doors people are having sex with whoever they want ... Like Adèle did before it, this slim pink book of impassioned pleas, and of human impulses that resonate, is one step to more women breaking free.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Much of the ground covered will be familiar to anyone who has read Laing’s other books—loneliness, alcoholism, gender relations and technology all loom large ... Laing is at her best when you feel her connection to her subjects—the section on Derek Jarman is outstanding ... Every essay is rich with forensic research, but never feels weighed down by it. There’s too much heart in Laing’s writing for that. She creates an atmosphere through detailed descriptions of particular moments and everyday actions ... Laing is no naive bluestocking—she is well aware that art isn’t a magic bullet ... She wants art to be unsettling, and it is a demanding read at times; it’s dense, but tempered by humour. As a result, this is also a thought-provoking, inspiring collection that you can go back to whenever the weather takes a funny turn.
RaveThe Evening StandardWhen a woman gets to her mid-thirties, society expects her to have reached certain milestones: a fulfilling job, a career even, and to have settled on a partner and be seriously thinking about children. This, 37-year-old Jessie Burton’s third novel, is an intelligent investigation into these pressures and their psychological impact. Her particular skill is to explore this in a way that is engaging, entertaining and moving ... With her bestselling debut novel The Miniaturist, Burton proved her ability to create enticing worlds, and she does it again here ... Connie reveals how being a lesbian has made her life more difficult but her sexuality is never sensationalised. Because Burton never judges; rather she lays out a variety of ways of being and the challenges that may come with making honest choices. This is a novel that feels intimate, delving into the mechanics of relationships that women have both with others and with themselves. It’s also a riveting story that will keep you guessing until the end.
RaveThe Standard (UK)This is an ambitious book that creates more questions than it answers. Levy doesn’t patronise her readers and she is able to pull off such scope because of her humour and ability to evoke a mood.There are lyrical passages about lake swimming, cold white wine and pasta restaurants in Soho alongside intense psychological probing of childhood, parental duty and sexual attraction. It’s clever, raw, and it doesn’t play by any rules.