PositiveThe Times (UK)Peril...is no guarantee of tension. The daily business of staying alive...is oddly mundane ... Groff shows an impressive commitment to realism. You sense the reassuring weight of research behind her descriptions of cold, still-alive oysters sliding down the throat and the sound that ice-buckled trees make as they shiver and explode. This might easily have resulted in a seriously boring book but it doesn’t. Groff is too nimble for that. With calm and surgical prose she glides towards the horror that lurks on the far side of desperation ... I like Groff because she doesn’t care about being cool. Her writing has a timeless quality.
RaveThe Times (UK)\"...before the politics, she nets you with chemistry. Katharina and Hans narrate their own seduction, their voices sliding past each other in Erpenbeck’s exquisite ink ... Theirs is the kind of passion that bursts open like a soft fruit dropped onto a hard floor, but Erpenbeck makes you believe in it, for they are not just arduous but hesitant and shy ... Erpenbeck is not the first writer to use a romantic relationship to explore a wider political landscape, a trick that can sometimes feel a bit flat. This person is like that place — sure, and what? But Erpenbeck is better: she tells this love story not just to describe the course of history, but to try to understand it ... Under the weight of the GDR’s collapse, the romance creaks a little. Perhaps that’s why Kairos is almost entirely humorless (that you will love it nonetheless is testament to just how good the rest of it is)...Perhaps this is a fault of Michael Hofmann’s otherwise lovely translation, or perhaps (sorry to stereotype) it’s just very German, or perhaps it’s because romance is inherently self-important (it happens to everyone, but it feels like it only happens to you). So what? Not everything is funny. But people tend to find a joke anyway, especially when things fail, and I wish Erpenbeck had shown us that. Instead, in this elegant novel, there are only tears.\
MixedThe Times (UK)Full of strange and arresting images from the lives of talented oddballs ... Assembling vignettes of extremely famous writers...is easy, but tying them together is harder. The subtitle, Nine Women Writers Begin Again, suggests a thesis that never quite emulsifies ... Biggs could have chosen a different genre or written this one better.
R. F. Kuang
PanThe Times (UK)A crime caper that’s also a wicked little satire of publishing, racial politics and icky internet culture ... In telling the story from Junie’s magnificently self-justifying point of view, Kuang tosses around slightly tired arguments about authenticity and fiction ... Based on a smart and fun idea, but lacks structure and a bit of heart ... Junie spends a lot of time telling us how important writing is to her, but in language so clichéd, sentimental...and mercenary that it’s impossible to believe ... Kuang’s own writing is perfectly serviceable but it never leaps upwards into fresh, cool air with the force of originality, brutality or just plain old beauty.
PositiveThe Times (UK)The Schoolhouse is a legit crime thriller: stylish, pacey and genuinely frightening ... Ward manages her thickly plotted story well, alternating Carter’s no-nonsense narration with extracts from 11-year-old Isobel’s diary from 1975. Police reports and newspaper clippings are sandwiched into the prose, primed for snarfing by readers hungry for clues ... Ward is fond of short, staccato sentences... and mini mid-chapter cliff-hangers. There’s even something close to a jump-scare, which is not a device I would have thought could translate from screen to page ... There are moments where Ward’s style clashes with the requirements of the genre; she likes to introduce characters subtly, sparingly, which means the cast of police officers are difficult to differentiate. Her tendency to withhold on backstories left me longing for more on Carter’s personal life and mysterious childhood. Yet perhaps my taste has been spoilt by a diet of crime stories propped up by tired tropes about detectives’ romantic woes.
MixedThe Times (UK)Turner exhaustively, painstakingly and sometimes clunkily (there’s a few \'hilariously\'s that aren’t all that hilarious) catalogues all these afterlives. To literary nerds and students with Chaucer essays to write it’s useful, but for everyone else (and this is a book intended for the lay reader) it’s of limited interest ... Somewhat ironically then, for a book inspired by a “timeless” character, the most interesting chapters are those in which Turner considers Alison in the context of her own time ... The Wife of Bath is a small literary miracle: an oddity and a trailblazer whose mischievous energy this erudite but ponderous book doesn’t quite manage to emulate.
Laurent Mauvignier, trans. by Daniel Levin Becker
PositiveThe Times (UK)It would be useless to pretend that The Birthday Party feels anything like your standard airport thriller. It is, as I mentioned, set almost entirely across a single day; what I omitted was that it’s 500 pages long. That’s about 20 pages per hour. The sentences are long, very long sometimes, light on punctuation and circle round their subjects in snaking coils ... Does kind of work as a thriller. The slow-motion sentences become piled up with suspense like snow-laden branches. You have to wait and wait and wait for the violence that is so clearly just a few hours — or a few hundred pages — from erupting ... This is classy writing and worth, I think, braving the 500 pages. It could be worse, after all — it could be 800.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Lush and enjoyable ... Feels like a commercial success in waiting ... Glossy, fast-paced ... Howrey is a stylish writer, sometimes funny...and sometimes touching. On dance, particularly, she writes with such precision ... But Howrey also has quite a few annoying habits. The tedious continuous present tense...the long, descriptive sections recapping family history, the pretentious artsy jokes about Rodin and Stravinsky and carefully signposted Shakespeare quotes ... The whole novel has a feeling of soap opera, with its emotionally fraught tone and somewhat predictable twist ... But there’s an intent to all the melodrama.
RaveThe Times (UK)... a lush, roving William Boyd-style novel. Slightly alarmingly, it is the the Dorset writer Joanna Quinn’s debut (although she has been working on it for nearly a decade, apparently) — how on earth is she this good? You know what? Who cares. Just dive in and slurp it up ... full of brilliant set pieces — an endless summer afternoon when forbidden lovers find themselves finally alone on a beach; the sudden suspicion of the Nazi official when the weary spy blunders — that pop and crackle with tension ... Quinn handles her sprawling cast with ease and compassion. No one is irredeemable or unexplainable ... Quinn is particularly good on the stupidities of aristocracy ... It’s beautifully written too ... Quinn has fun mucking around with the boring old novel format. She smushes letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings and an exhibition catalogue into the prose (a very Boydian trick), but always for a reason ... Occasionally I got fed up with the whole 20th-century tragedy through the eyes of an aristocratic family formula: it’s overdone and it makes people who live in big houses and do nothing look glamorous and interesting. It’s a bit hard to get past the fact that the three heroes of this story are called Cristabel, Florence and Digby, however much you love them. But Quinn is no fusty, Debrett’s-thumbing apologist, and cleverly she threads the hope of the destruction of the old class system into the tragedy of war. Something rotted away can be repurposed anew, like the whale on a Dorset beach that gives the novel its name. It’s that simple. It’s that clever.
MixedThe Times (UK)... crisply readable ... [Perry\'s] solution is a diet of security measures so extreme it would make a Puritan pour her a drink. She wants women like me to only get drunk or high in private with other women, boycott dating apps and withhold sex for the first few months of a relationship ... This is impractical and ignores the huge chunk of rapes that are domestic ... The most powerful and persuasive part of Perry’s argument is about the cast-iron link between violent sexual behaviour and the gigantic internet porn industry.
PositiveThe Times (UK)If you’re madly in love, stay away from Cult Classic. By the last page, you may not be. It’s an anti-rom-com, by which I mean a rom-com in cynic’s clothing ... It’s a neat – and delightfully feasible – framing device for a novel, one that reminds you that the bestselling New York essayist Sloane Crosley is a caustic skewerer of internet millennial life on a par with Patricia Lockwood. It enables her to pose a bunch of big old questions about love and companionship in a way that feels twisted and fresh ... Crosley is dry and very funny ... If ultimately Cult Classic has more of a concept than a plot, it hardly matters since it’s a truly fun way to pass the time. Yes, it’s just a romance, but deciding who to recruit for your own personal cult, otherwise known as monogamy? Seems like a pretty big deal to me.