PanNew York Journal of Books... the characters and their situation became almost entirely static, even to the point of repeating the same conversations ... Predictably, they come to no real conclusions. Readers might have a similarly ambivalent experience. Nothing we learn about Anne Marie’s past reveals anything that might fundamentally change our understanding of the narrative present, still less how the story will progress in the future. Anne Marie clearly suffers her personal history as a burden, an anchor that keeps her from advancing in life. The question is whether it also becomes a burden on the novel, trapping it between a past we already know and a future that seems not to matter, freezing the characters so they can’t evolve. It’s telling that the novel ends almost exactly as it starts: with Anne Marie on the phone to her cousin, Tricia. Sometimes the highway doesn’t take you all that far.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksIn graphic and meticulously researched detail Sancton describes the countless impediments that pushed these men to the brink of insanity ... filled with historical facts, astonishing detail, and firsthand narratives of the Belgica’s crew. Sancton does a brilliant job of transporting the reader to a far-off place and time. In its most basic structure, this work is a study of human nature under horrific conditions and how leadership, professionalism, and compassion ultimately prevailed over madness and disease. The use of primary sources and Sancton’s unique, almost novel-like writing style is captivating. One can almost feel the sting of the Antarctic coldness and imagine the endless darkness and despair as it wraps its brutal shroud upon the crew. The endless monotony of not knowing whether they would survive and the toll it took upon their psyche is profound and gut-wrenching. Anyone who appreciates historical narrative in which the boundaries of human endurance are examined will wholeheartedly appreciate this book.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksThis book is, indeed, a page-turning search for the truth about Hermann. But the real search is Consie‘s thought-provoking quest to understand the meaning of evil, guilt, and survival. Why did so many people allow the evil of Nazism to happen? Why did some victims survive and others die? ... While Holocaust novels are hardly rare in modern literature, the good ones bring their own particular strengths. For The Plum Trees , one such strength is its portrayal of Hermann’s desperate faith in normality ... it’s frustrating that there’s so little about Consie and her world ... It would be easier to care about her dual search if she were a more fully fledged character.
Irmgard Keun, tr. Michael Hofman
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Ferdinand’s story consists of a dam of social niceties and hidden pasts, through cracks in which run only tiny rivulets of truth. Some readers might find in them the promise of a deluge, but Irmgard Keun never commits herself either way.
Joyce Carol Oates
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksThis collection is not easy to approach because of the different realities and forms of expression it uses—and they might have been useful had they prompted deeper reflections. But not. Several stories, particularly in the first section are littered with trick endings. They seem like writing exercises ... However difficult the stories are to decipher and follow, there is Oates’s language to delight in ... This collection is probably best viewed as a series of experiments in storytelling and because of that will be of interest to those involved in the craft of writing fiction.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe novel’s being marketed as a guaranteed laugh, but at whose expense? It’s true the novel makes short side-trips to mock wealthy donors and publicity-hungry wardens. But these don’t quite balance out the jokes about anal rape or the stories of casual murder in the showers. Here is a story in which being incarcerated has so little real human effect that MF can insist his \'idle hours\' as a doorman \'made the transition to Westbrook relatively painless\' ... None of the prisoners, MF included, is especially rounded: The book gives far more space to puns, digressions and asides than to character development ... less concerned with the prisoners themselves than with its late-night-comic’s trope of prisoners, but is repeating a trope with a lilt of irony enough to satirize it, or does repetition merely impress it further into the Silly Putty of our collective imagination? Is Riots I Have Known a rumination on the thoughtlessly dehumanizing way we treat our incarcerated, or simply one more example of it?
Yannick Haenel Trans. by Teresa Fagan
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement\"This observational mode doesn’t provide much narrative momentum. When we are offered every word of a ten-page eulogy given by one minor character about another, whom we have never met, the text promises that \'nothing would be as it was before\', but this is a lie. Not only is everything unchanged, the unfulfilled pledge alerts us to the fact. It is one of many false assertions in a novel that rests entirely on people telling stories (in films, novels and screenplays, but also to each other) yet repeatedly implies, seemingly despite itself, that words and stories have no real effect ... straight-forward, slightly humorous prose that characterizes the mildly postmodern picaresque, faithfully reproduced in Teresa Lavender Fagan’s translation – although fidelity to the original grammatical structure can lead to minor infelicities ... the aftermath of the Bataclan attacks comes across as a crude attempt to harness real people’s suffering for limited fictional gravitas, as does a short interaction with some asylum seekers.\
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement... the real heart of The Old Drift is a soap opera of mid- to late-twentieth-century Zambia whose slightly flattening characterization is leavened by genuine sympathy and eased by humour and brisk pacing ... funny, inventive and propulsive; at other times it can be heavy-handed and portentous. The weakest sections are those set in the colonial past, where character gives way to cypher and dialogue to pamphleteering that would be shockingly prescient had it not been written last year. Certainly many readers will find this comforting – a lack of real characterization means they can sniff at the evils of colonialism without having to feel anything substantial about it – but it’s a deciduous comfort. Indeed, by the end, the novel itself seems to lose faith in aspects of its own early assertions ... a book for those who are confident that more is definitely more.
PanThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)If the dialogue is unnatural, it is presumably because character here is entirely subservient to plot: it is not personal psychology that drives events, it is history. The Balangiga massacre happened and therefore will happen, has already killed whomever Apostol/Chiara/Magsalin might invent. This prolepsis extends to all the novel’s characters. Magsalin’s husband and mother are dead long before we meet them; the chapters that recount Ludo’s disintegrating marriage are as predetermined as the death of the inexperienced officer commanding the American barracks ... subscribes to the current fashion of introducing as many voices as possible ... if most ultimately appear only in passing, some will nevertheless get potted biographies in the sixteen pages of notes that close the novel, which chiefly serve to highlight the lack of value most of the historical figures bring to the story, while simultaneously undermining the fictional characters ... The game-playing that makes up so much of Insurrecto suggests that Apostol trusts Brechtian alienation to force readers into a rational critical stance. But highlighting fictionality in these many ways is risky. It is an approach that threatens to undermine – and in Apostol’s hands indeed does undermine – the one vital truth at the heart of the story: the injustice of the massacre in Balangiga.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksOne would think that a biography of an economist would make almost as dull a read as a book on economics. This volume tells a story well in an easy prose but while passively challenging the reader with deep ideas on almost every page. The author explains ideas in comprehendible form, encouraging thought rather than confusion. At times, the story has distractions but even then Norman quickly returns to his subject ... Remarkably, the reader seldom needs to turn to a dictionary to understand a word, much less a commentary. The book, minus its illustrations and annotations, also does not make for a particularly long text.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt is also a place with limited punctuation, presumably part of Kingsnorth’s strategy to create language to match his narrator’s mental state. Other tactics include beginning and ending sections of the book midword, and imposing a temporary moratorium on capital letters ... He has what might be either dreams or flashbacks. This blurring of memory and invention means Buckmaster’s past remains as opaque as his present. In these moments, Kingsnorth forces readers to ask some central questions: Is Buckmaster a visionary or a sad lunatic? Is his story one of salvation, or an indictment of the false promise of heaven in the face of worldly unhappiness? And is Beast, like the 'thing that walks,' something less exotic than at first it seems?