PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Connections are suggested with the 1948 Teigin poisonings central to Occupied City, and there are hints of a tantalising web of complicity, but we don’t actually learn what really happened with Shimoyama. Peace writes crime fiction in name only; \'whodunit?\' is a question entertained, then relinquished, and for all his paranoid speculations, Peace stays faithful to the inscrutable mystery of each of these historic cases, unresolved to this day. His prose is braided with actual press headlines running for pages on end ... The details are meticulously researched, down to the dying emperor’s Mickey Mouse wristwatch. The effect is one of transfixing veracity ... Repetition and rhyme, trusted Peace techniques (some might say tics), give the prose an incantatory rhythm and an epic feel. This often drifts into bathos ... Japanese is a distinctively onomatopoeic language; sense is conveyed by approximating the sound of things, feelings, even ideas. Peace channels this phonetic quality, coining leitmotivs to stress his key themes ... Many novels are hyped as \'polyphonic\', but Peace’s now complete Tokyo trilogy truly is, brilliantly summoning forth multiple voices in the soundscape of a city gripped by seismic change.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Though plotless, the novel remains compelling, as a peephole into a mind sequestered from others. What lies behind the narrator’s unyielding solitude remains obscure. Portraying such a character, mysteriously adrift in an urban landscape, Whereabouts feels like a movie by Michelangelo Antonioni, and there’s something cinematic about the way the novel progresses spatially, each chapter exhibiting a new place, plotted out as a map rather than a timeline ... Where her English thrived on the particular, Lahiri’s Italian reaches for the universal. Astonishingly, Whereabouts contains not a single proper noun: nothing to identify individuals or places. Yet with a burst of adjectives, it manages to nail the experience of all of us wading through liquid modernity ... offers a stylish and therapeutic release.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Davies prefers to leave the politics submerged in suggestive detail, occasionally bubbling up ... an interesting take on a familiar trope: the westerner who finds in India deliverance from the wasteland of modernity ... What’s different is that this isn’t the India of unadulterated eastern spirituality that normally greets that stock character. There are no banal mantras, no cryptic mystics. Jamshed, Ravi and Priscilla are all atheists. Byrd instead sees in India a vision of long-lost Englishness ... a twist...is dramatically unconvincing, yet thematically necessary. Byrd is like so many others, from beatniks to empire loyalists, who form a connection not with real Indians but with a fantasy of India fashioned out of their own ideological prejudices and psychological needs. The Mission House truthfully reveals that the new realities of India will increasingly have their revenge on these tired old romances.
MixedThe Washington PostClearly averse to viewing history through such a moralizing lens, MacMillan prefers cold-eyed scrutiny ... She offers up an enjoyable motley trot through many aspects of war ... The book is light on political theory but rich in factual detail; entirely devoid of polemic, yet full of sober analysis. Humans are described as they are, not as they ought to be. This is the approach of a traditional diplomatic historian, steeped in the realism predominant in her field. She prefers, characteristically, to avoid value judgments, though on occasion her own values slip out ... But this effort falls short of its predecessors. Originating as the prestigious Reith Lectures for the BBC (previous invitees: Robert Oppenheimer, John Kenneth Galbraith, Edward Said), it has no central narrative. That’s because a lecture series better lends itself to argumentation than storytelling. But since MacMillan is so suspicious of big ideas, War struggles to demonstrate a raison d’etre. For a scholar who seems happiest weaving a compelling story out of long-buried diplomatic papers, a book that contains no original, archival research has a diminished chance to shine.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)It is a novel steeped in the conventions of murder mystery ... Snow isn’t just readable and entertaining, it’s as profound and beautiful as anything by John Banville. It reveals a mellowing late style. The tortured, modernist-inspired prose of his younger self, transfiguring reality with obscure adjectives and baroque metaphors, is no more. Instead he sees the world as it is, with a hard-boiled vision imbibed from crime writing. The metaphors are now cosily familiar, the ordinary described in terms of the ordinary ... Easily the best writing in the book comes when the dead man’s voice is conjured in an unexplained \'interlude\' (an old letter? A posthumous soliloquy?) that chillingly captures the rationalisations of abuse ... It’s classic Banville.
PositiveThe Times (UK)This approach is more readable than it sounds: social history constructed from neighbourhood gossip, family lore, old wives’ tales. She makes intimate the grand abstractions of Balkan history ... But it’s her grandmother, who emigrated to Bulgaria from Ohrid in Macedonia, who is the book’s animating spirit, summoning Kassabova back to the lake. She returns almost as a pilgrim and this serene lakeside town becomes a kind of reliquary containing cherished family memories ... Kassabova purports to carry you To The Lake, but penetrates much, much deeper into the seismic psyche of the Balkans.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)There’s no obvious Edmund White doppelganger here; instead, his personality is interestingly split between the twins, the book’s two conflicting voices—Yvette bookish and tormented, Yvonne worldly and ambitious. Yvonne narrates their lives with a wit reminiscent of the raconteur behind White’s frothier nonfiction, especially the eye for comic detail ... Yvette’s voice also intervenes in letters and dialogue, and there we find the high style of White’s novels, full of sombre metaphors ... A Saint from Texas makes explicit what was once only hinted at, namely how potent an influence religion has been on the imagination of the quintessential gay writer of our time ... Yvette’s faith is evoked so convincingly because White has all along been writing with his own sense of life’s grace.
PanFinancial Times (UK)This cynical vision—characters without sympathy in a world without morality—fails as comedy. \'Humour\' originally referred to the fluids that keep humans alive; Enter the Aardvark is humourless in that it is both lifeless as well as unfunny. The few good jokes are those that ring true to life ... Great novelists close the gap between themselves and their characters. By contrast, Anthony, who advertises various blue-collar jobs in her biography (security guard, masseuse, butcher) while leaving out her career as a lecturer at a private college in New England, sees Republicans much as everyone sees the aardvark: as members of another species ... Enter the Aardvark, sadly, is almost soulless.
MixedThe Times (UK)... practically an inventory of modern times. Claims to have \'changed the world\' tend to be exaggerations, but Lebrecht’s subtitle, How Jews Changed the World 1847-1947, seems understated. The world wasn’t changed, it was remade ... That’s the charm of this book, narrated not by a straight-faced professional historian, but by a sprightly raconteur, with anecdotes and jokes, digressions and embellishments ... Does that \'Jewish way\' exist? We recoil from phrases such as \'the Jewish mind\'. Yet Lebrecht talks of a \'Jewish psyche\'. He rejects \'Jewish exceptionalism\', but clearly believes in a distinctive Jewishness. Franz Kafka, for example, \'was Jewish to his core\'. Antisemites agree. Of course, they denigrate; Lebrecht exalts. But this hints at the paradoxical anxiety that taxed the nerves of these thinkers (including Lebrecht); the urge to disavow the idea of \'Jewishness\' while feeling deeply marked by it.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)These are acute sociological insights, but in terms of a novelist’s more traditional skillset, Adiga is a little lacking in psychological intuition or stylistic craft ... Adiga unwisely burdens himself with a 24-hour structure, which is stymied by life’s inevitable mundanity ... Amnesty strains for significance in its hourly accounting of Danny’s day, edging into the perfunctory or worse, the inane ... Even Adiga’s flawed creation reminds us of the pleasure and understanding that can ensue when writers migrate out of their own experience.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)... an exciting, alternative history of the 20th century that deviates from the well-rehearsed narrative that relays between Washington and Moscow ... Commendably, Maoism demonstrates how far \'the global south\' forged its own destiny — for good or ill — outside of western or Soviet puppet-mastery ... Histories of Marxism overflow with stodgy debates about the means of production, but Lovell leavens this with colourful vignettes ... It isn’t lost on Lovell that Maoism relied on bourgeois intellectuals for leadership...But she doesn’t examine why this is the case ... while Lovell highlights Maoism’s salvific belief in violence, she too briskly skims over what is today most pertinent about this idea.
MixedFinancial Times (UK)...an entertaining fable about a world deranged by ecological depredation, environmental refugees, raging wildfires and ravaged wildlife ... grand ideas make Ghosh catnip for academics. But his novel struggles to bear the load of so many ideas, so much knowledge, from the history of Venetian printing to the etymology of Arabic place-names. It is obvious that Ghosh spent the past few years lecturing ... The well-researched neatness is deadening. What’s missing is a sense of entropy, of life’s unpredictability and chaos. For example, although twists and turns abound in the plot, we are never surprised by any of Ghosh’s characters ... Vitality is equally absent from the sentences that once leavened Ghosh’s learning ... his style has evidently ebbed, dammed up by boulders of fact. Nevertheless, it’s fitting that an author who avows the limits of knowledge should himself run up against the limits of his own knowledge-saturated style. Even the writer’s failings demonstrate the very truth of what he is writing about.
PositiveFinancial TimesTolentino’s success lies in yoking together the contemporary and the classical. From social media to the gig economy, she writes about modern mores with studied hipness. She favours first-person narration over the scrupulous detachment of traditional New Yorker reporting. An alumna of the spiky, \'supposedly feminist\' website Jezebel, her writing remains impressionistic and intimate. But unlike her gratuitously oversharing peers, Tolentino adheres to a rigorously classical method. The point is to immerse the reader in the contradictions of her own self and to \'suspend [her] desire for a conclusion\' ... She is progressive, but sceptical about progress. She wonders \'how everything got so intimately terrible\'. Her digital declinism seems conservative, as do her prescriptions. Society must demonstrate more \'culpability\', which sounds a lot like \'responsibility\', with undertones of \'shame\'. Deploring the “monetisation of the self”, she reiterates a medieval consternation: the selling of the soul. Self-conscious about her \'carping\', Tolentino places herself in a tradition that began with Socrates lamenting the rise of literacy. That’s a gripe we only remember because Plato wrote it down, and there’s a similar irony with Tolentino, whose critique of the internet owes its existence to the online platforms that made her a star. The internet, then, isn’t all bad.
RaveThe Brooklyn RailAn aura of tragic futility...haunts every sentence, made all the more real because we know, further, that Vuong’s real-life mother—the dedicatee of the book—will never read it. Our sense of language as a means of communication and intimacy is overturned by this spectacle of language as a means of division and distance ... This tension courses through the book, between language that alienates and discomfits a queer refugee in a poor, unlettered family, and language as something that stabilizes and centers a successful writer ... This salvation in language is the only real end-point in a typically plotless novel, which doesn’t follow the conventional logic of event, instead portraying autobiographical vignettes in seemingly random order—I’m sure they’re not random, but there’s the sensation of driftless recollection, like a photo album, haphazardly assembled and reshuffled. You can read it like an album, flicking back and forth through memory. But even that metaphor doesn’t do the novel’s fragmented texture justice ... the fragments do culminate in a kind of unity, that of a writer’s consciousness establishing itself, its center ... The trouble with language being Vuong’s terra firma is that when he traipses off this little plot of land, his writing is less successful. Boring facts about the licensing history of the painkiller OxyContin ensue. So do naïve political affirmations...and naïve personal affirmations...But the price of intimacy is often banality. It’s worth it to observe Little Dog’s family life, and the impact, decades hence, of the Vietnam War on families, about which Vuong definitely isn’t naïve ... There’s much misery here, but such delicate language turns trauma into a triumph.
RaveThe Times (UK)\"[One of Englander\'s] gross-out [scenes] is the funniest since Portnoy’s ravishing of raw liver ... Jewish life is depicted with the illuminating intimacy of an insider, as the once-pious Englander also did in [previous works] ... Kaddish.com presents the internet as a distraction from the sacred. It’s a challenge to the modish view that faith is obsolete; a sincere evocation of a traditional view, but not a polemical defence of it. We end the novel feeling—even if we may disagree—that there is a compelling reason why one would want to spurn modernity for a traditional life revolving around worship.\