PositiveOn the SeawallChang... leans heavily into the murder plot and its psychological impact on her characters. Her prose is clean but not crisp—the editorial equivalent of auto-tuning. The resulting text feels produced (keeping to the music industry metaphor) without being over-manipulated. There are no distracting idiosyncrasies ... This was always a complicated plot, cluttered by digressions. So much happens in a short period, including murder ... No one in or reading either book feels particularly bad about this turn of events ... If you haven’t read Dostoevsky’s [The Brothers Karamazov, you won’t experience the fissures of pleasure when you encounter one of the surprising choices Chang makes. How meticulously she follows the plot outline. And the skill with which she strips away the frenzied outbursts and strange hysteria that typify the Russian characters’ interactions ... But for those coming to this story with fresh eyes, the fun will be experiencing it as it unfolds.
Elisa Shua Dusapin, tr. Aneesa Abbas Higgins
RaveBarrelhouseDusapin’s use of the narrative first person, so common in the coming-of-age genre, does extra work by isolating the reader within the head of the narrator, giving the author space to explore the nuances of her story and the complicated and flawed cast of characters she encounters within an environmentally and symbolically rich landscape. The restrained voice of the narrator, sensitively rendered from French to English by Aneesa Abbas Higgins, manages to convey a surprising amount of information through the subtlest of inflections ... while, superficially, very little happens in Winter in Sokcho, the psychology of this fascinating young woman holds our attention. The plot is no more than a brief window into the narrator’s life, the hopeless monotony of which is broken by the arrival of Kerrand and will be taken up again when he leaves. Dusapin reserves the climactic moment, such as it is, for the final pages. The sinister twist, surge of violence, or outburst of emotion I anticipated never came ... Dusapin relies on empty spaces, the blank spots in her narrator’s history and all the things which exist outside the periphery of her (and hence our) understanding. The resulting story and characters, given shape by what is missing and lost, are hauntingly beautiful. They linger within us.
Laurent Bienet tr. Sam Taylor
PositiveOn the SeawallCivilisations, Binet’s latest work of speculative fiction, is not only more accessible to readers outside of France but more interesting ... The tone is pitch-perfect, even when Binet switches gears. Sam Taylor, who translated the two preceding novels, keeps the prose playful and bright, moving effortlessly from one epistolary style to another. Whatever journey Binet chooses to take us on, we are safe in Taylor’s hands ... Binet’s goal seems to be to give his readers a story that’s quirky, fun, and a bit of an adventure yarn. In that, he succeeds. But it does seem strange that all the same familiar figures rise to prominence despite the radically altered circumstances surrounding them. Binet still engages in the literary games he enjoys, fully committing to the conceit that this is, in fact, a collection of historical records ... Civilisations is a bit of historical fluff—more circus than bread—that falls short of the genius of Binet’s first novel and the ambition of his second. And, yet, I can’t help but think that this is what he intended all along. Binet has shown us that he possesses the rare ability to write wherever on the literary spectrum he chooses.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksThere are echoing traces of the complicated patterns and pretensions of the previous books—an occasional italicized passage, another séance—but we have reached the decrescendo of this symphony. It comes as something of a relief ... that knife edge of disillusion lingers even after we reach what is, ultimately, a satisfying conclusion to a deeply ambitious and enjoyable series. There is no denying that in his Tokyo Trilogy Peace has built an intricate labyrinth. But it gets better, easier to navigate with each rereading. Rewarding the reader generously in ways other, easier, books cannot.
PositiveOn the SeawallCook writes beautiful and complicated prose, befitting of the subjects she chooses ... Informed by the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition without being subject to it, here is the rare book that functions on multiple levels, inspiring new ideas and insights with each re-reading ... The most powerful chapters of Lux are those spent with women ... Cook plucks these hollowed-out characters from Samuel and imbues them with souls. She circles the Bible story of David and Bathsheba, plumbs its depths and breathes life into it, creating the type of mannered, academic leaning novel that the English seem to adore ... But press down firmly on the cover and the words, regardless of how beautiful they are, will flow out its sides like water from a sponge.
Riku Onda, tr. by Alison Watts
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books... she explores not just the psychology and motivations of her characters, but also the meta nature of our relationship to murder mysteries and, in an abstract sense, the murderer—all while constructing the perfect crime around a surprisingly simple (and familiar) formula ... Alison Watts’s translation engages the reader but is difficult to pin down due to the nature of the form. Because every element is subordinated to the puzzle, the prose and characters in honkaku and shin honkaku mysteries tend to be underdeveloped. This, too, is done on purpose. So, while there are moments in The Aosawa Murders, sections of plot and dialogue which appear affected, in my experience this is fairly typical of the subgenre. Onda stands out among her community in that she has delved further into her characters’ psyches than most, and the novel is at its best when the author is posing questions that exist adjacent to the murders.
Sergio Chejfec, Trans. by Heather Cleary
PositiveOn the SeawallThe most literary of [Chejfec\'s] novels ... Chejfec seems to be feeling his way, as intrigued by where these characters are going as his readers ... It is the enigmatic narrator, not without his charms, who ultimately connects the disparate elements and holds together the neural pathways of this cerebral novel ... Heather Cleary negotiates these switch-backs deftly, her familiarity with the author a real asset. Chejfec has professed a desire to write in \'simple language,\' but in practice he is a stylist who loves a labyrinthine sentence. Cleary helps readers to navigate the maze. When he makes his appearances, we immediately understand that the narrator is no longer transmitting the thought patterns of Felix or Masha, but his own. And this is as much a book about being the person who stayed behind on the docks as it is about the one who left.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe veteran British writer has created a new and compelling style of detective fiction: a mystery novel that is peculiarly meta ... Within the confines of the form, Horowitz also demonstrates a deep knowledge of Literature with a capital L. A lot of thought has been put into these books, conceptually and structurally. Even their individual titles are plays on words which become significant as the stories unfold ... despite what he’s said in interviews, Horowitz is undoubtedly the star of the series...he has an indecent amount of fun being a character in his own book. He fearlessly co-opts friends, colleagues, and family members to serve his plot ... But it comes at a cost. All of this is accomplished at the expense of Detective Daniel Hawthorne, who remains a supporting character despite his invariably being the one to solve the case. By the end of The Sentence Is Death some of the details are filled in, but the man himself remains frustratingly elusive ... The Sentence Is Death is a much funnier book than its predecessor, but it brings us only a little bit closer in our understanding of Hawthorne.
MixedOn the SeawallYou would expect there to be tension or rivalry between the sisters, even a hint of jealousy would be a welcome addition to a plot containing little conflict, but Lark is devoted to her sister ... The subsequent question of Lark’s suitability to be a mother is by far the most interesting element in what is otherwise a conventional novel. It is informed by all we know about Marianne and will learn about Robin. But, surprisingly, in a novel that reveals itself to be about the maternal bonds, it is a question nobody asks out loud. Ohlin has created a character with glaringly obvious codependency issues, low self-esteem and fear of abandonment. Yet these issues are never directly addressed or acknowledged by the other characters, even while Ohlin has seeded the text with multiple examples of not just Lark’s, but her entire family’s, dysfunction ... Ultimately, Dual Citizens is a one-sided conversation, a monologue never revealing Lark’s reasons for undertaking this journey of memory.
Anne Serre, Trans. by Mark Hutchinson
PositiveVol. 1 BrooklynAnne Serre has written a self-contained novella in which she plays a delightful docente—a friendly narrator pointing out small treasures for us to marvel at. Her voice is playful, gossipy, and indulgent. She is both charming and charmed. But her story lacks a traditional structure which, predictably, hurts the overall pacing of the story. This is a very short book with very little plot. So voice, and every word choice which contributes to it, matters ... The Governesses seems to invite all the obvious—too obvious—comparisons to The Virgin Suicides ... But, in truth, there is no similarity. Instead, Serre’s tale has more in common with Vanity Fair ... whether there’s a method or a moral to Anne Serre’s tale, who can say? The allegorical fable by its nature lends itself to visually striking imagery like no other literary form. This is exactly what Serre places before her readers—a visual feast, a cabinet of curiosities, a long gallery filled with self-contained dioramas for us to stroll past and admire. Serre tells a tale meant to bewitch and delight her audience for a finite duration ... She succeeds brilliantly on every count, demonstrating both exceptional clarity of tone and agility of invention.
Hideo Yokoyama, Trans. by Louise Heal Kawai
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksSeventeen is best described as \'newsroom noir,\' and put in the same category as films like The Post and Spotlight, but minus the scandalous exposés. What Yokoyama has written is, ultimately, more than your standard thriller. True to form, he has created a meditative and multilayered narrative that is as much about a man at a mid-life crossroads as it is about journalism or a plane crash ... it all makes for surprisingly riveting reading. For those who enjoy geeking out on esoteric procedural details, there’s plenty of that as well. Yokoyama puts his past to good use, extracting an impressive amount of tension from descriptions of a newsroom in which \'war had broken out.\' He relays essential information quickly and concisely, establishing the stakes early on ... transitions act like a pressure valve releasing steam, but they also help to propel the plot forward, providing much of the emotional closure in what is ultimately a very sentimental, and occasionally quite sappy, novel ... But for all its sentimentality, there is a remarkable amount of genuine feeling to be found in these pages. Yokoyama has written characters everyone can relate to.
Lina Meruane, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveThe Rumpus\"What is and isn’t true in Seeing Red, ultimately, doesn’t really matter. That small reminder of forgotten happiness coming when it does penetrates your bones like a blast of wind in January. Seeing Red does this repeatedly and consistently, revealing one emotional truth after another, not all of them pretty or easy, and weaving them into a larger story that may or may not have happened as it was written down.\