PanThe London Review of BooksThe novel tries its luck, and its readers’ patience, when it pulls the same trick ... Duncan has snuck out of the White House, entirely alone ... Some of the slack comes from the inevitable sermonizing. I can see why Clinton might have thought it a neat idea to use a thriller as a pulpit, but a thriller isn’t the ideal place—as if there were an ideal place—to read Clinton’s thoughts on the perniciousness of social media...the press...the erosion of trust in public life etc. And, more than that, the main thrust of the book’s rhetorical intent backfires. One implication of the title is that the United States is currently missing a president in an all too real sense: Donald Trump is an impostor, an aberration, unfit for office ... Duncan is an idealized president, intended to remind Americans of the kind of person who ought to inhabit the White House, so very unlike its current occupant— and, let’s be honest, a fair few of his predecessors.
PositiveThe London Review of BooksThe experience of reading the novel is probably as close to getting stoned as reading a novel can be. It brings on fits of the giggles and paranoia jags, and badly messes with your short-term memory: the plot, as ever with Pynchon, is bewilderingly hard to follow, the plethora of characters almost impossible to keep track of without taking notes (as it happens, Doc’s a bit of a compulsive notetaker, to help compensate for his doper’s memory). It doesn’t, however, make you fall asleep or, despite the many descriptions of the consumption of every conceivable variety of fast food, give you the munchies … Characteristically hilarious and thought-provoking though it is, Inherent Vice lacks much of the menace and the passion of its predecessors. Then again, perhaps this flattening of affect is deliberate, analogous to seeing the world through a haze of cannabis smoke, or entirely mediated through TV.
MixedThe London Review of BooksSolar, unlike any of his previous work, is avowedly comic. And much of it is extremely funny, most of the time on purpose, as it plots its antihero’s cynical and self-serving efforts to tackle climate change over the course of the first decade of the 21st century … The Spitsbergen episode dramatises, grippingly if not especially subtly, the insurmountable obstacles to anything ever actually being done to solve the problems of climate change. It would make a great short story. But McEwan can’t leave it there … McEwan’s condescendingness here would be easier to bear if he weren’t so inclined to misuse jargon himself, coming up with such vacuities as a plane leaving the stack over Heathrow for its descent ‘on a banking hairpin tangent’ or a road in the desert in New Mexico running ahead ‘straight as a Euclidean line’.
RaveThe London Review of BooksThe Line of Beauty is told in the third person, but everything is filtered through a single consciousness, Nick’s: we see things as he sees them, so there is no logistical reason for the novel not to have been in the first person. It isn’t, however, partly because it’s more Jamesian not to be; and also because Nick is an actor on a public stage as well as an individual with a private life … Nick holds an uncertain position in the world he moves in: he is there because the others want him to be; he isn’t wealthy enough to survive on his own. What he has to offer is a refined aesthetic sense, the ability to appreciate in elegant sentences the beautiful things that the people around him are able to buy. He doesn’t make beautiful things himself, but he does, by the way that he sees them, make things beautiful.