Vasily Grossman, trans. by Elizabeth Chandler and Robert Chandler
PositiveThe Times (UK)Grossman’s great and enduring asset as a novelist is — paradoxically — that he doesn’t have to rely on his imagination. He was there ... The result is something of a mixed success, it has to be said. There is a fair amount of boilerplate propaganda that has to be waded through in the midst of energetic accounts of combat and military life ... Grossman is essentially a journalist, a recorder of what he sees, and the best parts of The People Immortal are those that ring with the vividness of lived experience ... It’s the detail that’s so compelling ... The precise epiphanies that Grossman creates shine like nuggets of gold in indifferent ore. His journalist’s eye is more resonant than his novelist’s imagination ... The People Immortal is a significant, valuable addition to Grossman’s small but powerful body of work.
RaveThe Times (UK)... zany, eccentric and free ... The novel is very dialogue-heavy, much of the conversation between Min and her women friends being about sex and men and how awful men are. It may be the benefit of hindsight, but the novel does seem very much of its time, the Swinging Sixties. One could imagine it being filmed by Richard Lester, starring Suzy Kendall as Min and Oliver Reed as the Bloater with a great sound track by the Spencer Davis Group ... Yet the sly intellectual froth and sexy fun of the novel is counterposed by the knowledge of what happened to its author — her chronic health problems, profound spiritual anguish and rejection of everything she had achieved as a young writer. Paradoxically the story of Tonks’s astounding efforts in seeking oblivion, ensuring the non-existence of her literary self, and being so successful in achieving it, has brought her a degree of posthumous fame that her shade would deeply resent. Despite everything she did there will now be a small corner of the 20th-century English novel reserved for her unique example. Stewart Lee’s introduction to this new edition, it should be noted, is typically astute and funny.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"Time and again, Banville sets up and then deftly demolishes the Agatha Christie format he seems to be aping. Everything that seems creakingly familiar about the country-house murder turns out to be darker and darker still ... I won’t reveal how the plot thickens. Banville’s depiction of the young republic that Ireland then was (real independence came only in 1937) is fascinating ... The book sings with authenticity and Banvillian tropes ... Banville is one of the great stylists of fiction in English and Snow allows the limpid cadences of his prose free rein ... An entertainment, perhaps, but a superbly rich and sophisticated one.\
RaveThe GuardianIt makes for a fascinating subjective account of an individual life over these years, unfiltered by any ambitions of literary posterity or knowingness. The frankness and guilelessness of these letters grant them an astonishing authenticity ... This book can rank with Joan Wyndham’s wonderful youthful journals of the blitz, Love Lessons, as an account of those terrible weeks and months of 1940 and 41 that sweeps away the accumulated myths and nationalistic hogwash that fond, retro-fitted hindsight has bestowed. This is the news from the domestic frontline: personal, unique, unexpurgated, without propaganda, as it unfolded and was experienced ... The letters are witty, clever, subversive, candid.
RaveNew Statesman (UK)So much for the myth but, as ever, the truth—or as close as we can get to the truth—is infinitely more compelling, as this fascinating biography makes clear ... Owen Matthews tells the story of Sorge’s extraordinary life with tremendous verve and expertise and a real talent for mise en scène. Shanghai in the 1930s and prewar Tokyo, Sorge’s stamping grounds, come vividly alive in these pages and the portrait of Sorge himself that emerges is richly authentic, giving real credence to the title’s unequivocal claim: for all his feet of clay, Richard Sorge was indeed an impeccable spy.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... a multitude of fascinating pieces of information ... magisterial and wide-ranging ... This trio and their interlinked lives form a kind of portal to a cultural history of 19th-century Europe and the way that the continent evolved and transformed itself, through new technologies, into the collective of countries that is still recognisable today ... What also emerges from Figes’s book is a beguiling biography of Turgenev ... Figes is able to depict a history of a continent in constant change ... relevant, trenchant and searching.
MixedNew StatesmanIt should be remembered that Buchan was, in every sense, a late Victorian who...embodied all the respectable values of the time...and, to a degree, its bad: cheerfully unreflecting racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and imperial complacency. Ursula Buchan is very aware of this and makes the best case for the defense she can with as much judiciousness as she can muster ... She has deliberately concentrated on the life, leaving literary assessments for others. The only problem with this is that the narrative of a career of public service, however limpidly recounted, can on occasion be very dull[.]
RaveThe Times Literary SupplementThe popular-serious historians...have a double duty: their accounts have to be vividly real but also historically responsible. Holland, in Normandy ’44, discharges this remit with superb energy ... Holland sweeps us through the D-Day preparations, the invasion, the temporary stalemate on the beachheads and beyond to the eventual breakout ... Any brief analysis of an undertaking of this size cannot do justice to Holland’s impressive organization of facts, figures and details. His narrative style is fluent and pleasingly colloquial (though I have to observe that the cliché count is rather on the high side: too many nails are hammered into coffins, towels are thrown in, keels are even, tensions simmer and situations are dire). At the same time every detail is scrupulously referenced ... As an account of this mighty and vitally significant clash of armies on many battlefields Normandy ’44 stands as richly impressive, hard to surpass.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewPhillips’s shrewd move is to avoid the first-person singular of the memoir ... Because, in a significant way, this novel is only partially about Jean Rhys a.k.a. Gwendolyn Williams. Phillips is more interested in using the circumstances of Rhys’s life to explore concerns that he has made very much his own in previous works of fiction ... Phillips expertly conveys Gwen’s bafflement and dissociation from the \'English people\' she finds herself among. It’s as if the only true, verifiable experiences of her life had been left behind in Dominica; everything else is somehow sham and threatening ... That the novel succeeds so well is a tribute to Phillips’s mastery of tone. Gwen is rarely referred to by name; it’s almost as if we’re reading a procedural statement rather than a story. Yet the point of view is rigidly confined to her, only very rarely shifting substantially, so we get a glimpse of Gwen as others see her ... Jean Rhys’s prose was famously scrupulous ... Caryl Phillips proudly upholds her standards in this austere, evocative investigation of a life caught \'somewhere between colored and white.\' It is a novel of acute psychological empathy and understanding.
Sally Bendell Smith
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewPrince Charles is that rare portrait — pro-Charles and anti-Diana ... The marriage between Charles and Diana was unhappy virtually from the outset, so Smith claims and, I think, establishes with great judiciousness ... What’s remarkable about her portrait of Prince Charles is that he emerges as a man not deeply tainted by the complacent values of the world in which he was raised. Her Charles is a complex, somewhat troubled, sincere and questioning individual ... her book suggests that we can look forward to the reign of Charles III with quiet confidence.
John le Carre
PositiveThe Guardian...well written, pithy and not in the least vainglorious ... The more you know about Le Carré, the more you will relish The Pigeon Tunnel ... this is a fascinating and important book. Anyone interested in Le Carré and his significant contribution to the literature of the 20th and 21st centuries will want to read these engaging meanderings through various aspects of his life and career.