PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)...absorbing ... The first half of Smacked has little to do with addiction; it tells the story of Zimmerman’s marriage. A certain type of memoirist would have gussied up these chapters, exaggerating the strength of their union, the better to emphasise what was lost. Zimmerman is too honest to do that ... The end is as captivating as it is horrific ... Zimmerman recalls being gobsmacked when she learnt that Peter’s death was drug-related. \'We actually see a lot of this now,\' the doctor at the scene said. \'Wealthy, high-powered executives that overdose and die\' ... In the book’s final section, Zimmerman delves into this phenomenon. What she uncovers is disturbing. The most high-powered and remunerative professions in the US — law, banking, tech — appear to be awash with narcotics.
PositiveThe Financial Times... sometimes has the feel of a late-life stock-taking exercise in novel form ... a mixed bag. There is a sense of too many elements — both narrative and thematic — being shoehorned in. Some of Shelby’s reminiscences feel irrelevant, as if Keneally has included them mainly to fill space, or because they mirror the author’s own experiences ... And yet these flaws are redeemed, to a large extent, by the sheer enjoyableness of the Shade chapters. His adventures are consistently memorable, and it is well worth reading this novel for them alone ... Has Keneally captured anything important about human life 42,000 years ago? Probably not. But he has clearly had fun trying, and so will readers of this book.
PositiveThe Observer (UK)Although none of the characterisations are especially deep...this doesn\'t prove too big a drawback because The Submission isn\'t primarily a character-driven novel. It\'s really a work of social realism whose objective is to show something about the workings of an entire society, how its disparate parts fit together ... In attempting all this, Waldman has two significant things going for her: she knows her stuff, and she writes well. The Submission gives the impression of being underpinned by a deep knowledge of municipal politics, of committees and pressure groups, and its best scenes are those that inhabit this quasi-official sphere ... Waldman\'s smooth, knowing prose serves to ensure that the regular shifts of register never jar too much ... Ultimately, The Submission\'s opening narrative ploy, though a brilliant device for getting the story up and running, proves something of a limitation. There\'s a growing sense that too much in the novel is determined by it, that the characters don\'t truly exist outside its frame. As a result, The Submission seems to lose, rather than gain, moral depth and momentum as it progresses. Still, this is an exciting debut from a writer who has set herself the target of attempting something urgent and bold, and who has, for the most part, pulled it off.
RaveFinancial TimesThe Second Sleep won’t seem entirely new to Harris fans. Its plot, at times, strongly resembles Fatherland, which also hinged on its protagonist uncovering dangerous repressed truths about the past. But this sense of familiarity doesn’t matter. When Harris is at his best — and here he is — he writes with a skill and ingenuity that few other novelists can match. In this case, the usual page-turning pleasures are joined by something else: a sense that, through his historical-futuristic setting, Harris has found a unique vantage point to comment on the present. At first, he seems to be asking too much of his readers. That our civilisation could collapse seems entirely plausible, but would all its accumulated knowhow vanish with it? And would society then revert to something so closely resembling the Middle Ages? Harris’s cleverness is to make this scenario believable ... It is positively alarming, the ease with which Harris conjures up a future in which our virtual world, powered by a shadowy force known as electricity, comes to seem like the definition of hubris. This is a novel that not only makes you smile at its author’s brilliance, but induces a shiver of dread at how real it all seems.
PositiveThe Financial TimesWhile the awfulness of boarding school life is hardly a neglected theme in British fiction, McGuinness makes it fresh ... Ultimately, it’s this attentiveness that makes Throw Me to the Wolves such an absorbing novel. McGuinness may have eschewed most of the conventional thrills of procedural fiction, but what he withholds in suspense and action he amply repays in the form of language: on virtually every page, there are perfectly judged descriptions that reveal something about the world ... This is a novel that worries about ignorance and hostility — but which also demonstrates, through its fine-grained language, what the best corrective is.
RaveFinancial Times...Afternoon of a Faun...expertly unpick[s] the webs of deceit men weave through their lives—the lies that not only help advance their interests, but also prop up their ideas of themselves ... Afternoon of a Faun has a propulsive energy, as both reader and narrator yearn for an answer to the question: is Rosedale’s accuser telling the truth? The denouement, when it arrives, is shocking—with the journalist revealed to be far more capricious than his friend thought possible ... [This story] ought to be read—not just for...insights into \'toxic masculinity,\' but for what they tell us about ways in which men think.
PositiveThe Financial TimesBoyd has long been a master of the technical aspects of fiction-writing, and in Love is Blind this is again in evidence: plotting, pacing and historical detail are all adroitly handled, and he succeeds in making the world of piano tuning—as well as the wider milieu of fin de siècle Europe—come alive. But when it comes to emotion, he is less sure-footed. It’s not that anything is obviously terrible; there are no embarrassing sex scenes, no overly florid descriptions of Brodie and Lika’s liaisons. The problem is the opposite: Boyd writes about love with a certain limiting briskness, and this means that the reader never gets drawn into the full intensity of Brodie and Lika’s affair ... None of this prevents Love is Blind from being extremely enjoyable. It is a novel with more than enough else in it—from early morning duels to extensive descriptions of restaurant meals—to keep readers absorbed.
RaveFinancial Times\"Rachman’s new novel may well be his most impressive yet ... Rachman vividly evokes the dismalness of Pinch’s life in Bear’s absence, and how this leads him to further valorise his father ... In the end, this deceptively subtle novel offers a surprisingly upbeat message: that even a life marked by outward failure can contain many hidden kinds of success.\
RaveThe Guardian\"Grafting such thriller-like elements on to what is otherwise a rollicking time-hopping fantasy may sound convoluted, but the cleverness of How to Stop Time lies in how effortless Haig makes it feel. Of course, you think to yourself, this makes perfect sense: the anagerics (if they existed) would form a secret society ... Haig has been gifted with a rare ability, which is to make the far-fetched – and even ridiculous – seem believable. His books tickle your mind and tug on your heart, and their pages slip by with beguiling ease. Even before Benedict Cumberbatch goes voyaging across the centuries, How to Stop Time will provoke wonder and delight.\
MixedThe Financial TimesThe Man Booker Prize-winning Irish writer’s style — verbose, rich in literary effect, markedly unhurried when it comes to the unfolding of plot — has often drawn comparisons with Nabokov, and even Proust...a sequel to one of James’s best-loved novels, The Portrait of a Lady, Banville should, as it were, have picked up the baton dropped by the master ... Banville, through Isabel, does a lot of remembering in Mrs Osmond. This is, in all senses, a backward-looking novel ...at times bear a passing resemblance to that of James, but only really through Banville’s use of stereotypically (and, frankly, faintly comical) Jamesian diction ... Much of it reads, well, rather like any other novel by Banville — and in general, the less self-consciously Jamesian it is, the more enjoyable it becomes.
PositiveThe GuardianHeather, the Totality may be a slender work (technically more novella than novel), but it packs an impressive amount of drama and excitement into its 138 pages. A bleakly elegant tale of ennui and class envy, it reads – perhaps not altogether surprisingly – less like a novice effort than the work of a highly accomplished fabulator … Despite being set in the present day, this is a novel that owes much atmospherically to those American works of the 1960s – notably Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road and John Williams’s Stoner – that treat family life, and especially marriage, as one unfolding catastrophe. Weiner complicates matters, however, by introducing a more noirish element: a subplot about an amoral and dangerous young man named Bobby … Overall, this novel captivates, despite the grimness of its preoccupations. Weiner has a knack for writing sentences that grab and grip, and he knows a lot about pacing and structure.
PositiveThe GuardianJust as Homer’s poem contains multiple timeframes, its narrative continually looping back to earlier events in its characters’ lives, so Daniel’s memoir regularly slips from the present as it delves into his father’s past. This, we soon gather, is the book’s special 'trick': a memoir largely concerned with The Odyssey, it is itself a deeply Odyssean work. And not just structurally, but thematically too: as Daniel takes us through Homer’s epic, almost line by line, he reveals how its themes – the passing of time, identity and recognition, the bonds between fathers and sons, husbands and wives – resonate across his and his father’s lives. The book thus enacts a truth that has long been central to Mendelsohn’s writing and teaching, which is that the great works of antiquity remain relevant today. All this may make An Odyssey sound rather convoluted, even unapproachable. Yet, remarkably, it isn’t. More than anything, this is down to the litheness of Mendelsohn’s prose, which flits seamlessly across intervals and registers, switching from erudite exposition one minute to emotion-filled reminiscence the next. There are some flaws. Minor characters, such as the students in Daniel’s seminar, are little more than props. Some obvious opportunities for comedy are missed. And Daniel’s portrait of Jay, while affecting, lacks the fierce tenderness of, say, Philip Roth’s writing about his dad. Still, this is an accomplished, brave book that testifies to what is perhaps The Odyssey’s most abiding message: that intelligence has little value if it isn’t allied to love.
PositiveThe GuardianIt isn’t comprehensive, nor does it advance an overarching argument. The tone – informal, anecdotal, contrarian – is more bar-room than high table. What unifies the book is the consistency of its approach: he isn’t interested only in applying philosophical ideas and principles to sport. More importantly – and more originally – he wants to use arguments about sport as a launching pad into philosophy ... For a shortish book, Knowing the Score covers an impressive amount of ground. In other chapters, Papineau examines race and ethnicity (arguing, provocatively, that everyone should be free to define their ethnicities as they choose) and shows how a road-cycling peloton – the main body of racers – is a sort of testing ground for ideas about mutualism and self-interest. The book could do with a more sustained examination of gender, however. I’d have liked to have read Papineau teasing out the philosophical implications posed by a case like that of the intersex South African runner Caster Semenya ... For the most part, however, he barely puts a foot wrong in what is, as he would be unlikely to say, a blinder of a performance.
Roberto Bolaño, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveThe Guardian...2666 is a novel of stupefying ambition with a mock-documentary element at its core ... We begin in familiar territory, with a tale of four literary critics from different European countries who are united both by their promiscuity and their obsession with a cult German novelist called Benno von Archimboldi ...this is a novel with many disappearances... As the bodies mount up and all the investigations come to nothing, it becomes clear that what we are being presented with is a vision of hell, a place where horror is unending and meaningless ... 2666 is indeed Bolaño's master statement, not just on account of its length and quality but also because it is the fullest expression of his two abiding themes: the writing life and violence.
David Foster Wallace
RaveThe GuardianRead together, these pieces demonstrate a few things. One is that Wallace’s grasp of tennis was truly prodigious. The analytical powers that must have ended up hindering him as a player made him a peerless observer of the sport. He has often been described as the best tennis writer of all time, and these essays don’t disabuse that notion. Wallace is interested in – and understands – every aspect of the game, from its strategic complications and technical evolution through to sponsorship deals and methods of hydration. In itself, of course, such knowledge isn’t exceptional. But where Wallace stands apart is that he is never boring with it. One of the marvels of his writing is the way it combines a nerd’s outlook with a novelist’s gift for exposition.