The heat ripples into sentences dripping with delicious detail ... Its nod to the classics makes Demi-Gods comparable to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. As does the feeling of a new and important author arriving.
The novel’s sexual dynamics are certainly strange, but even at their most scatological, they’re soft. I wasn’t expecting so light a touch: like a kiss on the brow when you expected to be slapped. You’ll obsess over this kiss for a fortnight ... It’s exciting to see boy-girl relations explored with such candor, with no room for easy answers, tidy endings, clear consent ... Robertson conjures a languid world, a Didion-esque tumble-dry of summery whites. The book is of a piece with André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name and other soft-core explorations of how we mess one another up, and realize it only later ... I crave Robertson’s take on the objects and tensions of my own life. Rarely have blurred lines, in weird sex or otherwise, been explored with such grace.
...a poetic debut novel ... she clearly knows her mythological stuff. Like Donna Tartt's The Secret History or Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, her novel uses ancient tales as its blueprint ... Yet, these characters are real people in real places. Victoria and La Jolla, Calif., are 'mirror towns … the images are flipped,' hitting the dual note that resounds through the novel ... She juxtaposes grime and glory, from dirty underwear to ocean phosphorescence, to beautifully disturbing effect. Set in the 1950s and '60s, Demi-Gods is atmospheric without historical overload ... the author steers away from nostalgia, giving her story a suitable timelessness.
Her skill as a writer is beyond question: every sentence feels crafted and she evokes America in the 1950s and early 1960s with such care that it seems to swim before the reader’s eyes like a heat haze ... The plot meanders choppily towards its implausible ending, like a series of short stories sewn together. Willa’s studied passivity, her lack of a sense of humour and her inability to stand up to her drunken mother and cruel sister rapidly become more tiresome than interesting.
...the engagements are fascinating in a case-study kind of way ... Recalling the sado-masochistic relationships for which the early fiction of Mary Gaitskill and Barbara Gowdy drew much praise, the discomfiting scenes showcase Robertson’s skill at exploring interpersonal dynamics. At the same time, though, the overall plot draws attention to a story with a less than sure-footed attention to momentum and purpose, especially as they connect to the subdued and pensive woman reminiscing about them four decades later.
Willa is a Didion-esque narrator, and the novel has a strong memoiristic feel ... Elegant sentences in search of a plot wander through a series of dramatic incidents and reflections on the power of the male gaze.
...a richly layered coming-of-age story ... The novel takes the form of an impressionistic montage of Willa’s memories ... Robertson’s deliciously enigmatic style is the perfect analogue to Willa’s absorbing yet deeply haunting journey of self-discovery.