Coming out the day of the midterm elections and soon after our newest Supreme Court justice was accused of assaulting several women — and then got confirmed anyway — the novel’s obsession with silence, its damnation of false liberalism, and the fine line it draws between complicity and trauma feel eerily prescient ... Somehow, though the book is slim, we know these characters and their desires intimately by the end ... Novey — a poet and translator as well as a novelist — is a skillful wordsmith with descriptions that are poetic yet never overwrought ... Those Who Knew is not only an important book about silence and its consequences, but also a sheer pleasure to read.
A destabilizing, almost hallucinatory unreality wisps through Idra Novey’s Those Who Knew, a gripping, astute, and deeply humane political thriller. Yet it’s less about the powerful than about the people they hurt, and those who might stop them if they could muster the courage ... Novey has found a felicitous form for this novel, which is the literary equivalent of a film constructed from short cuts. There are only a few moments—a page or three—told from any given perspective before it shifts. This keeps the pace fast and momentum strong, even as each shard of the story invites savoring ... Glancing backward at history and forward at legacy, this is a novel about what happens when good people witness evil and say nothing. But it’s a hopeful novel, too. So they’re going to have to bravely make some noise.
The novel’s political intrigue and corruption, and the sadness that accompanies the sense of helplessness in the face of a great evil, is prescient ... we feel the tired futility in [Novey's] bones—and ours ... There are beautifully bright details...that keep us hungry for more, turning the pages toward some sort of resolution. But the villain’s comeuppance seems like an afterthought rather than the cathartic moment it should be. And a last-minute attempt at an optimistic future seems tacked on as well ... Novey seems older, tired and slightly hopeless. But, then, aren’t we all?
Those Who Knew is a fast-paced, hackles-raising story that focuses on silenced victims of assault and the remorse and shame that comes of not speaking up against abuses of power ... [The novel's setup is] an explosive moral Molotov cocktail ... More off-putting, there's nothing subtle about Novey's depiction of Victor, whose every word and action are flat out despicable, despite his purported advocacy for good causes ... Although Novey's second novel isn't as winning as her first, there's certainly plenty to admire in it—beginning with its boldness in tackling big, important issues like silenced victimhood, moral compromise, complicity, and self-recrimination in an engaging, deeply humane work of fiction.
... mesmerizing ... Those Who Knew operates as a kind of puzzle that pulls the characters toward one another. Each scene skillfully leapfrogs over the last as the mystery of Maria’s death deepens and more secrets are revealed ... Those Who Knew is an uncannily prescient novel that animates the #MeToo movement and speaks to the depth of the moral quagmire we currently find ourselves in. The novel’s exploration of how silence is weaponized by institutions, which permit those who commit horrible abuses to get away with them, feels tailor-made for our times ... Those Who Knew is the rare novel that challenges its readers to consider what their silence is costing us.
[Those Who Knew is] a novel that feels simultaneously timely and timeless ... Novey’s premise is straightforward and the book’s message isn’t especially subtle, but she deftly avoids cliché by employing a unique narrative style that includes the perspectives of all six main characters and a variety of chapter formats ... The downside to this format is that because the novel is on the short side, not every character is as fully developed as they could be.
Novey's writing is lyrical and dream-like ... Each character with its own story arc is emotionally grounded and written with compassion and depth ... It is suprising that in a novella Novey also manages to cover the personal depths of family and friendship ... This novella is a perfect read in today's political climate. Novey expresses the grand politics of power through these characters’ everyday lives and experiences.
Few contemporary fiction writers have depicted this fraught state [of trying to balance our responsibilities to others with our own commitments] more effortlessly (or less obnoxiously) than Idra Novey ... Despite the book’s brevity—its 256 pages contain a lot of blank space and, according to a publisher’s note, clock in at less than 60,000 words—it deftly encompasses a sweeping time frame and impressive range of points of view. Though it’s packaged as a kind of literary thriller, the narrative spreads outward in many directions, becoming ever more diffuse and irresolvable ... Of course, faced with problems borne of vast, intricate political systems, hand-wringing is not much use either. In this, Novey might present a bleak vision of the world, but she also allows her characters to carve out spaces for resistance, and even to build a life outside politics.
...poetic ... While sussing out the manifold fears that drive men’s often destructive pursuit of power, Novey explores the strength of women ... With this novel, Novey provides a depiction of true strength through the community of survivors.
Throughout the book, Novey is particularly insightful about the innumerable tangled threads of power that hold society in fragile balance ... Novey’s characters are forever picking at their privileges, seeing them not simply as rhetorical admissions but as dangerous things, knives they might accidentally cut someone with ... Those Who Knew, though buoyed by a certain optimism, doesn’t traffic in idealism about the political tools at hand ... Novey’s novel imagines a more incremental, more grounded type of toppling [of power]: An excruciatingly slow, sometimes sordid grind toward accountability and inclusive governance ... A slender novel needn’t be an insubstantial one, and Novey certainly packs hers with weighty themes, but I couldn’t help but feel they might have been better served by a more patient, deliberate exploration. Throughout the novel, Novey is prone to collapsing scenes that might have blossomed out into comic or shocking action, instead whisking through them with serviceable exposition ... Novey adeptly constructs uncanny moments...and they account for some of the most gripping passages in the novel. But somehow they come to feel insubstantial ... Yet Novey’s breadth of insight, her ability to hold gender, class, racial and geopolitical privilege in her sights simultaneously, often conjures riveting reading.
Novey...creates a landscape in which her characters may represent, or sometimes hide, their nation, class, or station in life. Yet her women overcome such barriers and join together, revealing what they know in order to effect change. With its unnamed locales and spare prose, the novel becomes a modern parable that allows readers to unearth deeper meanings.
For Those Who Knew, poet, translator and novelist Idra Novey (Ways to Disappear) exercises her considerable talents in crafting lush, riveting threads, which she braids into a spectacular crime novel ... There may be an impulse to pin this story to a modern moment, a prominent movement of reckoning for men of intimidating and violent machinations. Those Who Knew, however, serves to remind readers that those who have known know now, as they did then and before then.
...a tangled web of loss and regret and—perhaps—something like redemption. It's not a particularly subtle book—after the initial setup, it unfurls more or less how you’d expect it to—but Novey’s writing is so singularly vibrant it hardly matters. Dreamy and jarring and exceedingly topical.
...propulsive ... Novey’s storytelling is taut and her diction sharp, and though there are some unnecessary structural turns...the book nevertheless has a striking sense of momentum ... a provocative novel that has the feel of a thriller.