Every once in a while there is a novel that enters the literary zeitgeist and requires discourse — but it feels like there is nothing that can be written or said that will ever do it justice. This is the feeling R.F. Kuang's new novel Yellowface evokes ... Highly immersive ... A thrilling journey ... The story is a multi-layer, complex conversation that tackles a few things about the publishing industry at once ... Kuang's first foray outside of fantasy is a well-executed, gripping, fast-paced novel about the nuances of the publishing world when an author is desperate enough to do anything for success. I was consistently at the edge of my seat until the very last page.
Kuang’s narrative palpates the nuances of cultural performance and writerly ethics, finally concluding that all authors steal for material anyway ... By making Athena into an avatar of literary ruthlessness, Kuang transforms what could have been a character with foibles and compulsions into a universal, and thus somewhat boring, archetype: the writer who wrecks her relationships and transgresses every boundary for the sake of her work ... This figure is that perfect romantic compound of bad person and good artist, but it is only an ideal, and thus tedious to encounter in a novel ... June’s background is composed of heavy-handed mentions of family strife and a description of college-era sexual trauma, but her personality remains mostly undelineated, clunking into gear only when the plot needs it to ... June’s stupidity is so obvious that it feels scheduled ... None of this is helped by the novel’s treatment of its publishing industry milieu. Even as June is saved at every turn by oblivious and insensitive publishing professionals, the book neglects to describe the shared mannerisms, rituals or lodestars that give an industry its texture. The literary agents in “Yellowface” are so lacking in specificity as to be interchangeable, but not in a redemptively parodic way. Elsewhere, the novel lurches into colorless, explanatory asides about publishing that are so functional, it’s as if an old TV has been wheeled out ... Perhaps Yellowface has demonstrated that our world is simply not load-bearing enough to support a traditional literary satire.
It’s a breezy and propulsive read, a satirical literary thriller that’s enjoyable and uncomfortable in equal measure; occasionally, it skirts the edges of a ghost story. It’s also the most granular critique of commercial publishing I’ve encountered in fiction, and seeing the cruel, indifferent vagaries of one’s industry so ably skewered is viciously satisfying ... Written in first-person present tense, June’s voice has the zippy, immersive cadence that’s been associated with young adult novels since at least The Hunger Games. It’s a shrewd choice that makes June sound younger than she is — sometimes immature; sometimes demanding pity; sometimes outright deranged. The result is both addictive and slightly sickening ... If this reads as a quite on-the-nose critique of contemporary conversations about race and appropriation, that’s because it is. This is not a subtle book. It is in fact so obvious that it makes one wonder why Kuang uses the device of an unreliable narrator at all. I kept expecting the whole novel to snap into something more elaborate, more complex — to have to match wits with June, to catch her in a lie within a lie, to experience some sort of revelation from an accumulation of evidence. Instead, June’s methodology is consistently to tell the reader her trespasses and offer flimsy justifications for them ... Moments suggest the kinds of layers and intrigue the book could have maintained if it weren’t so committed to showing its hand ... This obviousness isn’t necessarily a flaw — but it is puzzling ... When Yellowface is a satire, I want it to be sharper; when it’s horror, I want it to be more frightening; when it’s a ghost story, I want it to be more haunting; when it suggests a vampiric, parasitic relationship, I want it to be more inviting, more ambiguous, more strange. Instead, all its genre fluidity is in service of the same blunt frankness.
A tense, visceral, unexpectedly hilarious, and wildly entertaining novel that works on multiple levels. At once an exploration of guilt, a celebration of writing, a look at cultural appropriation, diversity, and racism in publishing, a sharp deconstruction of social media’s impact on the writing world — especially on writers — and a bizarre ghost story, this narrative accomplishes a lot and offers something for everyone ... Operates on various levels and shifts tones brilliantly. The first third of the book is hilarious, with June’s actions inhabiting a space between something like literary slapstick and the silliness of a straight white woman complaining that writers of color get all the attention in contemporary publishing ... The book is fun to read, but it also tackles many important, timely topics ... At once a brilliant satire that mixes horror and humor; a nuanced exploration of race, heritage, identity, and diversity in publishing; and an honest look at the hell that is social media, this might just be Kuang’s best.
Like no other book you’ll read this spring. Possibly in the whole of 2023 entirely. It’s addictive, shocking, compelling, ridiculous, and extremely fun to read by turns ... That Yellowface will inevitably be one of the spring’s buzziest and most controversial novels seems like a foregone conclusion. In many ways, that reaction will be deserved: The book is almost compulsively readable, and its plot is fast-paced and relentless ... But despite its necessary and all too true themes, there’s also an uncomfortable, overly meta feel to this book—-if you’re part of the online world of publishing, be it Book Twitter, BookTok, or Instagram influencer programs, a lot of this story will feel painfully familiar to you ... A fearless, often unhinged story that takes big swings and is quite rightfully going to drive a ton of conversation.
A blisteringly good satire of privilege in the publishing world, and the envy and feverish competition at the heart of the industry ... While she lays bare June’s horrendous levels of blind white privilege, she also brings in plenty of nuance, treading into grey areas when we later discover that Athena isn’t beyond reproach herself ... A smart novel ... Also very entertaining ... A firecracker of a book.
A zeitgeisty thriller ... Kuang convincingly keeps the ground shifting ... As a tale of rivalrous friendship that morphs into lurid revenge melodrama and even a sort-of ghost story, Yellowface keeps us agog, narrowing its eyes all the while at an industry’s attitudes towards racial diversity. Still, it’s a thriller about the book trade ... I probably wolfed this down more avidly than anything I’ve read this year. It’s often wickedly funny ... Clever and entertaining.
Dark ... Yellowface reads quickly and much faster than anything she has ever written ... Has two missions—pushing cultural exploitation to its fictional limits and satirizing the state of the publishing industry in an internet era. Sometimes, the novel sacrifices the first mission for the second and becomes too obsessed with the online lives of books and authordom. But where it shines is Kuang’s darkly witty tone, critiques of publishing and cultural exploitation, and the all-consuming nature of internet personas.
A crime caper that’s also a wicked little satire of publishing, racial politics and icky internet culture ... In telling the story from Junie’s magnificently self-justifying point of view, Kuang tosses around slightly tired arguments about authenticity and fiction ... Based on a smart and fun idea, but lacks structure and a bit of heart ... Junie spends a lot of time telling us how important writing is to her, but in language so clichéd, sentimental...and mercenary that it’s impossible to believe ... Kuang’s own writing is perfectly serviceable but it never leaps upwards into fresh, cool air with the force of originality, brutality or just plain old beauty.
This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm. A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.