Seeing things differently is the essence of what sets Malcolm apart. Few writers pay attention with the precision, acuity and patience she has exhibited during her career ... These 18 pieces are organized into three unnamed parts, but they conspire to form a meaningful whole ... Taking no particular issue with the work of her colleagues, I wish nonetheless to say that Malcolm, line to line, is a more revealing writer, one whose presence in her pieces isn’t meant to advertise the self so much as complicate the subject. And also, line to line, she is a better writer ... [The final section of the book is] devoted to Malcolm’s superb literary criticism... we are fortunate to have Malcolm’s kind of authority, one founded as much on her failures as on her successes at seeing.
Every word of Janet Malcolm’s latest nonfiction collection, Nobody’s Looking at You, is a pleasure to read, even if you have no built-in interest in her topics. The author of 'The Journalist and the Murderer' comes off like a proponent of the 'Life is short, eat dessert first' philosophy, placing her snappiest pieces in the first section ... [The essays] show off Malcolm’s way with quick, vivid word pictures...and her gift for the telling detail ... [and] reveal the breadth of Malcolm’s wit and insight[.]
[Malcolm's] new collection is a reminder that she is a great champion ... She is drawn to decency, cleanliness, sanity, simplicity—these words recur in her work like talismans, when she writes about Edith Wharton or the biographer Quentin Bell. Goodness, but of a narrow kind, matters intensely to her. Malcolm is impatient with weakness and a lack of self-control—with people who 'leak.' The goodness that attracts her is born of strength, reserve and resources. It is tangled up with tastefulness, too ... There is stirring, beautifully structured writing here, particularly in the title essay, a profile of Fisher, which combines many of the writer’s signal interests—our unconscious aggression and the way we methodically and unknowingly recreate the world of our childhood in our adult lives ... Several pieces, however, particularly the short reviews, make for intimate but curiously unsatisfying reading ... too often in this book we watch a powerful critic taking on targets that feel unworthy—not because they are small but because she does not elevate them or make a sufficient case for their importance. She flatters them instead, bathes them in adjectives ... With all due respect to both Maddow and Malcolm, I started to feel a little insane.