RaveThe GuardianIt is a daring project, to enter the mind of a man known for his withdrawal and silences, but Baker succeeds triumphantly in prose that is both intimate and austere, with an unobtrusive Beckettian cadence ... Do you need to be interested in Beckett to engage with this novel? Well, as with the Longbourn servants, if you’re not, you should be, because again this is an extraordinary story that shines a light both on individuals caught up in the sweep of history and the way life is transmuted into art.
Gold Fame CitrusClaire Vaye Watkins
PositiveThe GuardianTheir journey, and what awaits them there, is both nail-biting and digressive, at times lushly overwritten, at times wryly incisive, but always powerful. There are sections told in chorus or set out as a play for voices, freezing the action at dramatic moments; quasi-documentary reportage as well as a fantastical primer to the 'neo-fauna' of the dune sea. The whole is crammed with ideas that don’t entirely cohere; but one of the best things about the book is the way Vaye Watkins harnesses the real-life weirdness of the west to intense, hallucinatory effect ... Vaye Watkins’ portrait of Levi, the leader of the sand dune colony, is a tour de force: chilling, beguiling, paranoid, convincing and pathetic by turns.
Margaret the FirstDanielle Dutton
RaveThe GuardianIt is through a small miracle of imaginative sympathy and judicious sampling that Danielle Dutton, founder of the American feminist small press Dorothy, has compressed the essence of the capacious and contradictory duchess into 160 pages ... She is excellent on the domestic detail of the period ... [a] warm, witty portrait of a visionary who was both passionately engaged with her time and strikingly ahead of it.
The WonderEmma Donoghue
RaveThe GuardianDonoghue draws out the narrative suspense with her customary combination of historical verve and emotional delicacy, as the mystery becomes not so much what is happening beneath Lib’s nose, but why ... Like Room, this is a thrilling domestic psychodrama that draws its power from quotidian detail as well as gothic horror...But Donoghue also sets Anna and Lib’s relationship in a wider context: of English and Irish antagonism, of the birth of nursing, of the clash between science and faith.
His Bloody ProjectGraeme MaCrae Burnet
RaveThe Guardian...a blackly funny investigation into madness and motivation ... The descriptions of the crofting community, scratching a living from ungenerous soil, at the mercy of the laird, the church and the weather, are fascinatingly done ... The book’s pretence at veracity, as well as being a literary jeux d’esprit, brings an extraordinary historical period into focus, while the multiple unreliable perspectives are designed to keep the audience wondering, throughout the novel and beyond. This is a fiendishly readable tale that richly deserves the wider attention the Booker has brought it.
PositiveThe GuardianHer sixth book, Cockfosters, moves on a stage: now the women are standing uncertainly on the brink of menopause, buying varifocals, remarking how very glad they are not to be 'doing that any more' when they see younger women struggling with small children; while the men are having heart scares or moving, with a combination of exhaustion and entitlement, on to their second wife and set of children ... The joker in the pack is 'Erewhon'...the story comes off as twee rather than challenging, in part because the rhetorical attitudes it satirises have already atrophied into sitcom stereotypes ... It’s [the] tightrope balance between our outer lives and inner expanses that continues to make her writing sing.
Station ElevenEmily St. John Mandel
PositiveThe GuardianEmily St John Mandel makes something subtle and unusual out of elements that have become garishly overfamiliar … But whereas most apocalypse novels push grimly forward into horror or dystopia, Station Eleven skips back and forth between the pre-flu world and Year Twenty after global collapse, when the worst is over and survivors have banded together into isolated settlements. Gradually, the book builds cumulative power as connections are made between the two time frames, and characters who do or don't survive … Station Eleven is not so much about apocalypse as about memory and loss, nostalgia and yearning; the effort of art to deepen our fleeting impressions of the world and bolster our solitude.
The Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes
RaveThe GuardianThe novella divides into two parts, the first being Tony's memoir of ‘book-hungry, sex-hungry’ sixth form days, and the painful failure of his first relationship at university, with the spiky, enigmatic Veronica. It's a lightly sketched portrait of awkwardness and repression … Barnes excels at colouring everyday reality with his narrator's unique subjectivity, without sacrificing any of its vivid precision: only he could invest a discussion about hand-cut chips in a gastropub with so much wry poignancy. With its patterns and repetitions, scrutinising its own workings from every possible angle, the novella becomes a highly wrought meditation on ageing, memory and regret. But it gives as much resonance to what is unknown and unspoken – lost to memory – as it does to the engine of its own plot.
See What I Have DoneSarah Schmidt
RaveThe GuardianSchmidt is less interested in contriving a new version of what 'really' happened on that fateful morning in 1892 than in plunging the reader into a claustrophobic nexus of family resentments and frustrations, probing obsessively at the faultline between love and hate ... The blurring of voices and perceptions, particularly between Lizzie and Benjamin, and obsessive repetition of words and symbols only add to the irresistible momentum and fevered intensity of the book: part fairytale, part psychodrama ... At the same time, much backstory is cleverly withheld: there are hints at Lizzie’s instability, but we bring our own assumptions to her character ... We get only glimpses into the particular hell of the Borden household; the fact that we can fill in the blanks from our own darkest places draws us closer, more uncomfortably, in. Schmidt’s unusual combination of narrative suppression and splurge makes for a surprising, nastily effective debut.
Midwinter BreakBernard MacLaverty
RaveThe GuardianIt is extraordinary how his blunt, declarative sentences translate the fiddly minutiae of life – the pleated paper from a bar of hotel soap, the cellophane packaging round a pair of pyjamas – into utterly gripping prose. With acute, understated tenderness, he charts the medical palaver and hyper-awareness of the body’s fragility that come with age ... This unflinching attention to the textural detail of minute-by-minute existence slowly builds into a profound exploration of the biggest themes in both public and private life: faith, politics and fanaticism; love and loneliness; joint compromise and individual purpose ... In 40 years of short stories and four previous novels, MacLaverty has written often about the distance between couples: about men floored by alcohol, and women examining their faith; about religious prejudice in Northern Ireland, the violence of the Troubles and the stranglehold of the Catholic church. Midwinter Break reads as both a summation of his themes and a remarkable late flowering ... This is a quietly brilliant novel, which makes for essential reading at any stage of life.