RaveThe GuardianTamaki’s short comics, as they appear in her aptly titled new collection, Boundless, all have this surface lightness; they’re never anything less than droll. But something sharper and darker is simultaneously at work below. Fleeting as they are – most can be read in as long as it takes to order and receive a latte – each one is as indelible as it is singular ... Each one is so beautifully told that after a while you begin to feel that Tamaki, whose last book, SuperMutant Magic Academy, was a New York Times bestseller, is capable of almost anything. And perhaps she is ... these are models of the form.
The Arab of the Future 2Riad Sattouf
PositiveThe GuardianThis a darker book than its predecessor, though it’s still drily funny, Sattouf never failing to make the most of the aching gap between his father’s fantasies and reality. Clémentine’s melancholy clouds the story’s edges, while centre stage is Sattouf’s schoolteacher, a foul woman who uses violence and intimidation to rule the crowded classroom where she so enthusiastically preaches pro-regime propaganda ... To find out [more] , alas, we have a long wait. Volume three isn’t due until September 2017.
The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the EndKatie Roiphe
MixedThe GuardianThose who think of Roiphe as one of the most dazzling writers around (I am one) will perhaps be surprised to find such a deficiency in her – and by the way she seems to acknowledge it. The Violet Hour is written in short paragraphs that float in white space. Sometimes, this lends them a lyrical, meditative, even prayerful quality. At others, the reader has the sense that for all her reading, their author remains uncertain, floundering, unable wholly to marshal her thoughts ... Roife’s passion for these writers – the clue is the word 'great' in her subtitle – means that she loses her distance...The Violet Hour often reads like a book about gods and their willing handmaidens ... Her writing is elegant, cool, unforgettable.
Killing and DyingAdrian Tomine
RaveThe GuardianIf I had to describe Adrian Tomine to someone who didn’t know his work, I would call him – I can’t possibly conjure any higher praise – the Alice Munro of comics. But not even this quite does it.
PositiveThe GuardianTender and heartfelt, exciting and bizarre, Patience is interested above all in the stories we tell ourselves about love. Loyalty can be toxic, for all that we prize it. Patience isn’t always a virtue; sometimes, it’s just a time bomb in disguise.
The Abominable Mr. SeabrookJoe Ollmann
RaveThe GuardianOllmann spent 10 years researching Seabrook’s strange, ramshackle life, and it shows: his book is wonderfully rich and detailed. Nothing seems to escape his attention or his compassion, whether we’re talking about Seabrook’s interest in S&M or about the long-suffering women in his life. His drawings of Seabrook, blunt-lined and scratchy, are a perfect match for his personality, which is at once charming and repulsive, fascinating and frustrating, while his depictions of such things as camel raids and tribal dances have a romantic, overblown quality, almost as if they are only figments of Seabrook’s imagination. In a way, of course, they are. In the end, this is not so much a simple biography, as a book about writing, and just how painful it can be when the words on the page don’t adequately match the pictures in a man’s head.
Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of DecorumKathryn Hughes
MixedThe GuardianIt is rich and scholarly, something fascinating to be discovered on every page. But it is also digressive, meandering. Her stated theme – how did the men and women whose tales she tells feel about their physical selves? – comes in and out of focus. Each essay works beautifully alone. Hughes is a thoroughly engaging writer: serious-minded but lively, careful yet passionate. In its entirety, though, it feels strained, uncertain of itself. The pieces do not quite fit together ... None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy Victorians Undone. Some of the encounters in its pages, whiffy and indelible, will stay with me for ever.
First Bite: How We Learn to EatBee Wilson
PositiveThe Guardian[T]he sections of First Bite that are devoted to the feeding of children are, for me, its least compelling...More enlightening and sparky by far are the chapters devoted to the effect of memory and gender on our tastes. Wilson is a brilliant researcher and in this, her fifth book, she has unearthed science that makes sense of our most intimate and tender worlds.
Everything is TeethEvie Wyld & Joe Sumner
RaveThe Guardian[This] is a partnership made in heaven. In Everything Is Teeth, a crazily evocative graphic memoir about Wyld’s shark-infested childhood, words and pictures are in perfect harmony, the joins between them so seamless you could almost be watching an old black-and-white film ... What a fantastic book this is. Sumner’s drawings are adorable and acute; Wyld’s words are first wry and then wise. Embracing life and death and everything in between, in Wyld’s hands the shark is a powerful metaphor: it stands for those demons that, when faced down, mostly turn out to be far less terrifying than they appeared at first.
RaveThe GuardianThree months, one room. This is, to say the least, extremely challenging territory for a cartoonist. Somehow, though, Guy Delisle has turned André’s account of his weeks of hell into a gripping visual narrative ... In Hostage, it’s the treacherous landscape of the mind that Delisle determinedly makes his own ... Looking at these cells within a cell, every corner of André’s prison depicted from every possible angle, you’re able to absorb the terrible accretion of time in a single glance – at which point you suddenly grasp just how well the comic serves this particular story. All this darkness and claustrophobia shouldn’t be exhilarating. The fact Delisle makes it so is yet another reason why he must be counted as one of the greatest cartoonists of our age.
In the DarkroomSusan Faludi
RaveThe GuardianFaludi is a mercilessly droll and careful writer. The emotional incontinence and narcissism that pass for insight and power in memoirs these days is not for her; being interested in facts, she is unlikely to play the dubious trump card of personal experience. All the same, I cried quite often as I read her book ... On the page, Stephanie is a huge character: Holocaust survivor, American dad, Magyar repatriate, overdressed shiksa. Her new identity is in a bizarre dance with the old ... Faludi’s book, reticent and elegant and extremely clever, will not be to everyone’s taste. But this doesn’t preclude it from being an out-and-out masterpiece of its kind.
The Return: Fathers Sons and the Land in BetweenHisham Matar
RaveThe GuardianI never stopped wishing that this book had not needed to be written, that the experiences that gave birth to it had not happened. But Matar has turned it into something exquisite, too. Shafts of light will come in, and sometimes they are dazzling ... Matar has a reserve that only makes his way with intimacy all the more moving. Critics like to call books unflinching but the point about this one is that its author flinches all the time; it’s in his turning away that we feel his unfathomable sorrow ... his book is bounded by a magnificent gentleness, a softness and care the reader experiences as a blessing.
The Return: Fathers Sons and the Land in BetweenHisham Matar
RaveThe GuardianAs reckonings-up go, this is a sombre ledger; I never stopped wishing that this book had not needed to be written, that the experiences that gave birth to it had not happened. But Matar has turned it into something exquisite, too. Shafts of light will come in, and sometimes they are dazzling. A son massages his beloved father’s feet. A mother whispers a line from a smuggled letter. A boy makes a new friend in an English boarding school. A man embraces an uncle, feeling the bones of his 'prison body.' A family, big and fond, is reunited over nuts, pastries and sweet tea. Matar has a reserve that only makes his way with intimacy all the more moving. Critics like to call books unflinching but the point about this one is that its author flinches all the time; it’s in his turning away that we feel his unfathomable sorrow, not in those moments when he describes, as he sometimes must, all the unspeakable ways in which the regime liked to torture its prisoners; the great pile of bloodied watches collected by the guards after the Abu Salim massacre.
A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the TrashAlexander Masters
MixedThe GuardianHis relationship with [the diaries] is, however, strange – and for this eager reader, vexing. He doesn’t whip through them, urgently seeking some clue as to their author’s identity. Nor does he put them in chronological order, or not for some years. Instead, he faffs around, looking at them piecemeal ... Masters’s stubbornness is of a different order altogether. It’s a condition, something to be looked up: Extreme and Wilful Procrastination ... if this stuff had to be exhumed at all, at least it was Masters who did the job; a more loving undertaker you could not hope to have ... At his best, Masters is a beautiful writer: funny, inquisitive and attentive...But he has allowed his whimsical side to get out of control; his circuitous, over-involved technique feels out of kilter with his subject.
After Kathy AckerChris Kraus
PanThe GuardianWhile most biographers regard the unpicking of untruths as central to their work, Kraus has a different approach. As the reader will shortly discover, her opening line is a get-out clause. If Acker did indeed lie 'all the time', as she also asserts, Kraus doesn’t necessarily see it as her job to dismantle those deceptions. At best, she is too credulous. At worst, she is haphazard, even lazy ... It’s not only that so many of the stories she tells about her are so hilarious (impossible to believe that Kraus doesn’t know that the majority of these anecdotes are way beyond satire). Rather, it’s that she singularly fails to make a case for Acker the writer ... She ends (and what a relief it is when that moment comes) with what I can only describe as a little hymn of identification with Acker. In a book full of baffling, queasy-making things, this is surely the most befuddling of all. Kraus, whose own novels are rather good, is so much the better writer, even if, this time around, her id seems sometimes to have wrestled her ego to the floor.
Ghosts of the Tsunami
RaveThe GuardianIn the face of several grief manuals that have been published this year, Richard Lloyd Parry’s account of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and its aftermath arrives like a ghost at the feast, its mind set not on platitudes, but on the very hardest kind of truth-telling ... This is not, then, a book of easy consolation. It is, as it should be, painful to read. All the same, every time I think of it, I’m filled with wonderment (and, I suppose, professional envy). Lloyd Parry is such a good reporter: discreet yet unsentimental; ever-present, but able also swiftly to absent himself from the page. He never overwrites. His capacity for intimacy with relative strangers is a kind of gift ... It is hard to imagine a more insightful account of mass grief and its terrible processes. This book is a future classic of disaster journalism, up there with John Hersey’s Hiroshima.
The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 1: 1940-1956
PanThe GuardianLugging around this rusty anchor of a book – it runs to more than 1,400 pages – what I felt mostly was exasperation. The notion that Plath’s every utterance is sacred would be dumb even if she ranked with Keats or Waugh as one of the truly great letter writers. The fact that she clearly doesn’t – the majority of those in this volume, written to her mother, Aurelia, are marked by their quotidian sameyness – only makes it seem the more vacuous ... The reader, then, is entirely in Plath’s hands, which is not only tricky in narrative terms – ellipses come as standard in correspondence of which you get to read only one side – but also perilously unbalanced. Where does the truth, or what passes for it, ultimately lie? The editors offer us no rudder ... Plath’s letters to the men she imagined she loved before Hughes have a certain too-muchness: a risky intensity of feeling that brings to mind a circus knife-thrower marking an outline with her blades. So, too, do the 16 love letters, owned by her daughter Frieda and now published for the first time, that she wrote to Hughes in 1956, the year they married (and the book’s cut-off point). Nevertheless, it is for these last that you should borrow this collection from your library, and to which you should turn once it’s in your hands. They alone make the prospect of volume two seem fully tantalising.