MixedThe GuardianGaiman’s characteristically limpid, quick-running prose keeps the dramatic impetus of the medieval texts, if not their rough-hewn quality. His telling of the tales is for children and adults alike, and this is both right and wise, it being the property of genuine myth to be accessible on many levels ... Gaiman plays down the extreme strangeness of some of the material and defuses its bleakness by a degree of self-satire. There is a good deal of humour in the stories, the kind most children like – seeing a braggart take a pratfall, watching the cunning little fellow outwit the big dumb bully. Gaiman handles this splendidly. Yet I wonder if he tries too hard to tame something intractably feral, to domesticate a troll ... he simply tells us the story, and tells it well. What finally left me feeling dissatisfied is, paradoxically, the pleasant, ingratiating way in which he tells it. These gods are not only mortal, they’re a bit banal. They talk a great deal, in a conversational tone that descends sometimes to smart-ass repartee. This chattiness will be familiar to an audience accustomed to animated film and graphic narrative, which have grown heavy with dialogue, and in which disrespect is generally treated as a virtue. But it trivialises, and I felt sometimes that this vigorous, robust, good-natured version of the mythos gives us everything but the very essence of it, the heart.
The Burning GirlClaire Messud
RaveThe GuardianHer story of a childhood friendship, recounted in the voice of a girl of 16 or 17, does not demonise adulthood or dismiss maturity as valueless; but neither does it say that growing up is going to help much. These children are not merciless judges of their parents, or vice versa. There is a good deal of sympathetic understanding on both sides. The problem, perhaps, is not so much power misused by adults against the helpless as a general powerlessness ... There is a lot of grief in this novel. I resist novelists who want to take me on a guilt trip and at first I thought that’s what Messud was doing, but I was wrong. Her novel is, rather, a kind of ceremony of mourning ...Painful as it may be, this is a hard book to stop reading. Messud is a story teller: the ability to compel and hold the reader’s interest may not be the crown and summit of the art of novel-writing, but it’s the beginning and the end of it. And despite some rather self-conscious passages and improbabilities of voice, the story rewards the reader right through to the end.