Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

From TheBookbag
Jump to: navigation, search
ZIFFIT.png

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Julian Barnes's first novel since he won the Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a fictionalised biography of Russian composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906–75). Knowing Barnes's penchant for stylistic experimentation, though, this was never going to be a straightforward, chronological life story. Instead, as Barnes so often does, he sets up a tripartite structure, focussing on three moments in Shostakovich's life when he has a reckoning with Power (always capitalised here). The title phrase helpfully spells out what the book is all about: 'Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time.' Full review...

Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin

4.5star.jpg Short Stories

Seeing as this book is clearly a talented author hitting the ground running, I will dispense with any major preamble. We start with a tale of a daughter affected by the emotions of her parents as they separate – and the influence of a certain school-teacher – from the mother's point of view. An ancient input shows how alien, and the modern day domesticity how regular, the isolation of a woman can feel, as events are peppered by minor acts of destruction. But men can be alienated too – especially one, a reluctant guest at a party for children hosted by someone he once had an affair with – he feels the new form of this influence in the light of another one he has had to try and abandon. 'All About Alice' – that's what the title character wants to say but has nobody to speak it to, but is it her – mid-40s and single, living with her father – that is most removed from her dreams or her old friend and now child factory, Marian? And we complete a lap of the calendar with the wintry tale of a man unable to tell his work superiors of the problems he faces at home – a new home, recently built like so many one sees while driving round Ireland. Full review...

The Green Road by Anne Enright

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

The Green Road is the story of a family. If the author was anyone other than Anne Enright it would be stereotypically Irish, with all the appropriate characters in place: the boy who goes off to be a priest, the daughter who likes the bottle far too much, the son who does good works and the woman who stays back where she was born and marries a local man, the dead husband who was perhaps just a little bit beneath the wife who plays the grande dame and is perfect at being needy, whilst all the while maintaining that she needs nothing. But, of course, it is Anne Enright. Full review...

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Teddy Todd never really expected to survive the war. As a bomber pilot it wasn't something which you could rely on and he certainly knew the statistics. But - against all the odds, he came through it, albeit with some time spent as a prisoner of war. On balance he had a good war, but time will see him married to Nancy, father to Viola and grandfather to Sunny and Bertie - and left with the feeling that it's more difficult to have a good peace than a good war. Full review...

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

4star.jpg General Fiction

Meet Penny Harrigan. And let's hope your introduction to her is more gentle than that we have on the first page of this book, where she is being raped in front of a full court house, who – male to the bone – sit back and say nothing, if not whip out their camera phone. Once people take her out on a gurney and recognise her, we can start from the beginning, where she is a lowly underling at a law firm, having failed too many exams to progress satisfactorily. The company is where the world's richest man is in legal negotiations having left the world's best and most beautiful actress, and lo and behold he just happens to pick Penny to replace her with, even if she doesn't think of herself as the most beautiful girl around. But what exactly is it she is wanted for, and can her apolitical style of feminism and aspirations be met? Full review...

This Should be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle and Martin Aitken (translator)

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

This is the first novel of Helle Helle's, an award winning Danish author, to be translated into English. It is easy to see from this novel why she is gaining accolades in her Danish homeland. The rhythmic, natural flow of the narrative is mesmerising and appears to lull you through the book. It has some lovely, spare sentences of description: There were run-down cottages with open doors and news on the radio. Gulls flocked around an early harvester in the late sun. But mostly, it is written in a modernist, almost stream of consciousness style, which I found refreshing. Full review...

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

4star.jpg General Fiction

Meet Violet. Swept off her feet by a disarming encounter with a landed gentleman and bookshop owner at a coffee shop, she immediately falls in love with him, and is quickly married, and almost as quickly with child. When the boy is born, however, fairly understandable doubts creep in. Is her husband hiding anything behind his assuredness – especially when she wakes in the middle of the night alone? What ghost is left by the fact he lost his first wife and baby in childbirth? What should she understand from her own opinions about her new life, her new life's life, and the idea of a nanny looking after it? Just what is going on in her new country pile? Full review...

Before the Feast by Sasa Stanisic and Anthea Bell (translator)

2.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Deep in the heart of Germany sits the village of Furstenfelde. It lies on a spit of land that, legend has it, a giant created, between two lakes – the Great Lake, and the Deep Lake. All around is forest. The village is enjoying summer, and we can see the inhabitants as they go about their lazy life on the last hot day and night before the seasons change, from the teenage lads fishing and crashing cars or preparing for a bell-ringing exam, to the girl who wants out, to the middle-aged man who made a pub out of a garage and some curtains, to the older man (a retired soldier) who is watching his last piece of titillating TV before going out to either fetch cigarettes or shoot himself, to the older still lady painting a portrait of the town ready to auction it off on the morrow. For the morrow is the annual fete, and all those people are, one way or another, reacting to its imminent arrival. Full review...

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Gods (and brothers) Hermes and Apollo were arguing in a bar about what would happen if animals had human intelligence and eventually a wager was agreed. Human intelligence would be granted to fifteen dogs staying overnight in a veterinary clinic and the wager, suggested by Apollo, was that Hermes would be his servant for a year if the dogs were not more unhappy than they would have been originally. But - if even one of the dogs was happy at the end of its life Hermes would win. Full review...

Fly Away Home by Marina Warner

3star.jpg Short Stories

How would you subvert a fairy tale? You know enough of them and enough about them to do it, so think on it. Would you give a mermaid a smartphone? Would you pepper them with pop stars, and perhaps let them be witness to the Schadenfreude caused by a cave that's sacred to native Canadians? Would you, in the light of their characters usually being routine, interchangeable tropes, give them a closely-observed personality – as seen here in a teacher's interior thoughts when faced with a piece of East Anglian lore? Would you take the exoticism of the east, and Egypt in particular, and see it in the light of a musical teacher on a zero-hours contract who ends up muttering to himself, directing traffic in the middle of the road, or from the remove of an elderly man with swollen feet in orthopaedic sandals with a message from the past? Certainly these two are not the standard Arabian Nights-styled pieces… Full review...

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

This is the inaugural volume of a new series of Shakespeare retellings from Hogarth Press. Still to come: Margaret Atwood on The Tempest, Howard Jacobson on The Merchant of Venice and Anne Tyler on The Taming of the Shrew, among others. How is this first book? It's pretty good as Winterson novels go, incorporating Shakespearean themes of time, deception and adoption and turning bears and statues into metaphors while remaining loyal to the essence of the plot. Yet two crucial elements of the play don't make sense in a modern setting, and in the end I felt this added nothing to my enjoyment of the original. Full review...

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

5star.jpg Crime

On December 3rd 1976 a group of armed men go to Bob Marley's Jamaican home in Hope Road on a mission to kill 'The Singer'. No one will be arrested for it but that doesn't mean their lives afterwards will be normal. This is a total fictionalisation of their story and therefore the story of the people of the Jamaican ghettoes: the politics, the unrest, the gang warfare and the death. Full review...

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Willem, JB, Malcolm and Jude don't have a lot in common apart from their friendship. They gravitated together at college and remain close as they become successful in careers as different as the theatre and architecture. However even hopes for successful future can't erase the blight of the past for one of them. Jude is physically disabled from a cause that isn't genetic or congenital. In fact the cause isn't even something he's shared with the other three. The events around it stem back to his childhood and haunt each thought and action he takes as well as his ability to take them. Full review...

West by Julia Franck and Anthea Bell (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Put yourself in the shoes of a young mother to two children, who declares her intention to leave the Communist East Germany for West Berlin, and thus loses her scientist job. What would you expect on the other side – shops full of attainable products, pleasant neighbourhoods, nice neighbours, an active and busy new life, where things might feel alien but at least you speak the same language? Well, for Nelly Senff, this is hardly the case. Once past the depressing Eastern exit procedures she is confronted with more desultory interrogations from those 'welcoming' her to the West, beyond which she and her children (their father, whom she never married, is long assumed dead by the authorities, if nobody else) are practically left in a shared accommodation in a transit camp. The shops are full of what is still unobtainable, the children hate their new school – and people still look down on them as being foreign, even if they have only moved across a city. Full review...

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tediously captivating may not sound like the most compelling recommendation for a book you've ever heard. Yet it's the nearest I can come to summing up the style of this novel, which features some of the most beautiful language and imagery I've ever read whilst telling a story which moves at a glacial pace. Full review...

The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

So, three books in, I've now got to grips with the idea that Huxley doesn't so much want to tell a story as expound his ideas. Once you know that, it makes it easier to choose whether to read him or not. On balance, I have come down on the side of not – I won't be dashing out to work my way through the rest of his output the way I want to with, say, Nevil Shute, or George Orwell. Full review...

When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow by Dan Rhodes

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Two people are on a train on their way to, of all things, a WI meeting where the ladies of All Bottoms will be lectured on the non-existence of God. One of the two people is Professor Richard Dawkins, rampant atheist, hectoring scientist chappie, and all-round devotee of Deal or No Deal. The other is Smee, his mono-named assistant, amanuensis or 'male secretary'. Smee will come to the fore when the weather sets in and the train journey has to be abandoned some way short of its ultimate destination, Upper Bottom. Instead the pair fetch up at the isolated yet friendly community of Market Horton, and the only option for accommodation is taken – yes, the died-in-the-wool non-believer has to be housed by a retired vicar and his wife. This clash of titanic opinions, peppered with social faux pas aplenty will provide for a particularly English kind of farcical comedy, but one with the legs to go as far as any other Good Books have reached in the past… Full review...

Time Must Have A Stop by Aldous Huxley

3star.jpg Literary Fiction

Sometimes we start reading "authors" as opposed to specific books, because we feel we should. So it was with me and Huxley. I seem to remember reading and actually enjoying the classic Brave New World and so felt compelled to explore more of the oeuvre. Full review...

Submission by Michel Houellebecq and Lorin Stein (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

What do you expect from Submission? It is after all from one of Europe's more blunt huge-sellers, one who is most forthright in his opinions, narratives and characters' sexual lives. It has become indelibly linked with a new Europe, after its reception and contents led to publicity on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in something less savoury than literature, to say the least. Do you expect it to be about a France of the near future, where a Muslim political party provides the president? Well, don't go into this submissively following your expectations. Full review...

Whispers Through A Megaphone by Rachel Elliott

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Miriam doesn’t speak. Well, that’s not strictly true. She does speak, but nothing above a whisper which makes it hard to have a conversation with her. Particularly as she hasn’t left her house in three years. But today is the day. She’s going to open that door and walk outside. She really is. Ralph has finally twigged (and with no small amount of surprise) that his wife Sadie doesn’t actually love him. And now he’s not sure if she ever really did. Having spent so much time regurgitating his every moment onto Social Media, Ralph hasn’t really had a chance to think about it. But now he has, it is so shockingly awful that he has decided to run away. And of all the places he could run away to, he has chosen the same woods that Miriam has picked to be the first place she will visit out-of-doors. And Sadie? Well, she’s had enough of reading Tweets and living vicariously through the posts of others. Sadie is going to have an adventure of her own. Full review...

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

You'd be forgiven for assuming that debut novelist Benjamin Johncock is American: The Last Pilot has the literary weight of a Great American Novel, with a limitless desert setting plus the prospect of soon dominating space, and the spare yet profound writing style of Ernest Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy. Johncock is British, but you can tell he's taken inspiration from stories about the dawn of the astronaut age, including Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and films like Apollo 13. His protagonist, Jim Harrison, is a fictional Air Force test pilot who rubs shoulders with historical figures like Chuck Yeager and John Glenn in the quest to break the sound barrier and conquer space. Full review...

The Past by Tessa Hadley

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tessa Hadley writes beautifully subtle stories of English family life. Her understated style has a touch of the 1950s or 1960s about it, calling to mind Elizabeth Taylor or early Margaret Drabble, and she seems to adapt classic genres like the novel of manners or the country house novel. Here she deliberately channels Elizabeth Bowen with a setup borrowed from The House in Paris: the novel is divided into three parts, titled 'The Present', 'The Past', and 'The Present'. That structure allows for a deeper look at what the house and a neighbouring cottage have meant to the central family, and paves the way for one final shocker of a secret. Full review...

The Crossing by Andrew Miller

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tim and Maud seem, to everyone around them, mismatched. She, quite literally, falls into his life, and they build a life – jobs, a house, a boat, then a child. Tim needs Maud, needs her to complete him, wants desperately to completer her, to help her. But what if Maud is already complete? What if she doesn’t need help? When tragedy strikes, Maud will find herself miles away from anyone, on a journey that will change everything, and test her to the utmost. Full review...

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's always a privilege when you're given an advance reading copy of something – and a real 'block' when you read the small print that says 'not for resale or quotation'. Fair comment on the resale bit, but when you get something as brilliant as The Loney being required not to quote is just plain unfair. Full review...

The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett

4.5star.jpg Science Fiction

Well, they kept this quiet – for reasons that will become obvious. A couple of years ago people in America were giving birth to problematic kids. They (the children) were soon found to be unnaturally quiet – perhaps crying with hunger or pain, but never even trying to 'ooga-wooga' their way into their parents' hearts. They were later found to be completely unable to speak, they could not read and indeed they could not understand anything said to them, or shown them, as an instruction. They were physically unable to parse anything as language, and were in a silent world of their own. But right about now they and we are combining worlds – schools are being set up, and funds are being made available, and people are coming down on the endless divide as to whether they are just problematic, disabled – or even the blessed. In a couple of years, however, the problems the virus that is causing these people to be born with will be shown to be a major problem – and that is before the kids themselves change. For they will be able to switch their mental abilities much like a blind man can hear more than the average, and will be able to comprehend body and facial language much more coherently than anyone else. Throughout this timeline, however, people will be working hard to try and study the problem, and put it right – if indeed 'right' is the correct word… Full review...

Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet Lydia. She's a normal British girl, interested in following both her father, and Nadia Comaneci, into the world of gymnastics but not brave enough to pull off the larger set pieces, and with not much more to interrupt her days than wondering why boys always have to talk about their willies. Now meet Kauthar, a white British convert to Islam, devoted follower of the precepts of her religion, ardent wife and stalwartly self-fulfilling, no-nonsense and satisfied. But what is this – why is she talking of being alone in a desert, and why is she directly addressing her god regarding how she can't perform any movement. Because it is torn apart? Has something gone wrong? Full review...

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland by Philip K Dick

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Dick is known primarily as a science fiction writer, most famously for the novel that spawned the film Blade Runner.

I read that novel - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - when I was about ten or eleven, a good ten years or so before the film came out and – to be fair – a good five years or so before I was fully capable of understanding the philosophical and ethical issues embedded in it. Not before, however, I was capable of asking the kind of questions that would get me the kind of answers that form my standpoint on those issues. Full review...

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

This is a beautifully written book, located both in England and Australia, about adulthood, changing responsibilities, and the universal desire for identity and belonging. This theme is also reflected in the search for union and fulfilment in the marriage of Henry and Charlotte, struggling with the changes imposed on them by parenthood and family life across two continents. Full review...