Notable books reviewed

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

white_teeth_reviewA genre is hardening. It is becoming easy to describe the contemporary idea of the “big, ambitious novel.” Familial resemblances are asserting themselves, and the parent is Dickens. Such recent novels as The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Mason & Dixon, Underworld, Infinite Jest, and now White Teeth overlap rather as the pages of an atlas expire into each other at their edges. A landscape is disclosed — lively and varied and brightly marked, but riven by dead gullies.  Read review at The New Republic …

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The Road to Oxiana, by Robert Byron

road2oxiana_reviewThere are 2 kinds of non-fiction writers, according to author, Lawrence Weschler: Those who accept the idea that some type of fictionalising almost always occurs in narrative non-fiction and those who cannot accept this. Bissell, in this World Hum essay, nails his colours to the former mast in this erudite and lengthy review citing Robert Byron’s 1937 travel writing classic as a case in point. “Oxiana” refers to the land around the Oxus River, and which is today called the Amu Darya. More at World Hum …

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Ulysses, by James Joyce

ulyssesIf Flaubert taught de Maupassant to find the adjective to distinguish a given hackney-cab from every other hackney-cab, James Joyce has prescribed that one must find the dialect that distinguishes the thoughts of a given Dubliner from those of every other Dubliner. These voices are used  by Joyce to record all the eddies and stagnancies of thought, and in so doing, manages to convey the most faithful X-ray ever taken of the ordinary human consciousness. Read the full review at Powell’s …


Hunger, by Knut Hamsun

hunger_hamsun1Knut Hamsun’s greatest novels throttle reason. In Hunger (1890), Mysteries (1892) and Pan (1894), the Norwegian writer founded the kind of Modernist novel which largely ended with Beckett – of crepuscular states, of alienation and leaping surrealism, and of savage fictionality. He took from Dostoevsky the idea that plot is not something that merely happens to a character, but that a really strange character leads plot around like an obedient dog. Read full review at London Review of Books …


The Scarlet Letter, by Nathanial Hawthorne

scarlet_letter1The author did not realise while he worked, that this “most prolix among tales” was alive with the miraculous vitality of genius. It combines the strength and substance of an oak with the subtle organization of a rose, and is great, not of malice aforethought, but inevitably. It goes to the root of the matter, and reaches some unconventional conclusions, scarcely apprehended by one reader in twenty. Read full review, as published in 1886, from The Atlantic Monthly …


Life and Fate, by Vassily Grossman
Is fascinating for many reasons, primarily, the way it is both a pastiche and a personal statement; a conscious, cold-blooded attempt to sum up everything Grossman knew about the Great Patriotic War, and at the same time to rewrite War and Peace. For Tolstoy’s epic hangs over Grossman’s book as a template and a lodestar, and the measure of Grossman’s achievement is that a comparison between the two books is not grotesque. Read full review in The London Review of Books …
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/lanc01_.html

Life and Fate, by Vassily Grossman

life_fate_150x100

Is fascinating for many reasons, primarily, the way it is both a pastiche and a personal statement; a conscious, cold-blooded attempt to sum up everything Grossman knew about the Great Patriotic War, and at the same time to rewrite War and Peace. For Tolstoy’s epic hangs over Grossman’s book as a template and a lodestar, and the measure of Grossman’s achievement is that a comparison between the two books is not grotesque.  Read full review in The London Review of Books …


A Moveable Feast, restored edition, by Ernest Hemingway

moveable_feastSince its publication 45 years ago, Hemingway’s Moveable Feast has been heralded as one of the great literary memoirs. Exaggerated and acidly dismissive of onetime friends, the book carries an overriding spirit of a 20-something artist finding himself in the creative cauldron of post-World War I Paris. It’s posthumous compilation by Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary, has long been criticized  for its heavy-handed editing. Now comes a ‘restored’ edition … Read the full review at Powell’s


2666, by Roberto Bolano

bolano_2666The erratic but relentless flight plan of human evil from one era and continent to the next is, as much as anything, the subject of 2666.  For all the precision and poetry of its language, for all the complexity of its structure, for all the range of styles and genres it acknowledges and encompasses, for all its wicked humor, its inventiveness and sophistication, 2666 seems like the work of a literary genius in the ferocious grip of a spirit. Read full review at Powell’s Books


The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell

This immense imaginary construction, has stood the tests of time and taste, and has never been out of print – probably never will be. Half a century after its completion, those florid vulgarities, those modernist pretensions, seem no more than incidental to its unique flavour, which lingers in the mind long after its labyrinthine plots (for they are myriad, and muddling) have been forgotten. Read Jan Morris’s assessment in The Guardian.

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