- Sunday Book Review cover: among the reviews on the "Jewish question" this week, Harold Bloom on Trials of the Diaspora by Anthony Julius: "How does one estimate the lasting harm done by Shakespeare’s and Dickens’s egregious Jews? Himself a usurer, Shakespeare must have known how much he had invested in Shylock. Is that why he punishes the Jew with such ignoble humiliation? The zest of Dickens for his urban apocalypses burned through his own humane sense of fairness. Yet nothing mitigates the destructiveness of the portraits of Shylock and Fagin."
- Francine Prose on The Life of Irene Nemirovsky by Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt and Dimanche: And Other Stories by Irene Nemirovsky: "In the end, the biography and the stories leave one feeling both sad and intensely conscious of the disparity between Irène Némirovksy’s literary offenses and the fate that awaited her at Auschwitz. What we’re left with are the paradoxes. A woman who wrote so often about the terror of aging was never given a chance to find out if old age was really as bad as she feared. A woman obsessed with defining her own identity learned how little her opinion mattered to authorities with their own criteria for determining who she was."
- Kakutani on The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis: "[T]his shred of a story line isn’t enough to sustain interest or to support the heavy garlands of pontification that Mr. Amis insists on draping over everything. If these musings were entertaining or keenly observed, that would be one thing, but Mr. Amis, one of the great stylists of the English novel, has oddly traded his mastery of language in these pages for a mannered, self-indulgent style — much the way he did in his abysmal 2003 novel, 'Yellow Dog,' the only one of this accomplished author’s books to stand as more of an annoying puzzlement than this one."
- Fernanda Eberstadt on The Long Song by Andrea Levy: "Readers of 'The Long Song' will find little here of the maddened grief of Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' or the deep melancholy of Edward P. Jones’s 'Known World.' Levy’s novelistic defense against evil and injustice is her humane sense of comedy. In 'The Long Song,' she has painted a vivid and persuasive portrait of Jamaican slave society, a society that succeeded with bravery, style and strategic patience both to outsmart its oppressors and to plant the seeds of what is today a culture celebrated worldwide."
- Malena Watrous on American Subversive by David Goodwillie: "Goodwillie has created two flawed yet sympathetic main characters, with distinct and memorable voices. In Aidan’s voice, he has written a scathing and hilarious indictment of our bizarre moment in time, complete with jaded socialites, quasi-celebrities and the media that feed off them and one another. And Paige is a strong and memorable female heroine, whose sincerity keeps the novel from being a farce. If the book is an exploration of what motivates radicalism, the answer — Aidan’s attraction to a hot chick — potentially trivializes that message. But then again, Helen of Troy was also a knockout."
- Maslin on The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman: "Mr. Rachman’s transition from journalism to fiction writing is nothing short of spectacular. 'The Imperfectionists' is a splendid original, filled with wit and structured so ingeniously that figuring out where the author is headed is half the reader’s fun. The other half comes from his sparkling descriptions not only of newspaper office denizens but of the tricks of their trade, presented in language that is smartly satirical yet brimming with affection."
- Marie Arana on Private Life by Jane Smiley: "Smiley's virtuosity should be no surprise to us. She has proven herself in a dozen wildly different books.... But 'Private Life' is a quantum leap for this author, a book that -- despite its slow start and initial glare -- burrows deep into the psyche and stays. It kept me up all night, long after I'd finished it, remembering the lives of my mother and grandmothers, recalling every novel about women I had ever read, from 'Anna Karenina' to 'My Antonia.' In a fair world, it will get all the readers it deserves. It's not often that a work as exceptional as this comes along in contemporary American letters."
- Dirda on Ilustrado by Miguel Suyjuco: "Such awards, as readers know, all too often go to earnest, high-minded, politically correct and rather dull books. In this case, I picture the judges, weary from perusing massive laser-printed works of heart-sinking merit, suddenly rejoicing at the discovery of a manuscript as engaging as this one, absolutely assured in its tone, literary sophistication and satirical humor.... 'Ilustrado' is, then, more a novel of wonderful parts than a completely successful whole. But Syjuco is only in his mid-30s, and he already possesses the wand of the enchanter."
- Philip Caputo on War by Sebastian Junger: "With his narrative gifts and vivid prose -- as free, thank God, of literary posturing as it is of war-correspondent chest-thumping -- Junger masterfully chronicles the platoon's 15-month tour of duty. But what elevates 'War' out of its particular time and place are the author's meditations on the minds and emotions of the soldiers with whom he has shared hardships, dangers and spells of boredom so intense that everyone sits around wishing to hell something would happen (and wishes to God it was over when, inevitably, it does)."
Los Angeles Times:
- Richard Eder on Smiley's Private Life: "Smiley has points to make, and if blunt, they are not without interest. As a novel, though, 'Private Life' is a ragged affair. There is compelling tension in the early days of the marital standoff, and in following the construction of Andrew as a grotesque. After a while, though, he is too predictably mad and Margaret too predictably hapless to sustain any convincing narrative momentum."
- Erika Schickel on Every Last One by Anna Quindlen: "We fall into this novel as if it were an easy chair, comforted by a writer who knows her craft.... Herein lies the problem with 'Every Last One': Even in the face of mind-shearing events, Mary Beth remains a paperweight to the very end. This is Quindlen's sixth novel, and she knows how to build the armature of a story. Yet even as the Lathams become tenderly real to us, Quindlen fails to develop the necessary narrative urgency."
Globe and Mail:
- Susan Swan on Smiley's Private Life: "Smiley hasn't written a novel like A Thousand Acres here. With Private Life, she has created a richly detailed, sometimes ponderous, story that nevertheless is capable of evoking moments of deep sympathy and tenderness for its heroine, Margaret.... So there's no point expecting a fast-paced entertainment. The closest thing Smiley has written to Private Life is her 1988 novel The Greenlanders, an unrelenting, dispassionate portrait of a Viking family in 14th-century Greenland. Both Private Life and The Greenlanders are provocative social documents that make us rethink the ways we remember the past."
- Brad Mackay on Wilson by Daniel Clowes: "In lesser hands, a book devoted to such an unrepentant, charmless crank would require a prescription for Zoloft in order to endure. But, as he has proved many times, Clowes shines in depicting self-loathing, cynical characters who eventually succumb to their human frailties, such as Enid Coleslaw, the lead in his breakthrough work, Ghost World.... The cumulative result is a profound, searing study of unconnected single male yearning for a human connection, but completely devoid of the skills needed to make it happen."
- T.J. Rigelhof on Every Lost Country by Steven Heighton: "Heighton's ideas are once again big and difficult – What does it mean to behave responsibly in a world fractured and fragmented by political and personal irresponsibilities, foreign and domestic? – and his language continues to grow in beauty. But there's a quantum leap in insecurity, social complexity and intensity of the storytelling between his second and third novels. There are no longueurs: Every page, minor character and plot twist matters. Every Lost Country not only rivets readers to their seats, it challenges them to rethink the David-and-Goliath inequalities of this new millennium."
- Charles Foran on Suyjuco's Ilustrado: "Novels ... are innately capacious, and have been since the form first emerged four centuries ago. That said, the majority of novels are likewise content to use just a small fraction of their structural potential. But some novels are interested in the form's capacities.... Ilustrado, the first novel by young Filipino novelist Miguel Syjuco, may well prove a literary bridge-builder between the formally innovative and the reader-friendly. It is certainly an extraordinary debut, at once flashy and substantial, brightly charming and quietly resistant to its own wattage."
- Alexander Linklater on The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell: "I doubt there is another living English writer who is capable of such traversals of worlds and consciousness. A criticism sometimes fired at Mitchell is that, beneath the virtuosity, he lacks an authentic voice of his own. There may be something in that, but it misses the real potential of his ventriloquism. Here, in this recreation of a historical moment, his transmigrations of empathy become fully emotionally satisfying..... This is the novel that establishes his maturity.... This may not, quite, be a masterpiece, but it is unquestionably a marvel – entirely original among contemporary British novels, revealing its author as, surely, the most impressive fictional mind of his generation."
- John Banville on The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O'Hagan: "Andrew O'Hagan has taken on the voice of a dog to write a subtle, funny and moving study of America on the eve of one of its periods of greatest crisis.... Maf the canine savant is a shrewd observer of the modern age and of the American century, a veritable Tocqueville for our times."
The New Yorker:
- James Wood on Parrot and Oliver in America by Peter Carey and Toqueville's Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch: "Damrosch contagiously enjoys himself, and happily enters into the enthusiasms of the two young Frenchmen, as they let the strange, loud, free, placeless society disturb and excite them.... Parrot & Olivier in America' is a delicious, sprockety contraption, a comic historical picaresque that takes as its creative origin Tocqueville and Beaumont’s 1831 journey, but freely improvises many English, and even Australian, extras.... There are few contemporary writers with such a sure sense of narrative pungency and immediacy."
- Dan Chiasson on Versed by Rae Armantrout (subscriber only): "[R]eal differences among the individuals [of the Language movement in poetry] have since come to light, chiefly differences in talent, and Armantrout is by an order of magnitude the best poet of the group. One reason she has become so good is that she takes the basic premises of Language writing somewhere they were never intended to go: toward the mapping of a single individual's extraordinary mind and uniquely broken heart."
Virginia Quarterly Review:
- Matthew Shaer on Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato: "Mathilda Savitch, one imagines, will be hell on retailers. Here is a book working, and working well, with the conventions of at least three genres: the coming-of-age tale; the psychological thriller; and the literary exploration of middle-class, middle-America discontent. We watch Mathilda trot off madly in search of the killer; back at home, her parents sit in their underwear, worriedly watching the reports of a terrorist attack on a distant city. Later, Lodato deftly stages a basement sleepover, culminating in a botched make-out session and the arrival of burbling, uncontrollable jealousy. The juxtapositions are jarring but also illuminating—they yield a harrowing, refractory glimpse of what it really means to grow up."
- Craig Morgan Teicher on The Poetry of Rilke: Bilingual Edition, edited by Edward Snow: Snow "has become Rilke’s best and most important ambassador to American readers. At last, healthy selections from all of these books are available in a single bilingual doorstopper which is sure to be the standard Rilke in English for a long time.... In Snow’s hands, Rilke becomes clear as glass—as if the poems could be windows opening onto the world, rather than mirrors that show us ourselves obstructing the view."