Picnic in the Storm

Yukiko Motoya

Reviewed by Alison Burns

Yukiko Motoya has been mentioned in dispatches for some time as a startling new voice in fiction. Her stories mix an almost deadpan ordinariness with entertaining flights of fancy that should lift the sternest critic off her feet. Magritte meets Murakami in tale after tale of the oddest things happening in the very path of daily life [Read more...] in Reviews

Pascal’s Tears

Robert Fraser

Reviewed by Zoë Fairbairns

The book’s title refers to the seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal, whose response to the question of whether or not a god exists was to take a gamble and assume that it does – not because there is strong evidence either way, but because the consequences of getting it wrong (i.e. eternal damnation) are so serious. Catherine Fraser’s family and medical team ran up against comparable challenges in the context of her life. Would she want to be kept alive? What does ‘alive’ mean in this context? What does ‘want’ mean? Is she at peace in there, or is she bored, irritated, frightened, in pain? What can be done? What should be done? [Read more...] in Reviews

Severance

Ling Ma

* A 2018 Notable Book

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

Ma has referred to her book as ‘an apocalyptic office novel’ and its critique of capitalism, done slyly yet tellingly, is a central ingredient in her fusion of narrative themes. There’s suspense too in the gothic, survivalist scenes, complete with maggot-infested corpses. There’s contemplative analysis in Candace’s musing on the oddities of her world and her place in it. There’s a battle of wills, between our steely heroine and the autocratic leader of the survivalists. And there’s the sardonic take on routine, work, wage slavery and consumerism [Read more...] in Reviews

Evening in Paradise

Lucia Berlin

* A 2018 Notable Book

Reviewed by Alison Burns

Many of these stories are set in places far from Manhattan: Chile, New Mexico, Mexico City, or the Western mining towns of Berlin’s childhood. They chart the growth of Berlin’s sensibility. From the action-packed account of two seven-year-olds selling ‘chances’ in their neighbourhood (El Paso, 1943) to a Gothic tale of sexual assault in Chile, to story after story of husbands and wives and lovers, such is the immediacy that we are with Berlin every step of the way as she shows without blinking the path from innocence to experience [Read more...] in Reviews

Happiness

Aminatta Forna

* A 2018 Notable Book

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

This is a story of wide and significant scope that spans continents and decades, even though it unspools itself mainly in the UK in the twenty-first century. And there’s more to it than mammals or birds, or wildlife or gardens. This is also a book about war and trauma, about refugees and immigrants, survival and the unexpected by-products of suffering. And last, but far from least, it’s a love story. [Read more...] in Reviews

Lullaby

Leïla Slimani

* A 2018 Notable Book

Reviewed by Alison Burns

Intimations of madness, of dangerous involvement and detachment, appear very early in the narrative, but the real Louise is invisible to her employers. The reader watches, aghast, as this hapless woman falls to pieces while in charge of someone else’s children. In calm, steady, devastating prose, Slimani tracks the daily life of this sample urban nanny, both at home in the Masses’ flat and out in the city. There are searing scenes in the park (where Louise moves trancelike among other nannies from all over the world), evoking the compromises required by poverty, the solidarity of the underdog and the bleak routines of the lonely and marginalized [Read more...] in Reviews

Asymmetry

Lisa Halliday

* A 2018 Notable Book

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

There’s a wide span of material here, geographically, culturally, in terms of age and gender too. But Halliday – who won the 2017 Whiting Award for Fiction – writes in a fresh, unobtrusive manner and seems easily capable of the stretch. Each of her three leading characters emerges with a credible, compelling perspective but most beguiling of her creations, inevitably, is droll, worldly-wise Ezra, reminiscent of Roth and Bellow amongst others, blessed with a tireless fund of jokes and cultural references ...[Reviews]