Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers
by Tom on April 22, 2008
- Sunday Book Review cover: Terrence Rafferty on The Journey Home by Dermot Bolger [a 1990 novel only now brought out by the University of Texas Press]: "This is a mournful book, but not a glum one, really: the writer’s love of his agonized characters and his unsettled homeland is unmistakable, and redemptive. There is, as the young know and the old are prone to forget, a weird exhilaration about going all the way, even if where you find yourself is a little scary.... Wherever the 'real' Ireland is or was or will be, there are great chunks of it, with the smell and texture of Irish earth, in Dermot Bolger’s rich, conflicted, ferociously vital book. This is a novel full of rage and full of melancholy and full, to overflowing, of home truths."
- Janet Maslin on Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation: "'Girls Like Us' turns out to be unexpectedly captivating. And it defies expectations, to the point where Ms. Weller’s grand ambitions wind up fulfilled.... Never mind that her book has a tendency to gush and fawn. She has still put it together in revelatory ways, underscoring the generation-wide impact of her subjects’ songs and stories.... 'Girls Like Us' is a strong amalgam of nostalgia, feminist history, astute insight, beautiful music and irresistible gossip about the common factors in the three women’s lives."
- Marilyn Stasio on The SIlver Swan by Benjamin Black: "Make no mistake, Black is a grand writer with a seductive style, and the dark, repressive world he makes of postwar Dublin ... goes a long way to explain why everyone in this morally claustrophobic world is so sex-mad. But the conventions of crime fiction provide structural security for any exploratory attack on the subject of evil (or sin, as Black’s characters are more apt to define it), and failing to take full advantage of that freedom is like traveling all the way to Ireland and neglecting to visit either a church or a pub."
- Ted Genoways on Posthumous Keats by Stanley Plumly: "If the mark of true genius is the effortless creation of something wholly new that, once seen, becomes self-evident -- as Plumly regards Keats's odes -- then it's apt that Plumly himself should have to mint a new genre to reckon with the young poet.... What contemporary critic would dare make such sweeping assertions or venture so deeply into the mind of his subject? What poet would engage in such exhaustive research or craft such an exacting portrait? Plumly shows us how bloodless and cold criticism has become in the last half-century by demonstrating how passionately engaged he is -- with the life he is writing, the poems he is explicating, the era he is recreating. The effect, at times, is like watching a resurrection -- not only of Keats, but of the cadaverous genre of literary criticism."
- Daniel Byman on Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt: "Despite his establishment pedigree, he is a thoroughgoing contrarian. Defying the nearly universal criticism among academics of the term 'war on terror,' Bobbitt embraces it, making a strong case -- better than the Bush administration has -- that the challenge can best be thought of as a series of wars.... My advice is that readers should approach Terror and Consent with a mixture of caution and open-mindedness. Not all of Bobbitt's pronouncements may be convincing. But his book constantly prods us to reexamine our preconceptions about terrorism, which is by itself some preparation for what may lie ahead."
- Peter Behrens on Fall of Frost by Brian Hall: "Hall's themes, like Frost's, are major: love, death, the anarchy of living, the tragedy implicit in creating children and poems. This is a book about a man confronting the world and struggling to make sense, through his work, of what he cannot otherwise grasp. Like Frost's poetry, Hall's novel is pungent, deceptively simple and magnificently sad."
Los Angeles Times:
- Jay Parini on Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin: "Anyone who comes to 'Lavinia' seeking a conventional realistic fiction will feel disappointed. This is a poem in the form of a novel, an elegant echo chamber for a canonical work, a reading of an epic poem, and a rewriting of that poem.... She addresses the primitive world, summons a vision and declares it pure. She has heard voices and channeled them in the language of Lavinia herself. And this voice has something wonderful and strange to tell us."
New York Sun:
- Benjamin Lytal on The White King by Gyorgy Dragoman: "A memoir of communist oppression, it is also an of-the-moment contribution to world literature, representing the childlike combination of wonder and irony currently in vogue across the globe.... There is always the risk that what should seem horrible will only become precious, a species of fairy tale awkwardly bearing the badge of politics. But unlike most such authors, Mr. Dragomán captures a childhood that feels less like a fairy tale than like a real childhood — perhaps because he actually lived it."
Globe & Mail:
- Glenn Wheeler on Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power: "Power's new book provides a finely etched, brutally honest yet reverential portrait of perhaps the most talented diplomat the UN ever produced. Indirectly, it also tells us something about the probable next president of the United States.... The Vieira de Mello legacy, according to Power, 'steers us away from one-size-fits-all doctrine to a principled, flexible pragmatism.' And it is Barack Obama, Power writes in her acknowledgments, who is 'the person whose rigour and compassion bear the closest resemblance to Sergio's that I have ever seen.'"
London Review of Books:
- James Wood on Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones (only available in UK): "Pilcrow gets nowhere very elegantly. Adam Mars-Jones has been celebrated for the slenderness of his work, increasingly for its non-existence, as if his career were an exercise in negative theology. Pilcrow is not only very long; it measures its length in such tiny units that at times you feel that a version of Zeno’s paradox will stop you from ever reaching its end.... Pilcrow is a peculiar, original, utterly idiosyncratic book. It is admirably courageous, both in what it heaps on us, and in what it holds back. While it drops us deep into the everyday, it boldly refuses the everyday consolations of plot and dramatic structure."
The New Yorker:
- Daniel Mendelsohn on The Landmark Herodotus: "'Link' ... is not a bad word to have in mind as you make your way through a text that is at once compellingly linear and disorientingly tangential. He pauses to give you information, however remotely related, about everything he mentions, and that information can take the form of a three-thousand-word narrative or a one-line summary. It only looks confusing or 'digressive' because Herodotus, far from being an old fuddy-duddy, not nearly as sophisticated as (say) Thucydides, was two and a half millennia ahead of the technology that would have ideally suited his mentality and style. It occurs to you, as you read 'The Landmark Herodotus'—with its very Herodotean footnotes, maps, charts, and illustrations—that a truly adventurous new edition of the Histories would take the digressive bits and turn them into what Herodotus would have done if only they’d existed: hyperlinks."