We’ve come to the end of another bountiful literary year, and for all of us review rabbits here at Book Marks, that can mean only one thing: basic math, and lots of it.
Yes, using reviews drawn from more than 150 publications, over the next two weeks we’ll be calculating and revealing the most critically-acclaimed books of 2022, in the categories of (deep breath): Fiction; Nonfiction; Memoir and Biography; Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror; Short Story Collections; Essay Collections; Poetry; Mystery and Crime; Graphic Literature; and Literature in Translation.
“The Books of Jacob is finally available here in a wondrous English translation by Jennifer Croft, and it’s just as awe-inspiring as the Nobel judges claimed when they praised Tokarczuk for showing ‘the supreme capacity of the novel to represent a case almost beyond human understanding.’ In terms of its scope and ambition, The Books of Jacob is beyond anything else I’ve ever read. Even its voluminous subtitle is a witty expression of Tokarczuk’s irrepressible, omnivorous reach … The challenges here — for author and reader — are considerable. After all, Tokarczuk isn’t revising our understanding of Mozart or presenting a fresh take on Catherine the Great. She’s excavating a shadowy figure who’s almost entirely unknown today …
As daunting as it sounds, The Books of Jacob is miraculously entertaining and consistently fascinating. Despite his best efforts, Frank never mastered alchemy, but Tokarczuk certainly has. Her light irony, delightfully conveyed by Croft’s translation, infuses many of the sections … The quality that makes The Books of Jacobso striking is its remarkable form. Tokarczuk has constructed her narrative as a collage of legends, letters, diary entries, rumors, hagiographies, political attacks and historical records … This is a story that grows simultaneously more detailed and more mysterious … Haunting and irresistible.”
2. Paradais by Fernanda Melchor, trans. by Sophie Hughes(New Directions)
18 Rave • 6 Positive
“Paradais is both more compact and more cogent [than Hurricane Season]. Rhythm and lexis work in tandem to produce a savage lyricism. The translator Sophie Hughes marvellously matches the author in her pursuit of a new cadence … From its first sentence, in fact, Paradais feels rhythmically propelled towards a violent climax. Full stops occur rarely enough to seem meaningful, Melchor using long lines of unbroken narrative to reel in her terrible ending … The author wants to understand the violence, not merely condemn it … The novel’s language, meanwhile, is both high-flown and street-smart, strewn with Veracruzian slang, the odd made-up word and many eye-watering expletives … Pressure builds remorselessly to a dreadful climax. It is an extraordinary feat of control, making Fernanda Melchor’s exceptional novel into a contemporary masterpiece.”
“The lucid, well-formed essays that make up In the Margins are written in an equally captivating voice … Although a slim collection, there is more than enough meat here to nourish both the common reader and the Ferrante aficionado … Every essay here is a blend of deep thought, rigorous analysis and graceful prose. We occasionally get the odd glimpse of the author…but mainly the focus is on the nuts and bolts of writing and Ferrante’s practice of her craft. The essays are at their most rewarding when Ferrante discusses the origins of her books, in particular the celebrated Neapolitan Novels, and the multifaceted heroines that power them … These essays might not bring us any closer to finding out who Ferrante really is. Instead, though, they provide valuable insight into how she developed as a writer and how she works her magic.”
“[All the Lovers in the Night] hinges on this double bind created by the feminine ideal: the gloom spawned by a woman’s inevitable failure to measure up to impossible standards of beauty and likability, coupled with a lack of any other available framework through which she can view herself or her peers … There is a cleverness with which All the Lovers in the Night addresses these changes, romantic and professional, in its protagonist’s life. By including alcoholism among them, Kawakami circumvents the shtick of stale ‘glow-up’ narratives, and preserves Fuyuko as a cipher … What makes Kawakami’s novel so brilliant is an understanding of why women might willingly adhere to regressive modes of performative femininity, even while they criticize it. The desire to be loved is no small thing … Kawakami’s novel is uncompromisingly candid in its appraisal of the harm women inflict on one another, while never losing sight of the overarching structures that lead them to do so in the first place. Compact and supple, it’s a strikingly intelligent feat.”
“… mordantly funny … More than simply international, her writing is translingual; she leaves the borders between languages open and allows them to cross-pollinate. To translate her into English is to excavate linguistic strata: Panska reads like a Japonic parody of Nordic syntax translated into a West Germanic language … Each character in Tawada’s ‘band of zigzag travelers’ is given chapters to narrate in the first person. These limited perspectives give rise to a comedy of intercultural misunderstandings that both move the plot forward and provide targets for Tawada’s sharp satire … Judging by the recent migrant crises that informed Tawada’s novel, it is a long-overdue lesson. By the time we are reading the trilogy’s final volume, the climate-fiction scenario Tawada drapes in the trappings of picaresque comedy will no longer seem speculative.”