Culture Vulture: reviews round-up

We assess the critics' verdict on Pamuk and Bolaño

Writing in the Financial Times, Ian Irvine describes Orhan Pamuk's new novel, The Museum of Innocence, as "a work concerning romantic love worthy to stand in the company of Lolita, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina . . . As in life, the tragedy flows from the collision of romantic love with the conventions of society . . . It also presents a snapshot of a particular moment in Turkey's changing moral climate."

But for James Urquhart in the Independent, such close anatomy of an affair "has a stultifying effect on Pamuk's elegantly phrased, eloquently translated, but massive and slow-paced new novel". Of greater interest is the book's "underlying theme of the relative position of men and women in Turkey, and the conflict of modern, liberal lifestyles with a traditional society only thinly overlaid by Atatürk's secularism".

Peter Kemp in the Sunday Times agrees: "As a study of emotional and sexual attachment, the novel fails to grip. Where it does exert a hold is in its enthralment with Istanbul . . . it adds another engrossing dimension to [Pamuk's] continual fictional exploration, documentation and celebration of Turkishness."

Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas is certainly ambitious, but is it a novel? For Peter Parker, writing in the Sunday Times, the answer is probably not: "Conceived as an encyclopedia of imaginary writers, it consists of 32 short biographies . . . all this adds up to a solidly imagined world, but the result is less a novel than an elaborate jeu d'esprit."

Lewis Jones of the Sunday Telegraph found it "among the oddest novels I have read . . . One's credulity may be strained by some of the more outlandish details . . . [but] one is hooked by the humorous and disquieting weirdness of the enterprise . . . If you like magic realism, you will enjoy Bolaño, who takes it to new levels of tricksiness."

To find out the NS verdict on these two books, pick up a copy of Thursday's magazine.

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Hillary and the Viking: dramatising life with the Clintons

August radio should be like a corkboard, with a few gems pinned here and there. Heck, Don’t Vote for Him is one.

Now is the season of repeats and stand-in presenters. Nobody minds. August radio ought to be like a corkboard – things seemingly long pinned and faded (an Angela Lansbury doc on Radio 2; an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor on Radio 4 Extra) and then the occasional bright fragment. Like Martha Argerich playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 at the Albert Hall (Prom 43, 17 August).

But on Radio 4, two new things really stand out. An edition of In the Criminologist’s Chair (16 August, 4pm) in which the former bank robber (and diagnosed psychopath) Noel “Razor” Smith recalls, among other memorable moments, sitting inside a getaway car watching one of his fellows “kissing his bullets” before loading. And three new dramas imagining key episodes in the Clintons’ personal and political lives.

In the first (Heck, Don’t Vote for Him, 6 August, 2.30pm), Hillary battles with all the “long-rumoured allegations of marital infidelity” during the 1992 Democratic primaries. Fenella Woolgar’s (brilliant, unburlesqued) Hillary sounds like a woman very often wearing a fantastically unhappy grin, watching her own political ambitions slip through her fingers. “I deserve something,” she appeals to her husband, insisting on the position of attorney general should he make it to the top – but “the Viking” (his nickname at college, due to his great head of hair) is off, gladhanding the room. You can hear Woolgar’s silent flinch, and picture Hillary’s face as it has been these past, disquieting months, very clearly.

I once saw Bill Clinton speak at a community college in New Jersey during the 2008 Obama campaign. Although disposed not to like him, I found his wattage, without question, staggering. Sweeping through the doors of the canteen, he amusedly removed the microphone from the hands of the MC (a local baseball star), switched it off, and projected for 25 fluent minutes (no notes). Before leaving he turned and considered the smallest member of the audience – a cross-legged child clutching a picture book of presidents. In one gesture, Clinton flipped it out of the boy’s hands, signed the cover – a picture of Lincoln – and was gone.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue