The latest on books and the arts

RSS

Culture Vulture: reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on Roddy Doyle, D J Taylor and a history of the Caucasus.

The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle

Nick Rennison in the Sunday Times finds problems with the structure of The Dead Republic: "The two halves of the novel, divided by 20 years, seem almost to belong in different books and perfunctory attempts to yoke them together towards the end fail to persuade." The book "skilfully weaves together its facts and its fiction", yet as the end of a trilogy, it "suffers from Doyle's determination to cram so much significance into the trajectory of his antihero's life". Tim Adams in the Observer wonders "when exactly does a novel become a yarn?" "Over the course of the three books," he complains, "reality becomes slowly diluted." He writes that this is the result of "the engine of plot" that runs insistently beneath the surface, and "by which he has to get through years and decades", rushing him into "a less satisfying fast-forward". For Cole Moreton in the Financial Times: "There is lovely, brutal detail, as well as a grand swoop over the timeline of Ireland and America, just like the kind of film they just don't make any more." He insists that a reader must "suspend disbelief . . . Go with the story. It's magnificent."

Let Our Fame Be Great by Oliver Bullough

Wendell Steavenson in the Sunday Times admits that this history of the peoples of the north Caucasus is "a complicated tale", but finds that Bullough is "perfectly adept at reconstituting history from second-hand sources". For Steavenson, "the book really comes to life in the final section on the Chechen wars of the past 20 years", where there are "several wonderfully told, bitter stories". He is most impressed that: "This is the first attempt to put together the history of the lost Circassians in any whole account." Iain Finlayson in the Times agrees. Bullough, he says, "brings us exciting news, presented as short, gripping stories that tell of the terrible things that happen to people caught up in constant warfare". Justin Marozzi in the Financial Times declares that the book has "struck a blow for the glory of the Caucasus and helped to give voice to the voiceless". He writes that "while sensitive as a historian, Bullough is also deft as a reporter", describing the volume as "impassioned". To George Walden in the New Statesman, the book is "part historical travelogue and part journalistic reflection on the past and present-day sufferings of the region's peoples". He asserts that: "There are moments when it might have been preferable to allow the facts to speak for themselves, without an occasionally sentimentalising authorial commentary. The hint of Rousseau-esque noble savagery does no service to their cause. At some points in the Chechen story, a more critical eye is needed."

At the Chime of a City Clock by D J Taylor

In the Independent, Jonathan Gibbs writes that At the Chime . . . should be subtitled "a thriller . . . for bookish types", finding that "Taylor paces his story brilliantly, but it is a gentle Sunday trot through his chosen genre, rather than a breakneck race". The novle is "a carefully wrought, warm and inoffensive sort of fun". Leo Robson in the New Statesman, on the other hand, sees the book as "pastiche", requiring "sleuthing or guesswork on the part of the reader". He concludes that "one's enjoyment of the novel does not depend on unpicking its complicated ancestry", and that: "The book provides a fine exhibition of this writer's unusual speciality -- parochialism with panache." David Grylls in the Sunday Times concurs: "Taylor's latest novel is a pastiche period thriller -- but one in which pastiche and period elements loom larger than the thrills". "Taylor constructs a crime novel," he writes, "but one that largely lacks suspense or excitement or any real sense of mystery. Not so much film noir as Ealing comedy, less Double Indemnity than The Lavender Hill Mob, the novel is essentially social history filtered through popular culture."