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Reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on David Laws, Polly Samson and Alex Ross.

22 Days in May by David Laws

In the Guardian, Peter Preston is impressed by the Liberal Democrats preparation for coalition talks in David Laws' account of the aftermath of the May 2010 general election: "the thoroughness of Liberal preparations long before any votes were cast is a revelation ... just as the shambles of Labour's non-fight for survival passes all previous understanding."

In this week's New Statesman Andrew Adonis (who was part of the Labour negotiating team which failed to broker an agreement with the Lib Dems in May) argues that Laws' view of the talks is highly teleological and points to the 2004 Lib Dem policy publication, The Orange Book as "a clarion call for a return to classical small-state liberalism", which "conditioned the party (the Lib Dems) into forming an alliance with the Tories that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago."

Sean O'Grady, in the Independent, finds that 22 Days in May offers up a convenient scapegoat for the failure of a progressive Lib-Lab coalition to form: "If, like me, you were half hoping for a "progressive coalition" of the Lib Dems and Labour, then you need to know who killed this dream: Ed "Tribal" Balls, who effectively sabotaged the talks."

Perfect Lives by Polly Samson

Susan Hill in the Spectator finds Samson's prose in her new collection of stories to be refreshingly unaffected: "Samson does not show off as a writer; her prose is clear and precise, but she makes it sparkle every now and then by producing a brilliant image".

Writing in the Guardian, Shena Mackay points to Samson's talent for exposing the darker corners of middle class life: "Samson reveals the darkness and pain beneath the most polished surfaces ... she sees the worm in the bud, the canker in the rose, the mildew on the vine, the genetic time-bomb primed to devastate."

Olivia Laing, reviewing the book in the latest issue of the New Statesman, is similarly captivated by Samson's ability to expose the fault-lines in the most polished fictional surfaces: "Lives so artfully arranged they resemble scenes from a Toast catalogue are cracked open to reveal innards as unexpected as they are unsettling."

Listen to This by Alex Ross

From the Daily Telegraph Ivan Hewett, reviewing this collection of Ross's writings on music from the New Yorker, thinks that Ross has managed to claw back the dignity of music journalism: "By appealing to humble metaphors and common sense, Ross revives the spirit of those old-fashioned musical men of letters, of the type that flourished before academia colonised the field."

In the Guardian, Peter Conrad found Ross's infectious enthusiasm to be more illuminating than his criticism, writing that "the most fervent acts of critical appreciation here are explosions of contagious excitement, more like yelping ovations than cerebral analysis", whilst Conrad Wilson, in the Herald, applauds Ross as a critic "who shows himself to be the most elegant and engaging of writers."

Listen to This will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of the New Statesman.

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