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Reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on Susan Hill, Philip Mansel and Linda Grant.

A Kind Man by Susan Hill

In the Telegraph, Lucy Beresford is profoundly moved by Susan Hill's tale of a ordinary man who becomes possessed with extraordinary healing powers: "Sometimes a piece of writing is so pure, so true, it is almost painful to read ... it was hard to read this story without regular recourse to tissues."

Matthew Dennison, writing in the Independent, concurs pointing out that whilst "Hill's justice is tough and unrelenting, the sort of harsh predeterminism once attributed to pagan deities" what remains for the reader is "the warmth and humanity of her writing ... with the result that, despite its shortness, this is a novel of huge emotional impact and moments of immense poignancy."

The one dissenting critical voice in an otherwise uniform cacophony of praise is that of Charlotte Moore in the Spectator, who finds the simplicity of Hill's narrative voice slightly wearisome and open to precise questioning: "The tale is so clean and spare that every detail is telling, or feels as if it ought to be. The problem is that when a false note is struck, it resonates."

Levant: Splendor and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean by Philip Mansel

From the Guardian, Norman Stone is impressed by Mansel's new account of the complex history of the Levant, weaving delicately through Alexandria, Beirut and Smyrna as it does with historiographical panache. The sheer size of "the vast amounts of memoirs and official documentation" involved in such a task would intimidate even the most accomplished historian yet Mansel dexterously deals with them "with his usual elegance and skill."

Moris Farhi, writing in the Independent, salutes this "masterly work" in which Mansel "exposes the problems of achieving coexistence in a world fragmented by disunion ... Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut stand as unique symbols of achievable utopias."

Jason Goodwin, reviewing Mansel's book in the Spectator, thinks that Mansel's reveals the Levant to have always been a precarious notion, constantly seesawing from enlightened cosmopolitanism to demagogic nationalism: "Harmony held for certain places at certain times; just as often, Mansel describes a city sitting on a volcano of communalism, or foreign intervention. Time and again, Levantines crowded on to ships in the harbour, waiting for a signal to flee, or to return." Mansel's work is, however, an "impressive return to the eastern Mediterranean."

We Had It So Good by Linda Grant

Lesley McDowell, writing in the Financial Times, gives Grant's factual based novel a highly laudatory write-up, suggesting that by incorporating fact into her literary fiction she has managed to trump all her previous efforts in the latter genre: "Grant's reliance of reportage in fiction finally produces what for me is her best novel so far."

In the Telegraph, Jane Shilling is lukewarm without being fully persuaded by Grant's grant narrative for the baby boomer generation. "Her delineation of character is judicious rather than passionate - so that even characters in extremis live out their dramas at a safe distance from the reader's heart" writes Shilling, adding that the novel relies "for its emotional impact on the painstaking accumulation of detail rather than a driving narrative."

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