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Reviews Round-up

The critics' verdicts on Christopher Adrian, Katherine Frank and Ed: the Milibands and the Making of

The Great Night by Christopher Adrian

"In this mesmerising reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the action is transposed from a wood near Athens to 21st century San Francisco's Buena Vista Park," writes Olivia Laing in the Observer. "One wonders whether he took Bottom the Weaver's final admonishment - 'Rehearse most obscenely and courageously. Take pains; be perfect' - to heart, for this magical and fearless work is a near-blueprint of what a novel ought to be."

Keith Donohue in the Washington Post highlights the difference in direction caused by Adrian's plot twists, writing: "That dissonance with the original undermines Adrian's considerable powers. Moments of comedy -- from slapstick to farce -- exist in the novel, but they are mixed with graphic violence and anonymous sex. Rather than ending upon a dream, 'The Great Night' aches with lost love and the torturous ordeal of childhood caught between innocence and awakening. For a novel based upon a classic comedy, it's devastating."

Jake Wallis Simons remains unconvinced by Shakespeare's real role in the book, writing in the Independent: "From the start, it is clear that Adrian is bending Shakespeare's template to his own purposes...His writing is evocative and unsettling in equal measure, yet this seems to be more about the author exploring his own feelings about child mortality than creating anything truly new from the materials of one of the Bard's most popular plays."

Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the Creation of a Myth by Katherine Frank

This book proposes that Defoe based his survival story on the life of a Mr Robert Knox, keeps Jonathan Sale interested, as he writes in the Telegraph: "The enthralling Crusoe earns its keep as it weaves together the twin biographies of Knox and Defoe, two extraordinary lives which spiral round like the double helix to produce the DNA of the iconic character in goatskin garments."

The Observer's Peter Conrad gives a very terse review however, writing: "Although Knox and Defoe lived within a few miles of each other in London, they never met; Defoe read Knox's book, though the novel in which he makes use of it was not Crusoe but Captain Singleton...Given the lack of any further connection between the two men, how can Frank justify forcibly coupling them in this dual biography? Only, I'm afraid, by over-stretched analogies and questionable metaphors."

Andrew Robinson writing in the Independent is not wholly convinced either: "Frank points to many similarities between Robinson Crusoe and Knox's Relation. Some are easy to spot, for instance the Bible both Knox and Crusoe stumble upon, and their method of baking bread. Others are more debatable."

Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre

TheTelegraph's Peter Oborne writes: "Their book is shrewd, scrupulously researched and provides revelations on every page: for instance, the fact that Gordon Brown adores Ed Miliband 'like a son'; the strength of the collusion between Ed and the trade unions; the decisive role played by Neil Kinnock in persuading him to run against his brother. It provides the basis for any serious understanding both of Ed Miliband and the modern Labour Party."

"Political journalists Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre are by instinct sympathetic to their main subject," says Sunder Katwala, writing in the Observer. "But they take care to do a straight reporting job, painstakingly comparing the accounts of sources from all sides to unpack the history of what they call the "fratricide" of Miliband v Miliband."

John Kampfner in the Sunday Times is less enthralled, writing: "The book comes into its own with its blow-by-blow account of the leadership contest. Yet, no matter how hard the authors try, The Brothers Miliband is not the stuff of Dostoevsky. Their lives simply do not provide interesting enough material for all but the political geek."

Roy Hattersley will review "Ed" in Thursday's New Statesman

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