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Reviews Round-up

The critics' verdicts on José Saramago, Jacek Hugo-Bader and William Rees-Mogg.

Cain by José Saramago

Nobel prize-winning author José Saramago's last novel, Cain, is published posthumously in English (Saramago died in June 2010). Ian Sansom in the Guardian notes that Cain is "a rewriting of the biblical story...Cain gets to enjoy his endless exile, ambling aimlessly through a number of other biblical episodes and scenes." Cain concludes from his travels that God must be mad. "[T]he only alternative explanation -one already mooted in Saramago's Gospel - is that God might be 'evil pure and simply'", writes Ángel Gurría-Quintana in the Financial Times.

Sansom praises the novel as a "fitting conclusion" to Saramago's career: "Cain's is the story of mankind, and Saramago was one of those authors much concerned with the plight of mankind". While Gurría-Quintana observes that, "Saramago takes great pleasure in pointing out the gratuitous cruelty of the Old Testament's God, and the idiocy of the priapic patriarchs who committed atrocities in his name."

Allan Massie writes in the Scotsman that "Every page of this novella, translated with a fluent and light touch by Margaret Jill Costa, has its charm. Every page raises difficult questions. That over the centuries we have found no satisfying answer to these questions...doesn't make them less compelling."

White Fever by Jacek Hugo-Bader

Based upon a road trip across Siberia, Polish journalist Jacek Hugo-Bader's White Fever is about "a society in moral and social breakdown" reports Luke Harding in the Guardian. It also includes "plenty of unexpectedly joyous moments",

White Fever, Harding argues, shows that after Communism's fall, "Russia has failed to come up with a new national idea...While some Siberians have turned to mysticism in search of meaning, others cling to the old Soviet faith ... The strength of this book is that it dwells on human stories that lie outside the parameters of conventional newspaper reporting." Harding also praises the translation from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones as "pitch perfect".

Carl Wilkinson writes in the Financial Times that White Fever is "a funny, enlightening and thoroughly engaging piece of reportage. Hugo-Bader eschews grand descriptions in favour of brilliant vignettes of his encounters with the people who live there." "

Memoirs by William Rees-Mogg

William Rees-Mogg has been editor of the Times, vice-chairman of the BBC and "has known every British Prime Minister since Anthony Eden...and most Popes and American Presidents," notes Allan Massie in the Scotsman. Peter Preston's review in the Guardian describes Mogg's memoirs as "thought-provoking...a voice from the recent past still resonant beyond the columns he writes for the Mail on Sunday and the Times."

"Most of the main political questions between the 1950s and the present are examined dispassionately and lenient judgments pronounced," finds Paul Johnson in the Spectator. "What distinguishes his memoirs is a lack of malice. There are no unpleasant stories". Mogg has a "distaste for sharp personal criticism. This gives his book magnanimity, to put it mildly, but it makes for dull reading." By contrast, Massie finds that "There are many amusing anecdotes and observations...The passages about his family background, education and home life are full of charm and interest."