The latest on books and the arts

RSS

Reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on Erica Heller, Christine Dwyer Hickey and Adam Levin.

Yossarian Slept Here by Erica Heller

In the Independent, Emma Hagestadt writes that "Erica Heller, daughter of Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, seems to have weathered her girlhood better than most daughters of celebrated literary lions. [Her] book shows a robust acceptance of her father's overbearing personality and Don Draperesque approach to marriage and fatherhood."

Carolyn Kellogg opines in the Los Angeles Times that this is a "vital read ... [Erica] didn't idolise her father, but she portrays his complexities with sympathy." "Dominating the memoir is the story of Erica's parents' marriage ... Erica believes that her wise-cracking, charismatic father was still deeply tied to her mother," writes Hagestadt.

Kellogg notes that, "While writing Catch-22, Heller worked as a copywriter for Time, Look and McCall's magazines and for Remington Rand Corporation ... The New York of the period leaps off the page. Heller's cronies included Mel Brooks, Mario Puzo and Speed Vogel, and Erica captures their 'food orgies' in Chinatown."

Ian Sansom, in the Guardian, writes that, according to Erica, Heller "'took his meat, and his meals, unabashedly seriously'; everything else he treated as a joke. He had everything, but it wasn't enough ... Erica concludes simply that Heller was 'indecipherable.'"

The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey

Leyla Sanai writes in the Independent that the novel begins with "an old man who lives alone, Farley ... lying on his bathroom floor having suffered a stroke. His probable fate is made horribly real to us in achingly lyrical prose." The book spans "time to create a hauntingly poignant portrait of a Dublin existence, rendered, as is every life in close-up, extraordinary." Sara Keating, writing in the Irish Times, comments that "Dywer Hickey's skill is like that of a painter, slowly layering detail to provide a composite view... there are no clever tricks with hindsight or irony. There are no surprise revelations. There is just the measured pleasure of intimacy with Farley."

Keating describes the book as "a moving portrayal of elderly loneliness and regret. However, as Dwyer Hickey reveals through a clever reverse chronology, Farley has not always been a curmudgeon. He once had dreams and passions of his own." Sanai finds that "Dwyer Hickey's writing is acutely insightful and perfectly balances sorrow, joy and humour. Weepingly moving passages are juxtaposed with hilariously irreverent dialogue worthy of Roddy Doyle."

In the Guardian, Stevie Davies concludes that this is "the most profound novel I have read for years ... Farley's life story is told in reverse chronology, 2010 to 1940 - a technique capable of ingenious satiric force ... [the novel] slips back decade by decade, questing for origins and causes."

The Instructions by Adam Levin

Joshua Cohen, in the New York Times, writes that "this fat tablet is partly a theologico-political tract, and mostly a chronicle of four days in the life of a junior high schooler in suburban Illinois ... Gurion's your typical Midwestern prodigy... yet one of the most promising students ever to grace an Illinois Solomon Schechter School can't keep from fighting others." Tim Martin writes in the Telegraph that "we encounter [Gurion] in ... a high-security education experiment known as The Cage, which is attempting to tutor a gang of behaviourally disordered unteachables."

Martin comments that "Levin has put a lot of effort into Gurion's vernacular, which crawls with sticky idioms and madcap coinages" which will "either enthral you with its playfulness and experimentation or leave you grinding your teeth and howling."

"The reader of The Instructions is pinioned by Gurion's madly chatty first-person for the book's entire length ... an exercise in extreme observation that makes a bare four days of narrative time feel like years of chest-crushing reading", points out Martin. "Rarely has a first novel so cried out for a good editor." Cohen is also disappointed by the novel, which "ultimately devolves not into commentaries and interpretive apparatuses but into a vague ending ... This all makes for a very long joke: a setup that lacks a punch line."

According to Michael Sayeau in the New Statesman: "The faux artlessness of Levin's digressions, the posed credulity of seeming not to understand that he is asking his readers for something they wouldn't want to give, seem to serve as a screening veil for an author clearly smart enough to write a taut and economical work of fiction instead of this."

Next Article