Reviews Round-up

The critics' verdicts on Julie Myerson, Gavin Knight and Max Egremont.

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Forgotten Land by Max Egremont

"Egremont pieces together the 'ghosts of East Prussia' by journeying to the place it used to be, talking to those he can find who remember it, visiting museums and examining memoirs, photographs and diaries," writes Harry McGrath in the Herald. After the Second World War, East Prussia was no longer a formal entity.

Hywel Williams reports in the Spectator that Forgotten Land is "satisfying both as a work of art and as a professional work of history." The book focusses upon the twentieth century and is "intelligently alert to the way older continuities shaped and wrecked East Prussia's history." As Harry McGrath writes, "de-Germanization mirrored an opposite [process] which began in the 11th century when the area was conquered by the Teutonic Knights."

Hywel Williams praises Egremont's conduct of interviews which "humanise the book's great themes". Harry McGrath contests that in relying "heavily on a handful of stories" Egremont "just about avoids giving the impression of being an aristocrat in search of other aristocrats."

Then by Julie Myerson

In Myerson's latest novel, "Survivors eke out a brutal existence of scavenging and fighting in the city's ruins. Groping her way from one harrowing day to the next, the first-person narrator can't remember anything, not even her name," writes Marianne Brace in the Independent. The cause of the disaster remains elusive. "One of Myerson's strengths lies in creating atmosphere. She rips up the narrative to create a fragmented story."

The novel is focussed upon the narrator's relationship with her husband and "her love for an old childhood friend which threatened...to turn into adultery," reports Philip Womack in the Telegraph. Although the narrator's situation following the disaster gives a "slight feeling that we have seen it all before...it is highly readable and involving." The narrator is "a complex character: succumbing to outbursts of violence, she is also capable of great tenderness."

By contrast, Sarah Moss writes in the Guardian that "curt, factual sentences give an effective sense of a damaged and dysfunctional mind, but they repel emotional engagement with the novel...it's the plot, not the character, that calls for empathy."

Hood Rat by Gavin Knight

Focusing on Glasgow, London and Manchester, "Knight tries to highlight major issues in teen criminality: drug addicted, absent or ineffectual parenting" writes Denise Mina in the Scotsman. Knight spent two years embedded with the police in these cities and draws attention to "the invisibility of these commonplace stories." However, "bouncing, as it does, from city to city and issue to issue," limits Hood Rat's breadth and coherence.

Denise Mina reports that "the present tense is used throughout, which makes it feel like a badly written novel." In the Guardian, Andrew Anthony describes Hood Rat as caught "between including enough violence to attract the real-crime audience and enough social context to be considered worthy of being taken seriously." As revealed by the book's note, "some characters [were] created from composites of several people." Andrew Anthony writes that this hinders the reader's ability to "engage with the plight of the young men Knight records".