03 Jul, 2010

Critical eye book reviews roundup

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, Playing Days by Benjamin Markovits and The General by Jonathan Fenby

“The book is infinitely more than an exercise in precious antiquarianism,” wrote Brian Dillon in the Daily Telegraph of The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, a book which “tells the story of 264 Japanese netsuke – small carvings made of ivory or wood” that “eventually made their way into de Waal’s hands . . . It’s a smart, sometimes doleful and always beguiling reflection on art, family and several decades of convulsive European history.” “Like his pottery, de Waal’s prose is restrained,” noted Rosemary Hill in the Scotsman. “This makes his narrative the more compelling as it moves inexorably towards the 1930s . . . the netsuke made their way back, with de Waal’s uncle, to Japan. The extraordinary story of how they remained in the family is the dénouement of a book that combines the charm of a personal memoir with the resonance of world history.” John de Falbe in the Spectator hailed it as an “immensely captivating, moving – touching – family memoir . . . Apart from any historical value that may lie in documenting the story of his family, he has made a valuable contribution to the scant literature that exists on the nature of touch.”

Playing Days is a humble and sensitive portrayal of a young adult trying to find his feet on the basketball court and in the world.” So Dan Friedman in the Financial Times judged the new novel by Benjamin Markovits, who “treads a fine line between indulgence of his awkward younger self and laying out the underlying dynamics of the situation with the alacrity of the more experienced man and father he has become.” “Poised at the awkward intersection of real life and fiction, and of boyhood and manhood, the narrator’s journal and his first stories are ‘full of young men with nothing much to do’ and bleed into one another,” considered Lucy Daniel in the Daily Telegraph. The novel’s “elegiac strain lifts a personal story into a more intriguing one . . . It takes great skill to write this well about things that don’t happen.” For Thomas Bunstead in the Independent on Sunday, “whether writing on questions of class, race, language, cultural difference, or the people who touched him during the year, Markovits is . . . a sharpshooter”; the novel “wears its wisdom with a shrug”.

“The most fitting commemoration” of the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s London radio appeal, wrote Donald Morrison in the Financial Times, is The General, a “monumental new biography from historian Jonathan Fenby, who worked as a journalist in Paris during de Gaulle’s presidency . . . This attempt is the most thorough and the most enjoyable since France’s Jean Lacouture required three volumes to take the general’s measure a quarter-century ago.” According to Max Hastings in the Sunday Times, the biography “offers Anglo-Saxon readers a most readable narrative and sensible judgments, but makes no claim to originality”. “Let us give a warm welcome to this book,” announced Douglas Hurd in the Daily Telegraph, “partly because it is a subtle and skilful narrative and partly because we in Britain still do not know what to make of General Charles de Gaulle.”

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