|Oxford University Press|
the guardian Fri 15 August 2008
"Tobias Wolff often presents struggles between innocence and cynicism, between slow-talking carefulness and quick-witted restlessness," observed Kasia Boddy in the Telegraph, reviewing Our Story Begins: Selected and New Stories . "Sometimes Wolff allows his characters ... a little last-paragraph consolation or revenge ... Every so often, though, there's a moment of almost religious release." "'Great' is an overused word, but Tobias Wolff justifies it," said Simon Baker in the Spectator. "Our Story Begins is an essential book, which demonstrates the enduring talent of a truly great writer."
"Like Peter Ackroyd, Catharine Arnold believes the true story of a city is found at its fringes," wrote Leo Hollis in the Sunday Telegraph, reviewing Bedlam: London and Its Mad . "The history of Bedlam reminds us of the terrible pains of madness and the continual failures of treatment and care." "Arnold is clearly drawn to morbid subjects," said Andrew Holgate in the Sunday Times. "Her last book was a history of London's Necropolis railway, and she admits in her introduction that her interest in Bethlehem (or Bethlem, as it is generally known) stems partly from 'my own experiences of bereavement and depression' and 'a doomed relationship with a young man whose life was blighted by severe mental illness'. Such sensitivity means that her history . . . is rarely sensationalist, and often admirably sympathetic."
"Longlisted for the Booker prize, From A to X is a novel containing letters from a woman named A'ida to her lover, Xavier, who is serving a life sentence for being involved in a terrorist group," explained Simon Baker in the Observer. "The epistolary format always makes character-building difficult but the task is even tougher here because we have only one side of the exchange . . . Even more problematic is A'ida's sermonising, her self-regarding tone. Her most pressing concern is not her lover's wellbeing ... but the need to be profound - which she isn't." "The story takes place somewhere hot, with poor people," noted Sam Leith in the Telegraph. "The enemy is likewise generic: military junta, civil war, or laissez-faire capitalism? ... There's nothing much wrong with Berger's writing ... The problem is in the deep phoniness of the whole conception: its gross sentimentality (all faceless oppressors and noble peasants); its self-intoxicated portentousness. Everyone A'ida encounters seems to have an unbreakable spirit and a quiet dignity in suffering; every object is charged with significance; every moment an epiphany ... There's a name for this sort of thing, and it's 'bollocks'."