BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock, reviewed by Kathryn Hughes (Guardian)
Like everybody else born in the ’80s, I loved Roald Dahl when I was growing up, and I still harbor fond memories, no matter how many books a creepy Johnny Depp ruins. I had no idea, though, that Dahl’s famous writing hut was necessary because his house was full of doctors and nurses caring for his brain-damaged son and his stroke-ridden wife, who was “written off … as a badly battered vegetable worth keeping alive simply because of the foetus she was still carrying.” I also didn’t know he was such a complete jerk. Hughes’s review takes a caustic, unblinking look at Dahl’s life, and shares a few of the juicy details to be found in Sturrock’s fascinating-sounding (but slightly softer) biography.
Ape House, by Sara Gruen, reviewed by Ron Charles (Washington Post)
Sean mentioned Ape House in last week’s roundup, but I thought this review was worth featuring solely so I could link to this mind-blowing segment of Radio Lab—it’s a riveting story about a bonobo who lives in The Great Ape Trust in Iowa, where primatologists teach apes to talk (the real-life place that inspired Gruen’s novel). Bonus: the Post review also features one of fiction critic Ron Charles’s new video book reviews, which are pretty funny.
Zero History, by William Gibson, reviewed by Scarlett Thomas (New York Times)
Gibson’s new book is intricate real-world sci-fi, about “coolhunting,” trends, and what gets people excited. Familiar modern sci-fi themes, in other words, but delivered with a wealth of inventiveness by one of the genre’s best writers. Thomas describes Gibson’s prose as “thrillingly tight,” and her own prose is, too. It’s a very sharply written review of a book that’s easy to get excited about. Thomas’s own recent novel is also on my list.
Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carré, reviewed by Christopher Tayler (Guardian)
This quick, well-written review contains a superb thumbnail sketch of Le Carré’s career, and then a quick summary of the new book, which sounds mediocre. The review is well worth reading however.