BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers.]
The Angel Esmeralda, by Don Delillo, reviewed by Steven Poole (Guardian)
The main way DeLillo makes my “brain ache,” as Poole says, is with his ranging inconsistency. White Noise is a scintillating novel, but End Zone is entirely forgettable, and Cosmopolis is “underrated,” as Poole calls it, for a reason: it’s not great. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. I’ve still never finished Underworld because its masterful 70-page prologue leads to a non-sequitur first chapter so utterly boring that I’ve never successfully forded it. But, when DeLillo’s good, he’s one of the very best writers out there. This new book collects 9 stories from the man’s 30-year career, so there’s plenty of opportunity to cherry-pick. Poole ably details DeLillo’s strengths as a writer, and strongly recommends the book.
Death and the Penguin and Penguin Lost, by Andrey Kurkov, reviewed by Anthony Olcott (L.A. Review of Books)
This review concerns a pair of recently translated Russian crime novels that feature a writer and the penguin he adopts. The reviewer (perhaps in an attempt to use the PhD in Soviet Literature that he insists that you know that he has) carefully positions it in the pantheon of all Russian literature, cross-referencing by ideology and setting. This might be overkill, but once Olcott gets around to discussing the content of these two novels, he gives some sharp analysis. The books themselves don’t sound like ordinary crime novels; if that’s a plus for you, check out the review.
The Beauty and the Sorrow, by Peter Englund, reviewed by Dwight Garner (New York Times)
This World War I history is “not so much a book about what happened, [Englund] explains, as ‘a book about what it was like.’ It’s about ‘feelings, impressions, experiences and moods.'” In other words, it chronicles the Great War from the intimate perspectives of specially chosen individuals—roughly 20 of them. They face a war whose spread outpaces public information about it, and so it’s impossible to know such crucial details as whose side the cannons in the distance are on, and whether to run or rejoice. All in all, it sounds like quite a fascinating piece of nonfiction.
Shockaholic, by Carrie Fisher, reviewed by Peter Conrad (Guardian)
This does not sound like a good book. But the review is an interesting (if not always intelligent) discussion of a fading celebrity trying to hang onto the last pieces of a career. As the title implies, Princess Leia has turned to exploiting whatever secrets and shocks her life has left, as underwhelming as they are. It’s an intriguing case study, even if the book itself sounds unbearable.
In brief: Sean highlighted Joan Didion’s Blue Nights last week. I’ve heard some good things about it, but this review by John Banville has some veiled critiques, and this review in the Guardian has some real teeth. … Not entirely sure what to make of Jonathan Lethem’s new essay collection, but from the tidbits provided in this review, I’m not all that excited. … A survey of National Book Awards finalists. … Errol Morris interviews Stephen King.