If it is your life by James Kelman, Parisians by Graham Robb and All That Follows by Jim Crace

“The mixture of the precisely but surreally bureaucratic and the casually macabre is perfectly judged, while the laconic tone immediately establishes a narrative voice that draws the reader in,” Peter Parker wrote in the Sunday Times on the first story in James Kelman’s new collection, If it is your life. Overall, however, he considered the book “uneven”. Stuart Kelly in Scotland on Sunday praised the book’s “nimble play of registers, switching between the arch and the demotic, parodic and polemic . . . An underrated feature of Kelman’s work has been his capacity for depicting tenderness.” And “it would be as wrong as perpetuating the stereotype of Kelman not to acknowledge his profound, and bleak, seriousness”. “In shorter form,” Doug Johnstone argued in the Independent on Sunday, “Kelman seems to relax a little. He is certainly more experimental . . . and he’s also a lot funnier. As well as being a keen observer of society’s underclasses and disenfranchised, Kelman also has a great eye for the absurdity of everyday life, something which comes to the fore in this collection.”

“Graham Robb’s new book is so richly pleasurable that you feel it might emit a warm glow if you left it in a dark room,” wrote John Carey in the Sunday Times of Parisians. “Essentially it is a collection of true stories, culled from Robb’s insatiable historical reading and lit by his imagination. He has the passion of a naturalist displaying a wall of rare butterflies or a cabinet of exotic corals, but his specimens are all human and walked the streets of Paris.” Anita Brookner in the Spectator examined “the method that informs the book, to twin a personality with an architectural construct, a person with a place. Thus a topical history is established in which people and places play an equal part. This makes for an ever-expanding canvas in which the author is completely at ease, although the reader may protest at the proliferation of anecdote, rather like a novice arriving in the city for the first time.” “Robb has focused on what really matters, the human beings who shaped, or who were occasionally defeated by, their city,” concluded Philip Hensher in the Daily Telegraph: “If I have one minuscule criticism of this marvellously entertaining, boundingly energetic and original book, it is that Robb prefers the authentic, underbellied Paris to the superficial one.”

“Jim Crace is a magician among contemporary British novelists,” wrote Ian Thomson in the Financial Times reviewing All That Follows, which opens in the year 2024 and follows the travails of Lennie Lessing, a jazz musician “tormented by a sense of inadequacy and failure . . . the book lacks the vertiginous assault of Crace’s debut, Continent, or Arcadia” but “remains a blindingly good read in parts, both for its mesmeric storytelling and the matchless quality of its prose”. Behind the story of “how Lennie gets his groove back”, wrote Kasia Boddy in the Daily Telegraph, is “a Cracian interrogation of political mores . . . The book breaks into lyricism” when Lennie “stops ‘spectating’ and picks up his instrument”. “The most surprising aspect of All That Follows is its conventionality,” according to Mark Sanderson in the Sunday Telegraph: “The action provokes wry smiles rather than heartfelt laughter. The problem lies in the character of Lennie who takes himself too seriously. Only ageing hepcats will enjoy the endless discussions of the intricacies of jazz, and the plot is too pat to be improvisational.”

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