Molotov’s Magic Lantern, The Memory of Love and This Party’s Got to Stop

“Though it doesn’t call itself that, Molotov’s Magic Lantern is a travel book,” wrote Anne Applebaum in the Spectator of Rachel Polonsky’s study of Russia, “and it shares the flaws and virtues of that genre . . . Polonsky can switch from historical anecdote to literary analysis to description . . . Even if Polonsky sometimes moves too rapidly between Soviet poets, 19th-century architecture and the experience of a Russian steambath, I do see why she is doing so. Her intention is to describe the strange way in which so many aspects of the Soviet past still hang over modern Russia.” “What makes these excursions fascinating is Polonsky’s interweaving the past with the present,” thought Donald Rayfield in the TLS of “a history with a cast of thousands, spread over centuries and thousands of miles. It could leave one bewildered, were it not for the author’s narrative skill.” “This is a many-layered portrait in which the strands of Russia past and present, town and countryside, real and intellectual, are interwoven with skill and . . . erudition,” felt Mary Dejevsky in the Independent. “There comes a point where almost too many connections are made. A tour de force of compilation obscures what can be a frustrating absence of synthesis.”

“Beneath the fluent naturalism of her writing, she has a great interest in myth and in the tribal narratives of humanity: the stories rubbed smooth at the edges with retelling,” wrote Jane Shilling in the Daily Telegraph of Aminatta Forna’s novel The Memory of Love, set in a Freetown hospital in 2001. “Forna understands that it is only by making patterns out of chaos that humans find the courage to continue living. And in this affecting, passionate and intelligent novel about the redemptive power of love and storytelling, she shows how it is done.” “There will be inevitable comparisons made between The Memory of Love and Chinua Achebe’s dystopic Things Fall Apart,” decided Sam Kiley in the Times. “There are echoes, too, of . . . The Heart of the Matter. But . . . Forna’s latest novel transcends both by sweeping through from the campus hothouses of the 1960s to a shabby and traumatised today . . . Whether the reader is picking through hospital corridors sour and foul with blood and sweat, or blushing at the invisible smirk hidden by local doctors from the visiting Englishman, the stitching is invisible.” “This is a slow novel that occasionally feels as if Forna could have pared things back a little,” concluded Lucy Atkins in the Sunday Times. “But then, the steady pace makes the awful revelations all the more disturbing.”

“It is a book about how the dead continue to influence the living, and how grief can warp into madness,” commented Craig Brown in the Mail on Sunday of Rupert Thomson’s This Party’s Got to Stop, a “thrillingly exact, slightly creepy memoir”: however, “Thomson employs many of the artificial techniques of a novelist” and this “artificiality sometimes gets in the way, lending an already bizarre story an unwelcome layer of unreality”. Thomson is “one of the most original British novelists at work today . . . Sui generis as a stylist, he may in the moods of his locales still bring the other-worlds of JG Ballard into readers’ minds,” wrote Boyd Tonkin in the Independent of a “haunting, haunted work” that “makes up a ‘jigsaw’ of grief”. For Robert Collins in the Sunday Times, “you remember the dark atmosphere of Thomson’s best novels and wish you were reading one. Constrained by real life, his memories never quite yield up the same hinterland of tension as his best fiction. But it remains intriguing to watch the novelist in Thomson, with his sure eye for the uncanny, peer into his fractured family history.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds