Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

Three book reviews that I posted on

For the past two months I’ve been using, a site and app that allow members to track the books they’re reading, to rate and review them, and add them to shelves (rather like Goodreads). At the weekend I decided that Literal isn’t for me. I tried to delete my account but nothing happened. I did manage to empty my library and I removed the app from my phone.

I’ll write a blog post in the next 2 weeks or so, explaining why I didn’t stick with Literal. In the meantime, before I cleared the library, I copied the 12 reviews I’d posted there during that 2 months. It was immediately clear that 9 of them weren’t worth keeping because I’d written about the same books at greater length, either in my newsletter or on my personal site. These, in order of the dates on which I posted the reviews, are the three that aren’t duplicated anywhere else:

Charles Cumming, Box 88

9 Oct 2021: In 1989, a young Scotsman, just finished his A-Levels, spies on an Iranian businessman and Rafsanjani confidant while they’re both visiting his schoolfriend’s family in the south of France. In the present day, the same man, Lachlan Kite, now running a secret, rogue intelligence-and-assassination outfit, is interrogated by former Iranian agents as to what went wrong 30 years earlier. Fun and tense, with bursts of violent action.

Louise O’Neill, After the Silence

16 Oct 2021: Overall, I found After the Silence, the first book I’ve read by Louise O’Neill, a disappointment. It’s excellent on the way that some men are able to abuse and control their wives and other women. The central character, Keelin, was physically assaulted by her first husband. Her second, Henry, takes advantage of circumstances that leave her vulnerable to manipulation, He monitors her phone calls and internet use, dictates what she eats and how she dresses and essentially controls her life, while denying that he’s doing anything of the sort. All of this is handled extremely well, though maybe it goes on a bit too long. The whodunnit element, in contrast, was resolved with gloomy predictability in what had seemed from early on to be the only way it could be.

I usually don’t think a reader is justified in complaining that an author has written a different book from the one the reader wanted but in this case I’m going to do exactly that! I think this story would have been more satisfactory if the present plot had been compressed to half its length and the final third of the book had told us what Keelin did after Alex and Sinéad had left the island when, arguably, she had less reason to remain under Henry’s control.

Michael Connelly, The Law of Innocence

6 Nov 2021: I love novels that feature criminal trials, and this is the fifth (out of six) that I’ve read in Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer series. The one I skipped is the previous book in the series, The Gods of Guilt. I thought I’d finished with Connelly and his tarnished hero, Mickey Haller. But this one had an irresistible premise: Haller is accused of (eventually first-degree) murder and is leading his own defence from his jail cell. Like most legal thrillers, this is an intoxicating mixture of plausibility and wild fantasy: the stakes are high — Haller faces life without parole — and the course of the trial is unpredictable, but the action moves at a pace, and a level of drama, that would’t — couldn’t — be tolerated in a real criminal trial. I think Connelly’s writing is getting better, and his character less cynical, as they both mature. I’m quite looking forward to the next one.

The other books that I reviewed on Literal are these (with links to what I’ve written about them elsewhere):

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale: I wrote about this one twice, first on this site, then in my newsletter.

Lucy Caldwell, Multitudes.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Nocturnes.

Philip Kerr, A Philosophical Investigation.

Laura Lippman, Sunburn.

Lisa Lutz, The Passenger: the link is the same as for the previous item: I wrote about both books in the same issue of the newsletter.

Brian Moore, Catholics.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

Felicia C Sullivan, Follow Me into the Dark.

Posted by Art on 23-Nov-2021.