Book reviews roundup

What to Look For in Winter: A Memoir of Blindness by Candia McWilliam, Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose and Room by Emma Donoghue

"Regaining the will to write may be no compensation for what she has lost, but readers can only be grateful for this unforgettable book." Daisy Goodwin in the Sunday Times was impressed by What to Look For in Winter: A Memoir of Blindness by Candia McWilliam – "brilliant but lacerating . . . breathtakingly raw in its self-excoriation". According to Jane Shilling in the Daily Telegraph, "McWilliam's prose has always had a talent to annoy. It is a wrought, complicated fusion of the plain and the fancy that, viewed in a certain light, can seem positively insolent. Misfortune has not dulled her sharp way with words, nor suppressed her flashes of grandeur." Richard Davenport-Hines in the Sunday Telegraph called the book "the most startling, discomforting, complicated, ungovernable, hilarious and heart-rending of memoirs. McWilliam writes with a rash candour that will intimidate some readers, impress others and may provoke mockery . . . although the pages are over-brimming with sorrow, I laughed uproariously throughout."

"Can there be anything new to say about Anne Frank? No, and there is nothing really new here." Carole Angier in the Independent was doubtful about aspects of Francine Prose's Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife: "for its industrial methods and scale, the Nazi Holocaust was unique in human history" but "its motives were not unique, and nor were its lessons. These are distinctions that Prose fails to make . . . Then there is – can you believe it? – a happy ending. We all need hope, as Anne Frank knew, but Prose has just spent 270 pages deploring the need for a sentimental version . . . Then she succumbs to the same need herself." "Such is the power around the name of Anne Frank that to confess to finding Prose's approach to the subject . . . a little earnest and over-emotional seems tasteless, even blasphemous," wrote Frances Wilson in the Daily Telegraph: "The bitter struggle for ownership of Anne Frank's legacy . . . could have been dealt with better by a colder eye." For Linda Grant in the Times, however, it is a "fascinating new book".

"A novel inspired by the case of Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years in a cellar that she shared with three of the children she had by him, should in all reasonableness be gruesomely unreadable. And yet this haunting novel by Emma Donoghue, longlisted for the Man Booker prize, is so carefully and originally constructed that it's both hard to put down and profoundly affecting." So argued Robert Collins in the Sunday Times of Donoghue's Room, narrated by Jack, a five-year-old: "Donoghue has crafted a narrative that moves as breathlessly as a serial-killer thriller." For Jonathan Gibbs in the Daily Telegraph, the "child's-eye view of the world may sound kooky, but it reads as smooth as ice-cream, and Donoghue quickly builds a compelling view of this strange existence . . . Does the novel give a genuine insight into what it's like to go through such an ordeal? Maybe that's going too far, but as a life-affirming fable of parent-child love, and an antidote to the prurience of so much crime fiction, it's a triumph, and deserves to be a hit."

The GuardianTramp

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