New and reviewed this week in history and historical fiction:
House of Meetings, by Martin Amis, reviewed by Bharat Tandon in the Times Literary Supplement, by Tim Martin in the Independent, and by M John Harrison in the Guardian. Martin Amis shifts tone to write about the Soviet gulag -- or does he? Tandon thinks he hit his mark by adopting a more restrained style; Tim Martin thinks it sounds too much like a Martin Amis self-parody; Harrison thinks that the style "opens us into the central irony of most Amis novels, in which the issue of storytelling is always the issue of character, of self-interest and nuanced self-deception - narrative as the filthy Nabokovian stream from which the reader, like a shit-eater at the bottom of the labour camp food chain, must filter moral sustenance," which, I think, puts him in Martin's camp.
Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazier, reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post. Yardley thinks Frazier is overrated, and his latest is "corny" and "will be putting a lot of people to sleep." At that point, does it really matter what it's about?
On Agate Hill, by Lee Smith, reviewed by Donna Rifkind in the Washington Post. Oh look, another post-Civil War novel -- this time, it's about a girl coming of age in 1880s Appalchia. Rifkind singles out the way that Smith has "invented artifacts" to tell the story -- maybe it's the first time she's run across it.
"All Governments Lie": The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone, by Myra MacPherson, reviewed by Paul Berman in the New York Times. I.F. Stone was a journalist who debunked press coverage of the Vietnam war; he also may or may not have been a Soviet stooge. Berman thinks MacPherson's zealous defense of the man may have hurt him more than it helped him.
Liberty, by Lucy Moore, reviewed by Marianne Brace in the Independent. Moore has written six portraits of women who lived through the French Revolution. Brace calls it a "lively narrative full of pungent details."