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Reviewers make no secret of their love for Pullman's sequel

The Week in Review

Philip Pullman's The Secret Commonwealth (Penguin/David Fickling) has dusted off a series of rave reviews, with critics describing the sequel to 2017's La Belle Sauvage as "ablaze with light and life", "nearly miraculous" and "a cracking story". In the Times, Leaf Arbuthnot praised Pullman's "rewarding as ever" prose, describing it as "spare, but never cold; flexible enough to carry all the different genres he pours into his paragraphs: folklore, theology, romance and so on," while Marianne Levy in the i agreed, adding, "The writing is exquisite; every sentence sings [...] To read Pullman is to experience the world refreshed, aglow, in Technicolor."

However, some wondered if it could be considered a children's book, with the Sunday Times' Nicolette Jones stating, "The emotion it predominantly explores is a grown-up kind of love," and Arbuthnot conceding "the book asks a lot of its readers". But critics were sure fans of the original trilogy wouldn't be disappointed. "If, like me, you are content simply to bathe in [Pullman's world], thrilling at every new character or situation," wrote Philip Womack in the Literary Review, "then you will be delighted."

Dominic Sandbrook's Who Dares Wins: Britain 1979-1982 (Allen Lane) also thatchered itself a four-star rating, with Anthony Quinn in the Guardian describing the historian's focus in the three years that brought the nation a new Conservative government and the packet sandwich as "even-handed and enjoyable", while Piers Brendon in the Sunday Times praised it as "a rich mixture of political narrative and social reportage" adding, "It is scholarly, accessible, well-written, witty and incisive." Critics also commended Sandbrook's use of a wide range of historical sources, from the Adrian Mole books to "every edition of the Times, the Guardian, the Mirror and the Express from the early 1980s" plus "countless other newspapers and magazines, from the Sun to Smash Hits".

Zadie Smith's Grand Union (Hamish Hamilton), the author's first collection of short stories, was an ideal marriage for many reviewers, with Martin Chilton in the Independent writing, "Smith’s dialogue crackles with mordant wit" and Kate Clanchy in the Guardian stating, "There is no moment in Grand Union when we are not entertained, or doubt that we are in the company of one of our best contemporary writers." Claire Harman in the Evening Standard felt Smith was a natural for the format—"Why has she waited all this time to write short? It’s the perfect form for someone with so many ideas and a playful streak."

Kiera O'Brien, Charts Editor, The Bookseller

Philip Pullman

3.66 out of 5

13 reviews

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

Dominic Sandbrook

4.27 out of 5

6 reviews

The acclaimed historian of modern Britain, Dominic Sandbrook, tells the story of the early 1980s: the most dramatic, colourful and controversial years in our recent history.

Zadie Smith

3.59 out of 5

10 reviews

The first ever collection of stories from the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Swing Time and White Teeth, Zadie Smith.