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The Arrest Reviews

The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem

The Arrest

Jonathan Lethem

3.91 out of 5

6 reviews

Imprint: Ecco Press
Publisher: Ecco Press
Publication date: 10 Nov 2020
ISBN: 9780062938787

From the award-winning author of The Feral Detective and Motherless Brooklyn comes an utterly original post-collapse yarn about two siblings, the man that came between them, and a nuclear-powered super car.

  • The ObserverBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Alex Preston
1 Dec 2020

"It is, in short, a blast"

The thing about the best Lethem novels – and I’m thinking back to early in his career, to Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude – is that they were such fun. I’ve read everything he’s written since and rarely has a novel approached the sheer pleasure of The Arrest. This is a dystopian novel in thrall to its own genre, full of knockabout comic book bravado, with regular knowing nods to literary and cinematic history. 


4 stars out of 5
Stuart Kelly
19 Dec 2020

"Lethem’s latest novel juggles dystopia, folk horror, sentimentality, revenge plot and much else besides"

The Arrest is a very wry, very smart novel — every wink and twist is pre-empted. For all the genre shenanigans it has a proper purpose. The apocalypse, in a way, has always already happened. ‘The self’s a howling counterfeit, an arena where no show goes on, a parenthesis with nothing inside,’ declares Todbaum. One wonders to how many of us that might apply.

3 stars out of 5
15 Dec 2020

"Lethem has fun with his fish-out-of-water farce"

Lethem has fun with his fish-out-of-water farce, spinning it in odd directions. The kibbutz’s cobbler has so many problems that the town shrink is drowning in shoes. Then again, the pre-barter economy hardly made sense either, reliant on live lobsters being airlifted to Paris and sea anemones to Japan, where they were snapped up as a hedge against impotence.

4 stars out of 5
Catherine Taylor
4 Dec 2020

"A dystopian tale about capitalist rivalry and humankind’s collective failure"

The Arrest is as much a novel of old-school capitalist rivalry and success as it is of humankind’s collective failure as custodians of this planet. “It was a season of burning leaves, burning light. Heaps of things burning.” Sentence by sentence, Lethem is sheer visual delight.

5 stars out of 5
Sam Leith
14 Nov 2020

"This smartly self-knowing dystopian tale looks at a version of America that gives up and dies. What’s left in the wasteland to come?"

The Arrest is a dystopian story which is looped through with anxious jokes about how dystopian stories work. It has salty asides about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, for instance, and when Lethem writes the phrase “a television tuned to a dead channel” en passant he knows that every William Gibson reader will recognise the opening line of Neuromancer. Todbaum even seems to think that – in the dystopian parallel-worlds film script he and Journeyman worked on but never made – he might have narrated the Arrest into being.

3 stars out of 5
Stephanie Cross
13 Nov 2020

"this novel imagines a world where technology has failed"

Lethem, best known for the neo-noir Motherless Brooklyn, is an eye-catching phrasemaker of some panache; the jokes here are good, and there’s a sharp Hollywood satire bubbling somewhere under the surface.

If part of the point of The Arrest is that we love our apocalypses neatly packaged, then Lethem deserves credit for refusing to play along: his inimitable imagination never stops delivering curveballs. But as to the rest of the point? I was baffled.