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the Complete Review

The Most Underrated Books at
the complete review

     As an objectively opinionated survey of books old and new the complete review is not always in agreement with popular (or critical) opinion. Here we give you an opportunity to see what books the critics loved and the complete review didn't:
     Books are listed by degree of disagreement -- those which the critics liked best and the complete review hated most listed first.

  • For an explanation of our grading system, see our Grades page.
  • Check out the highest rated books under review.
  • Check out the lowest rated books under review.

Underrated (?) Books:

  • Max Barry's Jennifer Government is among the most dismal excuses for a book we've reviewed on this site -- a good idea, but so lazily executed and so poorly written that we were stunned that any editor or publisher would risk whatever reputation they might have on publishing it in this form. Further amazement followed with the critical reaction -- it wasn't exactly unanimous, but most were willing to overlook the books many faults (though most mentioned at least some) and claimed they had a jolly good time reading it. We can't believe it -- apparently these people have never enjoyed an actual book.

  • Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, and has gotten many glowing reviews. Are the critics blinded by the subject matter ? The writing is solid enough, but the story did not impress us nearly as much.

  • It is the same translation, though they titled it Undercurrents in the US and Breathing Underwater in the UK. Whatever you want to call it, critics on both sides of the Atlantic gushed over Marie Darrieussecq's novel -- except the complete review, which couldn't get caught up in the tidal wave of praise. What was stylish, penetrating writing to most left us unmoved.

  • Lee Siegel's Love in a Dead Language has been generally praised to the skies. The complete review doesn't get it. Clever stuff, sure, and decently written parts, but a weak, weak story and too simplistic characters mean the book is much less than it could have been.

  • Everyone is enthusiastic about Jake Arnott's The Long Firm -- except the complete review. Arnott is praised for his authentic rendering of 1960s London and we just shake our heads in disbelief. Yes, he has an ear for dialogue, and there are some entertaining scenes, but it does not come together (hampered by five different narrators).

  • Yvonne Vera's Butterfly Burning is lyrical and brutal. The few critics who did review it loved it. The complete review certainly didn't. And the same now holds for her newer novel, The Stone Virgins. We just don't get it -- and can't appreciate her style.

  • Not everybody loved Marisha Pessl's début, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, but almost everyone was considerably more impressed than we were. Lots of literary (and pseudo-literary) title- and quote-dropping but hardly bookish, we find it hard to see what most of the fuss is about.

  • Jonathan Carroll is generally overlooked by the mainstream press, but The Wooden Sea finally got some coverage -- and everyone was enthusiastic about it. Except, apparently, the complete review. We're fans of most of Carroll's work, but found this to be among his weakest efforts, lazily tossed off, veering in too many directions, and absurdly over-ambitious (without anything approaching an adequate payoff).

  • Other than the complete review there is nary a voice criticizing Gloria Emerson's Loving Graham Greene. Emerson has some talents, but the successes in this book are few and far between. What do the reviewers see in it ? The complete review finds itself in disagreement with practically every word of praise they uttered. Baffling.

  • James Ellroy's American Tabloid was not universally loved, but the praise for it was generally effusive (and there were a few Book of the Year mentions). His sharp style has something going for it, but here it is just paranoid overkill.

  • High marks all around for William Sutcliffe's Are You Experienced ? -- except from the complete review. This can only be considered a convincing novel about backpacking in India by those who would not even consider going to the subcontinent. Some laughs, but it ultimately fails even as broad comedy.

  • We like Steve Erickson's work, but found The Sea came in at Midnight one of his weaker efforts. Not so the other critics, who could barely contain their acclaim. Millennial Angst ? Who knows. Erickson is often deserving of great praise, but not for this confused tale.

  • Not everyone loved Philip Kerr's The Second Angel, but most still gave him considerably more credit than the complete review could. Decent ideas, but badly presented -- and this from a man who was once such a promising writer.

  • Admittedly some were even more critical of Hilary Mantel's The Giant, O'Brien than the complete review. Others, however, praised it to the skies. Sorry, this is one of her weaker efforts, as she strays far too far from the subjects she handles well.

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