Scott Westerfeld is absolutely correct in his complaint about the Observer review.
I think one of the very best things about The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which is incidentally the best 2007 novel I have read so far (in any genre — it is quite reasonably a candidate so far for Pulitzer, Hugo, and Edgar at once) — is the very subtle way it introduces and reveals the ways its history differs from ours. And the numerous small details of those differences that slowly appear.
Niall, I’m not that surprised that Mars-Jones knows Pavane; his first collection of stories (the only examples of his fiction I’ve read) certainly included science fictional work, and I’m pretty sure he’s reviewed sf before in a non-condescending way. This of course does not stop him being completely wrongheaded about the Chabon. What is actually interesting about the book is the way he builds his world. By tellling the story in Yiddish he actually has two new worlds to reveal to (most of) his readers, the Jewish world and the alternate world. What he does, very cleverly, is bounce off the two, so that as he tells you something about, say, the Jewish world you realise that it is also revealing something of the alternate world, and vice versa. It is a very complex piece of structure, and he does it superbly well. As Rich says, clearly one of the best novels of 2007.
Just listened to the BBC Lovecraft program (taped, as it clashed with something else when broadcast). Rather suprised by Peter Straub’s comment that amateur journalism no longer exists as HPL knew it, apart, perhaps, from blogging. Has Straub never encountered sf fanzines or apas? I wonder what all those boxes of paper I’ve move in the spare room are? (Acnestis, Prophecy,Pieces of Eight, DNA, The Organisation, accumulated over 15 or more years. Ah, the bygone joys of dead tree blogging by snail mail)