Jabeur Mejri

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There’s no freedom of expression here in Tunisia, it is dead … I am denied medicine to cure my illness and other rights. Seven years and six months is a long period to spend in a small, dark and gloomy place. Officers take pleasure in torturing me. These are the words of Jabeur Mejri, an […]

Missionary Position

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Michael Arditti’s picturesque imagining of the Philippines under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos adds a plausibility to this philosophical thriller. In The Breath of Night, the ingeniously complex, finally astonishing plot concerns the ministry, radicalisation and mysterious disappearance in the Philippines of Father Julian Tremayne, son of an aristocratic Catholic family from County Durham, a […]

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A Stitch in Time

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘It was all because of a small slip in time, the whole story,’ we’re told at the beginning of Perfect, the engaging follow-up to Rachel Joyce’s quirky bestselling debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. In 1972, Byron Hemming, an imaginative 11-year-old, worries when his clever best friend, James, informs him that two seconds are […]

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Stone Agonistes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Rather threadbare as a love story, Grace McCleen’s swelling second novel takes literature as its passion: how to make it, how to read it, how to feel it in your bones. Barely a page goes by without a dab of Milton or T S Eliot. This is in itself no bad thing – great novels […]

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Bad Romance

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

At a 1960s New York drinks party, Constance Schuyler, a young publisher, meets Sidney Klein, a professor of poetry twenty years her senior. Attracted by her fragile beauty – ‘her porcelain limbs and startled eyes and her sudden throaty laughter’ – he woos her with the sort of lines one might expect of a professor […]

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Young at Heart

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What kind of novel does The Ocean at the End of the Lane think it is? The blurb heralding its release trumpets: ‘It has been eight years since his last novel for adults, The Sunday Times bestseller Anansi Boys.’ The Ocean at the End of the Lane doesn’t exactly read in an ‘adult’ way. While […]

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Escape Kit

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Reviewing The Quarry has been a sombre task. In April, Iain Banks announced that he was suffering from terminal cancer, so I read the book in the near certainty that this was his last novel; then came the news that he had died, hours before the first advance review, having asked his publishers to bring […]

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Teenage Dirtbags

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘I did not pan out,’ declares the narrator of Sam Lipsyte’s second novel, Home Land, at the outset of the high school alumni newsletter that forms the book. By now, with his fifth work, it has come to seem the quintessential Lipsyte refrain; he is a specialist in no-hopers. The Fun Parts, his new collection of […]

Party Politics

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Charlotte Grimshaw’s fiction, characters come and go and then come again. Her 2009 short-story collection, Singularity, reacquainted us with old friends from her previous collection, Opportunity (2007). If Singularity was a companion piece to Opportunity, then her latest novel, Soon, is a sequel of sorts to The Night Book (2010), featuring as it does […]

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Big Trouble in a Little Kibbutz

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There’s a sad irony in the title of this linked collection of short stories set on a kibbutz in the 1950s. For the outsider and the eccentric, the closeness of the kibbutz society ‘offers no remedies for loneliness’. Zvi, a friendless bachelor, thrives on reports of death and disaster, as if bad news makes his […]

The Quiet Life

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Overlooked on its first publication in the US almost half a century ago, John L Williams’s fourth novel nevertheless failed to disappear from literary consciousness. Instead it lingered on in the minds of a few devotees. ‘Why isn’t this book famous?’ C P Snow, himself the author of a fine university novel or two, begged […]

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Coming of Age

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Stuart Nadler has come out swinging, to use a suitably well-worn American expression. His debut novel, Wise Men (Picador 335pp £14.99) is an admirably bold piece of work, crowded with hefty all-American themes, which strives for continent-sized significance. Such audacity could very well have backfired, so it is to Nadler’s great credit that he just […]

To the Mad House

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The modern English provincial novel is a many-headed beast of a literary category. It is a genre that subsumes, among others, the knowing, satirical denunciations of Kingsley Amis; the sardonic ennui of Alan Sillitoe and David Storey; the tender social complexities of Penelope Fitzgerald; and the historically incisive fictions of Graham Swift. Sometimes it seems […]

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Dining Out

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Raymond Sokolov, then of Newsweek, was the first English-language journalist to notice and write about the radical things that were happening in the kitchens of French chefs in the early 1970s. He spotted Paul Bocuse and Michel Guérard well before the rest of us had any idea what was going on – indeed, he ate […]

Clearing the Head

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

According to modern science, we live in a material world. Everything that happens depends on the play of fundamental particles moving in strict accord with the laws of physics. Nothing is exempt. Stars, rainbows, plant growth, animal behaviour and the antics of our own exquisite selves are all essentially physical processes. If it doesn’t seem […]

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A Man of Fine Taste

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, or Horace as we call him, no longer occupies a central place in our literary landscape. The loss is ours, says the author of this wonderful, touching, highly personal new dual biography. Horace can be your friend for life, as an impressive variety of people have found, from Wordsworth to Voltaire, Petrarch […]

Scapegoats

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘The jew is underneath the lot,’ wrote the poet. Fundamental and excremental have something in common. The charge of anti-Semitism has been laid with voluminous regularity against the great thinkers and artists of the Western tradition. The Christian world has wrestled, ever since AD superseded BC, with the debt (seemingly indistinguishable from the curse) of […]

Ever Closer

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 21 June 1788, New Hampshire ratified the draft US Constitution and, as the ninth of nine states necessary, thus formally established it. A thousand men paraded through the streets of Philadelphia, ‘bearing aloft a Greek temple with thirteen pillars; solemn speeches were delivered and cannon fire sounded’. But it had not been all plain […]

Benjamin by the Sea

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s 1957 and the musical avant-garde is in full swing. Pierre Boulez is dyna-miting the 19th-century furnishings. Karlheinz Stockhausen is wiring up the concert hall. John Cage has dispensed with sound itself. Benjamin Britten, meanwhile, withdraws to a house overlooking a golf course and offers the world Noye’s Fludde, a children’s opera whose only concession […]

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