The Missing

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Joyce Carol Oates’s vast oeuvre draws extensively on 20th-century American history. This, her 51st novel, unflinchingly portrays the human impact, on both soldiers and civilians, of the war in Iraq. Carthage (not the ancient city, but the small town outside New York) begins with a desperate search for Cressida Mayfield. The difficult, ethereal, Escher-obsessed 19-year-old […]

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Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Free, Willy Vlautin’s fourth novel, begins with a failed suicide attempt. Leroy Kervin, an Iraq veteran whose mind was ‘caved in by war’ seven years ago, suddenly regains mental clarity and opts for a permanent way out. He is discovered by Freddie, the night watchman at his care home, and subsequently looked after in […]

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Johnsey Alone

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Johnsey Cunliffe is a young Tipperary man with a disability that has rendered him somewhat lumbering and, in everyone’s estimation (including his own), simple. Despite this, the third-person narrative voice casually slips into Johnsey’s thoughts and argot, and in doing so raises a question about whether he really is simple or merely naive and unable […]

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Papa and His Girls

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Naomi Wood’s second novel has taken an entirely different direction from her first, The Godless Boys, which explored religious and atheist extremism in an alternative-reality England of the 1980s. Mrs Hemingway tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s four marriages, allotting sections in sequence to Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh. Though all […]

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Will’s War

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In a photograph publicising Granta’s list of the best young British novelists in 2013, Adam Foulds stood out as the only author wearing a suit and tie. Against the swath of colour displayed by the other writers, he cut an austere, faintly T S Eliot-ish figure in a dark navy suit. Foulds’s prose possesses a […]

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Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The rediscovery of Hans Fallada in the English-speaking world provides an intriguing case study of retrospective canon formation. After a troubled, unsettled life shaped in turns by morphine, alcohol, prison, suicide attempts and sheer bad luck, Rudolf Ditzen (Hans Fallada was a pen name taken from the Brothers Grimm) died in obscurity in 1947. While […]

Here, There & Everywhere

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A dozen or so years ago a reviewer compared the French edition of my novel Shadows of Empire to one by Michel Déon, Les Poneys Sauvages. Naturally I read it and was happy to find it very good indeed. I said as much to my French niece, who replied, ‘Yes, Déon’s excellent, but you really must […]

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Reds in Bed

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The New York borough of Queens is home to one of the 20th century’s more distinctive ruins, the site of the 1939–40 and 1964–5 World’s Fairs at Flushing Meadow. Not much of either event remains – some wide, optimistic boulevards, a skeletal globe (the ‘Unisphere’), a science pavilion, now a museum. A geodesic dome by […]

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When Harry Met Mamoon

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What with the screenwriting and the creative-writing professorships, Hanif Kureishi’s career as a writer of fiction has rather stalled of late. Beyond his psychiatrist’s-couch novel, Something to Tell You (2008), the attentive reader would have to go all the way back to the 2002 short-story collection, The Body, for evidence of any sustained commitment to […]

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Freedom of Expression in Russia

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In December Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (LR, November 2012), members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, were released from prison in an amnesty. But as President Vladimir Putin made clear at a press conference: This is not a revision of the court ruling by any means … The amnesty has nothing to do […]


Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Pula, an Italianate harbour town in northern Croatia, I found James Joyce seated on a terrace beside a ruined Roman arch. The bronze is outside Uliks (‘Ulysses’), a little Art Nouveau cafe in what was once the Berlitz school. The 22-year-old spent five months teaching English there to Austro-Hungarian naval officers in 1904–5, living […]

The Sumpsons

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One day in August 2005 two fans of The Simpsons were invited along to a read-through of a forthcoming episode. Maths professors Sarah Greenwald and Andrew Nestler enjoyed things well enough, but the show’s writers weren’t altogether happy with their script. Good though the baseball-centred ‘Marge and Homer Turn a Couple Play’ was, it didn’t […]

Our Friends in the North

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 18 September, people eligible and registered to vote in Scotland (including 16- and 17-year-olds) will be asked ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ This year’s independence referendum provides the impetus for these two books. In both cases, the writers have had to scrutinise the past in order to contextualise the present. This means that […]

This Dissected Isle

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The British Studies seminar at the University of Texas has been running for nearly forty years, and this is the eighth collection of lectures given to it. Since recycling is all the rage, some of the contents of this volume may be familiar to readers of various literary periodicals in which they have appeared as […]

But Is It a Colour?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Although there have not so far been quite enough publications to establish ‘books on colour’ as a full-blown literary genre, there is no longer much sense of novelty about such essays. Alexander Theroux’s delightful and idiosyncratic studies The Primary Colors and The Secondary Colors are probably the best of the titles to tackle the full […]

Risky Business

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I recently played the strategy board game Risk for the first time in many years. After the first desultory moves I informed my companions that from then on I was going to use Clausewitz as my guide, hoping they might be intimidated. I was the first to be knocked out. If there is one lesson from […]

An Elephant Never Forgotten

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Jumbo, the African elephant, was a Victorian celebrity. John Sutherland has not attempted to write Jumbo’s biography, nor to supersede previous biographies. Instead he aims at what he calls a ‘kind of fantasia’, or an ‘elephantasia’, an approach that is ‘more free-ranging’ and ‘egotistical’.

Hell is Other Peoples

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It may be mere coincidence that the author of Racisms bears the same surname as the Norman knight Jean de Béthencourt, the first European to make colonial conquests in the Atlantic. The earlier Béthencourt set out in 1402 to subdue the Canary Islands – known in the parlance of the conquerors as ‘The Fortunate Isles’, […]

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