Portly Love

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sir Humphrey du Val is consigned to the lowest, worst-served place in Camelot, along with all those considered too drunk, too doddery or simply too inept to go questing. For fifteen years, he has been at the Table of Less Valued Knights, overlooked and humiliated at each feast of the Pentecost. When the novel begins, […]

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Duras’s Lodger

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the olden days, before creative-writing courses, a young man with a yen to be a novelist would head to Paris. Once there, he would stock up on Gauloises, head to Les Deux Magots and, with intense concentration, attempt to absorb osmotically whatever genius loci had proved so inspirational to Sartre & Co. Occasionally, a […]

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Lives of Others

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Colin Barrett’s debut collection, which last month won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, is a triumph. We are mostly in Glanbeigh, a decrepit Irish town whose elemental properties seem to be pebble dash, dried blood, lipstick and drink. But the final scenes take pleasure in shifting the ground beneath the reader, leaving him […]

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Making a Splash

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Some science-fiction stories have been deployed so frequently that it seems as if they might be utterly exhausted. The ‘first contact’ narrative is one such: aliens arrive on Earth and are either malevolent (go, humanity!) or peaceful, whereupon we silly primates act aggressively towards them (oh, humanity!). It is therefore especially commendable when a writer […]

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Lost Dirty Realist

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The eighth edition of Granta, the ‘Dirty Realism’ issue in 1983, celebrated ‘a generation of American authors who write about the belly-side of contemporary life … and have single-handedly revitalised the short story’. Breece Pancake’s first collection appeared in the same year. Joyce Carol Oates hailed ‘a young writer of such extraordinary gifts that one […]

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Douglas on the Dole

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Alan Warner is among the impressive number of Scottish writers ushered into print by Jonathan Cape’s influential editor Robin Robertson. Partly for that reason, as well as for his past interest in disrupting ideas of standard English, he is often grouped with James Kelman and Irvine Welsh. But Warner cuts a more restless figure than […]

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Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As the prize season approaches, publishers’ marketing departments go into overdrive. Yet, arguably, Virago may be correct in speculating that The Paying Guests is ‘the most anticipated book of 2014’, given Waters’s legions of hardcore fans and her consistent critical track record. Each of her five previous historical novels has either been shortlisted for or […]

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Prison Break

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Don’t human beings amaze you?’ The question, which is posed close to the end of Shame and the Captives, could encapsulate Thomas Keneally’s entire body of work. From his autobiographical debut, The Place at Whitton, published fifty years ago, to 2012’s The Daughters of Mars, his writing has been fuelled by a fascination with fact […]

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Friends Reunited

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There has always been a strong – you might even say defining – tension in the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s fictional world between Murakami the pop surrealist, revelling in off-the-wall fantasies and reality shifts (as in A Wild Sheep Chase, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84), and Murakami […]

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Alexander Sodiqov

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Tajikistan’s poor record on free expression seems to have deteriorated further over the past year. The authorities restrict media freedom and routinely target journalists for their work. Opposition figures are imprisoned and critical voices are silenced through intimidation or murder. The act of publicly insulting the president carries a prison term of up to five […]

Koranic Derivatives

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mecca’s had a makeover. The city towards which Muslims have been praying for over 1,400 years has a new focal point. Seven skyscrapers now surround its Grand Mosque, and at their centre stands a clock tower similar to Big Ben, only six times bigger and eight million LEDs brighter. Countless balconies now overlook Islam’s sanctum […]

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Studying the Sharia

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In this erudite and provocative new book Jonathan Brown has set out to compose ‘a sort of paean to an intellectual and religious tradition that nurtured a light of wisdom not only for its own adherents but for outsiders as well’. This is a bold ambition, for the tradition Brown comes to praise is that […]

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Greek Chic

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The ancient Greeks refuse to go away. The appearance of a new novel, play or opera on a Greek theme has become almost a weekly occurrence. In each of these three publications, the relationship with ancient literature takes a different form. But all three works recycle narratives about Greek heroes whose actions were first described […]

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Deep Frieze

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s rare you encounter a bombshell in the well-ploughed fields of classical scholarship, but the 21st-century proof that the Parthenon sculptures were once coated in bright paint certainly qualifies as such. Johann Winckelmann, father of art history, celebrated Athens’s greatest monument as the ripe fruit of Greece’s new democracy with a picture of pure, unsullied […]

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Laugh? I Nearly Died

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Astudent goes into his grandmother’s bedroom and starts humping her. When his father comes in to give him a good clout for being so disgusting, the son says, “Well, you hump my mother, why can’t I hump yours?”’ I’ve adapted this old Roman joke into modern vernacular, but still, I confess, I find it so […]

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And Then There Was One

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The idea that Roman emperors spent their time engaged in or recovering from orgies is highly misleading. In 29 BC, a merchant ship anchored off a fishing village on the small, obscure Greek island of Gyaros and a local fisherman boarded. He was an ambassador for the community. His mission was to importune the emperor […]

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Collecting Cuttlefish on Lesbos

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Aristotle and Plato – their names conjure up thoughts of stone busts showing serene elderly men with long curly beards. Perhaps these revered Greek philosophers really did look like that at some stage in their lives, but according to the evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi, Plato was so irascible that he once threw his favourite […]

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Band of Bohemians

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘On or about December 1910,’ according to Virginia Woolf, ‘human character changed.’ Modernism took hold. December 1910 is the terminus ad quem of Sue Roe’s history, which seeks to argue that ‘the real revolution in the arts first took place not, as is commonly supposed, in the 1920s, to the accompaniment of the Charleston, black […]

Treasure Seekers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Most of the Victorians whom we still admire thought that 19th-century Britain had its values in a bad knot. Indeed, that ‘Victorian’ persists in modern political discourse as a term meaning something like ‘heedless and self-righteous complacency’ must be largely down to the achievement of the Victorian intelligentsia, almost all of whom thought that their […]

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