Humane Conditions

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Most twists come at the end. Not so in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, where the big reveal happens on page 77, a little under a quarter of the way through. I could review the novel without giving this reveal away. I could ramp up its universal themes and praise, vaguely, Karen Joy Fowler’s […]

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Father Afield

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As an account of fatherhood, David Nicholls’s new novel probably won’t receive the critical plaudits lavished upon Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, in which the Norwegian author chronicles, among other things, his attempts to write a masterpiece while knee-deep in nappies. Yet the experience of Nicholls’s protagonist, Douglas Petersen, is surely more common: leaving the […]

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Secret Lives

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Like David Mitchell’s Booker-shortlisted Cloud Atlas from 2004, his latest novel, The Bone Clocks, is a terrific feat of literary engineering. The first section of the book is the least successful. It’s 1984 and fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes, who lives in a pub in Gravesend, runs away after a row with her mother. Holly is an […]

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Nuclear Family

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Swedish journalist Jonas Jonasson’s second novel, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, hurtles along with all the energy, pace and improbability of his first, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Jonasson doesn’t try anything different here, which is perhaps understandable given his debut’s extraordinary sale of eight million […]

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Beyond Hemingway

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Uncertain Glory focuses on the most significant period in Catalonia’s 20th-century history, the Spanish Civil War. The novel describes the journey of four young people, from ‘the uncertain glory of an April day’, 14 April 1931, when the republic was proclaimed with flags, barricades and hope, to the desolation of the inglorious collapse of the […]

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Fate Train

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

First published in France in 2008, Mathias Enard’s novel Zone caught the attention of Anglophone readers two years later, when Charlotte Mandell’s masterful translation was printed by an Ameri-can press, Open Letter Books. This new British edition not only broadens the book’s potential audience, but also marks the birth of a new publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions, […]

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Lonely Planets

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Book of Strange New Things is, according to Canongate, Michel Faber’s first novel in fourteen years. This is not true – The Crimson Petal and the White was published in 2002, The Fire Gospel in 2008 – but, regardless, Faber’s reputation has only increased in the hiatus. The Crimson Petal and the White was […]

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Balm for Gilead

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Theories of reality abound. Many are dismissed, while others become dominant and even, for a time, unquestionable. Cartesian dualism, 19th-century materialist science, hyper-subjective modernism, Einsteinian relativity, the Borgesian realms of quantum physics: these are defined as ‘secular’ realities, though all require a leap of faith. Then there are the ‘religious’ realities of prevailing creeds. The […]

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Getting On

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It seems apt that Colm Tóibín should have written a novel with an eponymous heroine. Such novels often unfasten their central characters from the worlds they inhabit (think of Clarissa or Anna Karenina), establishing a kind of literary isolation that belies social or familial ties. Tóibín has always excelled in writing about this type of […]

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X Marks the Spot

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Enlightening Symbols is mostly a historical study of the mathematical symbols we encounter in school arithmetic and elementary algebra, informed by a larger interest in the formidable utility mathematical symbols possess. What it offers is not a general or theoretical study of mathematical symbols per se (which the title might suggest), but an informative, highly […]

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Pablo & Paul

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Paul Rosenberg was the Parisian art dealer who orchestrated the career of Pablo Picasso, becoming his impresario, spokesperson, intermediary and close friend. ‘Picasso and Rosenberg promoted each other,’ explains his granddaughter Anne Sinclair. Rosenberg created Picasso’s image while Picasso was responsible for ‘definitively establishing the reputation of my grandfather’s gallery’. Picasso knew that if he […]

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Movers & Makers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 2008 Sarah Thornton, then chief reporter on contemporary art for The Economist, published Seven Days in the Art World, a brisk but informative account of time spent among artists, dealers, collectors and museum curators. Although the book was framed unconvincingly as an ethnography of this exotic milieu, and had little of note to say […]

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Head in the Cloud

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For several years, Professor Susan Greenfield has been concerned about the negative impact of digital technology on the mind and brain, particularly those of young people, and has been forthright when disseminating her views in the media. Although she continues to resist the simple bar of entry for a scientific theory, the submission of a […]

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Ship of Tears

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The starting point of this astonishing book is Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno. While teaching it in a university seminar, Greg Grandin discovered that Melville’s tale – unlike the much more celebrated Moby-Dick – is based on a true story. Grandin set out to learn more, and his extensive research uncovered such surprising facts that […]

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The Eagle Spreads Its Wings

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I remember an evening in the 1980s spent with some hip young Brits when I was trying to convince them that it was possible to be a hip American. (Back then, American youths were seen by hip Little Englanders as stylistic savages, primitives engaged in such barbaric practices as wearing Grateful Dead T-shirts and blue jeans.) […]

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Monster with a Moustache

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Christopher Frayling – ‘the most wide-ranging cultural historian of our times’, according to his publisher – is right to point out in this informative but also absurd book that negative, even if intended to be ‘funny’, references to the Chinese persist today. In 1986, when the Queen was in China, Prince Philip cautioned British students […]

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Where the Hearth Is

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What does ‘home’ mean? Home is ‘a state of being, as well as the place where one lives or one’s place of origin’, writes Judith Flanders. The peoples of northwest Europe all have words that distinguish between ‘house’ and ‘home’. Southern Europeans do not. They have no words for ‘home’ (it may just have something […]

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Fighting Spirit

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Bouts of Mania tells the story of the bruising encounters – in and out of the ring – between three heavyweight boxing champions: Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. It’s a tale of boxing’s last golden era, when these three giants slugged it out and the world watched in wonder. Their story is tied […]

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Front Row at the Security Theatre

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Our current safety culture, growing like kudzu weed, is based on two misunderstandings: that 100 per cent safety is achievable and that if something goes wrong it’s always someone’s fault. The first is easy. We live at the bottom of a deep gravity well on a small piece of rock whirling round a colossal fusion […]

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Dasein Explained

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

You might think, before seeing this book, that the title is a joke. And given the ‘ludic’ tendencies of some contemporary European philosophers, up to a point you would be right. But as soon as you actually see – and, more impressively, weigh – the Dictionary of Untranslatables, you will realise that it is quite […]

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