Getting Down to the Bare Bones

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Scottish crime writer Val McDermid is a fan of forensic scientists. She points out that they ‘are willing to engage with the darkest and most frightening aspect of human behaviour on a daily basis’ and make sacrifices for the sake of justice. They appreciate their champion too. McDermid played a crucial role in mobilising […]

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Nobble Concerns

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Philip Murdstone is the author of sensitive, award-winning young-adult novels that don’t sell. Living on Dartmoor, in love with his agent, Minerva, and in despair, he is told that he must write a fantasy novel or die in poverty.

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Travels with My Elephant

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Jahan, the narrator of this richly textured, lusciously expansive historical novel, begins and ends the book by running away, seeking a peace that will never come. He escapes from his abusive stepfather and arrives (thanks to an English captain who works for the Ottomans) in 16th-century Istanbul, a ‘city of slanders and echoes’. It is […]

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Wheel of Fortune

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Barbara Parker, the protagonist of Nick Hornby’s new novel, is, we are told, ‘pin-up sexy, all legs and bosoms and blonde hair’. She is also a talented and quick-witted actress who, escaping her hometown of Blackpool on the day when she wins the town’s beauty contest, comes to London in 1964 to seek her fortune. […]

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Death Comes at the Beginning

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The End of Days, the new novel by German writer and opera director Jenny Erpenbeck, starts at the turn of the 20th century, with the accidental death of an eight-month-old Jewish girl in Galicia. Traumatised by this loss, her father flees to America and her abandoned mother becomes a prostitute. At this point, Erpenbeck pauses […]

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Lives on the Edge

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As a novelist Rose Tremain is remarkable for the range and vibrancy of her fiction, her ability to move between form, time, gender and genre. Short stories are a perfect showcase for her talents. Her fifth collection, The American Lover, includes an anxious 19th-century fisherman, an imaginative evocation of a role model for Mrs Danvers, […]

The Gramps Shuffle

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Richard Ford once confessed to John Updike that had Updike not shown that a multi-volume, decades-spanning suburban saga centred on an American everyman could be written, Ford’s own, hugely feted Bascombe series – of which Let Me Be Frank with You is the fourth and arguably best instalment – would never have materialised. Like the […]

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Tape Measures

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The exemplary creative writers of our time – we may as well admit it – are not the novelists but the computer coders. As algorithms and subroutines have become the infrastructure of our daily digital lives, the writers of code have fulfilled the novelist’s dream, building alternate worlds out of language. Does it matter that […]

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One from the Heartland

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

You wait for years to read a trilogy set in Iowa and then two come along at once. This autumn, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila completes her searching trilogy of redemption and spirituality in fictional Gilead, Iowa; Jane Smiley’s Some Luck is the first volume of The Last One Hundred Years, her Iowa-centric saga of American life […]

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Erol Ozkoray

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 23 September Erol Ozkoray, a Turkish journalist, publisher and intellectual, received a suspended sentence of eleven months and twenty days in prison, after being accused of defaming the authoritarian president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his book about the Gezi Park protests. In May 2013, a small group of environmental campaigners conducted a […]

Consider the Paperclip

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What links ‘weis’, ‘regal’, ‘herculean reversible’ and ‘owl’ or, for that matter, ‘caoutchouc’, ‘hevea’, ‘olli’ and ‘kik’? If you’ve already cried out ‘paperclips’ and ‘substances used to make erasers’ you’ll probably enjoy Adventures in Stationery, James Ward’s debut, for the satisfaction of having your impressive knowledge of the history and development of stationery confirmed. Ward […]

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Voice of the Beehive

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are few apiarian observances that appeal to the imagination like the practice of ‘telling the bees’. Making its way from Britain to the USA in the 19th century, the tradition held that on the occasion of death or marriage, tidings should be carried to the bees and their hives decorated appropriately. It’s not difficult […]

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Flak Jacket to Dust Jacket

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Men at War, Christopher Coker, a professor of international relations at the LSE, picks over the last three thousand years of warfare in literature to see ‘what fiction tells us about war’s hold on the imagination of young men and the way it makes – and breaks – them’. From The Iliad to World […]

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Surrender Junkies

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In October 1964, audiences all over America gathered to watch a film entitled The Americanization of Emily. Directed by Arthur Hiller, it starred celebrated movie personalities Julie Andrews (playing Emily, who enjoys living a decadent, ‘American’ lifestyle), James Garner, Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn. The film is a playful defence of cowardice. Set in wartime […]

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No Place like Home

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If he were on the Left, Roger Scruton would be one of our towering public intellectuals; but it is a peculiarity of our age that conservative thinkers occupy a space beyond the mental horizons of most commissioning editors. There will always be right-wing columnists of the Richard Littlejohn variety, but a right-wing professor whose writings […]

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Old Masters

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In their preface to Twelve Voices from Greece and Rome, Christopher Pelling and Maria Wyke say that they were encouraged by participants in a Radio 3 series ‘to produce this book in which we explore the modern relevance of twelve Greek and Roman authors’. Whatever encouragement they received, this is not a promising opening. One […]

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Tales of the Workhouse

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Family history – as Alison Light pithily observes in her intriguing addition to a thriving genre – is an addictive enterprise. Since 1990, family history searches have become the third most popular area of activity online in Britain (after shopping and pornography). Only the social level has undergone a change. Where obsequious librarians used to […]

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Final Words

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As a surgeon at a leading American hospital and professor of surgery at Harvard, Atul Gawande enjoys a high-status, well-paid and privileged position in society. And yet, for his fourth book, he has chosen one of the lowest-status and most neglected subjects: dying. Thank goodness that he has. Gawande is not, by a long chalk, […]

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In Royal Company

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As a child, I listened entranced to a radio serialisation of David Scott Daniell’s historical novel Hunt Royal. Both the story and the accompanying music by Purcell were thrilling. This tale of Charles II’s escape after the Battle of Worcester, related by the king himself to his wife and courtiers, was full of romance and […]

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