Postwar Blues

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In The Glass Room, which rightly earned a place on the Booker shortlist in 2009, Simon Mawer demonstrated a rare talent for nuance that lifted the book out of the simplistic confines of popular fiction. At its core is Mies van der Rohe’s magical modernist house, Tugendhat Villa, on the outskirts of Brno in what […]

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Hunger Artists

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

These novels from two Spanish writers born in the 1970s are so similar that it is a surprise to see they are published quite independently of each other. Both books focus on children fighting for their lives in hostile environments. Both open with these boys crouching terrified in holes in the ground. The two authors […]

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Life after Life after Life

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Kate Atkinson’s previous novel was the hugely popular Life after Life, in which Ursula Todd, born into an Edwardian Home Counties idyll called Fox Corner, was given the ability to begin her life again and again. Having it cut short by various lurid means, she was blessed with the luxury of alternative endings. In one […]

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Rich Man, Poor Man

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘This life,’ wails Gurpreet, the eldest of thirteen legal and not-so-legal Indian migrants sharing a tiny flat in north Sheffield, ‘it makes everything a competition. A fight. For work, for money … And it doesn’t matter how much stronger than everyone else you are, there’s always a fucking chamaar you have to share the work […]

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Love among the Drones

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Distance is the best form of defence, advises a fencing instructor in I Saw a Man. But Owen Sheers’s second novel suggests that, away from the piste, such an approach to life can come at a high ethical and psychological cost. Its protagonist, Michael Turner, is a young British writer who has made a name […]

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Four debuts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s fun to find a novel in which the emotional and physical topography is so clearly recognisable. The events of Claire Lowdon’s sharp debut, Left of the Bang, take place among the young and privileged of contemporary west London, a world with which I happen to be familiar (albeit as a chippy dinner guest or […]

Tails of the Unexpected

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Unexpected discoveries are the stuff of fairy tales: the story of The Turnip Princess’s metamorphosis from dusty manuscript to Penguin Classic is almost one in itself. Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–86) spent a number of years cataloguing tales told in the forests of eastern Bavaria, in order to preserve the area’s long-standing oral storytelling tradition. […]

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Un Ange Passe

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Milan Kundera writes in French nowadays, and the people he writes about are as French as the language used to describe them. But he has not lost the whimsical Czech sensibility of his earlier works. His characters are still uncertain as to why they exist or whether it was entirely fair of their author to […]

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On the Cusp

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mark Doty’s ninth collection displays his customary gift for empathic observation, collapsing the distance between poet and subject to establish an observance of both secular and sexual mysteries. This is accomplished through an intensity of sensual imagery and an ecstatic syntax, as in this passage about Jackson Pollock: … Forget supplication, beseechment, praise. Look down […]

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Like a Camel’s Fart

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Count the women! It has become a habit of our times. How many women are there in Parliament? How many sit on company boards? How many review books? The counting habit irritates those who take refuge in the idea of meritocracy and gnaws at those who think that equal representation matters. If you are one […]

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Give Us a Wave

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Behold, the sea itself/And on its limitless, heaving breasts, the ships’. Anyone who knows the stirring music that breaks over Walt Whitman’s words at the start of Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony will find the same salty exuberance in the pages of Tom Fort’s new book, charting his east to west coastal journey. Watery excursions […]

Dire Straits

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Virtually every music lover in the Anglo-American world has a memory of them: secular temples where lovers of jazz, rock, soul or symphonic music could gather to praise, damn, compare household saints and pay their respects. We called them record stores and they were a big part of growing up – of adulthood, even – […]

Lady Sings the Blues

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A recording from the 1950s captures Billie Holiday in conversation with some fellow musicians at a rehearsal. ‘I’m telling you,’ she says, ‘me and my old voice, it just go up a little bit and come down a little bit. It’s not legit.’ And she was right. With a vocal range barely stretching beyond an octave, […]

Germs of Thought

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

We reside, apparently, in the age of the ‘self’ – of selfies, self-help and self-perpetuating celebrities who luridly self-expose. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and everything that ebbs across the cyber-ether, we find compelling, sensitive or lunatic selves revealed to anyone who wants to ‘friend’ or follow them. The whole thing is teasingly Cartesian: we are […]

Conversations with the Dead

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the year 688, Bishop Julian of Toledo created a compilation of Christian teachings on the afterlife. This was an act of friendship for his fellow bishop Idalius, who was on his deathbed and filled with anxieties. The result was the Prognosticon futuri saeculi (‘A Medical Report on the Future World’). As its title suggests, […]

Dirt & Glory

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Which is the street that merits the accolade ‘The Street of Wonderful Possibilities’? Wall Street? Bond Street? Regent Street? Queer Street? Actually it has characteristics of all of these. Tite Street in Chelsea was created in the early 1870s out of the muddy thoroughfare connecting the new Chelsea Embankment to Royal Hospital Road. A decade […]

Unreliable Narrators

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

From the outset of his psychoanalytic project, Freud was aware of having been preceded by literature. The poets and philosophers, he would often say, had shown the unconscious at work long before he made it an object of scientific curiosity. And in many ways literature was and is more intimate with the unconscious than psychoanalysis, […]

No Choice in the Matter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Free will is an issue of pressing social and political importance,’ writes Julian Baggini. This might provoke a splutter from those who think of it rather as the topic of arcane philosophical parlour games. But he is right, and never more so than in these times of growing inequality and overflowing prisons. As both of […]

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Wild West

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the April issue of Literary Review Nick Holdstock ended his perceptive review of Michael Meyer’s In Manchuria by asking where the ‘great books about country life’ in other parts of China were. Now, here is one such book – by Holdstock himself – on life in Xinjiang, a Chinese region at least as large […]


Posted on by Frank Brinkley

he original Great Game, those bouts of strategic shadow-boxing that preoccupied the intelligence communities of British India and tsarist Russia in the 19th century, was played out under the big skies of Central Asia and across the high passes

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