Heirs & Graces

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If Carlyle was right that the history of the world is but the biography of great men, then the history of England (and, after the incorporation of Scotland and Ireland, what we for the moment call the United Kingdom) is for several centuries the biography of its monarchs. These four new volumes in the Penguin […]

Time after Time

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It would be untrue to call Leonard Michaels’s Sylvia a pleasant book – set in 1960s New York, it tells the story of a young Jewish couple’s troubled relationship, from its beginning through to its highly unsettling end. And yet, without being pleasant, the book is invariably a pleasure to read. The prose is striking. […]

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The Family McCosh

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When I was an undergraduate at the turn of the millennium, there was no surer icebreaker with a girl than asking, ‘Have you read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?’ Louis de Bernières’s thumpingly romantic novel set on occupied Cephalonia was well on its way to ubiquity even before it received the imprimatur of Hugh Grant’s character in […]

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White Spirit & Blitz Spirit

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s 1940 and Elinor has become an ambulance driver during the London Blitz. Another driver, Violet, confides that she always carries a cyanide tablet just in case. Elinor declines the offer of one, echoing King Lear’s Fool: ‘I don’t want to go to bed at noon.’ This book completes a trilogy, coming after Life Class […]

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Crash, Bank, Wallop

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Since the economic crash of 2008 there has been no shortage of Irish literature to document the downturn; enough to fill a bookshop table or two and surely an academic syllabus eventually. Often it’s done very well – take The Spinning Heart, Donal Ryan’s recent tale of contemporary decline and fall in rural Ireland – […]

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Art for Whose Sake?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘There’s a fine line between fiction and non-fiction,’ Kinky Friedman once wrote, ‘and I think I snorted it somewhere in 1979.’ The wry protagonist of Enrique Vila-Matas’s new novel, The Illogic of Kassel, translated by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom, might be inclined to sympathise. The book is narrated by a sixty-something Catalan novelist who […]

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Inside Outsider

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.’ The opening lines of Albert Camus’s 1942 novel The Outsider are among the most famous in literature. With them begins the story of Meursault (we never know his first name), a lowly young settler in French colonial Algeria. Unmoved by the death of his mother, […]

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For the Record

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Stephen Kelman’s first novel, the Booker-shortlisted Pigeon English (2011), was inspired by the manslaughter of Damilola Taylor, the ten-year-old Nigerian boy who bled to death in a Peckham stairwell after being attacked by two brothers aged twelve and thirteen. His second novel, Man on Fire, is again inspired by real events, this time the physical […]

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Friends United

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When a novel begins with four college friends moving to New York to make names for themselves in the big city, you brace yourself for things to go wrong. Professional differences, romantic rivalry, too many parties with too many drugs, the lure of more glamorous companions: the list of what might strain relationships formed in the shelter of a Massachusetts dorm room is endless

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Shipping Forecasts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Andrew Miller is probably best known as a practitioner of the historical novel. Over the course of his career he has offered imaginative reconstructions of the worlds of 18th-century England, Russia and Germany (Ingenious Pain; Casanova); of 1940s Japan and the country’s war with China (One Morning Like a Bird); and of the thanatological terrain […]

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Death of a Mockingbird

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the fifty-five years since its publication, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has become an American classic, taught in schools across the country, made into a memorable film and enshrined as what Oprah Winfrey has called ‘our national novel’. Until 14 July 2015, Lee had never published another book. But the release that day […]

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Pablo Katchadjian

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Pablo Katchadjian, a respected Argentine novelist, poet and academic, faces up to six years in prison after being accused of ‘intellectual property fraud’. In 2009, he published a short experimental book entitled El Aleph engordado (‘The Fattened Aleph’). Katchadjian took Borges’s well-known short story ‘El Aleph’ and ‘fattened’ it by adding some 5,600 words to […]

A Very Special Recipe

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘I have become a monster.’ The line that defines Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano’s crawl beneath the skin of the global cocaine trade is one that every journalist who’s ever got too close to their subject has told themselves. If you’re unlucky, it’s one you might repeat every day you wake up with the consequences. For […]

Only Connect

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The timeliness of The Four-Dimensional Human is illustrated by the fact that I was unable to make it through a single chapter without occasionally pausing (albeit momentarily) to check the internet. This is a grim admission, but I feel able to make it in the bright light of one of Laurence Scott’s own confessions: that […]

All by Myself…

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Can the word ‘spinster’ be reclaimed, or will it always sound sad and musty? Back in 1898, Neith Boyce didn’t use the word for her Vogue column about the single life; instead she called herself ‘The Bachelor Girl’. Now, as more women are staying single, or single for longer, there’s a real need for books […]

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What the Refrigerator Saw

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s his editor I feel sorry for. ‘She worked weekends and nights, and even missed family gatherings in the cause of this book,’ says Marc Goodman. However, despite her overtime, Future Crimes remains a testament to turgid prose. The title is promising enough and there are some interesting and intriguing ideas about the way crime […]

The Mighty Microbe

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s not often a book changes my life in a mere three chapters, but a quarter of the way through The Diet Myth I went out to buy some natural yoghurt for breakfast. A hundred pages or so later, on learning of the benefits of intermittent fasting, I decided to have it for lunch instead. […]

Last Tango in Gangtok

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Scrunched into the Himalayas between Nepal and Bhutan, Sikkim is about the size of Devon but with a greater surface area because so much of it is mountainous. The 22nd (and last) edition of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers to India claims, with sublime certainty, that ‘there are, in Sikkim, only 518 villages and 14,777 occupied houses’. Admittedly, that was

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