On Jack’s Back

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This book claims to be among the first of its kind – an over-the-shoulder biography of a novel in progress – and perhaps it is, but as recently as 2012 a similar project was undertaken as part of the BBC’s Imagine… series. The documentary followed Ian Rankin as he wrote one of his Inspector Rebus […]

Ahmed Naji

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Last month, a member of Egypt Solidarity Initiative, a website that promotes the defence of democratic rights, contacted Literary Review asking for help in highlighting the case of a prominent Egyptian novelist and journalist. On 20 February 2016, Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for ‘violating public modesty’. The charges relate to […]

Decline & Fall

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Published in 1932, Private Life is one of Catalonia’s best-known works of fiction. In it Josep Maria de Sagarra (1894–1961), himself from an upper-class family, portrays an aristocracy in terminal decline. This is the grand novel of Barcelona’s high society, written with authoritative elegance and rolling, fluent sentences, rooted in the classics. Sagarra achieves a […]

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Sofia Calling

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Garth Greenwell’s intriguing novel opens in the bathrooms (the American euphemism that encompasses urinals and public lavatories) of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. It is there that the anonymous narrator meets Mitko, a brash young hustler with a chipped front tooth and a large cock. The storyteller, whose name is too difficult for […]

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Growing Pains

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The premise of Charles Lambert’s The Children’s Home is deceptively simple: children have started magically appearing on the estate of a severely disfigured and misanthropic gentleman called Morgan. A mystery is established. It would be reasonable to expect the rest of this short novel to go about solving it, but instead the unexplained expands: the […]

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Go-aan, me lad!

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Nicola Barker makes her own rules. This is a short novel by her standards but would be substantial by anyone else’s. It is also relatively conventional, being a biographical novel about an Indian sage that sticks fairly closely to the facts, despite featuring an interlude in which we observe a temple by means of a […]

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Something Colourful, Something Black

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

These icy soliloquies of disenchanted womanhood tear up the familiar soft furnishings of fictional narrative. Characters don’t have names or obvious occupations, though one speaker – or are they all the same? – mentions working with children’s books; she is, like the author, a successful illustrator. It’s tempting to see Vertigo as a moonlit flit […]

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Austen in Ohio

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Eligible is the fourth instalment of the Austen Project, a HarperCollins series in which six major novelists rewrite Jane Austen’s six major novels, giving each a modern setting. We now have Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid and Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, all published since 2013. These updates replace […]

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Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The first half of this bizarre, sometimes baffling and frequently brilliant experimental novel is set in 1982, when a young woman named Eliza arrives in Sydney from her home in rural Yass to take possession, on behalf of her ailing mother, of her late Aunt Dodge’s apartment. She discovers that a hitherto unknown cousin, Maxine, […]

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The Art of Embarrassment

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Some people are always on stage,’ notes a narrator of one of Philip Hensher’s entertainingly varied stories. ‘Most are destined always to be in the audience.’ The trick, it seems, is working out which you are: the unnamed character comes belatedly to realise he ‘would always be in row F of the stalls, hands clasped, […]

Modern Magic

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the final story of Helen Oyeyemi’s dazzling collection, an acerbic depiction of office workers bullying a colleague – salad dressing spilled on her desk, corrupt file attachments crashing her computer – takes a turn for the uncanny when Eva, the enigmatic victim, loses her diary. The story’s narrator, another colleague who has taken pity […]

Nine Lives

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

David Szalay’s latest ‘novel’ is really a collection of nine stories, each featuring a lost or unhappy man, away from home, in search of an elusive – or illusive – anchor. The tales are immediately involving, perfectly paced, rather sad; they are fully convincing little worlds peopled by fully convincing characters. There are no duds. […]

Where There’s a Will There’s a Waugh

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This month we shall be celebrating two exciting literary anniversaries – the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, who died on St George’s Day 1616 and was buried on 25 April at Stratford-upon-Avon, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Evelyn Waugh, who died on the lavatory on Easter Sunday 1966 and […]

All By Myself

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Olivia Laing found herself in New York in her mid-thirties with a broken heart, she had the sensation of being, like the redhead trapped behind the diner window in Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks, ‘walled up in glass … I could see out all too clearly but lacked the ability to free myself or to […]

Menus of the Middle Ages

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The economic, religious and social importance of food in the Middle Ages is a subject that is attracting increasing attention from historians. It’s a reflection, perhaps, of our own society’s obsession with culinary experiences and the senses. In this meticulously researched study, Christopher Woolgar serves up a feast of information about food in medieval England. […]

Half-Life Stories

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I approached this book with low expectations. Ho-hum, I thought, a book about radiation written by a professor of radiation medicine. Probably some dull memoir by a retired old boy. How wrong I was. Strange Glow is a cracking good read, filled with fascinating stories about the people behind the science and covering vastly more of […]

Great Scott

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Gavin Stamp’s knowledgeable championship of the Gilbert Scott dynasty of architects is so well established that I approached this beautifully produced book, resplendent with polychrome brickwork and painted ceilings, with some trepidation, being far less qualified to pronounce on the Scott oeuvre than the author. I need not have worried, for underlying everything specific that […]

You Talking to Me?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Do you hear voices?’ It’s not always wise to answer in the affirmative. In a famous experiment in 1973, the Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan and seven other perfectly sane people requested admission to mental hospitals, claiming that they were hearing an inner voice saying ‘empty’, ‘hollow’ or ‘thud’. Seven of the eight participants were admitted, […]

Access Denied

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Documents are the lifeblood of historians: they provide the bricks to build our understanding of the past. Making government records publicly available is an essential part of any democracy. However, the means by which researchers gain access to many documents, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is being systematically undermined. The government claims that it […]

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