A Worthy Enthusiasm

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Although we are told that the average attention span is reduced to a matter of seconds, literary life continues to favour the marathon runner at the expense of the sprinter. No one in his right mind would have expected Nicholas Hilliard to paint the Sistine Chapel, yet publishers persist in their attempts to persuade short-story […]

Shocker to the End

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I sometimes think there is a new interest in the well-made tales of the Edwardians. D J Taylor’s new novel, Trespass, acknowledges a debt to Tono-Bungay, and Alan Judd’s novella, The Devil’s Own Work, is a supernatural shocker which grew out of Judd’s work on Ford Madox Ford. Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam has much in common […]

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Hasip Yanlıç

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey continue unabated. Since the failed coup of 15 July 2016, the state of emergency imposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has permitted the arbitrary use of extraordinary powers to detain dissidents. Journalists, writers and academics are routinely intimidated into silence, harassed or imprisoned on spurious charges. In the […]

Daddy Issues

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Every Booker Prize longlist brings at least one surprise and this year it’s 29-year-old Fiona Mozley’s debut novel, Elmet, a gothic tale of trespass and transgression set in a Yorkshire landscape that’s curiously ageless, with little sign of the recent industrial past. This is surely intentional (Elmet was the Celtic kingdom that’s now the West […]

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Living Hells

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular, and by nature it is interminable, repetitive, and nearly unbearable.’ That comes from Flann O’Brien’s comic masterpiece The Third Policeman and it’s the Jesuitical precision of ‘nearly’ that comes as a jolt. Similar, exquisitely calibrated degrees of suffering occur with satisfying regularity in David Hayden’s […]

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Bar-Room Bawling

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Creative Ireland’ is the name of the Irish government’s new public-relations campaign to stimulate foreign investment and tourism by promoting global awareness of the country’s national culture. How timely it is that Roddy Doyle, its veritable personification and Ireland’s most widely acclaimed popular novelist, should now be publishing his twelfth novel. Smile, unlike the pop […]

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Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Reconciliation opens with an intriguing apology by the author ‘for the extent to which my characters fail to resemble their real-life models’. This indicates a central concern of Guy Ware’s novel: namely, how the fiction writer appropriates ‘facts’ to create a story. It’s a preoccupation that informs the book’s highly original narrative structure.

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Jungle Fever

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It’s hard to review a novel by Ned Beauman without calling him a show-off. But the thing about being a show-off is that you can’t be one unless you’re exceptionally good at whatever it is you’re showing off. ‘Show-off’ is really a term of covetous approbation – the compliment that envy pays to achievement. It […]

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Identity Crisis

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire opens with a scene of humiliation. Isma is about to miss her flight: airport security staff refuse to believe a designer jacket can really belong to her, and they are keen to know ‘her thoughts on Shias, homosexuals, the Queen, democracy, the Great British Bake Off’. It is not simply her […]

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Skeletons in the Closet

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The strange, idiosyncratic voice of Patrick McGrath was first heard in his 1988 collection, Blood and Water and Other Tales. The thirteen shards of narrative making up that darkly beguiling debut are linked by themes of repression, longing and the intersection of the bizarre with the seemingly everyday. The opening piece, ‘The Angel’, in which […]

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Ongören on My Mind

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Woman in White, The Left-Handed Woman, The Woman on the Stairs, The Woman on the Beach… After what must be thousands of mysterious titular women espied by befuddled male protagonists in song, literature and film, few themes are more ripe for retirement. But even those still anxious for an account of an improbable, decades–long […]

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Trial by Fire

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Everyone’, says the narrator’s mother halfway through this novel, ‘loses a best friend at some point.’ The American writer Claire Messud’s new book is an exceptionally well-written and emotionally powerful account of one such loss, in which the intense friendship between two prepubescent girls fails as they move from the clarity of childhood towards the […]

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Proving that Life Isn’t Fair

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One of the fastest-growing literary trends is what might be termed ‘pathobiography’, the sufferers’ own detailed and highly personal description of some disease, accident or affiiction that they have sustained and which more often than not has changed their lives. In recent years we have had best-selling accounts of breast cancer (Ruth Picardie), manic depression […]

Nero to Zero

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

To New York, in the opening days of the Obama presidency, from a country that for some reason cannot be named but is clearly India, in conditions of considerable secrecy, come the Golden clan. Their number is initially set at four: ageing but sappy potentate Nero (‘he exuded a heavy, cheap odour, the unmistakable smell of crass, despotic danger’

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Almanac of Ignominy

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A book of ‘political liars’ would surely be one of the longest books ever written, as almost everyone apparently joked to Adam Macqueen while he was researching this book. As he mentions on his opening page, the old joke is that you can tell a politician is lying when you see their mouth move. And so […]

Losing Battle

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 2006, a British platoon commander was sent to the Afghan town of Sangin in northern Helmand Province to rescue a besieged tribal leader, Dad Mohammad Khan, and his close family. Dad Mohammad was a tough man and local police under his control had a reputation for brutality, rape and murder. ‘There was definitely a […]


Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Roughly a year ago, I was fast asleep in bed in Perugia when the ground shook so violently I woke and vowed there and then to give up drinking. I drifted off back to troubled sleep. Twenty minutes later, the ground shook again and then I got it: I was living through an earthquake. Sixty […]

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