Their Normal Daily Lives Punctuated by Disaster

Posted on by David Gelber

DO WE EXPERIENCE life as a continuum or as a series of disconnected shocks and accidents? Alice Munro started writing at a time when novelists, at least, were preoccupied with coherence, with motivation, with the unseen grip of repeating compulsions, or the ineluctable effect of social conditions on human aspirations. Munro’s short stories, as I […]

Safe at Last

Posted on by David Gelber

Peter Gay is perhaps the only historian to have applied Freud successfully to the past. His five-volume The Bourgeois Experience is one of the great achievements of postwar cultural history, alive with absorbing insights into the inner transformation of European life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. ‘There are no … accidents’, he writes […]

Women Breaking Out

Posted on by David Gelber

THERE ARE CLIMATIC and passionate extremes in these six ‘stories of ice and fire’, but their general theme is that of A S Byatt’s earlier collection of five fairy stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: the necessity of finding our natural element if we are to live and not just be kept alive, to […]

How They Saw It

Posted on by Tom Fleming

TEN YEARS AGO I was detailed to go for the Independent on a visit to Flanders organised by the historian Lyn Macdonald to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of the Armistice. I spent three days with Macdonald and a dozen veterans of the Great War, based in the drab little town of Béthune (much favoured […]

She Finds Herself

Posted on by David Gelber

Writing a work of fiction in the form of an autobiography or a memoir means that the author can stretch the shape in original ways. So Sagesse LaBasse, the narrator protagonist of Claire Messud’s highly accomplished second novel, not only informs us of her perceptions, inner life and surroundings, but also fills us in, very […]

Voyage of Discovery

Posted on by David Gelber

Paul Ableman has come up with a well-rounded theory that challenges many assumptions about the mind. A few years ago, he had a dream in which he was eating at a restaurant with friends and then, in the dream, he became suddenly detached, and saw himself from above at the table. Afterwards, he wondered which […]

December 2017 Crime Round-up

Posted on by David Gelber

In early November Robbie Millen, the literary editor of The Times, made an impassioned plea: ‘Stop publishing so many books.’ Some 200,000 new titles appeared last year, and that figure excludes the burgeoning piles of self-published work. ‘Too many mediocre books are appearing,’ Millen wrote. The next day The Times published a letter from the […]

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Honour among Thieves

Posted on by David Gelber

As a family, we while away long car journeys with the Young Bond series. However, despite many happy hours listening to the dashing Etonian face up to baby Blofelds, I had never thought to place our hero in a social and historical context. Not until reading Angus McLaren’s gripping account of a violent robbery in […]

Sulak Sivaraksa

Posted on by David Gelber

I’ve previously written in these pages about Thailand’s restrictive lese-majesty laws, which have remained unchanged since 1908. Most recently, I highlighted the case of the Thai student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong (LR, December 2015), who were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison for having staged and performed in a […]

Frights and Fantasies

Posted on by David Gelber

Being a cursed child, young Morrigan has it pretty bad. The heroine of Jessica Townsend’s sumptuous debut, Nevermoor (Orion Children’s Books 373pp £12.99), is held responsible for whatever goes wrong in her city. Her father, an ambitious politician, is constantly paying out compensation for everything from dead cows to boys losing spelling competitions. What’s worse, […]

Deconstruction Job

Posted on by David Gelber

Matthew Weiner is far from being a novice writer. He is best known for creating Mad Men, the television drama that launched a thousand themed parties. Alongside that programme’s obsessive period detail were examinations of the dark side of success and of the ugly situations seemingly perfect, carefree people get themselves into. In that regard, […]

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In a Fix

Posted on by David Gelber

Few pieces of writing merit the word Kafkaesque, but the opening of Tom Lee’s first novel, The Alarming Palsy of James Orr, might be one of them: ‘When James Orr woke up, a little later than usual, he had the sense that there was something not quite right, some indefinable shift in the normal order […]

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Nest of Writers

Posted on by David Gelber

It’s unusual to get halfway into a novel and still not be quite sure what it’s about – unlike life, where the halfway point might be the first time a glimmer of shape and meaning emerges. Although not a long book, The Life to Come gives a sense of sprawl and expansiveness suited to its […]

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Kashmir Lear

Posted on by David Gelber

Too many first novels are called ‘ambitious’. These days the typical ‘ambitious’ debut is deemed thus because of its amplitude – of detail, of character, of page count. Among its other achievements, Preti Taneja’s first book shows up many such novels as far less ambitious than they seem. For one thing, most of their detail […]

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Leap of Faith

Posted on by David Gelber

In an age when the literary landscape is dominated by cookie-cutter page-turners and lit-fic lite, penning a 600-page novel about a man’s anguished search for an ‘authentic encounter with God’ might appear to be career suicide. Such books are about as fashionable as morris dancing and as rare as unicorns. The fact that the Costa-shortlisted […]

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Slightly Foxed

Posted on by David Gelber

Standing, like strange echoes of each other, at the beginning and end of Sarah Hall’s short-story collection Madame Zero are two deeply disconcerting tales. Told from the perspective of a husband, both these stories describe apparently contented – if not perfect – marriages that go unexpectedly, shockingly awry. In ‘Mrs Fox’ (winner of the 2013 […]

Fronting Up

Posted on by David Gelber

To Die in Spring begins and ends with a first-person narrative, written by the unnamed son of Walter Urban, who was involved in the Waffen-SS in the last months of the Second World War. He was seventeen when he was persuaded to ‘volunteer’ for service along with his friend Friedrich Caroli, known as Fiete. We […]

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No Country for Young Men

Posted on by David Gelber

‘We become visible’ reads a placard held by ten African refugees on hunger strike in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Jenny Erpenbeck, who won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for her last novel, The End of Days, wrote Go, Went, Gone in 2015, when the refugee crisis dominated newspaper headlines and political debate across Europe. That was the […]

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Dream Logic

Posted on by David Gelber

It’s not an admission that reflects all that well on me, but every now and then, as I read through this excellent and revelatory volume of posthumously published Kafka stories, I found myself thinking of Viz magazine – in particular, about the misadventures of Buster Gonad & His Unfeasibly Large Testicles. I will assume that […]

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