Design for Living

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This monumental book, originally published as Das englische Haus (3 vols, 1904–5), with over 680 plates ranging from Hatfield House to a modern soap dish, is familiar to historians of architecture, who have tended to refer to it rather than read it. However, it deserves to be known to a wider audience as an important […]

Gems, Guano and Sludge

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Stephen Halliday has followed up his study of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, The Great Stink of London, with a wider study of how Victorian engineers and other innovators made English cities healthier. The Great Filth is a well-written and accessible book that looks at medical, social, scientific, political and infrastructural developments. Gems of detail shine out […]

Frankenstein Psychoanalysed

Posted on by Tom Fleming

DESPITE ANNE MELLOR’s promise to examine ‘the entire range of Mary Shelley’s life and writing’, two-thirds of this book are dedicated to an analysis of Frankenstein, ‘Shelley’s greatest novel’ according to Mellor. Now for fans of Frankenstein and the Gothic this is a must. Much rubbish has been written on the subject. The links between […]

Country Life

Posted on by Tom Fleming

VISITING ONE OF Britain’s ‘stately homes’ can be a depressing experience. There are great houses that have lost their spirit, museums in effect, with no flavour of the domestic or the agricultural. It is really no one’s fault; but a snatched five minutes with the visitors’ book is often the greatest revelation a tour has […]

Steeped in Love

Posted on by Tom Fleming

All literary biographies present choices to their authors. How much should one give a documentary, day-by-day account of a life that, as in Wordsworth’s case, may have lasted eighty years? How much should one quote from, and undertake critical appreciation of, the poetry that was the motive force of this particular life? How far is […]

She Longed for Security and Affection

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In May 1824, reflecting on the theme of her new novel, Mary Shelley wrote in her journal: ‘The last man! Yes I may well describe that solitary being’s feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions, extinct before me…’. Prone as she was to melancholia, she had every justification for […]

Match of the Century

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Bobby Fischer was always outspoken: ‘They have killed chess with their boring methods of play, with their boring matches in their boring country,’ he said of the Soviets. It may have seemed that way at the time. But nothing could be less boring than Daniel Johnson’s account of the role chess played in the Cold […]

Above the Rank and File

Posted on by Tom Fleming

BOBBY FISCHER STRUGGLED to find peace, even in death. In July 2010, a group of officials visited his grave in Laugardaelir, a small country cemetery in rural Iceland. They were collecting DNA for use as evidence in the ongoing battle between the claimants to Fischer’s estate, worth more than $2 million; one of them, Jinky […]

First Among Sequels

Posted on by David Gelber

Book collectors become fixated on ‘firsts’: the first edition, an author’s first book, the first book on a particular subject. Collectors of 20th-century books are especially focused on first editions and call their quarry ‘modern firsts’. The collector of early printed books has a different field of attention. Many firsts were established in the earliest […]

One Fish Town

Posted on by David Gelber

Big Running in Newfoundland has been all but emptied of its inhabitants. Townsfolk have left this one-time fishing village to seek work further west, where the land is more populated and jobs ‘helping power the whole country’ are readily available. The Connor family is close to all that remains on this island of ‘always-there wind […]

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Game, Set & Love Match

Posted on by David Gelber

When the Essingers, a middle-class family from Texas with four very different grown-up children, converge on New York for a long weekend, family tensions inevitably resurface. This is the basic plot of Ben Markovits’s sophisticated and engrossing eighth novel, yet there is so much more going on too. On one level, the Essingers’ story is […]

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Altered State

Posted on by David Gelber

For a collection so bound together by a location, or the notion of one, Lauren Groff’s latest book achieves a gorgeous universality. Successor to the seismically popular Fates and Furies, Florida – to which state Groff moved over a decade ago – is an astute short-story collection about human experience at the hems of a […]

Dutch Treat

Posted on by David Gelber

Joseph O’Neill’s agent and publisher must hope with some fervency that he will, one of these days, write another book like Netherland (2008), his novel of émigré cricketers in post-9/11 New York. Writing in the New Yorker, James Wood called Netherland ‘exquisitely written’ and ‘a large fictional achievement’. It was the making of O’Neill’s reputation: […]

Band on the Run

Posted on by David Gelber

‘And then suddenly there was this thing called pop music.’ Thus speaks Garth Dangerfield, lead singer of the Helium Kids, as he looks back on his career in a band that appeared on Top of the Pops twenty-seven times, had half a dozen number one singles and was ‘only marginally less successful than the Beatles […]

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Schrödinger’s Plot

Posted on by David Gelber

Why write? We might counter this question with a further question: ‘Why do anything (except to earn enough money to survive)?’ or – with thanks to Albert Camus – ‘Why live when you just die in the end anyway?’ Nonetheless, the question ‘Why write?’ is pertinent enough for those who do write, or would like […]

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The Librarian Cometh

Posted on by David Gelber

Lydia Davis taught herself Norwegian in order to read his books. Haruki Murakami translated him into Japanese. Karl Ove Knausgaard reveres him. Awarded the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature an unprecedented three times, Dag Solstad has amassed quite the following at home and abroad. Five of his eighteen novels have now been translated into English, […]

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Redemption Songs

Posted on by David Gelber

Here are two things to know about Jaxie Clackton, the unstoppable teenage hero of Tim Winton’s new novel. He once bashed a sackful of kittens to death but, at heart, he’s a decent boy. That’s the paradox central to The Shepherd’s Hut, an exhilarating and surprisingly uplifting exploration of what its author calls ‘toxic masculinity’, […]

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Bars to Entry

Posted on by David Gelber

What does it mean to be a prisoner in the land of the free? This is the question Rachel Kushner asks us to consider in her third novel, The Mars Room, a bleak and bitter interrogation of the socioeconomic structures, invisible but tyrannical, that regulate contemporary America. The belief that everyone born under the Stars and Stripes has the freedom to choose their own path underpins the American Dream. But through the story of Romy Hall

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Night on the Town

Posted on by David Gelber

Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight tells the compelling tale of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel. Abandoned by their parents at the close of the Second World War, they are left in the custody of The Moth, a taciturn, inscrutable man who moves into the family home. With The Moth comes an eccentric cast of acquaintances, including […]

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