Wang Dejia

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Beijing’s successful bid for the Olympics in 2001 caused consternation amongst campaign groups who believed China’s appalling human rights record did not merit her winning this opportunity. However, there were many who argued that the international platform would encourage the Chinese authorities to be more responsive to pressure from other countries. If anything, though, China’s […]

Wine and Sympathy

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In our fickle world, thank goodness for Joanna Trollope! Every year or two for the last twenty she has reliably produced one of her engaging, yet grittily perceptive, contemporary dramas about problems facing ordinary people. Granted, they are often quite genteel ordinary people, which perspective crowned her queen of the ‘Aga saga’ in the early […]

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Sweet and Sour

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Many years ago in Taiwan I used to drink the juice of the suanmei, the sour plum. It was bitter, sweet, sour and astringent. The six stories in The Budding Tree are rather like that. Their six central characters are career women: they teach, make hairpins, paint, run restaurants and are famous singers. They are […]

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Media Madness

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Of the handful of novels written solely in dialogue, such as Losing Battles by Eudora Welty, JR by William Gaddis or Deception by Philip Roth, the most successful have been the books that have to be told in dialogue alone, such as Nicholson Baker’s Vox. A book-length conversation between two people on a sex-line, Baker’s […]

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Loving Lily

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Perpetual Orgy is the title of Mario Vargas Llosa’s non-fiction tribute to Madame Bovary. ‘The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy’, wrote Flaubert. Vargas Llosa has been making love to Flaubert for most of his life and here the orgy continues. The Bad Girl […]

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Odi et Amo

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Latinity is in vogue, with an abundance of classically situated novels for children, novels for adults, historical constructions, feminist deconstructions, historical re-appraisals, horticultural treatises, and even, whisper it, do-it-yourself language manuals, drawn up in colourful array along the bookshop shelves, although that language remains sadly absent from the nation’s classrooms. And so, timely and pleasurable […]

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Outlaws

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There is a bravura to Peter Carey’s new novel, an in-your-face energy that reminds one of – well, other novels by Peter Carey. He establishes a voice so fast, and with such assurance, that the reader is swept into the story without a moment’s doubt: ‘There were no photographs of the boy’s father in the […]

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From Camden to the Taliban

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

James Meek’s novel follows his hugely acclaimed The People’s Act of Love (2005), a historical epic set in northern Russia in 1919. Here, by contrast, is a novel set in recent years, in which the hero-in-crisis, Adam Kellas, is a liberal, left-wing foreign correspondent and novelist who has enough in common with the author to […]

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A Pause in Dying

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In Gulliver’s Travels Swift presented such aberrations of nature as people the size of mice, giants towering like steeples and ancients doomed to immortality. This novel by the Portuguese writer and 1998 Nobel Prize winner José Saramago is based, as were two of its predecessors, on similar subversions of the natural order, with fantasy becoming, […]

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Hidden Treasure

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

You wouldn’t have thought it possible for great works of Holocaust literature to continue to emerge, over six decades after the event. But it is. In 2006 we had Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, famously hidden in a suitcase for sixty years. In 2004 we had Béla Zsolt’s Nine Suitcases, written in 1946-7 and first published […]

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Senses & Sensibility

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Roger Scruton is most widely known as one of the leading figures in the political grouping that has come to be called the New Right. And he has gained notoriety through the provocative writing in his weekly contributions to The Times. But he is professionally a university teacher of philosophy and amongst philosophers is principally […]

Still Disgusting

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I AM ARACHNOPHOBIC. Not, it has to be admitted, to the same degree as the lady, cited by the author of this curious book, who couldn’t even write the word ‘spider’ – she undoubtedly would not be able to so much as look at the cover with its illustration of two particularly ‘spidery’ spiders. Nevertheless, […]

A Horrid Shock

Posted on by Tom Fleming

THE INDIAN CIVIL SERVICE: deep in the English psyche is an obsession with India, and this vast organisation was once an inseparable part of it. The reason was partly logistical. India was so far and so inaccessible that anyone who chose to be an Indian ‘Civilian’ had to live out there wholeheartedly. You either committed […]

Dismal Bumpkins

Posted on by Tom Fleming

IN HER ACCOUNT of a cross-section of British women and their fathers, Sue Sharpe has eschewed polarised views of fatherhood. Psychodetectives will hunt in vain for mention of envied phalluses, there are no molesters or Pere Goriots here, the attention is firmly on the dad and his daughter journeying aboard the Clapham omnibus. The book, […]

Dusting off the Crystal Ball

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The 2019 King’s Lynn Fiction Festival takes place later this month in an antique town hall of great beauty abutting the River Ouse. Highlights include a plenary session, held on the Saturday morning (16 March, for anyone who happens to be in northwest Norfolk) in which the guests – the current bunch includes myself, the […]

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Nedim Türfent

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 5 February, over 650 writers, journalists, publishers, artists and activists signed an appeal calling for the immediate and unconditional release of writer Nedim Türfent, a news editor and reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DIHA). Türfent has now spent over a thousand days behind bars. Türfent was arrested on 12 May 2016 after […]

In Search of the Supermen of Charing Cross Road

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As a rare-book seller, I long ago became resigned to the fact that my profession is not considered heroic. In film, the only positive portrayal I can recall is Frank Doel, played by Anthony Hopkins, in 84 Charing Cross Road, staring into the middle distance as he dictates thank you letters for transatlantic gifts of […]

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