Don’t Call Him Ingrid

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Jane Magnusson’s documentary Bergman: A Year in a Life begins in the pit of Ingmar Bergman’s dyspeptic tummy. A fuzzy black-and-white image shows him waking up around 4am, ‘the hour of the wolf’ as it is called in one of his most haunted films. Then, as he says, he waits for his ulcerated stomach to […]

Caught Red-Handed

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon on us,’ wrote Keats, and the same could be said about novels that tackle the big questions of our day. Will the characters be too on-message? Will the author lecture us? Maggie Gee’s novels show this doesn’t have to be the case. Although contemporary issues abound […]

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Becoming Brother Suleyman

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

American writer John Wray’s fifth novel, a work of steady-handed literary chutzpah, is about a white Westerner who, beguiled by Islamic culture, travels across the world to protect a ‘Muslim state against its enemies’. For most of the early part of the 20th century, the common image of this sort of character was the dashing […]

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End of the Affair

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It takes skill as a writer to give away your book’s ending in its opening pages and still leave your reader hooked. In the prologue to Slack-Tide, the narrator, Elizabeth, recalls first meeting Robert, the man who would become her lover. ‘I was unprepared for what was to come,’ she writes. ‘By midsummer the thing […]

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Secrets of the Potato Academy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In his early poem ‘Three Years’, Roberto Bolaño wrote: ‘I can’t be a science fiction writer any more because my innocence is mostly gone’. The Spirit of Science Fiction in part takes up that theme. The most recent manuscript to have been discovered since Bolaño’s death in 2003, it’s the story of two uncertain, ambitious […]

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Griboyedov’s Last Journey

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This superb historical novel, first published in the USSR in 1927–8, follows in detail the last ten months in the life of Russia’s Vazir-Mukhtar (minister plenipotentiary) as he leaves St Petersburg in March 1828 for the last time to negotiate, after the humiliating Treaty of Turkmenchai has been signed, with the representatives of the defeated […]

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Out of the Shadows

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Every writer has their obsessions. Happily for James Lasdun (not to mention his publishers), his obsessions are increasingly shared by the rest of the world. As such, Victory, composed of two novellas that address what the publisher terms ‘the clash of power and desire in our embattled contemporary lives’, will no doubt be hailed as […]

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Love Rectangle

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Tessa Hadley’s new novel begins on an ominous note. A long-married couple, Alex and Christine, are listening to music. Christine recognises the music but doesn’t know what it is. Stubbornly she refuses to ask Alex: ‘he took too much pleasure in knowing what she didn’t know.’ Almost an aside, this observation hints at struggle beneath […]

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Brief Encounter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What is fiction to do with a world in which intimate human connection is increasingly mediated – or even replaced – by images on screens? Dream Sequence, the fourth novel by Adam Foulds, is the story of a relationship whose two parties are almost perfect strangers to one another. Almost, but not quite: Henry, a handsome British actor, and Kristin, a well-off American divorcee, once crossed paths

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Lines of Descent

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Fiona Benson’s powerful second collection, Vertigo & Ghost, is divided into two not entirely distinct parts. It opens with ‘Ace of Bass’, in which she recalls the pent-up sexual longings of early adolescence: ‘and sex wasn’t here yet, but it was coming,/and we were running towards it,/its gorgeous euphoric mist’. The poem is a tender […]

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Paws for Thought

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Bryan Sykes belongs to the elite band of geneticists who can make their dizzying science at least partially clear to the layman. In this book he uses scientific knowledge of DNA and genome sequencing to shed light on how wolves became dogs. About 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens arrived in Eurasia, which was then dominated […]

Growth Industry

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The proverbial phrase ‘do not bite the hand that feeds you’ springs to mind while investigating the background of Anthony Warner, the so-called Angry Chef. All chefs I have met or read about are very keen to provide clear information on their professional background, stating where they trained, where they have worked and where they […]

Going Viral

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Everyone knows that more people died in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic than were killed in the First World War: an estimated fifty million. What is more, many people fear that it could all happen again, given the influenza virus’s ability to mutate dangerously and the absence of either a fully effective vaccine to prevent […]

We Need to Talk

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In late 2014 – a year or so before ‘Brexit’ became a household word – Marek Kohn decided that the time had come to address the ‘swelling roar of xenophobia, nativism and belligerent nationalism’ not just in this country but in so many others too. Struck by one variant of this global trend – the […]

Heretic in the Pulpit

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Before beginning to write this review, I read that a lady in Portland, Oregon, has just exposed her bottom to a policeman in protest against a ‘men’s rights’ march. Even a connoisseur of human lunacy like Auberon Waugh might struggle to satirise the way the world is going nowadays, some eighteen years after his death. Besides

False Starts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Environmental determinism is a falsehood easily disproved. In identical or nearly identical environments, human communities have contrasting politics, conflicting religions, divergent technologies, incompatible tastes in food and mutually unintelligible languages; even chimpanzees, whose range of cultural diversity is minuscule by human standards, crack nuts on one bank of the N’zo-Sassandra River but not on the […]

When the Shine Came Off

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The inspiration for this book was the attempt by three brothers, Nelson Bunker, Herbert and Lamar Hunt, with the financial aid of some Saudis with supposed links to the Saudi royal family, to corner the market in silver. Indeed, this episode fills nearly a third of the book. It is a lively and sometimes rollicking […]

Going by the Book

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A popular new literary genre has emerged in recent years, comprising books that interweave authors’ memoirs and reflections on the books that have accompanied them throughout their lives. In Katharine Smyth’s debut memoir, All the Lives We Ever Lived, the book that she turns to for solace following the death of her beloved, alcoholic father from […]

Epping & Grinding

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Some victims of abuse find comfort in therapy, while others seek consolation through drugs, but Luke Turner discovered a far more interesting way to slay his demons. Damaged by childhood predators and finding his life unspooling into disarray, he sought to reconnect with the woods in Essex where he grew up. The result is this […]

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