Spectres & Steam Trains

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her novels deal with the nightmarish and the claustrophobic. Her most recent, Missing, teetered on the edge of the supernatural. Moore’s first children’s book, Sunny and the Ghosts, deals with things that really do go bump in the night. The story is set in an […]

Sugar & Spice

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Anyone who has ever encountered a fairy tale is likely to be familiar with the classic ingredients of wicked stepmothers, wise animals, beleaguered maidens and misguided young men. Some, like Cinderella, are so widespread as to be popular from China to Germany; some have been distilled, like Beauty and the Beast, from Greek myths or […]

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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Years ago I left the wide, flat fields of rural Minnesota for the island of Manhattan to find the hero of my first novel,’ writes Siri Hustvedt at the beginning of Memories of the Future. An experimental bildungsroman tracing the emergence of the writer-as-a-young-woman, it combines what appears to be straight memoir, notebook and diary […]

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Family Fortunes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sadie Jones, a screenwriter as well as a novelist, specialises in dysfunctional families. Her first book, The Outcast, winner of the 2008 Costa First Novel Award, centred on Lewis, just out of jail, and his distant stockbroker father. Small Wars (2009), like The Outcast set in the 1950s, featured a soldier from a traditional military […]

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On the Road

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ever since he burst onto the literary scene in 2000 with his extraordinary ‘fictionalised memoir’, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers has produced a body of work that resists easy categorisation. His fiction has encompassed subjects as diverse as the financial crisis (A Hologram for the King), the brave new tech world of […]

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Ill Behaviour

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The poet, novelist and short-story writer Julia Darling was diagnosed with cancer in 1994 and died in 2005, aged forty-eight. Her posthumous story collection, Pearl, bears witness to her experience of illness: it’s pockmarked with characters in hospitals or grappling with ill health. ‘Three Stages of Heat’ describes a recuperative visit to a sauna. ‘How […]

Lessons from Mad Pete

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Max Porter’s first novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers (2015), was an ingenious debut in which a recently bereaved father and his two sons are comforted by Crow, an imaginary spirit animal based on the titular bird of Ted Hughes’s 1970 collection. Hughes was a major stylistic inspiration for Grief is the Thing with […]

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African Epic

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

How do you follow a Booker Prize win? When, after claiming the award in 2015 with the wonderful A Brief History of Seven Killings, the Jamaican author Marlon James declared that he was going to write a sort of African Lord of the Rings trilogy, I am sure I wasn’t the only one who greeted […]

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A Carpet Runs Through It

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

We book reviewers like to be kind: as my late father, Cyril Connolly, used to opine, it takes someone years to craft a book, whereas the work of the critic occupies mere days. Some critics relish writing stinkers – it’s much more fun and readers don’t instantly forget a hatchet job – but mostly we tend to overpraise. This is why it might be supposed, from reading a

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Grey Balls of Fire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ashton Applewhite is a ‘writer and activist’ and she has had another epiphany. The last one was that the institution of marriage is a white heterosexual male capitalist trick to enslave women. The inspiring, enlightening, liberating book that followed was called Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well. This most recent […]

More Morphic Resonances

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Rupert Sheldrake’s book A New Science of Life was published in 1981, Sir John Maddox, then editor of Nature, thundered that it was an ‘infuriating tract’ and ‘the best candidate for burning there has been for many years’. Sheldrake had proposed that scientific laws should be regarded not as inflexible ordinances but as akin […]

Mum’s the Word

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The drama of conception, gestation and parturition has been going on in female bodies since before humans came into existence, but what we know about the experience of mothering in times past comes from a thin and fragile strand of sources. According to the historian Sarah Knott, ‘the first published, personal account of being pregnant’ […]

Female Unfriendly

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If I want to walk along the river near where I live, I have to cross one of the busiest roads in west London. The only access is via an underpass, an enclosed tunnel where a female friend of mine was once sexually assaulted. Every time I use it, gritting my teeth and checking whether anyone is approaching from the other side, I think about how much of the urban environment is designed without a thought for the safety of women. Caroline Criado Perez gives

Power Failure

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Hot on the heels of Serhii Plokhy’s 2018 account of the Chernobyl nuclear accident come two new books about the catastrophe. Such spates are usually anniversary-led, but on this occasion the mini-surge appears to be down to coincidence, particularly given that all three works were years in the making. Clearly, something about the disaster still […]

More than Mack the Knife

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mine was an oblique induction into Brecht’s poems. Often in my teens I’d go for long walks in the Westphalian forests with my (English) father, who knew his German poetry, and if we were starting out at daybreak we’d catch the sound of gathered dew cascading off the branches of firs, and my father would […]

Desperately Seeking Sakura

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Although billed as a biography of the great British flowering cherry fancier Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram, this is in fact a comprehensive round-up of the history and symbolism of flowering cherries in general (largely in Japan), with added information on everything from Prince Charles to the 16th-century samurai Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Japanese history, botany and flower-viewing spots. […]

The Spy Who Loved Himself

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the middle of the Cold War, the German journalist Richard Sorge, who had worked as a deep-cover Russian military intelligence officer (codenamed Ramsay) in Nazi Germany and Japan, was the most celebrated figure in the USSR’s pantheon of dead intelligence heroes. In 1964, twenty years after Sorge had been hanged in Tokyo as a […]

Trial by Firestorm

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is a curious book. The central argument is simply that being bombed in the Second World War was a devastating and atrocious experience, whether you were British, Japanese or indeed part of any of the many other populations who found themselves underneath an air raid. Certainly no one would contest this conclusion. Why, then, […]

An Uncommon Cold

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For all the attention that has been devoted to climate change in recent years, one could argue that the subject is still woefully under-analysed. The alterations to the earth and its systems and the social upheaval that the coming decades promise to bring will be so profound and multifarious that the topic needs to be […]

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