Older, Iller, Fatter, Rabbit none the Wiser

Posted on by David Gelber

The connection between sex and death is John Updike’s great subject. It’s quite complicated, this connection, in the Updike world. It’s not just that sex is deadly, for example, or death sexy. For Updike, sex involves both acknowledgement of ageing and the attempt to transcend it. He’s obsessed with the ways in which we try […]

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Take the Plunge

Posted on by David Gelber

George Saunders’s six short stories and one novella take the reader on a bizarre odyssey into the dark reaches of the author’s febrile imagination, a world turned upside down and populated by weirdos and inadequates trying to get back on their feet. The mind’s eye conjures up a landscape and characters more like a Far […]

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Ingredients Rather Than Cake on Offer

Posted on by David Gelber

Well, how do you read the Literary Review? One review a day? As they come? Picking one anywhere, lured by the title, or the picture, or just the way the pages fall open? Numbers in the Dark is an assorted lot of short and very short texts by Italo Calvino, and it is oddly difficult […]

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Gentle Magic

Posted on by David Gelber

A few friends meet on a midsummer night, the eve of a wedding they have long been working for. It will unite two people they all love and two English country houses that have stood near each other but at sword-point for centuries. After her and toasts to the morrow they wander out in pairs […]

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His Discovery Was His Entire Life

Posted on by David Gelber

For a start it’s a very good title. It’s a wonder it hasn’t been used before (or perhaps it has). Why it’s called what it is is more problematic. The name conjures up secrets (‘little black book’), sacred things (bibles, prayer books), official records (perhaps), darkness (of course), mystery (certainly). This last attribute suits it […]

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The Love Which Makes Us All Flow Together

Posted on by David Gelber

With this tremendous novel Salman Rushdie – soaring, swooping – lifts himself free of his contemporaries. The plot may be difficult to describe, but not its effect. It is suspenseful. It is playful. It is compassionate. And while the conditions of its authorship ought not to bear on a reader’s appreciation, they might explain the […]

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Likeable, Readable and Deceptively Profound

Posted on by David Gelber

The paradox at the centre of High Fidelity is that while pop songs almost always involve love, passion and raw feeling, the kind of men who are most intensely addicted to pop music tend to be a bunch of loveless, passionless, unfeeling train spotters. Hornby sees a problem here.

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Shakespeare’s Floppy-Disk Future

Posted on by David Gelber

‘I see a voice,’ says Bottom as Pyramus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; it’s meant as a joke at the expense of artisans dabbling in a form of entertainment about which they know dangerously little, but about which Shakespeare knew much, and from which, even as early as 1595, he had made a great deal […]

He Nearly Apologises

Posted on by David Gelber

In 1992 Lord Hailsham, one of our oldest elder statesmen, had a spiritual crisis. He became disillusioned with the state of the world around him. Since he was eighty-five at the time this was something of an achievement; some of us reach the same point when more than fifty years younger. It was not merely […]

Hardly New

Posted on by David Gelber

When I was asked to review this book I accosted three young women at a wedding and buttonholed them about their sexual fantasies. Two declined to be drawn. The third, a hairdresser, looked at me aghast, rose from her chair and walked away. Rachel Silver has had a good deal more success. She has a […]

Strange Tastes

Posted on by David Gelber

Serial killers, convicted or alleged, undoubtedly exude a kind of corrupt majesty. Among them, for sheer originality and rather whiffy charisma, the modern emperor must be Jeffrey Dahmer. It was, of course, neither nice nor good of him to murder seventeen rather vulnerable young men (mostly black, but he was no racist) and yet he […]

Tell It on the Mountain

Posted on by David Gelber

The recent spate of deaths on Mount Everest – twelve already this year – serves as a reminder that even when climbers are equipped with oxygen, a trained guide and the most sophisticated gear available, the highest mountain in the world is still an unpredictable and dangerous place. So it’s worth remembering the life of […]

Shakthika Sathkumara

Posted on by David Gelber

In April this year, the award-winning Sri Lankan writer Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested and charged with inciting religious hatred and violating international human rights law after sharing a short story on his Facebook page. The story, ‘Ardha’ (‘Half’), is due to be published as part of a collection later this year. Certain Buddhist groups were […]

Arrested Development

Posted on by David Gelber

Tayari Jones’s triumphant fourth book, An American Marriage, examines the fallout from a collision between the butterfly effect and the workings of systemic racism, depicting the toll of wrongful imprisonment on the lives of a young black couple in the United States. Roy is from Louisiana, a sales rep for a textbook company on his […]

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Show of Hans

Posted on by David Gelber

The past is a foreign country: it is now rare for the editor of a London newspaper to buy a thirteen-year-old in pursuit of a story. This, though, was the method of William Thomas Stead, whose Pall Mall Gazette exposed, in 1885, an underground network supplying the daughters of Britain’s poor to continental brothels. Vested […]

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Down at the Farm

Posted on by David Gelber

Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s arresting new novel focuses on two periods of time – the years 1898 to 1917 and a few months in 1981 – in the lives of one family living on a remote farm in France. Starting out with just a few fields of wheat and one or two pigs, they end up […]

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Let Them Eat Corned Beef

Posted on by David Gelber

General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, president of Ghana from 1972 to 1978, is remembered particularly for his slogans. The modernising initiatives he oversaw – driving on the right, national ‘self-reliance’ in agriculture – were given names that smack at once of the ad man’s office and the barracks: Operation Keep Right, Operation Feed Yourself. As the […]

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End of the Line

Posted on by David Gelber

Dead people often make for lively narrators, from Joe Gillis explaining how he wound up face down in a swimming pool in Sunset Boulevard to the teenage narrator of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones observing from heaven how her loved ones are coping with her death. Perhaps it’s because, unlike the living, they’re buoyed by […]

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Havana Confidential

Posted on by David Gelber

The Cuban Leonardo Padura (born in 1955) is a most original crime novelist. That said, his books share many features with those of other famous practitioners of the genre. His detective, Mario Conde, drinks too much. He is lonely. He meets attractive women and even has sex with them, but for some reason they always […]

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