Printing on Ice

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If fine press printing had a spirit, she’d dwell, at least for part of the year, in the River Thames. Once, when England’s winters were harsher than they are now and the Thames would freeze over, enterprising printers would haul their presses to a city ‘frost fair’ – at one of which Woolf’s Orlando meets […]

The Soul Ajar

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If the most exhilarating moment in the making of a book comes at the start, when capricious fate allows us to believe that anything can happen, then the most daunting comes right at the end, when the final proof, checked and returned, goes into production and no further changes are permissible. That moment is now […]

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Judge, Jury & Executioner

Posted on by David Gelber

Britain’s most famous criminal courtroom, Court Number One at the Old Bailey, can seem surprisingly intimate. The decor is heavy and Edwardian, with the dock only a few feet behind the barristers’ desk and the witness box almost within touching distance of the jury – or at least that is how it seemed to me […]

Azimjon Askarov

Posted on by David Gelber

The Kyrgyz journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov has been in prison for almost a decade. A member of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek minority, Askarov has spent his journalistic career exposing corruption. He was arrested on various trumped-up charges on 15 June 2010 during the inter-ethnic violence that swept Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces in southern Kyrgyzstan. […]

Love in the Stone Age

Posted on by David Gelber

How different a story Romeo and Juliet would have been had the star-crossed lovers been able to text one another. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, too: had Tess used WhatsApp, there would have been no need for her letter to Angel Clare to go unnoticed since she’d have seen at a glance whether he’d read the […]

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In a Flap

Posted on by David Gelber

Speaking about his first novel, The Fishermen, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015, Chigozie Obioma said that he was interested in the forces that can destroy a family. Centring on four brothers who fish in a polluted river near their home in Nigeria, the novel tracks the breakdown of their relationship, sparked […]

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Houston, We are Stranded

Posted on by David Gelber

There’s no lone star in Bryan Washington’s Lot, just a cast of characters as drab as the Houston neighbourhoods they inhabit. ‘There’s the world you live in,’ says the narrator of the title story, ‘and then there are the constellations around it, and you’ll never know you’re missing them if you don’t even know to […]

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Punk Parenting

Posted on by David Gelber

On the Road, famously, was written in just one month, and secured Truman Capote yet another entry in the Oxford Companion of Bitchy Put-downs when he remarked, ‘That’s not writing, that’s typing.’ Nell Zink, it seems, shares Kerouac’s metabolism, having turned out several of her previous novels inside four weeks. ‘No one expected Rembrandt to […]

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After the Crash

Posted on by David Gelber

A passing familiarity with block universe theory might aid understanding of Deborah Levy’s seventh novel, The Man Who Saw Everything. In keeping with the laws of quantum space-time (block universe theory deems that past, present and future all exist simultaneously), memories and intimations of the future merge in the mind of the historian Saul Adler, […]

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Taken in the Night

Posted on by David Gelber

The destruction of innocence is one of the most powerful and universal of all themes, and Edna O’Brien has been dealing with it throughout her impressively long and productive life as a writer. Her great subject has been the various ways in which the lives of women, especially young women and especially in Ireland, where […]

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Back to the Future

Posted on by David Gelber

It isn’t too much of a spoiler, I hope, to say that Robert Harris’s enjoyable new book has a twist not at the end, but at the beginning: it starts out looking like a historical novel and, a chapter or two later, turns out to be science fiction. The opening gives it the whole nine yards: ‘Late on the afternoon of Tuesday the ninth of April in the Year of Our

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Life Sentence

Posted on by David Gelber

That rough beast the Great American Novel has been slouching around since the 19th century in the form of hefty books by male authors, from Melville and Hemingway to Franzen and DeLillo. It’s always been a guy thing and, like many other guy things, has seemingly had its day. Ducks, Newburyport, the seventh novel by […]

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Fathers & Sons

Posted on by David Gelber

Hugo Williams has been writing elegantly crafted and accessible poetry for over fifty years. His tone of voice today is not appreciably different from the one that first asserted itself in the 1960s. He hasn’t lost the comic timing that has been a hallmark of his work since the beginning. He can sometimes court the […]

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Cradle of the Kebab

Posted on by David Gelber

Some 50 per cent of the world’s people live in cities right now. It has not always been so. Nor is the city – at first glance – a natural human habitat. So what got us hooked on cities? That is the question Monica Smith sets out to answer in this book. In telling the […]

Three Cheers for Thurrock

Posted on by David Gelber

Years ago, as a hardcore cyclist with miles in my legs, I used to dash along with the Dunwich Dynamo, an overnight mass cycle ride from Hackney to the Suffolk coast. By far the most daunting obstacles were the drunks and geezers pouring out of the nightclubs of Romford

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Coming Full Circle

Posted on by David Gelber

Like any mention in the magical world of Harry Potter of Lord Voldemort, whose name others fear to speak, in ours simply uttering ‘calculus’ leaves many people with a rising sense of panic, triggering flashbacks of dreaded maths lessons in their schooldays. Among the things I was never taught at school was that without calculus […]

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They Cornered the Market

Posted on by David Gelber

What put the Great into Great Britain during those tempestuous years of the 20th century when this country was fighting two of the bloodiest wars the world had ever seen? Well, pretty high up the list would be Lyons Corner Houses, Lyons teashops, Lyons cakes and fruit pies, Lyons Green and Red Label tea and […]

Grace Notes

Posted on by David Gelber

The front cover of this book could hardly be more off-putting: an Orangeman, apparently, in bowler hat and orange shirt, staring into an orange horizon with the title (in orange) written across his back. Yet the promise of what lies within couldn’t be more inviting: the pensées of one of the finest musicians – and, […]

Why, Hello There

Posted on by David Gelber

‘When you greet a stranger, look at his shoes.’ While reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, this line, from an obscure 1985 REM song, got stuck in my head. I’ve always wondered whether it’s about showing modesty or trying to discern someone’s temperament from their footwear; either way, it’s a nice imitation of the kind […]

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