A Fight to Finish

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ideas gushed from Robert Louis Stevenson like water out of the Trevi Fountain. The number of books envisaged by him far exceeded the number he would ever have been able to complete. There were plays, histories, collections of stories, memoirs and many novels that were either stillborn or expired in infancy. One such was ‘The […]

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Burning Bright

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Beasts are vital components of children’s fiction. They can be agents of revenge for the powerless and metaphors for challenging emotions. In The Time Traveller and the Tiger, an engrossing novel by Tania Unsworth, tigers prowl in all their Blakean glory. We begin in India in the 1940s with John, a twelve-year-old boy, in the […]

Shady Habash

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 2 May, the 24-year-old filmmaker Shady Habash died in Egypt’s notorious Tora prison after drinking sanitising alcohol. Habash had been held in pretrial detention for 793 days, despite the two-year maximum prescribed by Egyptian law. He was among eight individuals arrested in March 2018 for their alleged involvement in producing the exiled musician Ramy […]

In the Time before Hangovers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘The perfect book’, Eley Williams writes in the preface to The Liar’s Dictionary, ‘should grab the reader and the perfect dictionary should be easily grasped.’ Eight pages into a self-confessedly ‘garbled’ preface filled with meandering metaphors and imagery worthy of Anne Carson, these words struck a slightly hopeless note in my head: could Williams, to […]

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Murder, They Spoke

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Britain’s murder toll under lockdown reached one hundred in May, the criminologist David Wilson remarked that what ‘underlies that statistic is misogyny’. With typical timeliness, Amanda Craig has made violence against women a key subject of The Golden Rule, her twisty, meticulously plotted tenth novel, but she also goes one step further, suggesting that […]

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Inside the Ward Zone

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Emma Donoghue’s latest novel, The Pull of the Stars, is a chamber play that follows three days in the life of Nurse Julia Power and her new assistant, Bridie Sweeney. Together, they work in the maternity/fever ward in a Dublin hospital, tending to women who are both pregnant and fighting the Spanish flu, ‘infamous for […]

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A Change of Hart

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Caoilinn Hughes’s prizewinning debut, Orchid and the Wasp (2018), marked her out as one of a new wave of young Irish novelists who have come to prominence in the recent decade, led by Kevin Barry in 2011 with his City of Bohane. Sally Rooney appears to have the greatest reach among these authors, with her […]

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The Long & Winding Road

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards and Holland/Dozier/Holland are some of the most recognisable writing credits in popular music lore. Holloway/de Zoet/Moss, the songwriting combo behind fictional 1960s rock-folk-blues band Utopia Avenue, will be less familiar to readers. Each chapter of David Mitchell’s superb eighth novel, the account of Utopia Avenue’s rise and fall, is presented like a track […]

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For His Eyes Only

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Nicholas Shakespeare’s first novel since 2010 is a literary thriller set in a damp, wintry Oxford. The book’s protagonist will be familiar to Shakespeare’s regular readers: John Dyer appeared in his third novel, The Dancer Upstairs (1995), as a journalist to whom a detective relates his gripping life story, including his capture of a South […]

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How the West was Written

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Montana writer Callan Wink’s debut novel, August, revolves around the coming of age and inevitable growing pains of the titular hero, who moves with his divorced mother from Michigan to ‘big sky country’ as a teenager. When a friend gives him an inquisitive puppy and says, ‘She’s trying to figure out what kind of person […]

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A Laugh a Month

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It took me three or four years to read Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind. Or at least that’s how it felt. Objectively speaking, I probably only spent a couple of determined weeks ploughing through the novel’s 720 pages. But subjectively speaking, it was a near-eternity. After a while, I began to wonder whether, like one of Kaufman’s […]

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Hill without Bill

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Many people hate Hillary Rodham Clinton. She has long been the target of deep-seated misogyny, exemplified by chants of ‘Lock her up!’ at Trump rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign. I say this as someone who has never been much of a fan, stretching back to the days when she defended her ghastly husband during […]

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Season’s Heatings

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What is to be done with hope? Ali Smith is a great artist of possibility. Think of the role chance plays in her work, from The Accidental to How to be Both’s thrillingly shuffled structure that meant you had a fifty-fifty chance of getting the contemporary narrative first or the historical one. But these are bleak times – from Smith’s perspective, anyway

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Before the Offside Rule

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It may not have been the most devastating consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, but it was nonetheless among the most striking. Overnight, lockdown brought the closure of sports grounds, an end to a busy schedule of sporting fixtures and the rapid disappearance of sports coverage from our airwaves, screens and newspapers. Yet as anyone whose […]

Out for a Hundred

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Last year, two English cricket writers, Duncan Hamilton and Michael Henderson, decided to write elegiac books about the sport’s final decline into a whizz-bang travesty that the marketing men who dreamed it up portentously called The Hundred. The innovation – matches reduced to a hundred balls an innings in a doubtless vain attempt to spark […]

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Gyrfalcon

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s been a good year for birds, so far. During the lockdown, our human world has been impinging rather less on theirs. People have been realising that birds are all around them, even in towns, and, with less noise from cars and planes, they have been hearing, as if for the first time, birdsong loud […]

Food, Inglorious Food

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘The whole point of this book’, the award-winning epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector informs readers of Spoon-Fed, ‘is not to tell you how or what to eat’ – a refreshing change for those who have to put up with me boring on about the evils of refined sugars and the glories of gut flora, depending on […]

Borneo on Thames

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Victorians had a thing about glasshouses. There was the Crystal Palace, built in Hyde Park for the 1851 Great Exhibition, later moved from its original site to Sydenham, where it finally expired in a heap of molten iron and glass in 1936. Then there was Joseph Paxton’s Great Stove at Chatsworth, which survived from […]

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