Stepping up to the Bookplate

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘He was not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable … and so he was obliged to assert gentility, lest he slipped into the abyss where nothing counts.’ The above words, taken from E M Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End, introduce readers to the character of […]

Narges Mohammadi

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I have written recently in these pages about the particular threat coronavirus poses to prisoners of conscience, many of whom are already in poor health or held in squalid conditions. The World Health Organisation has stated, ‘People deprived of their liberty … are likely to be more vulnerable to the Covid-19 disease than the general population.’ […]

Three Little Harms

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

After selling the film rights of her dystopian first novel, The End We Start From, to Benedict Cumberbatch, you’d think Megan Hunter might try to double down on her success. But in The Harpy, she pivots towards domestic drama, exchanging post-apocalyptic futures for suburban kitchens and lower-middle-class dinner party tension.

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Keyboard Warrior

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Hari Kunzru’s sixth novel explores timely subjects – an internet environment that fosters paranoia; far-right movements that make selective use of the past to further their ends – and does so with a pervasive sense of gloom. It is set in 2016, with scenes in Germany, France, the Scottish Highlands and America, on the cusp […]

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What the Babysitter Saw

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid’s first novel and a Booker Prize nominee, arrives in a flash of hype. Its protagonist, Emira, is a young black woman who babysits for a rich white family in Philadelphia. Her employer, Alix, reviews products for brands, a corporate grift bound up with a skein of flimsy, clicktivist feminism. […]

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In All Honesty

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What makes a good liar? Plausibility, purpose and personalisation: a liar should be credible and committed to their story, and should tailor it to their audience. The best liars are their own most ardent believers; they may also tell the most successful stories. Neurologically, the overlap between lying and storytelling is clear: our synapses fire […]

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Doyle’s War

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ian McGuire’s third novel, The Abstainer, begins in late 1867, the high point of ‘Fenian fever’, when an abortive Irish rebellion and two subsequent prison breaks in Manchester and London forced Britain to pay the Irish republican cause some attention. In the aftermath of the Manchester plot – in which three Fenians killed a police […]

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Turning the Pages of Time

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Posterity, take notice!’ is an exhortation that appears twenty-three times in the posthumously published diary of Roland Bouley, a provincial bookseller and frustrated novelist. The only person taking notice, however, is 81-year-old Lilia Liska, a three-time widow and mother of five, who spends her days in a California nursing home annotating its pages. Lilia and […]

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Sucker Punch

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Like the sea dweller of its title, Tess Little’s debut novel is a multi-limbed creature, befuddling at times, which camouflages its true form until ready to reveal itself. Former actor Elspeth Bell is invited to her ex-husband Richard’s fiftieth birthday party in the Hollywood Hills. There are eight guests present, all faces from the past […]

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September Comes Before July

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Daisy Johnson’s first book, Fen (2016), consists of a series of short stories involving teenage girls and young women in various East Anglian towns rife with strange goings-on. In the striking opening story, ‘Starver’, the narrator is a schoolgirl craving affection from her unreachable older sister, whom she helps turn into an eel – a […]

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Love in the Graveyard

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Jackness, Jackitude, Jackicity’ – the qualities of Jack are as mysterious to himself as to others, but he likes to play with words when he ponders the question of who or what he is. Jack is the atheist and prodigal son whose longed-for return to his devout Presbyterian family in Gilead, Iowa, is central to […]

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Rising Tides

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The creation of an original fictional world, separate from or at least adjacent to our own, remains one of the most demanding challenges that is available to the writer of fiction. No matter how outlandish or bizarre an alternative reality may be, it must, at least if the reader is to accept it without question, […]

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His Mad Captain

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Can a romp be melancholy? Can picaresque be deadpan? Owen Booth’s 2018 debut, What We’re Teaching Our Sons (a short-story collection masquerading as a novel, unless it was the other way around), introduced readers to the author’s facility for eliding comedy with no-frills midlife heartbreak. The splendid The All True Adventures (and Rare Education) of […]

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Never without a Hitch

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Inside Story is described by the author and his publicists as a novel. In its pages Amis often resorts to the dread term ‘auto-fiction’. In practice this means some, but not all, the names of real people are altered; and the narration often switches, sometimes none too smoothly, from the first person to the third and back. It’s an account of a consuming and at times deranging love affair in the 1970s and its

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This Land is Your Land

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A few years ago, I set off with three friends to walk the length of the Los Angeles River, a largely parched 82-kilometre deep-walled concrete channel stretching from Canoga Park to Long Beach. Entry into the river is forbidden, and each of us revelled in the adrenaline rush of hopping over the fence in the predawn […]

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If public statues can be seen as a measure of contribution to the human good, then Sylvia Pankhurst’s place on a plinth is scandalously overdue. A statue of her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, was unveiled in 1930 beside the Palace of Westminster, and a plaque to her elder sister, Christabel, was added in 1959 in tribute […]

They Moved the Goalposts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1973, Julie Welch became the first female newspaper sports reporter on Fleet Street. It was an amazing achievement and her account of how she managed it reads like a Jilly Cooper novel. The story she tells here is not just one of ‘clever, attractive, determined female breaks into man’s world to do the job […]

An Epidemic of Sense

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The timing of Robin Lane Fox’s lively reappraisal of the evidence for the earliest Greek ‘rational’ medicine could not be better. Interest in contagious diseases has rarely been so high. But The Invention of Medicine, although covering such famous outbreaks of plague as that which blighted Athens early in the Peloponnesian War, described in such […]

Seine & Sensibility

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1920, Hope Mirrlees’s Paris: A Poem catapulted its author onto the literary scene. Published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and heralded by the former as ‘a very obscure, indecent, and brilliant poem’, Paris takes the postwar French capital as its setting, making reference to the peace conference held in the city in 1919. Long, […]

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