Diary of a Wigtown Bookseller

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Friday 20 March 2020: Opened the shop shortly after 9am. Norrie decided to go to the Co-op to buy a few essentials but found it closed. Apparently the shelves had been stripped so bare that the manager had decided to pull the shutter down for an hour after this morning’s delivery so that they could […]

Pham Doan Trang

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 6 October 2020, the renowned Vietnamese author, journalist and activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested by police in Ho Chi Minh City and detained without access to her family or legal representatives. Trang’s apartment was raided in a joint operation by the police and officials from the Ministry of Public Security. Her arrest took […]

Lives of Mothers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Doireann Ní Ghríofa has already made a name for herself as a bilingual poet, capable of transforming ordinary objects into wonders. A Ghost in the Throat is her prose debut, a combination of autofiction and literary enquiry, and it does not disappoint. This remarkable book follows the life of its author as she writes, looks […]

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Two Plus Two Equals Nothing

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When We Cease to Understand the World comprises a series of fictionalised biographies of famous mathematicians of the first half of the 20th century. At its centre, taking up more than half of the book, is the story of Heisenberg and Schrödinger and the creation of quantum mechanics. Benjamín Labatut does little to endear them, […]

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The Parent Trap

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Burnt Sugar, Avni Doshi’s Booker-shortlisted novel, a young woman watches as her mother loses things – recipes, streets, faces. Associations fade or blur until her mother is unable to navigate the streets of Pune in west India, where she has spent her whole life. Memory is ‘a form of architecture’, wrote the artist Louise […]

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Lie Back & Think of Zanzibar

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It sometimes seems like brevity is an undervalued quality in publishing today, but for Sarah Moss it is becoming something of a signature. Her previous novel, 2018’s Ghost Wall, is a taut, devastating work that clocks in at just over 150 pages. Offbeat yet knowingly zeitgeisty, it tells the story of Silvie, a teenager who, […]

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Age/Sex/Predation

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Many of the stories in Emma Cline’s provocatively titled short-story collection feature older men whose stars are fading, numbing themselves from the world’s increasing indifference to their influence with booze, pills and self-delusion. ‘What Can You Do with a General’ depicts a father with an abusive history unable to connect with his grown children at […]

Tales from the Campfire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Diane Cook’s debut novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is set in a not-too-far-off future that resembles the distant past. The world has been transformed by climate change and urbanisation; the novel’s landscape is one in which its characters spend their days hunting and gathering, making clothes from animal skins and sinews, setting up camp […]

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The Doctor & the President

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In his preface to Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman wrote: ‘The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.’ What made America great, what gave it such vitality, was its heterogeneous quality, the fact that it was, as Whitman saw it, ‘a teeming nation of nations’. For Ayad Akhtar, whose spirited autobiographical novel Homeland Elegies […]

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A Matter of a Record

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The reader’s first suspicion that all is not as it seems in Xstabeth, the enigmatic new novel by David Keenan, comes when its author dies in the novel’s preface. Keenan, we learn, was a writer and local historian who ran a correspondence course on the occult and ‘committed suicide by throwing himself from the top […]

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Some Like It Shot

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Very massive stars do not expire quietly but tend to age angrily, bloated on their own gas, and finally collapse in on themselves – particularly Hollywood stars. ‘I am big. It’s the pictures that got small,’ says Gloria Swanson’s character in Sunset Boulevard, with bitter, prima donna conviction, as she gives instructions for her dead […]

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A Brush with the Goncourts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This month sees the announcement of the Prix Goncourt, the French literary prize awarded since 1903 to the book that meets its nicely roomy criteria of the year’s ‘best and most imaginative prose work’. Previously won by Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir and Michel Houellebecq, it was conceived by the novelist Edmond de

Fido, Fidas, Fidat

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The temptation is to call this a dog’s dinner, since Una, Philip Womack’s faithful pooch, has clearly been wolfing it down with great enjoyment. But ‘Ruff Guide’ might be a better description. The original Rough Guide travel books were marketed as a midway point between ‘cost-obsessed student guides and heavyweight cultural tomes’, a category into […]

Waste Not, Want Not

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The word rummage, with all its pleasurable connotations of chance, lucky dip and thrift, couldn’t be bettered as a title for Emily Cockayne’s new book. Both intricately and widely researched, the big picture always illustrated with the telling detail, it is a fascinating historical compendium of the cumbersome detritus of everyday life and how we […]

Red but Not Dead

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Sarah Stewart Johnson was eleven, her father took her to the medical laboratory where he worked and showed her a 141-year-old toenail. It came from one of America’s less well-known presidents, Zachary Taylor, who’d been exhumed so that his untimely death could be investigated. Johnson saw the sophisticated machines that would determine by chemical […]

Let Them Read Catullus

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I was once informed by a guide at the oldest black church in Savannah, Georgia, that African slaves arrived there speaking ancient Greek. My surprise was not shared by other members of the party. Our guide clearly believed it. The elders of the church must have believed it or the guide wouldn’t have said it. And […]

Coming of Age

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Here is a really persuasive and unsettling book about the future, based not on science or sociology but on economics and demography. Charles Goodhart, an octogenarian British economist who has had a distinguished career in academia and at the Bank of England, and Manoj Pradhan, an American-educated academic who has founded his own macroeconomic research […]

The Joy of Sewers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Towards the end of Metropolis, Ben Wilson’s panoramic new history of urbanism, the author lists a number of ways in which cities have served to speed up evolution. In Puerto Rico, lizards can now grip bricks and concrete with their toes. Urban birds tend to have shorter wings, which enables them to dodge traffic, and […]

Hooked on a Feline

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One day in 1757 the poet Christopher Smart went out to St James’s Park, started praying loudly and couldn’t stop. He was hauled off to St Luke’s Asylum, where a cascade of ecstatic verse proceeded to pour from him, in which he identified his cat companion, Jeoffry, as ‘the servant of the Living God’. According to Smart’s delighted itemising, Jeoffry served the Almighty by catching rats, keeping his front paws pernickety clean and observing the watches of the night. He was a peaceable soul too, kissing neighbouring cats ‘in kindness’ and letting a mouse escape one time in seven. But perhaps Jeoffry’s greatest accomplishment was his ability to ‘spraggle upon waggle’. Both spraggling and waggling, Smart’s magnificat suggests, are deeply pleasing to the Lord. Although Jeoffry has become famous through Smart’s much-anthologised poem ‘My Cat Jeoffry’, he has left no other pawprint on the historical record. We don’t know how Smart found him, or how he found Smart. Nor is it certain

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