Nellie Packs Her Trunk

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Step right up! From bearded women to giantesses, leopard twins to the Queen of Moon and Stars, the Circus of Wonders invites you to gaze upon marvels only heretofore imagined. In her new book, Elizabeth Macneal takes the circus novel and twists it into something a little darker. At the centre of the action is […]

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Endings & Beginnings

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Esther Freud’s new novel weaves together the stories of three generations of women. In 1959, a young Irishwoman, Rosaleen, arrives in London and meets a romantic and feckless sculptor called Felix. He may say to her, ‘I couldn’t love you more’, but he is married to another woman.

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A Grizzly Tale

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Bear is the story of a summer love affair between Lou, an archivist tasked with cataloguing the library of a 19th-century Ontario manor, and a bear affiliated with the isolated house. The bear, we are told, is ‘indubitably male’ and smells of ‘shit and musk’. One of Lou’s first interactions with Bear, as he’s known, […]

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We’re All Mad Here

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Luster depicts the warped relationships between Edie, a 23-year-old Black woman from New York, her older lover, his wife and their Black adopted child. Edie, newly fired from her publishing job, moves in with the couple, takes their fentanyl, flat-irons their daughter’s hair and paints studies of them with varying degrees of success. Her interactions […]

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Out of Print, Out of Pocket

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

These days, it’s easy enough to find a rare or out-of-print title. Online booksellers have brought the elusive, the esoteric and the outright forgotten at last within reach. With bookshops closed for casual browsing over the past few months, many of us will instead have spent our spare hours hunting around on the internet for […]


Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the general election held on 8 November 2020, Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide majority, winning more seats than in the 2015 election. The military disputed the result, claiming election fraud, and on 1 February, the day parliament was due to sit […]

Waste Man

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The reader of Agustín Fernández Mallo has to put up with a lot of rubbish. He is the WALL-E of Spanish literature: hoarder of found objects; assembler of shards. In Book I of his latest novel, The Things We’ve Seen, the unnamed narrator sits on a bench overlooking Manhattan’s East River, commenting to his friend […]

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Opening Lines

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sam Riviere’s Dead Souls, the first of these three debut novels, begins on the South Bank, where a publisher is telling the narrator about a literary scandal involving a poet named Solomon Wiese. The narrator is barely listening, instead growing fixated on the publisher’s silent wife: ‘although I was able to prevent myself from sliding […]

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Alone in the City

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Born in London to Bengali parents, who moved to Long Island when she was three, Jhumpa Lahiri began her writing career with short stories, often autobiographical, concerning people torn between two cultures, never quite at home in the language of their immigrant parents but uneasy in the relaxed American ways of friendships and relationships. ‘I […]

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Surfing with Sharks

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Paul Theroux’s new novel centres on Joe Sharkey, aka the Shark, who has spent a lifetime surfing the waves in South Africa, Brazil and Tahiti, as well as his adopted home of Hawaii. Now in his sixties, his extensive tattoos faded and ‘indistinguishable from bruises’, Joe fears he is washed up. He is living off […]

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Expect the Unexpected

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A S Byatt is sometimes seen as dauntingly highbrow because she incorporates interests in art, philosophy and science into her writing in ways that make no allowance for less-informed readers. I like that about her. Most writers hope to make a connection, of course, but recently they have seemed more than ever to want to ‘reach out’, urging emotion on the reader. Byatt establishes a welcome distance

Tales from the Peninsula

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The best anthologists in Spanish literature are the barber and the curate of some place in La Mancha, whose name I don’t wish to recall. While Don Quixote lies asleep after his first sortie as a knight errant, the two of them – kind, careful, slightly hypocritical – go through his library and get rid […]

Drawing Back the Veil

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sunjeev Sahota’s two previous novels sought to go behind the headlines about the experiences of British Asians. His promise was clear from his debut, Ours are the Streets (2011), which used the first-person testimony of a Pakistani cab driver’s son in Sheffield to explore, and perhaps over-explain, the impulses involved in terrorist radicalisation. In The […]

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An American in Japan

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Picture the scene. Early 1960s Tokyo at a late-night bar called Club 88. You might spy owner Alonzo Shattuck, a former American intelligence agent who tracked North Koreans smuggling crystal meth into Japan. At the piano you might find Nat King Cole, enjoying a night out while on tour, while Hollywood actors such as Rick […]

Businesswomen & Belly Dancers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Today, the area of Cairo around Ezbekiyya and Emad al-Din Street is drab and cheerless. Yet here in the 1920s and 1930s, audiences from across Egypt and the Middle East ventured through lanes peppered with brothels and hashish dens to the Ramses Theatre, the Kursaal music hall, the Casino de Paris and other glittering nightspots. […]

Playing for High Stakes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Although it is China’s largest city and its commercial centre, Shanghai tends to be obscured by Beijing. These two books attempt to shift the spotlight back onto the city that was known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ during the 1920s. Champions Day by the historian James Carter examines Shanghai’s history through the prism of […]

Generation Next

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The cover of this book sports a funky riff on Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus, which has been reimagined as a colourful line drawing of an adult holding hands with a child. The figure in Klee’s painting is notorious as the ‘angel of history’ invoked by the German thinker Walter Benjamin, its face ‘turned towards […]

Roots in Cahoots

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Beside a lane I walk down every morning these days, there are two enormous old oaks, their trunks distorted by huge burls. They must be at least four hundred years old, probably more; they show up, fully grown, on a map printed two hundred years ago. I’ve always admired these trees, but the fact is […]

Image Rites

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The ‘mysteries’ alluded to in the title of Peter Conrad’s new book might almost be taken in a religious sense. Cinema itself, as seen through the eyes of some of the enthusiasts he quotes, begins to resemble a mystery in the manner of a sacrament, a revelation of the transcendental. The commentators include the poet […]

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