Reinventing the Book

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The book publishing industry has fared surprisingly well during the pandemic. When the first lockdown was announced in spring 2020, many publishers feared the worst. Bookshops were forced to close and supply chains were disrupted, with the result that sales plummeted. But they bounced back remarkably quickly and many publishers finished the year strongly. Once […]

Peter Pomerantsev’s illuminating study of disinformation, This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (2019), first alerted me to the ‘new breed of digital-era manipulation’ in the Philippines – in particular, the problems faced by Maria Ressa, an award-winning journalist, and Rappler, the independent online news outlet she founded. Pomerantsev believes that the […]

Making Tracks

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The debut novel from American journalist Lisa Taddeo is cut from the same cloth as her first book, Three Women (2019), a timely, fly-off-the-shelf non-fiction work about female desire that veered into novelistic territory. Animal trails Joan, who describes herself as ‘depraved’, as she makes tracks from New York to Topanga Canyon just outside LA, […]

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Ill Behaviour

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Natasha Brown wrote Assembly after winning a London Writers Award for literary fiction in 2019. It is a novella that is also both a prose poem and an incisive examination of how racism is rooted in our very language. Structurally, Assembly is a series of jagged-edged shards that when accumulated form an unhappy mirror in […]

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Death of an Urbanist

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Like High Dive, Jonathan Lee’s 2015 novel that retold the story of the 1984 Brighton hotel bombing, The Great Mistake is a work of historical ventriloquism. This time, his chosen dummy is the 19th-century lawyer and urban planner Andrew Haswell Green. Now largely forgotten, this ‘Father of Greater New York’ was responsible for creating Central […]

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School of Hard Knocks

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mieko Kawakami’s Heaven, first published in Japan in 2009, is a study of myopia and blindness that tracks the evolving relationship between two vulnerable teenagers. It opens with an anonymous letter sent to the narrator, nicknamed ‘Eyes’: ‘We should be friends.’ Eyes has strabismus and has spent his life being stared at by strangers and […]

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Lose Your Delusions

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Cold New Climate, the debut novel of the young American author Isobel Wohl, begins with a Shirley Valentine-esque episode in which Lydia (who is not old) leaves her partner (who is not young) and his son, Caleb, to spend a few weeks alone in Greece, where she has an unfulfilling (and uncomfortably weird) one-night stand. […]

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A Quadrille at the Asylum

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Victoria Mas’s enthralling and wonderfully imagined first novel is based upon an actual event. Back in the late 19th century, the great gloomy madhouse of La Salpêtrière became an unexpected draw for Parisian society. There were two main attractions, the more outwardly respectable of which were the remarkable public lectures at which Dr Jean-Martin Charcot […]

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A Town of Two Halves

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

David Annand’s debut novel takes place in a morose industrial town, Peterdown – ‘low-rise, analogue, more broken than brokered’. Once the greatest manufacturer of locomotive carriages in the world, now ‘the future is coming to Peterdown for the first time in a long time’. The old goods line that passes through is being upgraded as […]

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Comedy of Terrors

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1978, the critic Hugh Kenner coined the term ‘the Uncle Charles Principle’ to describe a particular literary realist technique. Kenner was responding to Wyndham Lewis, who in 1927 criticised James Joyce’s style, pouncing on the phrase ‘Every morning … Uncle Charles repaired to the outhouse.’ For Lewis, Joyce’s language was pompous and inflated: ‘people […]

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Staying Alive

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

You might think that when a writer who has been called the ‘Cassandra of American letters’ turns her gaze to old age, physical deterioration and death, the resulting novel would be bleak. But if Lionel Shriver had, as she has claimed, ‘an absolute ball writing this book’, then perhaps it’s because she enjoys the dystopian, […]

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All Bar None

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 2012 the Irish writer Keith Ridgway published his fourth novel, Hawthorn & Child, a blackly comedic inversion of a police procedural. It focuses loosely on two murder detectives and it reads like a 21st-century riff on Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1953 anti-detective novel The Erasers, insomuch as none of the many mysteries raised in it are […]

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Once Upon a Time in Japan

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

David Peace has always been a novelist of stamina, scale and historical ambition. His celebrated Red Riding Quartet was a mesmerising dive into the darkness of 1970s and 1980s Yorkshire terrorised by the Ripper, while GB84 chronicled the impact of the miners’ strikes in Britain. His Tokyo Trilogy, which began in 2007 with Tokyo Year […]

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Finding Freedom

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There’s a tension in fiction that aspires to any degree of psychological realism: on the one hand, the author must craft characters who seem to operate with the sense of freedom of people in the real world; on the other, a character’s every move is dictated by the author – no action they take is […]

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Hooked for Life

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As a young boy, David Profumo and his family made an ‘annual summer pilgrimage north to my uncle’s estate in Sutherland’. ‘My first thrill’ on arrival, he relates in this memoir, ‘was to unload the Vauxhall shooting brake’. Not many nine-year-olds would have known what a shooting brake was, let alone been allowed anywhere near […]

Sherlock Investigates

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Early in her book about the case of George Edalji, the solicitor convicted of animal maiming in 1903 and later freed from penal servitude following a campaign spearheaded by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shrabani Basu suggests that the story has been forgotten. This may be true for those who have not read Julian Barnes’s 2005 […]

On the Rocks

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Madhouse at the End of the Earth tells the story of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897, the first enterprise to overwinter in the Antarctic (this was not part of the plan; not all of the crew returned). Today, NASA believes the expedition to be the closest men have ever come to the extreme conditions […]

Crime & Therapy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When a violent offender is convicted and sentenced, it’s the end of the story as far as most of us are concerned. This lack of curiosity about what happens next is surprising given that the UK has one of the highest rates of incarceration in western Europe and a very high level of reoffending. Poor […]

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