Phantoms of the Mind

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Browsing in the bookshop once again, you found yourself working your way through that familiar army of books you haven’t read. Your defences sprang back into action, deflecting the antagonists into their neglectable categories: books for your retirement, books you wouldn’t want seen on your shelves, books you ought to read but know you never […]

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Nedim Türfent & Osman Kavala

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

To mark PEN International’s centenary this year, PEN’s English Centre has launched PENWrites (, an international letter-writing campaign to offer solidarity to writers in prison and at risk around the world. Many writers have told the organisation how much letters and messages mean to them, serving as a crucial reminder that they have not been […]

After the Crash

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Three months after a car crash leaves him paralysed from the waist down, Jarred, the protagonist of The Coward and the autofictional alter ego of Jarred McGinnis, finds himself discharged from hospital without warning and with no one to call on but his estranged father, Jack. Having run away from Jack a decade before, Jarred […]

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The Old Abnormal

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A woman of unspecified age lives with her husband and daughter in an unspecified city in America’s Pacific Northwest. Raised by an unwell mother and abusive grandfather, along with an older brother (since deceased), she now works as a security protocol analyst for an anonymous technology company.

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Who Remembers Theresa May?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The epigraph to Jo Hamya’s debut novel (from A Room of One’s Own) announces its key theme: the relationship of women’s creativity and feminism to economic marginalisation. Three Rooms follows an unnamed narrator, who works first as a research assistant in Oxford and then in London as a copy editor for a society magazine, over […]

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Shaggy Dog Story?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The protagonist in Rachel Yoder’s debut novel of transfiguration and maternal rage has lost her sense of identity. Indeed, we know her first simply as ‘the mother’, and then by an assumed name, Nightbitch, a moniker she takes for herself after worrying that she is turning into a dog – extreme hair-growth, new fangs, tail […]

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Gorilla Journalism

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The protagonist of Felice Fallon’s debut novel, Interviews with an Ape, is a gorilla named Einstein who has learned sign language after being taken from his family by poachers. The book follows him and a menagerie of other animals: a despairing sow, a frightened elephant calf, an indignant foxhound and a vengeful orca, as well […]

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She was a Lion Eater

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The dynamic small publisher Peirene Press specialises in short contemporary European novels in translation. Yesterday is an exception, as it was originally published in 1935 and the author was Chilean. However, both novel and author can qualify loosely as European, for Juan Emar, who was born Alvaro Yáñez Bianchi in 1893, spent many years in […]

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Paying the Penalty

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 2019 Rónán Hession’s debut, Leonard and Hungry Paul, was published by Bluemoose Books, a small independent publisher based in Yorkshire’s Hebden Bridge. The book tells the story of two men in their thirties living pretty unremarkable lives: Leonard writes children’s encyclopedias; Hungry Paul lives with his parents and works casual shifts as a postman. […]

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The Rest is History

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Recalling his Jewish upbringing in 1940s New Jersey, Alexander Portnoy, the infamous narrator of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, remembers his mother’s anxiety about junk food: she pronounced the word hamburger, he says, ‘just as she might say Hitler’. Although acutely aware of the Nazi genocide in Europe, Portnoy, in America, inhabits a realm in which […]

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A Helping Hand

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In David Diop’s accomplished first novel, 1889, l’Attraction universelle (2012), a funny thing happens to the Senegalese delegation at the World Fair in Paris. After two of their number ‘wander off’, the French authorities send the whole lot packing. They’re in Bordeaux, awaiting repatriation, when a député decides to make a present of them to […]

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Blast from the Past

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mircea Cărtărescu’s extraordinary novel Nostalgia was first published in Romania in 1989, in the dying days of the Ceauşescu regime, with the title Visul (‘The Dream’). It appeared again, in its present, revised version, as Nostalgia four years later. The original title must have seemed right at the time, implying as it does that the […]

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You’re in the Army Now

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Adam Mars-Jones’s previous novel, Box Hill, was a devilishly unsettling sex comedy narrated by Colin, a train driver who looks back to how, on turning eighteen in 1975, he stumbled into a submissive relationship with Ray, an older man whose domination of Colin seems – at least to the reader – indistinguishable from abuse. Colin, for his part, recalls the affair fondly. The energy of the novel lies in how it dares us to dismiss his chatty testimony in a manner akin

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The Human Thing

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Few books have both impressed and depressed me in equal measures as much as this one has done. Christopher Coker’s magnificently researched Why War? is many things, but it isn’t a beach read. It demands your constant attention and rewards you for it. The essence of his argument is that war is, in the words […]

Don’t Call Them French

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ever since the smoke cleared from the Napoleonic Wars, Brittany has been a playground for the British. But as this remarkable book makes clear, long before it was a place of recreation, the English especially knew it as a place of trade, migration and war. For more than thirty-five years, Sir Barry Cunliffe was professor […]

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Down by the Rock Pool

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Keats lamented that scientific inquiry would ‘conquer all mysteries by rule and line’ and ‘unweave a rainbow’, he was, it turns out, being unduly pessimistic. Science has revealed a vista of new wonders and brought us up sharply against the limits of what we can know. Consider, for example, as Adam Nicolson does at […]

Kind of Grey

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Early on in this ragbag collection of essays, editor Tom Gatti quotes Phil Spector, who memorably described LPs as being ‘two hits and ten pieces of junk’. Sadly, this proves something of a hostage to fortune, because despite the engaging nature of Gatti’s own introduction, a whistle-stop history of the album from shellac to Spotify, […]

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Changing of the Guard

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Virginia Woolf likened the sound of bombs falling in the war to ‘the sawing of a branch overhead’. At Rodmell in East Sussex, in Bloomsbury, Bow and beyond, the air scintillated with the aftermath of explosions or floated ‘thick as Hell’ above the trees. Lamplighters – ‘the silent brigade of the gloaming, like folkloric guardians […]

Man’s Best Friend Reimagined

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One hundred years ago, Karel Capek’s play R U R: Rossum’s Universal Robots debuted in Czechoslovakia. It went on to become an international sensation, with runs everywhere from Austria to Japan to the United States, where the New York Times called it ‘a Czecho-Slovak Frankenstein’. R U R is a tale of how artificial factory […]

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