Love in the Time of Crisis

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Sally Rooney’s new novel, her third in four years, is a passionate, earnest, vulnerable, often affecting and above all dysfunctional piece of work. It’s at once another instalment in her serial portrait of the bookish, fidgety, sexually avid Irishwoman born circa 1990 and a reckoning of sorts with doubts about Rooney-mania – her own as well as those expressed in what the narrator, describing the reception handed out to the not un-Rooney-like heroine, a superstar novelist

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One Book, Thirty-Six Years

Posted on by David Gelber

One day in 1985, I sat down in our living room at home in one of the plush armchairs by the front window. I was neither a studious nor a bookish child, and it had been a monumental effort on my part to commit to sitting still for several hours to read one of my […]

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Belarusian Democracy Movement

Posted on by David Gelber

Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president known as ‘Europe’s last dictator’, is once again making headlines for the extraordinary lengths he is going to in order to silence dissent. On 23 May, exiled blogger Roman Protasevich, an outspoken critic of Lukashenko and former editor of the popular opposition Telegram channel NEXTA, and his partner, Sofia Sapega, […]

Gauguin & Me

Posted on by David Gelber

In her lyrical debut novel, Paul, the poet Daisy Lafarge turns a precise eye on the ways in which social pressure to be a ‘good’ woman can constrict us. The narrator, Frances, is adrift and unsure of who she is. She is a recent medieval history graduate who has left the archive to volunteer on […]

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Alone in Rome

Posted on by David Gelber

‘I was at the end of my tether, truth be told.’ This is a reflection that Leo Gazzara returns to again and again after moving to Rome. It is never entirely clear whether or not Rome is to blame for his chronic loneliness in Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last Summer in the City, a 1973 cult classic […]

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Burgess Reborn

Posted on by David Gelber

‘We’ve dug three graves for you, Mr Burgess: one for your body, one for your books, and one for your ego.’ This is a line from a piece of hate mail received by Anthony Burgess, which he apparently found very funny. In his debut novel, Three Graves, Sean Gregory takes up the challenge of reckoning […]

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Toil & Trouble

Posted on by David Gelber

This debut novel by the poet and translator A K Blakemore, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize earlier this year, is a magnificent fictionalised account of the Essex witch trials of 1645. At its centre is Rebecca West, a young woman from Manningtree, through whose eyes we see a series of grimly inevitable events unfold: […]

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Flight of Fancy

Posted on by David Gelber

Great Circle, which has been longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, is a novel of ambition and scope. It tells the story of Marian Graves, a fictional pioneering female pilot. The book follows Marian from the moment in 1914 when, as a baby, she is rescued from a sinking ship, through her childhood, disastrous marriage […]

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We Hope You Enjoy Your Stay

Posted on by David Gelber

What Happens at Night opens with a man and his wife on a train halted in a forest in deep snow. They take a taxi to the Grand Imperial Hotel, where in the stately lobby the unsmiling staff are silent and the period decor is intimidating. In this unheimlich atmosphere a strange back story is […]

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Lady Chatterley’s Spectre

Posted on by David Gelber

D H Lawrence is back in vogue. This year has already seen the publication of an original and stylish biography by Frances Wilson, while Rachel Cusk has written a novel inspired by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s encounter with Lawrence in New Mexico. Neither of these books, however, deals with what he is most famous for: Lady […]

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Let the Right One In

Posted on by David Gelber

Elizabeth Day’s latest novel is a suspenseful psychological thriller in which the themes of infertility, toxic relationships and mental health are constellated around an emotionally astute exploration of motherhood. The book begins from the point of view of 28-year-old Marisa, who makes a living selling personalised children’s storybooks from her website, Telling Tales. She has […]

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In Search of Lost Love

Posted on by David Gelber

In Vienna in 1913, an aspiring journalist named Anton Heideck is shrugging off a provincial, bourgeois background in the most impeccably Viennese way: by listening to Schoenberg and questioning himself deeply. He does these things in the company of Delphine, an older French woman, who, true to her name, appears to be filled with exotic […]

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Thomas & His Brothers

Posted on by David Gelber

In his tenth novel, Colm Tóibín returns to the fictionalised biographical form he used to such good effect in The Master (2004). That earlier book described just a few years in the life of Henry James; here Tóibín seeks to cover almost the whole of German writer Thomas Mann’s long life, stretching from the end […]

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Star Wars for Postmodernists

Posted on by David Gelber

The film at the centre of Tom McCarthy’s The Making of Incarnation is a big-budget Star Wars rip-off: a swashbuckling space saga complete with laser swords, space pirates and a gutsy princess. Dr Mark Phocan, the novel’s protagonist, is a motion-capture specialist working for Pantarey PLC, makers of the high-end proprietary imaging technology that is […]

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Matters of Love & Death

Posted on by David Gelber

Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘lost’ novella Les inséparables is one of four known novelistic attempts to tell the tragic story of the life and death of her fiercely beloved friend Elisabeth Lacoin, who died in 1929, when both she and Beauvoir were twenty-one. Lacoin – better known to literary history as ‘Zaza’ – features centrally in Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958), which concludes with a raw confession of survivor’s guilt: ‘for a long time I believed

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Painting with Postage Stamps

Posted on by David Gelber

During the decade leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, a wave of innovation swept through the advanced art and cultural circles of Europe, giving rise to Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Orphism, Rayonism and Vorticism, among other movements. As Philip Hook says in this informative but lightly written book, they poured out […]

Sounds of Sehnsucht

Posted on by David Gelber

Hugo Wolf (1860–1903) sits uncomfortably in the pantheon of great composers. He wrote no symphonies, sonatas or concertos, very little chamber music and only one complete (and problematic) opera. His music – densely chromatic, anti-classical, Wagnerian – rests on the cusp of modernism and for all its depth and richness, it lacks the element of […]

Are We All on the Same Page?

Posted on by David Gelber

We all know where to find an index. It’s at the back. The physical form of the book – a bundle of flickable leaves clapped between two covers – has had such an astonishingly long run that it’s hard to imagine its major features arranged any other way. That hasn’t always been the case. The […]

In Mint Condition

Posted on by David Gelber

Warren Ellis’s memoir, Nina Simone’s Gum, is about as weird as it sounds. For the last twenty years, Ellis, a rock musician best known for his long-term collaboration with Nick Cave, has acted as self-appointed ‘custodian’ of a piece of chewing gum spat out by Nina Simone during a concert at the Royal Festival Hall […]

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