Listening Posts

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The pandemic offered many of us an opportunity to take on classic books that we had been too busy to read during ordinary times. Half my friends seemed to be reading Proust. But while many people spent the lockdowns reading books, others passed the time by listening to them. Audiobooks offered a refuge for anyone […]

Meral Simşek & Yavuz Ekinci

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The state of freedom of expression in Turkey continues to deteriorate, with the government tightening the noose around social media platforms. Kurdish culture and language are already suppressed and many journalists from Kurdish or pro-Kurdish outlets are in prison, having been tried on trumped-up charges of terrorism. These include news editor and poet Nedim Türfent […]

Prawns & Parasols

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

After the Sun, the first collection of stories by the Danish writer Jonas Eika, has won a raft of prizes across Scandinavia. It’s a strange book that both compels and repulses. The best of the stories, ‘Alvin’, features an IT consultant who is recruited by a stranger into the world of derivatives trading. Eika is […]

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Magic Touch

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Tom is alone. His friends have left for the summer holidays and his guardian is on the other side of the world. Tom’s parents both died in a storm at sea; he believes he has no living relatives. Then a silver-eyed boy turns up and delivers Tom a letter, an invitation to spend the summer […]

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Mother Knows Best

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Liz, the mother at the centre of Are We Having Fun Yet?, juggles two small children, a job, a teenage boss, a nemesis on the parent–teacher association, a broken dishwasher and Richard, her hapless husband. It’s unsurprising that she’s permanently exhausted. The narrative in Lucy Mangan’s debut takes the form of a series of diary […]

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Westward Ho!

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Before the arrival of white men, some seventy million buffalo roamed the great plains of America. Their principal predators were people who, when I was a boy, were called Red Indians, and whom we now know as Native Americans. The buffalo made life tolerable in an inhospitable terrain. No part of the beast was ever […]

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Across 125th Street

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Colson Whitehead is a playfully referential practitioner of genre pastiche. Like any good pasticheur, he is really something of a prose virtuoso. His books are packed with densely worked phrases. His control over assonance and his feeling for the internal structure of a paragraph bespeak both a finely tuned literary ear and a profound self-consciousness […]

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The SPAD’s Tale

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Dickie Pentecost, diplomatic correspondent at a failing newspaper, is enjoying a spot of ‘champing’ (camping in a church) with his wife and two teenage daughters when he meets Ethel (short for Ethelbert), a spiky-haired young man who soon charms them all. Ethel runs Making Nice, a PR company specialising in data, and when Dickie loses […]

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Steady as He Goes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The titular antihero of Joshua Ferris’s fourth novel has lived a peripatetic existence. A college dropout, he spent many years bouncing between various manual occupations – his inability to hold down a job earned him the ironic nickname ‘Steady Boy’ – before trying his luck as an entrepreneur, throwing himself into ‘hook-a-duck schemes, napkin-doodled empires […]

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Hands, Face, Space

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘I had work, such terrible fucking possession. Downstairs is my proof, my national obligation,’ says 59-year-old sculptor Edith Harkness in Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat. The obligation in question is her last sculpture, a national memorial to the victims of ‘novavirus’. But we don’t know that at first. What we see is Edith’s final preparations for the […]

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His New Struggle

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the final sentence of My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autofictional six-volume opus, the author declares, ‘I will revel, truly revel, in the thought that I am no longer a writer.’ In the six books that have followed the English translation of this finale, Knausgaard has focused his energies on essays of varying length and […]

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Trains of Thought

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Anuk Arudpragasam’s first novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, was set over a day and a night during the ethnic massacres that came at the end of the civil war in his native Sri Lanka, in the course of which the north of the island, held by Tamil rebels, was taken over by government […]

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Remembrance of Husbands Past

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘I have to write this almost like a novel, but it is true – as true as I can make it.’ So says our narrator, Lucy, at the start of Elizabeth Strout’s capacious new book. The narrator’s bold yet hesitant voice is one we have heard before, since this same Lucy was the titular heroine […]

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The Meat of the Matter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Wole Soyinka last published a novel, the Nigerian Civil War was barely over and he had not long been a free man, having spent two years in solitary confinement at the pleasure of the federal government, writing on scraps of toilet paper. In the intervening half-century, many military dictators have come and gone, but […]

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New Kids on the Block

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In a daring break from precedent, Jonathan Franzen’s new novel is a hefty, fine-grained composite portrait of a somewhat unhappier than average American family at a moment of tremendous social change. There is a fair bit of exposition but important things are left unsaid. Often, a chapter opens with some brief scene-setting remarks about the weather. Large subjects – sex, drugs, rock, roll, the sanctity or otherwise of marriage, the heritability of

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Spirit of Parchment

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Lindisfarne Gospels are among the best known of all English manuscripts. The production of such works was normally a collaborative undertaking, involving a team of artists and scribes. What is remarkable about the Lindisfarne Gospels is that they are the work of one man, a talented artist-scribe named Eadfrith, who probably worked on them […]

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Bring Out the Lions

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The science writer Matt Ridley once confided to me that if you find a good subject, repeat it. Adrian Tinniswood has certainly managed that with his eight entertaining books on country houses. Here is his latest offering, which tells the postwar story. Is it possible to say anything new or interesting on this well-worn subject? […]

What Did Liberalism Do for Us?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A traditionalist is a person who believes that although we know more than our forebears, we are not necessarily wiser than them. The world was once populated by traditionalists. They placed the golden age in the past and regarded decay as the natural fate of all human constructs. The modern West has placed its own […]

Battle of the Sexes Resumed

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live,’ said Joan Didion. Scheherazade told her husband stories in order that she might live, thus turning herself into what Maria Tatar calls ‘a storytelling transvaluation machine’. Having been cuckolded by his first wife, Sultan Shahryar resolved to marry a fresh virgin every day and enjoy with his bride a single night of pleasure before having her executed the

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