Mr Gibbon’s Shadow

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One of the most celebrated passages in Edward Gibbon’s autobiography identifies the moment when the idea for what would become his magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, first came to him: It was at Rome, on the 15th of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins […]

Maykel Osorbo

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 18 May, Maykel Castillo Pérez (known as Maykel Osorbo), an independent musician, was arrested by the police in Cuba. Over the past three years, the Cuban authorities have repeatedly tried to silence Osorbo and his demands for fundamental freedoms and rights. He has reportedly endured more than 120 repressive acts of different kinds in […]

From Arizona to Okinawa

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Venetia Welby’s new novel, Dreamtime, is set in 2035, a time of rising sea levels and extreme weather events. It follows Sol as she completes a stint in rehab in Arizona, grappling with the trauma of her upbringing in a cult and searching for her absent father. Finally getting a lead on where he might […]

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A Stitch in Time

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Adam O’Riordan’s debut novel sets up an intriguing premise: it’s 1890 and Charles Wright, the bored son of a wealthy industrialist, is on vacation from Cambridge at his family’s Manchester villa. There, he seduces his sisters’ governess, Hettie. Her subsequent pregnancy and their marriage suggest we’re in store for a historical novel of Hollinghurstian proportions […]

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Gay’s the Word

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This collection of loosely linked short stories from theatre director, activist and Costa Prize-shortlisted author Neil Bartlett chronicles queer lives across a century and a half, with seven juxtaposed voices effortlessly articulating grief, joy and incomprehension at love’s caprices. With most of the stories bearing the title of a London address, the book is a […]

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Coming of Age

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mia Kim’s debut novel, set in 1960s Korea, opens with a jolt: five-year-old Su-young is being beaten by the latest in a long line of foster parents. She is bleeding. Su-young’s mother, who lives and works at a US Army base on the outskirts of Seoul, whisks away her daughter (the father is unknown) and […]

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Short Walk to Freedom

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s an uncanny experience having the past two years reflected back at you in a fictional narrative, with terms that were once reserved for news headlines – social distancing, lockdown, quarantine – now fixed on the page. One of a growing number of ‘lockdown novels’, Sarah Moss’s latest book, The Fell, is set in the […]

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Coming into Bloom

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Salley Vickers’s new novel begins with a woman in her forties moving to a run-down cottage in the Shropshire village of Hope Wenlock. The improbably named protagonist, Halcyon Days (she goes by ‘Hassie’), has bought the cottage with her sister, the two of them combining their inheritances after their parents’ deaths. Hassie is haunted by […]

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Mother Superior

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The woman known as Marie de France (c 1160–1215) is considered the first female francophone poet. She was the author of a collection of narrative poems called The Lais of Marie de France and a translation of Aesop’s fables. There are few historical certainties about her, including her actual identity, though one supposition is that […]

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Trees & Empathy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

How different would the world be if it were possible to ‘feel what it was like to not be us’? This thought sits at the heart of Bewilderment, Richard Powers’s latest exploration of humanity’s increasingly fraught stand-off with the natural world. Powers’s second Booker Prize-shortlisted novel is narrated by Theo Byrne, an astrobiology professor and […]

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California Dreaming

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The publication of the nine short stories in Afterparties was intended to herald the arrival of a truly exceptional and original writer, but Anthony Veasna So died in December 2020 of a drug overdose at the distressingly early age of twenty-eight. Although the book that will keep his name alive is bristling with youthful energy […]

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Capital Murder

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Rose Tremain used to chafe against being called a historical novelist, a description that seemed to stick to her after the publication of her breakthrough novel, the Booker Prize-shortlisted Restoration (1989), despite the fact that she has published several novels set in the present. But in recent years she appears to have embraced the genre. […]

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Identity Parade

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

From the very beginning of Case Study, the reader is invited to consider the line between truth and fiction. Graeme Macrae Burnet’s book opens with a persuasive account, by an author named GMB, explaining how he came to learn about a series of notebooks concerning Collins Braithwaite, an eccentric, controversial psychotherapist who found fame and […]

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The Cardiff One

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Cardiff’s Tiger Bay has a claim to be one of the oldest multicultural communities in the UK. As coal production boomed in the 19th century, the area became an industrial hub, with people from all over the world putting down roots. This continued into the 1950s, when, as the British-Somali author Nadifa Mohamed writes in her third novel, The Fortune Men, ‘an army of workers’ was ‘pulled in … to replace the

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Net Benefits

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

After Kent, the Thames is the place with the oldest name in England, and has been one of the country’s ancient arteries for so long that he (unlike most rivers, Father Thames is traditionally represented as a chap) has become the subject of hundreds of books – from travelogues (Robert Gibbings) and histories (Hilaire Belloc, […]

All the Leaves Are Russet

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Fashionable gardening nowadays consists of doing nothing and letting your plants die. This will be welcome news to reluctant horticulturists, and is only slightly larding it. The ‘naturalistic turn’ in high garden style over the past few decades has led to an emphasis on autumn as opposed to early summer as the peak moment in […]

Matriarchs & Money

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Within a year of Amschel Mayer Rothschild’s wife, Eva, dying in 1848, the childless septuagenarian announced at a family dinner that he intended to remarry and that his bride would be Julie, his eighteen-year-old great-niece. As Natalie Livingstone comments in this absorbing portrait of several generations of Rothschild women, the fact that the old man, […]

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Roots of the City

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There was a time, not so long ago, when woodland stretched across south London in a great seven-mile swathe from Croydon (which literally means ‘crocus valley’) to Deptford. Only in Victorian times, when it was already seriously depleted, was it given a name: the Great North Wood. Now that it is depleted still further, reduced […]

On the Origin of Our Species

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘One of the most pernicious aspects of standard world-historical narratives,’ according to anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow, is ‘that they dry everything up, reduce people to cardboard stereotypes, simplify the issues … in ways that themselves undermine, possibly even destroy, our sense of human possibility’. The ‘standard’ narratives they have in mind are […]

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