Lord of the Dance

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This novel is based on the tumultuous life of the dancer of whom his closest English male friend, the ballet critic Nigel Gosling, once remarked: ‘Seeing Rudolf dance was like watching a wild animal let loose in the drawing room.’ Was this wild animal, Rudolf Nureyev, the greatest male dancer of the twentieth century? To […]

Posted in 296 | Tagged | Comments Off on Lord of the Dance

Flog After Reading

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It’s surprisingly hard to get rid of old books. I should know – I sell them for a living. The books I sell are rare first editions, often inscribed, sometimes of considerable historical or literary significance. A question I’m often asked is how I can bear to let these treasures go. There’s no difficulty at […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on Flog After Reading

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

On 12 May 2021, the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, started his sixth term in office. He has held power for thirty-five years. The run-up to the elections, held the previous January, was marred by killings, arrests, beatings and disappearances carried out by security forces, as well as the harassment and intimidation of journalists and a […]

What Do Critics Know?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Literary historians often amuse themselves with the sensibility time-lag, which can be defined as the gap – usually only a few years, but sometimes amounting to several decades – between popular taste and highbrow taste. John Gross’s The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969) is full of this kind of thing. Among […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on What Do Critics Know?

The Kid’s Aren’t Alright

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A coming-of-age narrative set in author Daphne Palasi Andreades’s home borough of Queens, New York, Brown Girls spans the lives (and, for a moment, the afterlives) of a group of young women experiencing everything from college applications to the first trip ‘back’ to their motherlands. A brisk read, Brown Girls can sometimes feel like an […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on The Kid’s Aren’t Alright

The Smuggler’s Tale

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Alex Preston’s fourth novel is a rip-roaring slice of historical fiction set during the 1740s in the notorious smugglers’ town of Winchelsea on England’s south coast. Based on the actual character of Goody Brown, ‘a tall, square-shouldered child with great swags of hair the colour of sea spume’, Preston’s heroine is an orphan saved from […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on The Smuggler’s Tale

True Colours

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The fact that the title of Paulo Scott’s 2019 novel Marrom e Amarelo (‘Brown and Yellow’) has been translated as Phenotypes shows the difficulty of communicating Brazil’s complex racial politics to Anglophone readers. Scott’s principled but troubled narrator, Federico, who is light-skinned, participates in a government commission on racial quotas at universities. He is forced […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on True Colours

No Pain, No Gain

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Tyler Durden is on a bus. The advert pasted above the seats, for Gucci underwear, shows adamantine, muscle-bound bodies – Platonic forms for late 20th-century Western masculinity. This is Fight Club (1999), directed by David Fincher and based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel of the same name. ‘I felt sorry for all the guys packing […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on No Pain, No Gain

Six Authors in Search of Some Character

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘There was something about her that was a little off,’ we’re told about the titular protagonist of Mona, the Argentine writer Pola Oloixarac’s third novel. On the surface, Mona is a young Peruvian novelist whose successful debut earned her a teaching job at Stanford, where she is also completing a PhD and hyper-consciously ‘playing the […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on Six Authors in Search of Some Character

The Ghost in the Bookshop

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Tookie is being haunted. An Ojibwe from Minnesota, she can’t remember her real name; she has known addiction and crime; while in prison, she learned ‘to read with murderous attention’; subsequently, she settled into a stable marriage and a bookselling job. Then, in November 2019, one of her regular customers, Flora, a fellow book obsessive […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on The Ghost in the Bookshop

Flights of Fancy

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One of the most disconcerting and disorientating aspects of this book is that although it was originally published in France in 2020, where it was a bestseller and won the Prix Goncourt, it is a sort of science-fiction fable set in 2021. Effectively, then, it is book about an imaginary near future which by the […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on Flights of Fancy

Twice an Exile

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The story of European intellectuals and artists who fled from fascism in the prewar years, settling in America, often in Hollywood alongside other expatriates, is a familiar one. Less well known is the tale of those who, having escaped to the ‘land of the free’, found it not quite as advertised. With the arrival of […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on Twice an Exile

Bird’s Eye View

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Sheila Heti’s ambitious but erratic new fable about love, death and art imagines that the world as we know it is merely God’s first draft. As so often with artistic projects, things have gone subtly wrong. There is going to have to be a remake. The earth is heating up; the seas are rising; we […]

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on Bird’s Eye View

Out of Towners

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘The pure products of America’, said William Carlos Williams, ‘go crazy.’ And of course the evidence does tend to bear that out. But two important questions remain. What do we mean when we talk about purity? And what do we mean when we talk about America? Gary Shteyngart has quietly become one of the most talented comic writers working in English today. More or less uniquely, apart maybe from bits of Zadie Smith, he’s even funny on the subject of identity. He’s also good on both Tom Wolfe’s ‘right – BAM! – now’ and J G Ballard’s

Posted in 504 | Tagged | Comments Off on Out of Towners

Beware White Men Bearing Corned Beef

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Anna Della Subin’s book begins with three case studies of men who, by a fluke of circumstance and for different reasons, came to be considered gods by particular groups of people: Haile Selassie, the late Duke of Edinburgh and General Douglas MacArthur. The story of how Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, became Ras Tafari, via Jamaican […]

Palazzos by the Thames

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Barely a day goes by when I don’t stroll along at least a stretch of the Strand, amid baffled tourists, the hopeless homeless and the Prets, Costas, Greggs and Boots that homogenise all of England. There are islands of distinction: the Baroque churches of St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand, marooned amid traffic […]

Fatal Distraction

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Attention is much more than the cognitive function it is often taken to be – it is the very basis of our being in the world. A deep and meaningful experience of life depends to a large extent on our ability to maintain focus, which, in turn, depends on filtering out distracting stimuli. But the […]

Bad Manners and Bright Ideas

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Is venture capital an art or a science and has it brought good to the world? These are the main questions asked by Sebastian Mallaby, a British author writing chiefly about an American business arena. Sixty years after it took off in the United States, venture capital is a mode of finance that remains relatively […]

The Devil Wears Cotton

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Sofi Thanhauser offers a simple but remarkable fact early on in her new book, Worn: today it is more expensive to make your own clothes than to buy them. This is a relatively recent and shocking development in the history of human dress. How did such a situation come to pass? The answer to that question is globalisation and the devaluation of labour that it has unleashed. For two decades now, academics and journalists have been wrangling with the ecological and human consequences of the fast-fashion machine. See, for

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter