Doing It by the Book

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The history of publishing is also a history of self-publishing. Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Ezra Pound and Jane Austen all published their own work, or paid someone else to do so. Publishers, as we would think of them, didn’t emerge until the late 18th century; before then, printers were publishers. Their input was limited to […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Doing It by the Book

Gulgeş Deryaspî & Meral Simşek

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Last month, PEN marked International Women’s Day by highlighting the cases of two Kurdish writers persecuted for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression: Gulgeç Akdeniz – who uses the pen name Gulgeş Deryaspî – and Meral Simşek (LR, October 2021). Both face lengthy prison sentences in Turkey for their writings. Born in 1978, […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Gulgeş Deryaspî & Meral Simşek

Whistle While You Work

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Your Show is a percussive, breathless novel about the life of Uriah Rennie, the first and so far only black referee to officiate in the English Premier League. The reader is plunged into a fictional internal monologue: it describes Rennie’s upbringing in Jamaica, his parachute fall into Sheffield and his role as ‘judge, jury and […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Whistle While You Work

The Witching Hour

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Parallel Hells, a debut collection of richly gothic short stories by Berlin-based British writer Leon Craig, is appropriately named. The same themes – queerness, identity, obfuscation – occur again and again, creating a unifying thread that leads the reader through a collection of analogous nightmares, much as Dante takes us through the circles of hell. […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on The Witching Hour

Batten Down the Hatches

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As its title suggests, Lara Williams’s The Odyssey is about a journey. Ingrid works on a cruise ship that crisscrosses the globe. The ship, the WA, is as large as some towns and comes complete with acres of swimming pools, restaurants and gift shops where long-term guests have an inconvenient habit of dying. Within this […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Batten Down the Hatches

Under their Spell

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

On 16 August 2021, Brenda Lozano was appointed cultural attaché to the Mexican embassy in Spain amid accusations of misogyny against her predecessor. Shortly afterwards, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, dismissed Lozano due to her criticisms of the government. He suggested that she be replaced by an indigenous female poet. It is an appropriate […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Under their Spell

Out of Leningrad

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Geometer Lobachevsky opens with a dying man lying in bed. A photograph suddenly appears in his mind’s eye: five men stand ‘on the edge of acres of unworked bog’, among them the dying man, Nikolai Lobachevsky. In what follows, Lobachevsky tells the story behind this image, intimating that it will reveal what has led […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Out of Leningrad

Back to the Future

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The world is full of odd coincidences. One encounters, say, an old friend not thought of in years mere minutes after thinking of them; a new word, learned from a book, appears suddenly everywhere in the days which follow its introduction, often in the most unlikely and unexpected of contexts. In general, we learn to […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Back to the Future

Sex & Sectarianism

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Trespasses begins with a groping. Cushla Lavery, the protagonist, is a young Catholic teacher living on the outskirts of Belfast in the mid-1970s. To help out with the family business, a pub frequented by soldiers and Protestants, she works part-time as a barmaid. Within a few pages, one of the squaddies has ‘laid his hand […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Sex & Sectarianism

Rich Man, Poor Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Pankaj Mishra’s new novel is narrated by a middle-aged man, Arun, to a younger woman, Alia. The story, part apology and part apologia, is told in circumstances that are slowly clarified in the telling. Alia, it seems, has written a book herself, a journalistic exposé of corrupt Indian millionaires on Wall Street who, like Arun, […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Rich Man, Poor Man

Tom the Obscure

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It takes a brave novelist to write about the life of Thomas Hardy. Either they play it safe and produce nothing more than cut-price biography or they embroider facts boldly and in doing so run the risk of offending experts who do not wish to see their versions of Hardy dethroned. Happily, Elizabeth Lowry rises […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Tom the Obscure

Imperial Evidence

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Julian Barnes’s new novel has two main characters: Elizabeth Finch, quietly charismatic extramural tutor for mature students at the University of London, and Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus, aka Julian the Apostate, the last non-Christian ruler of Rome. The framing narrative consists of Elizabeth’s life story – or, rather, the mostly unsuccessful attempts of her admiring […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Imperial Evidence

A Rare Bird

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Companion Piece is billed as a follow-up to Ali Smith’s Seasonal quartet, four novels written in response to current events that were published at speed between 2016 and 2020. The quartet was praised for being both timely and timeless, folding the plots of Shakespeare’s late romances loosely into contemporary fictions. Smith’s characters are variously depicted […]

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on A Rare Bird

Buckfast & Broken Noses

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize two years ago for his first novel, Shuggie Bain, which is set in 1980s Glasgow and follows a boy who, ill at ease with the burds-and-fitba chat on his housing scheme, struggles to take care of his alcoholic mother, Agnes. Stuart has been open about the book’s relationship to his own background, but while you can’t really write a misery memoir twice, nothing stops a novelist from having

Posted in 506 | Tagged | Comments Off on Buckfast & Broken Noses

Not Without Cause

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A great deal has been written about female killers. They are far outnumbered by male ones. Cases involving female serial killers are particularly rare. When women kill their partners it is often after years of domestic abuse, something that has recently led to a re-evaluation of what should happen to them. We already know all […]

From Out the Azure Main

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The idea of approaching maritime history through the stories of eleven vessels is as novel as it is appealing. Why, I wondered, had no one come up with it before? The trouble, as Tom Nancollas acknowledges, is that barely any of our old seafarers have survived in tangible form. Eyes may light up in recognition […]

Reader, I Divorced Him

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

After ten years of marriage, my wife takes very little notice of me. And certainly not of my reading habits. I could quite easily lie next to her in bed studying the ‘How to Make TNT’ chapter of The Anarchist Cookbook and it wouldn’t even register. But this book grabbed her attention right away. Most […]

Four Wheels Good

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Teslas, vehicles controlled via a touchscreen, have settings called ‘Insane’ and ‘Ludicrous’. Really. This doubtless says something about the people who drive them. They appeal to the inner tearaway with a cast-iron gut. The acceleration of these elegant machines outdoes that of the 1970 Norton Commando, which, until a friend took me for what used […]

Disgrace Under Fire

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This book promises to unpick the relationship between shame and power because, apparently, ‘shaming has taken a new and dangerous turn’. Has it? Are we really living in the ‘new age of humiliation’? I mean, wasn’t religion quite good at that kind of thing? Wasn’t the issue with Adam and Eve that they were not […]

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