Pain In The Desert

Posted on by David Gelber

Elinor Grace, exploring Arabia in 1911, travels with a supply of plum puddings and a certain sense of personal inadequacy; ‘Mother’s shawl will prove a godsend in the mountains; its strong Persian blues enliven my rather ordinary plainness…’ She is no novice traveller, is used to her own company; but still, she is a virgin, […]

Prodigiously Clever, Of Course

Posted on by David Gelber

‘To take risks,’ said Nietzsche, ‘is to remain scrupulous.’ Few do it better than Peter Ackroyd, the conventional, punctilious surface of his novels habitually undermined by strange metaphysical conceits, Gothic melodrama, farce and capering antiquarianism. Ackroyd braves the accusation of self-indulgence in pursuit of a more exact truthfulness about the oddity of the world we […]

Posted in 167 | Tagged , | Comments Off on Prodigiously Clever, Of Course

Gross and Slimy Place

Posted on by David Gelber

The world on which Marianne Wiggins’s stories opens is a strange one, and not only because in one of them an anglophone angel issues a death threat to a non-English-speaking Spanish bird-fancier over a defunct telephone. Wiggins seldom has recourse to such blatant disruption of the laws governing physical reality; she seldom needs to. As […]

The Squeak of a Frozen Pea

Posted on by David Gelber

The Satanic Verses is a novel with a devilish delight in disaster, transforming the sufferings of a manic world with a jubilant, generous spirit. In style, conception, and sheer creative energy, it is as unmistakably Salman Rushdie’s as Midnight’s Children and Shame. Proper London, bhai! ‘ a man yells as he falls alive from the […]

Life Without Men

Posted on by David Gelber

There must have been rejoicing in the House of Virago when they got their hands on Ali Smith’s novel, as Like embraces many of the subjects they hold dear – Sapphic love, single parenthood, anti-Thatcher politics and Scottishness. It is the story of Dr Amy Shone, a brilliant scholar and Fellow of Cambridge University and […]

Gracile but Ludic in its Martianism

Posted on by David Gelber

Although his literary works are by no means uniformly successful, Peter Ackroyd may safely be described as an author possessed of genius, and had he died before attaining middle age (like Bruce Chatwin, say), he would doubtless have been the subject of an admiring industry fussing over his prodigious achievements. But the life that he […]

Among the Members of a Quartet

Posted on by David Gelber

Vikram Seth ought to have won the Booker Prize in 1993 – or so most of those who have read A Suitable Boy will surely agree. It gives a superb portrait of a whole nation in a time of political, social and cultural turmoil; but it is for the human portraits that it will be […]

Perhaps There Is Something Wrong With Our Brains

Posted on by David Gelber

I didn’t think I was going to like this novel, being unwilling to surrender to a parable about the travails of a brother and sister in a far country in the very distant future. But Mara and Dann had me by the throat immediately. Whenever I had to put the book down I fretted about […]

Posted in 250 | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Perhaps There Is Something Wrong With Our Brains

Six Of The Best

Posted on by David Gelber

Martin Amis’s new novel is clearly the result of the same forces which he says prompted him to write Einstein’s Monsters: Parenthood and a belated reading of Jonathon Schell’s Fate of the Earth. In his essay ‘Thinkability’ he wrote that ‘the theme of nuclear weapons resists frontal assault. For myself I feel it is a […]

Is this Review to be the End of Foster Bayley?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

What has made Naipaul so wholly original a writer and stylist is hard to define, because whatever it is it seems to lack positive substance, to be an omnipresent but wholly negative power. He is the master of the undefined, the uncertain and the contingent. Strong feelings, like disgust or envy, become colourless and subdued; […]

Byron Tells All

Posted on by David Gelber

Scholars still regret the lost plays of the Athenian dramatists; feminists and other critics may deplore the lost poems of Sappho; for many of us however the memoirs of Byron remain the most grievous of literary losses, all the more because their destruction was not the work of time, but of stupidity, prudery and malice. […]

Posted in 135 | Tagged | Comments Off on Byron Tells All

Antichrist or Angel?

Posted on by David Gelber

If novels are going to be as rich in reference as Hilary Mantel’s Fludd, I do think the publishers should be encouraged to add optional reading lists at the end. Fludd is a funny, exquisitely written story of priests and nuns in Fifties England, but it is also a questioning, intellectual book that applies a […]

Posted in 135 | Tagged | Comments Off on Antichrist or Angel?

Author as Father Bear

Posted on by David Gelber

Ancestors do turn quear, as Daisy Ashford says, and when you begin the third novel of a trilogy without knowledge of its forerunners, your fear is not so much that you won’t know who the characters are, for any competent author can introduce you to them; it is that the novelist may have embarked earlier […]

Posted in 123 | Tagged | Comments Off on Author as Father Bear

What the Hell is Going on?

Posted on by David Gelber

In his long and distinguished career as a novelist Graham Greene has often flirted with the simple adventure story (‘There is a great deal of Boys’ Own Paper in Greene,’ V S Pritchett once told me). But he has shied away from explicit outward bounding and he has always chosen to thicken his plots with […]

Streets Ahead

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the smoky, tumbledown north of a sprawling city, where governesses duel with umbrellas and the gap between poor and rich is vast, lives a young lad called Barnaby Grimes. Dapper, self-assured, and handy with a sword-stick, he races around the roofs of the city – ‘highstacking’, as it is called – running errands as […]

Poles Apart

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is strange to think that Rose Tremain is always more concerned with outsiders than insiders. To those familiar only with her best-selling, prize-winning novels like Restoration, Music & Silence and most recently The Colour, she has acquired a lustrous Establishment sheen as the respectable face of historical fiction. Yet just as impressive, and interesting, […]

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on Poles Apart

Not So Ordinary

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I liked this book very much. Quoting from Dombey and Son in his epigraph – ‘“We are dreadfully real, Mr Carker”, said Mrs Skewton; “are we not?”’ – Adam Thorpe announces that he has set out to write a story about the particular intensities of ordinary people. Jack Middleton, a composer, visits Estonia hoping to […]

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on Not So Ordinary

The Big Sleep

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Yukio Mishima lived in a Spanish baroque house that he designed himself and stuffed with European antiques. A visiting French TV documentary crew asked him, inevitably, where all the Japanese art was and why he lived like a Westerner. He replied, ‘here only what you cannot see is Japanese’. 

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on The Big Sleep

LA Story

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Famously, most of the defining novels about California have not been produced by Californians. The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Day of the Locust, The Last Tycoon, The Big Sleep, The Loved One, The Crying of Lot 49, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Tales of the City – all written by authors for whom […]

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on LA Story

Sign Up to our newsletter

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

RLF - March