Bring on the Beef

Posted on by David Gelber

Punters who were persuaded to buy Damage, Josephine Hart’s first, best-selling novel, because its striking black-and-white cover made it look like a box of chocolates were unlikely to have been disappointed. It was impossible not to devour the book in a single evening and, after you had finished it, you were left with a strong […]

Explorers’ Memories

Posted on by David Gelber

Almost hidden in this characteristically dense proliferation of images, Michael Ondaatje has a vision of pre-war British explorers, now landlocked in Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush, making the anxious journey to Kensington Gore as guest lecturers to the Royal Geographical Society. By convention, their expeditionary accounts give no hint of emotion; by convention, the Society memorialises […]

A Good German Policeman Exposes the Holocaust

Posted on by David Gelber

Consider Hugh Trevor-Roper’s description in The Mind of Adolf Hitler of the European cultural order we would have grown up with if the Panzers had prevailed in 1945: ‘The hundred million self-confident German masters were to be brutally installed…and secured in power by a monopoly of technical civilisation and the slave labour of a dwindling […]

Is He Authentic

Posted on by David Gelber

Michael Frayn’s new novel, his first for 16 years, asks some almost unaskable questions. Anyone who reads Donne’s Songs and Sonnets will recognise the authentic smell of warm, used linen; but who has stopped to consider what it would really have been like to spend a night with the poet? Poetry – and even fiction […]

Upper-Class Sado-Masochism

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Let’s hope that Edward St Aubyn’s accomplished first novel is not a roman-à-clef. When we first encounter his hero, failed doctor David Melrose, he is using the early hours of the morning to water his Provençal garden, taking care to massacre as many ants as he can with the jet from his hosepipe. His wealthy […]

They Sang Against Each Other Most Harmoniously

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Peter Everett’s 1960s novel, Negatives, was innovatory and gripping, intelligent and strange. I have been conscious of a space where he should have been in our fictional landscape, an emptiness, ever since. Now he is back, and his new novel is also technically brilliant, fiercely intelligent and moving. It tells the story of the Second […]

A Desperate Need to be Acknowledged

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is 1978, eight years after Phoebe O’Connor’s elder sister Faith died mysteriously in Italy while travelling in Europe. Phoebe is eighteen, just graduated from high school in San Francisco and desperate to be exactly like her sister. Jennifer Egan’s first novel, The Invisible Circus, charts Phoebe’s emotional journey, from childhood to womanhood, through the […]

Posted in 204 | Tagged | Comments Off on A Desperate Need to be Acknowledged

Only Half Cock

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Henry Miller will probably be remembered as the only major writer of the twentieth century who had absolutely nothing to say. He wrote as a compulsive talker talks: because he liked the sound of his own voice. As far as Miller was concerned, it didn’t matter what he said. What he enjoyed was fixing the […]

Pineapple of Politeness?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Eating a hundred golden pippins in a single afternoon was the act of self-indulgence and dubious taste to which Jonathan Swift attributed the madness of his latest years. Sexing the Cherry is ripe with Swiftian tropes, from the Brobdingnagian heroine who makes men seem like Lilliputians, to the setting of the tale-within-a-tale on a flying […]

Posted in 135 | Tagged | Comments Off on Pineapple of Politeness?

See You in Hell, Chess Player

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1770, the court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary was held spellbound by the first demonstration of the Turk, a revolutionary automaton which could not only play chess against a human opponent, but usually won. Soon afterwards, however, the machine’s creator, Wolfgang von Kempelen, became strangely reluctant to exhibit it, and the Turk was […]

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on See You in Hell, Chess Player

Simon Baker on Four First Novels

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The cliché ‘eagerly awaited’ seems appropriate for The Welsh Girl, by Peter Ho Davies, a debut which finally appears four years after its author’s inclusion on the Granta ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ roster. It is set in 1944, in a North Wales village so quietly traditional that many locals speak English only haltingly. The […]

Tragedy of Loneliness

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Veins of hostility and menace run through Gerard Donovan’s fiction. Whether one thinks of the baker digging his own grave in the Booker long-listed Schopenhauer’s Telescope, a novel animated by dialogue that reads like a litany of human barbarism, or the paranoid Sunless in the author’s second outing, Dr Salt, the lives of Donovan’s characters […]

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on Tragedy of Loneliness

Little Lawrence

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Lawrence, the protagonist of Matthew Kneale’s new novel, is a charming seven-year-old. He is alert and interested in the sort of things we like little boys to be interested in – ancient Romans, soldiers, astronomy. He natters on, in his perky, off-beat first-person voice, about everything from his own domestic details to the biography of […]

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on Little Lawrence

Spirit of the Jester

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Darkmans is a very strange novel; and, I should admit upfront, a very hard one to review. I began this book in a state of contemptuous irritation, and ended it with a sneaking feeling that the author might be a genius. I read the first 100 pages thinking that the author was as lazy and […]

Posted in 344 | Tagged | Comments Off on Spirit of the Jester

Arduous Asylum

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

At first glance this book looks like a heartbreaking work of staggering worthiness. A prefacing note explains that all the author’s proceeds are going to Sudanese refugees, and the novel comes garlanded with a quote from a human rights organisation. When did you last read a novel endorsed by the International Crisis Group? Whatever you […]

Posted in 344 | Comments Off on Arduous Asylum

Sign Up to our newsletter

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

RLF - March