Springtime in Barcelona

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘It’s like Proust’s madeleine, see, him dying right as I’m about to go back,’ says Natàlia, the protagonist of Montserrat Roig’s novel The Time of Cherries, originally published in Catalan in 1977 and now translated into fluid, expressive English for the first time by Julia Sanches. Natàlia’s nostalgia rush is caused by something rather more […]

Written in the Stars

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In 2014, with the publication of her elegant, haunting debut, After Me Comes the Flood, it became immediately apparent that Sarah Perry was an extraordinary new talent to reckon with in English fiction. The novel, a powerful and mysterious fable about trust and deception that got far less attention than it deserved, was followed two […]

Double Trouble

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Shakespearean and para-Shakespearean fiction has been with us for a long time. Stand-out examples include Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and although a series (The Hogarth Shakespeare, with seven titles published between 2015 and 2018) dedicated to novelistic reworkings of Shakespeare’s plays might seem like overkill, its contributors […]

Back to the Future

Posted on by Tom Fleming

From his debut novel, The Impressionist (2002), onwards, Hari Kunzru has used his fiction to interrogate some of the central sources of contemporary disquiet and what it means to be human in an ever more connected but less cohesive world. Blue Ruin is the culmination of a loose trilogy that includes White Tears (2017) and […]

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No Direction Home

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The Greeks called it epipothia oikou. In French it is mal du pays, in Arabic hawa, in German Heimweh. To suffer homesickness is to be human. Claire Messud’s profound and exacting new novel is an epic involving several generations of a diasporic family on a volatile earth – a fictionalised version, as the prologue tells […]

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Old School Ties

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Michael Donkor’s second novel, Grow Where They Fall, is a clever braid of two periods in the life of Kwame Akromah. In one, ten-year-old Kwame manages his Ghanaian parents’ fraught marriage and high expectations while reckoning with new feelings brought on by the arrival of a charismatic distant cousin. Two decades later, Kwame, an openly […]

Toccata & Fugue

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

After the publication of her first novel, Monkey Grip, about the relationship between a single mother and a junky in bohemian 1970s Melbourne, Helen Garner tried to write the same book again. ‘My publishers said it was shit’, she told an interviewer a couple of years ago, ‘and they were absolutely right, so I threw […]

Called to Account

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There is a deep-seated, if perhaps unexpected, affinity between storytelling and accountancy. To tell a story is to recount it, and a ‘teller’ usually works at a bank; tales and their tellers have always had a relationship with matters of counting, balancing and reckoning. Tell, the remarkable new novel by Jonathan Buckley, the co-recipient of […]

Man With a Camera

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the depths of the Covid lockdown, Iain Sinclair received two enormous yellow boxes ‘like cardboard coffins on special offer from Ikea’. They contained seventeen albums of photographs – fresh prints made from recovered negatives and contact sheets – by the ‘elective pariah’ John Deakin. The boxes arrived ‘without a single word of explanation to […]

Save the Last Dance

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The billing of Until August as Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘dementia novel’ is a simplification. Although García Márquez’s last years were marked by a falling away of his powers, and his brother confirmed a diagnosis of dementia in 2012, the manuscript was largely finished by 2004. An earlier version of the story, in a translation by Edith Grossman rather than Anne McLean, appeared in the New Yorker in 1999.

Free Fallin’

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Hiroko Oyamada’s first novel, The Factory, won her the Sinchō Prize for new Japanese writing; The Hole, her second, took the Akutagawa Prize in 2013 and now appears as a smart little hardback in a translation by David Boyd. A novella of self-repression, it veers sentence to sentence between Gothic claustrophobia and the whimsy of […]

Lonely as a Cumulonimbus

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

David Nicholls is celebrated as the outstanding exponent of the variant of literary romcom known as ‘rom-trag’. Fifteen years after its publication, his masterpiece, One Day, newly adapted as a Netflix series, once again features on bestseller lists. The novel follows an on–off couple who meet at university. Nicholls has since rung the changes, turning […]

In the Beginning was the Word

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Writing to the artist Romare Bearden in 1986, Ralph Ellison lamented, ‘After all these years some of us are still beefing over Huckleberry Finn.’ Complaints about Mark Twain’s novel had surfaced regularly since its publication one hundred years earlier, principally over its portrayal of the runaway slave Jim as at once an item of property […]

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Disco 2000

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In Bridget O’Connor’s story ‘Plastered’, the creepy protagonist, Tony Wornel, frequently uses and abuses (like a literary Del Boy) the phrase ‘to cut a long story short’. To cut a short story even shorter, Wornel is a misogynistic stalker who is convinced that he’s a great guy and doesn’t need to listen to women because […]

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Becoming George Orwell

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Paul Theroux is the author of more than fifty books. Thirty-three of them have been novels – and this is the thirty-fourth. While assiduous and always interesting as a novelist, he is probably better known for his travel books, some of which have been bestsellers. Yet I would guess he thinks of himself primarily as […]

Georgia on His Mind

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The ancient city of Tbilisi – squeezed between cliffs and mountains into a winding valley along the banks of the Mtkvari River – has witnessed trade, conversion and invasion from every direction of the compass for the better part of two millennia. Strolling through the Old Town, one sees a cross-section of Georgia’s history, from […]

All the Queen’s Women

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Alison Uttley’s novel A Traveller in Time (1939), republished last year, introduced many a dreamy teenager to the story of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, dethroned, diminished but still, siren-like, able to enchant male followers to their doom. Young Penelope, staying in an English country house that once belonged to the Babingtons, is able […]

Portrait of the Auteur as a Young Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When Edouard Louis arrived in Paris as an eighteen-year-old, he wrote down a programme for his life: ‘Change my name (go to court?), Change my face, Change my skin (tattoo?)’, and so on, ending with a sweeping dictate, ‘Change my life (become someone).’ These ambitions, and the pain of trying to fulfil them, are the subject of Change, a sharply

Lost in Translation

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they’re no good.’ An acclaimed translator herself, American author Jennifer Croft tosses this quotation (from the Israeli writer Etgar Keret) into a wry footnote in The Extinction of Irena Rey, a work purportedly written in Polish by a Spanish-speaking translator raised in South America, as translated into […]

A Side of Mayo

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Colin Barrett belongs to the tiny number of contemporary writers who have built a substantial profile on the basis of their short stories alone. There may be no lack of authors churning out highly polished fictional miniatures – creative writing schools, where the form serves an obvious pedagogic function, see to that. But it’s rare […]

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