Kate Kellaway

Let Us Be Grateful for the Wow-Wow Sauce

England, England


Jonathan Cape 224pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

The first part of England, England belongs to a novel that never gets written. We meet Martha and are encouraged to believe that we will know her better in time. Barnes promises to be fastidious about the psyche and its tricks. Memory, he reasons, is seldom dependable and first memories are most suspect of all. Martha’s early recollections of childhood are elegantly contrived (a novelist cannot help but suffer from a form of false-memory syndrome). They include the image of prize-winning beans, displayed on black velvet at an agricultural fair. And then there’s the jigsaw puzzle of England that Martha used to work at as a little girl; she used to lose pieces – corners of counties would escape her grasp – but her father would find them, until she lost her father, too, and was doomed to a childhood with a mother whose only wisdom was to warn her against men. This is a sinuously written, conventional opening. It efficiently awakens curiosity.

Sign Up to our newsletter

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

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,