“Murphy”

Some books don't travel well through time. They are of an era, an age. Perhaps those that do - Austen or Conrad, for example - are signs of greatness, of 'classic' literature. What, then, might one say about a book that has not travelled well, that is stylistically convoluted and at times feels remarkably self-indulgent?... Continue Reading →

“After Me Comes The Flood”

Sarah Perry can write. On the back cover of "After Me Comes The Flood" Sophie Hannah is quoted as saying "If she doesn't win the Booker Prize one day, I'll be amazed". I'm inclined to agree. There are perhaps some characteristics shared between the protagonists of "After Me" and her other two novels "Melmoth" and... Continue Reading →

“Flèche”

I really like Mary Jean Chan's "Flèche" - even though, based on my track record of how I respond to a reasonably large proportion of modern verse, I shouldn't... Why is that? Two main reasons, both normally bête noires. The first is the significant experimentation in form (especially how the pieces appear on the page)... Continue Reading →

“The Order of the Day”

I confess to being uncertain as to what kind of book Éric Vuillard's "The Order of the Day" actually is... Although I found it on one of Waterstone's fiction tables, it relates events leading up to the Austrian Anschluss of 1938 and thus the foothills of the Second World War, and does so with what... Continue Reading →

“Before the coffee gets cold”

My occasional penchant for modern Japanese 'magic realism' novels is something of a double-edged sword. Why do I say that? Having read virtually everything Haruki Murakami has read, I find the bar for such novels is set pretty high, so when something like Toshikazu Kawaguchi's "Before the coffee gets cold" comes along, there is perhaps... Continue Reading →

“The Tradition”

The thing that struck me most about Jericho Brown's "The Tradition" was more generic than specific. As I struggled to get beneath the words, to find some kind of rhythm that appealed to me, a language I could interpret, I realised how much reading poetry - unlike prose, you could argue - is dependant on... Continue Reading →

“The Wall”

It's great when you choose to read a book from an author you have never previously encountered and end up wanting more. John Lanchester, whose novel "The Wall" found its way into my possession after a recent expedition to Waterstones, is such writer. Like Sarah Perry, Donna Tartt, John Ironmonger, Sebastian Barry and many recently... Continue Reading →

“Melmoth”

Although its geographical setting is very different, Sarah Perry's excellent "Melmoth" tackles some themes similar to those in "The Essex Serpent": the semi-isolation of an individual in community; guilt and sin; the threat of the unknown; how people manage - or not - their interaction with something intangible, ephemeral, threatening. The words you might see associated with the... Continue Reading →

“After the Formalities”

Anthony Anaxagorou's "After the Formalities" is a 'difficult' volume of poetry. Difficult in a number of senses: in some of its themes and narratives; in the structure of many of the individual pieces; in some of the language and punctuation. It is also difficult in its variability. There are a small number of exceptional pieces... Continue Reading →

“The Cockroach”

It was with a degree of surprise that I realised last night I hadn't read any Ian McEwan for a long time - something which was accompanied by a recognition that I needed to read more. The catalyst? "The Cockroach": a sublimely unfiltered, undisguised and scathing satire on the state of UK politics - and... Continue Reading →

“Circe”

I need to learn my lesson. If the cover of a book says "The #1 International Best Seller" then just leave it on the shelf. Madeline Miller's "Circe" is one such book. If it starts out as a dull retelling of ancient Greek mythology - told from the perspective of the title character - one... Continue Reading →

“Mantissa”

John Fowles' "Mantissa" is a child of its times. Written in 1982 at the peak of popularity for modernist literary theory, deconstruction, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, it is a novel that attempts to explore the relationship between author and text both in itself and also as the theme for the narrative within the book. In some... Continue Reading →

Is there room in the market for a new literary journal?

The idea is simple enough. A bi-annual literary compendium containing prose, poetry, and literary non-fiction. It would be produced in paperback book not pamphlet form, and probably run to about 200-pages long. Significantly, the bulk of the content would most likely come from writers capable of crafting high-quality material yet who are struggling to get... Continue Reading →

“The English Patient”

There can be no doubt that my reading of Michael Ondaatje's marvellous "The English Patient" benefited from me having seen the film. It was as if the story he was sketching was being laid down on pre-tinted paper which made his images and backdrop all the more convincing. It was reading "Warlight" that made me... Continue Reading →

Free books this weekend!

For this weekend - 1st - 4th November - Amazon is offering three of my books in Kindle version absolutely free! Take a look and help yourself! "An Infinity of Mirrors" Given his profession as a Historian, it was inevitable that Mark would find himself one day writing the story of his late father, the... Continue Reading →

“The Gravity Wave”

There is much to admire in Peter Sirr's "The Gravity Wave", a range of subjects, of styles that keeps the collection from becoming - as so many can be - a little bit repetitive. Having said that, however, I found myself not quite 'grabbed' by it; to my taste it was a book that felt... Continue Reading →

“The Shipping News”

It's probably quite rare that you can legitimately praise a book for being bleak, but "The Shipping News" is one such book. Not only through the medium of the story and the sparse picture painted of Killick Claw, the somehow elemental nature of the people who live there, but also through the language she uses.... Continue Reading →

“Now We Shall Be Entirely Free”

I never read historical novels, so why I chose Andrew Miller's "Now We Shall Be Entirely Free" is consequently a little beyond me. It must have been a review somewhere, or being seduced by the fact that it was shortlisted for a prize and Miller was already a Costa winner. Indeed, when I started reading... Continue Reading →

“Unknown Soldier”

I confess that in the beginning I struggled with Seni Seneviratne's "Unknown Soldier". There was something about the two voices in the first section that didn't quite work for me, and I wonder if using the photographs (from the third section, 'Album') proved as much a straitjacket as an inspiration. However, in the second section,... Continue Reading →

“Nocturnes”

One of the things at which Kazuo Ishiguro excels is writing first person characters who have flawed views of themselves; they believe they are perfectly rational, charming, intelligent, while all the while they are something other. And he depicts them in such a way as to allow us to see both sides, permitting us to... Continue Reading →

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