James Joyce by Edna O’Brien

Review by Rob Spence, 17 March 2020 Edna O’Brien’s position as one of the most significant modern Irish writers is undisputed, and here, in this reissue of her 1999 short biography, she tackles the life of the writer who, in the eyes of many, stands as the greatest Irish writer of them all. Her enthusiasm…

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins Review by David Hebblethwaite, 12 March 2020 Winter in Sokcho is a first in several senses: the debut novel by French-Korean writer Elisa Shua Dusapin, and the first title published in Daunt Books’ new Originals list. Dusapin’s narrator is a young woman working in a guest house…

The Author’s Effects by Nicola J. Watson

Reviewed by Harriet, 10 March 2020 This splendid and fascinating book – subtitled ‘On Writer’s House Museums’ – has been a long time in the making, and is certainly none the worse for that. To get an idea of the amount of research both at home and abroad that has gone into it, you need…

Red Sixty Seven, curated by Kit Jewitt

Review by Peter Reason, 5 March 2020 When I was a small boy, back in the 1950s, I remember going on Sunday School trips to the seaside. Once we were out of London, I would be fascinated by the great flocks of Lapwing, Peewits as we knew them, I would see from the coach window…

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Reviewed by Anna Hollingsworth, 3 March 2020 There’s a point in Miss Austen where I felt that my sins had been found out. Cassandra, Jane Austen’s now elderly sister, tells a younger relation off for speculating about Jane’s love life: ”When your Aunt Jane was still with us and enjoying her little burst of success,…

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

Reviewed by Karen Langley, 27 February 2020 Square Haunting was published to much fanfare and acclaim recently; a book which looks at the lives of five notable women centred around a specific Bloomsbury location in London which housed them at points in the early part of the early 20th century, it promises much – and,…

Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford

Reviewed by Ali, 25 February 2020 Business as Usual is an early work from the formidably productive writing partnership of Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford (both pseudonyms) – and it is utterly delightful. A novel about women, work and society, it is full of period detail, humour and spirit. Ann Stafford’s charming line drawings are reproduced…

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Review by Annabel, 25 February 2020 Anyone who works in a school will, these days, be familiar with ‘lockdown’ procedures, with code reds being the ones you hope you’ll only ever have to practice; the make yourselves as invisible as you can to an intruder ones. Lupton’s latest novel takes such an awful situation, placing…

Kallocain by Karin Boye

Translated by David McDuff Review by Karen Langley, 20 February 2020 Our modern world often seems to be getting very close to a dystopian nightmare, and most of our visions of that kind of world tend to be drawn from works like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four. However, there are any number of…

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini

Translated by J. Ockenden Reviewed by Rebecca Foster Who could resist the title of this Italian bestseller? A black comedy about a hermit in the Italian Alps, it starts off like Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life and becomes increasingly reminiscent of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead with its remote…

Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe (pbk)

Lizzie Vogel, whom we first met aged nine in Stibbe’s novel, Man at the Helm (reviewed here), is now eighteen: it’s 1979 and she is ready to find a proper full time job. She’s had some practice: when she was fifteen, she worked as a nursing auxiliary, recounted in a second volume, Paradise Lodge (reviewed…

My Caravaggio Style by Doris Langley Moore

Review by Simon, 18 February 2020 It’s always exciting when Dean Street Press announce the next batch of novels in their Furrowed Middlebrow series, chosen by Scott at the excellent Furrowed Middlebrow blog. Every time I want all of them, and every time I only manage to read a handful – but thank you very…

Veronica by Veronica Lake

Reviewed by Harriet, 13 February 2020 I wonder how many people today have even heard of Veronica Lake. There was a time, though a relatively brief one, in which she was widely celebrated, almost as much for her trademark hairstyle as for the successful films she appeared in throughout the 1940s. This recent publication, by…

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Reviewed by Laura Tisdall, 13 February 2020 Jai is nine years old and lives with his family in the slums of New Delhi. He loves watching reality cop shows, especially Police Patrol (presumably a fictionalised version of Crime Patrol), waits hungrily for his mother to bring back special food from her job as a maid in one of the…

Abigail by Magda Szabo

Translated by Len Rix Reviewed by Harriet, 6 February 2020 This novel, by the award-winning Hungarian novelist Magda Szabo, was first published in 1970. However, it is set in 1943-4, a crucial period in the history of Hungary during WWII. The country had been allied to Germany and Italy from the start of the war,…

It Would be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo

Translated by Elizabeth Bryer Review by Susan Osborne, 11 February 2020 Venezuelan writer Karina Sainz Borgo’s It Would Be Night in Caracas is one of three novels published to launch HarperVia, a new imprint from HarperCollins dedicated to publishing literature in translation. It sets the bar pleasingly high with its immersive story of a middle-aged…

Learning Languages in Early Modern England by John Gallagher

Review by Liz Dexter, 6 February 2020 Has it ever struck you that before England obtained its empire, no one else in the world bothered to speak the language? Did you realise what a hugely multicultural place England was in in early modern times, chock-full of foreign language teachers, Italian churches, French refugees and the…

Somewhere Becoming Rain by Clive James

Review by Karen Langley, 6 February 2020 My love of the poetry of Philip Larkin is no secret; I’ve written about him numerous times on my blog, and most recently about my encounter with his last collection of poetry, High Windows. Larkin is a poet I first discovered at Grammar School and his verse obviously…

Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas

Review by Annabel, 4 February 2020 Oligarchy is Thomas’s first adult novel for a few years; lately she has written three well-received children’s books, but is now back with one for grown-ups – or is it? Oligarchy is set in a boarding school for girls, its protagonists are a group of teenaged pupils, but while…

Postscript to Poison, & Shadows Before by Dorothy Bowers

Review by Harriet, 4 February 2020 I have a special liking for vintage crime novels and am always pleased when I discover an author previously unknown to me. This has happened a lot in recent years, of course, largely owing to the great British Library Crime Classics series. But other publishers are now making discoveries…

Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, by Barry Forshaw

Review by Basil Ransome-Davies, 30 January 2020 When I started teaching popular fiction courses forty years ago, having always been more drawn to Jesse James than to Henry James, there were sneers aplenty for making crime novels, ‘pulp fiction’, the focus of academic study. It was as if I had introduced pornography to the curriculum…

Of Cats and Elfins by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Review by Harriet, 28 January 2020 Just over a year ago I reviewed the newly published Handheld Press edition of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin, a collection of strange, glittering, fascinating stories, which had first appeared in the New Yorker in the 1970s. Although Warner is sometimes celebrated as a fantasy author – and…

So Brightly At The Last by Ian Shircore

Review by Rob Spence, 30 January 2020 In one important respect, this book was outdated at the moment it was published: its subject, Clive James, having endured a terminal illness for ten years, finally succumbed just as the volume appeared. For this reader, like the author Ian Shircore a long-term fan of James, reading became…

Impressionism (Art Essentials) by Ralph Skea

Review by Liz Dexter, 28 January 2020 Another volume in the excellently done Art Essentials series, this volume on Impressionism is written by Ralph Skea, an artist and academic who has published several books on individual Impressionists with Thames & Hudson, so a good choice with a great depth and width of knowledge. The book…

Why Women Read Fiction, The Stories of Our Lives by Helen Taylor

Review by Gill Davies, 23 January 2020 Women read a lot more fiction than men; they also buy more books, attend writers’ events, blog, exchange ideas, and form reading groups. Helen Taylor’s research documents these activities, drawing on women readers’ own words and proposing answers to her titular question, “Why do women read fiction?” In…