Devotion by Madeline Stevens

Review by Harriet, 10 Sept 2019 ‘A dangerous novel – sharp, glittering and sexy’: so says the quotation on the cover of Madeline Stevens’ debut novel. I’m not sure that I would have described it like this, but I did find it immensely readable. Knowing from the blurb that this was the story of a…

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Review by Harriet, 15 August 2019 Having been blown away by Colson Whitehead’s 2016 prizewinning novel The Underground Railroad, (reviewed here by another of our team), I was delighted to see that this new work was due out this summer. Delighted but also a bit apprehensive – could it possibly measure up to the brilliance…

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

Reviewed by Harriet He wished that he could just once hear his sister play a solo again. Or help his sister pin up the hem on a dress she’d made. Or have a goodnight peck on the cheek from his mother – the most intimacy she could manage. They were not a family who touched.…

A Stranger in my Grave by Margaret Millar

Reviewed by Harriet Margaret Millar, born in Canada in 1915, lived for most of her life in California with her husband Ken, who wrote crime novels under the name Ross Macdonald. She died in 1994 but still has a loyal following, so it’s great that Pushkin Vertigo are reprinting some of her 27 novels. I…

The Cracks in our Armour by Anna Gavalda

Translated by Alison Anderson Reviewed by Harriet Way back in the early days of Shiny (issue 5 to be exact) I reviewed Anna Gavalda’s slender novel Billie. As I said in that review, I was first introduced to Gavalda in a French class, where we were reading and translating her celebrated novel Ensemble, C’est Tout,…

Q&A with Nicola Upson on Stanley and Elsie

Questions by Harriet Harriet: Thanks for agreeing to do this, Nicola. I have recently finished reading and reviewing Stanley and Elsie and enjoyed it tremendously. So my first question has to be – when and how did the idea for the novel first come to you? Nicola: About ten years ago. I’ve loved Stanley Spencer’s…

Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson

Reviewed by Harriet Nicola Upson is best known to me, and probably to you, as the author of a series of excellent historical crime novels featuring the well-known novelist and playwright Josephine Tey. Here we have her in quite a different mode: Stanley and Elsie is a novel based in the true life history of…

The Office of Gardens and Ponds by Didier Decoin

Translated by Euan Cameron Reviewed by Harriet In this magical novel, we are in Japan, many many years ago. The small, unremarkable village of Shimae lies on the banks of the river Kusagawa, which for many years has provided an income for the village. For wonderfully large and beautiful carp can be caught in the…

The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun

Translated by Kathie von Ankum Reviewed by Harriet If a young woman from money marries an old man because of money and nothing else and makes love to him for hours and has this pious look on her face, she’s called a German mother and a decent woman. If a young woman without money sleeps…

Little Faith by Nickolas Butler

Reviewed by Harriet This is Nickolas Butler’s third novel. He was widely praised for his first, Shotgun Lovesongs, which was published in 2014, and equally so for his second, The Hearts of Men. Is Little Faith going to be the third success in a row? I would say yes, without a doubt. ‘Powerful’, ‘tender’ ‘gripping’…

Girl Balancing by Helen Dunmore (pbk)

Reviewed by Harriet It was a great loss to the world of fiction when Helen Dunmore sadly died in 2017. Fortunately for her admirers, of which I am happy to be one, she left a legacy of short stories, some never before published, which have now appeared in one volume. Her son, who edited this…

No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel

Translated by Stephanie Smee Reviewed by Harriet When I was first offered this book for review, I turned it down, for reasons that are now not clear to me. Then I had second thoughts and how glad I am that I did. If I say it’s my best read for 2019 that’s not saying much,…

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

Reviewed by Harriet Written in just two months while its author was a patient in a psychiatric clinic, Zelda Fitzgerald’s first and only novel found a publisher in 1932. Three thousand copies were printed, but fewer than half actually sold, and for more than thirty years the novel sank without trace. When it was republished…

Dramatic Exchanges by Daniel Rosenthal (Editor)

Reviewed by Harriet When we think of London’s National Theatre, most of us will envisage the great concrete complex on the South Bank of the Thames, designed by Denis Lasdun and opened in 1976. With its three stages, the building has the capacity to seat audiences of up to 2500 people a night, and has…

Childhood by Gerard Reve

Translated by Sam Garrett Reviewed by Harriet Gerard Reve (1923-2006) was a Dutch writer – according to Wikipedia, one of the ‘Great Three’ of Dutch postwar literature. I have to admit to never having heard of him, but if the two novellas contained in this attractive hardback from Pushkin are anything to go by, it…

Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt by Chris Naunton

Reviewed by Harriet The civilisation of Ancient Egypt exerts a seemingly eternal fascination. All those pharaohs and their dynasties, stretching back to three thousand years before the birth of Christ, all those tombs and their precious artefacts. Archaeologists have been exploring them for centuries, but it was Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of the intact tomb…

Love is Blind by William Boyd

Reviewed by Harriet Sebastian Faulks has called William Boyd ‘the finest storyteller of his generation’, and it’s hard to argue with that. The stories he tells are mostly those of people’s lives – for example, in Any Human Heart, and The New Confessions, his central character’s life was told from his earliest beginnings to his…

The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin

Reviewed by Harriet How Ivor would have loved being dead! It was a shame he was missing it all. First published in 1975, this very welcome reprint shows Celia Fremlin at her best. A psychological thriller with a hint of the supernatural (or is it?), it’s a real page-turner with the usual brilliantly-drawn secondary characters…

Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar

Reviewed by Harriet Why had I never heard of Margaret Millar until I spotted this reprint by Pushkin Vertigo? Because, I suppose, she was one of those people who have their moment of fame and then sink without trace. In fact Millar, who was born in Canada, had a successful career, wrote 27 novels, and…

Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Reviewed by Harriet Do you believe in fairies? Probably at a young age most people would say they did. And together with an idea implanted by popular books and paintings, which presented them as tiny ethereal creatures flitting around on gossamer wings, would come a concept of fairyland, undefined, pretty, vague and hazy. The scepticism…

Spotlight on Publishers: Handheld Press Q&A with Kate Macdonald

Questions by Harriet Harriet: Thanks for agreeing to do this for us Kate. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of Handheld Press and what prompted you to start the company? Kate: Setting up the company crept up on me. I’ve been a literary historian, an editor in civil service technical publishing, an…

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Reviewed by Harriet ‘Don’t let your imagination run away with you, Miss Armstrong. You have an unfortunate tendency to do that. Iris isn’t real’. But how can she not be? Juliet thought. She’s me. Kate Atkinson’s last two novels, Life after Life  and A God in Ruins (reviewed here) were both set in the years…

A History of England in 100 Places edited by Philip Wilkinson

Reviewed by Harriet This attractive and informative volume does exactly what the title promises. It’s divided into ten sections: Science and Discovery; Travel and Tourism; Homes and Gardens; Sport and Leisure; Music and Literature; Loss and Destruction; Faith and Belief;  Industry, Trade and Commerce; Art, Architecture and Sculpture; and Power, Protest and Progress. Each section…

Performing Hamlet by Jonathan Croall

Reviewed by Harriet Back in 2015 I wrote a review for Shiny (here) of Jonathan Croall’s Performing King Lear, a wonderfully well-researched survey of performances of this great and challenging play. Now Croall is back with a discussion of no less than forty-three performances of Hamlet, beginning in the 1950s and ending in 2017, with…

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

Reviewed by Harriet Have you ever wondered how the children of a witch and a vampire might turn out? Well, wonder no longer as you can now see them in the persons of Becca and Philip, the two year old twins of Diana Bishop and her husband Matthew Clermont. No idea what I’m talking about?…