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Author Ken Kalfus (Photo: Getty)

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and other characters to make you cry with laughter

11 July 2015
Coup de Foudre Ken Kalfus

Bloomsbury, pp.277, £16.99, ISBN: 9781620400852

Coup de Foudre has a line from Antony and Cleopatra as its epigraph: ‘Some innocents ’scape not the thunderbolt.’ In this new volume of stories from the American writer Ken… Read more

Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas (Photo: Getty)

Social comedy Peruvian-style

25 April 2015
The Discreet Hero Mario Vargas Llosa (translated by Edith Grossman)

Faber, pp.326, £20, ISBN: 9780571310708

Mario Vargas Llosa likes to counterpoint his darker novels with rosier themes: after the savagery of The Green House came the soufflé of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter with its… Read more

Algerian author Boualem Sansa Photo: Getty

The most reviled mob in the Islamic world: free, independent women

29 November 2014
Harraga Boualem Sansal, translated from the French by Frank Wynne

Bloomsbury, pp.276, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408843987

On the surface Harraga is the story of two ill-matched women colliding dramatically, with life-changing consequences. What emerges, in throwaway fragments, is a picture of Algeria’s chequered past and present;… Read more


It's Henry James meets The Young Visiters, and someone needs to call social services

23 August 2014
Man at the Helm Nina Stibbe

Viking, pp.311, £12.99, ISBN: 798241003152

Nina Stibbe has a way with children. Her first book, a memoir, was a deceptively wide-eyed view of a literary Hampstead family observed in all its turbulence by the teenage… Read more


A lost treasure of Japanese fiction – pocket-sized but world class

17 May 2014
The Hunting Gun Yasushi Inoue (trans. Michael Emmerich)

Pushkin Press, pp.106, £10, ISBN: 9781782270010

Bullfight Yasushi Inoue (trans. Michael Emmerich)

Pushkin Press, pp.124, £12, ISBN: 9781782270010

Think haiku, netsuke, moss gardens… Small is beautiful. Japanese art, a scholar of the culture once commented, is great in small things. Pushkin Press has a track record for bringing… Read more


Who’s raiding the fridge?

3 May 2014
Nagasaki Éric Faye (trans Emily Boyce)

Gallic Books, pp.109, £7.99, ISBN: 9781908313652

There is a problem with describing what happens in Nagasaki: impossible to reveal much of the plot without flagging up serious spoiler alerts. The story demands an innocent eye; the… Read more

(Photo: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty)

A Mughal Disneyland and a ripping yarn

19 April 2014
The Smoke is Rising Mahesh Rao

Daunt Books, pp.299, £14.99, ISBN: 9781444777604

The Strangler Vine M.J. Carter

Fig Tree, pp.311, £12.99, ISBN: 9780241146231

Mysore, once the capital of a princely kingdom in South India, has lost its lustre. In Mahesh Rao’s darkly comic novel, grandiose futuristic visions are being floated: in a city… Read more

'The Infatuations', by Javier Marías - review

9 March 2013
The Infatuations Javier Marías

Hamish Hamilton, pp.346, £18.99, ISBN: 9780241145364

A café in Madrid. From her table across the room a solitary woman watches an attractive couple share breakfast morning after morning and speculates pleasurably about their relationship. One day… Read more


Bookends: Short and sweet

11 February 2012

Before texts and Twitter there were postcards. Less hi-tech, but they kept people in touch. Angela Carter (pictured above) and Susannah Clapp were friends, and over the years, postcards from… Read more

Wool of bat and lizard leg

16 July 2011
Thin Paths Julia Blackburn

Cape, pp.250, 17.99

When Julia Blackburn and her Dutch husband Herman move into an old village house perched on a cliff high above the Italian Ligurian Riviera they become part of a dwindling… Read more


Living dolls

22 January 2011
Butterfly's Sisters Yoko Kawaguchi

Yale, pp.339, 30

Born in Japan, growing up in America in the Sixties, Yoko Kawaguchi was perplexed by the persistence of what she felt to be an anachronistic image of Japanese culture: the… Read more


Indian snakes and ladders

17 March 2010
Where the Serpent Lives Ruth Padel

Little Brown, pp.308, 12.99

The Temple-goers Aatish Taseer

Penguin, pp.296, 12.99

Award-winning poet Ruth Padel established her prose credentials with her autobiographical travel book, Tigers in Red Weather. Journalist Aatish Taseer trawled his own past and background for his memoir, Stranger… Read more

Beyond the guidebook

15 July 2009
Between the Assassinations Aravind Adiga

Atlantic Books, pp.351, 14.99

Between the Assassinations is to summer reading what Slum-dog Millionaire was to feelgood movies: the book, like the film, beneath a deceptively beguiling surface, is a Dickensian-dark view of child… Read more

Sounding a different note

20 May 2009
Midsummer Nights Jeanette Winterson (editor)

Quercus, pp.329, 18.99

What is inspiration and how does it work? Music and literature have a long record of mutual nourishment: Beethoven inspired Tolstoy who inspired Janacek, and each Kreutzer Sonata was different;… Read more


On the waterfront

1 April 2009
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi Geoff Dyer

Canongate, pp.291, 12

Geoff Dyer is the least categorisable of writers. Give him a genre and he’ll bend it; pigeonhole him and he’ll break out. Clever, funny, an intellectual with a resolutely bloke-ish… Read more

Troubled waters

21 January 2009
Empires of the Indus Alice Albinia

John Murray, pp.366, 20

Empires of the Indus, by Alice Albinia When Alice Albinia set off for the source of the Indus she was not embarking on a quest for the unknown: she knew… Read more

Stepping-stones of his past self

10 September 2008
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star Paul Theroux

Hamish Hamilton, pp.485, 20

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, by Paul Theroux When Paul Theroux set off from Victoria Station in 1973 his plan was to cross Europe and Asia, taking as many… Read more

A romantic looks back

24 May 2007
India’s Unending Journey Mark Tully

Rider, pp.288, 14.99

The unending journey of this book takes Mark Tully from slums to skyscrapers as he explores the past, present and future not only of the subcontinent but of society, both… Read more

Tomb raider

12 April 2007

A Nile cruise is not for wimps — not if you do it seriously: up before dawn, a quick breakfast, then off on the boat to the first tomb of… Read more

A marvel in marble

28 March 2007
A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time Diana and Michael Preston

Doubleday, pp.354, 16.99

The Moghul monarchs’ way of life was an extravaganza of such breathtaking splendour that in comparison the Sun King’s Versailles seems understated. Both Shah Jahan and Louis XIV came to… Read more

A thousand bottles of Mumm

16 August 2006
Seize the Day Ann Allestree

Sinclair-Stevenson, pp.585, 20

The front cover shows a mature English beauty in an Oriental doorway, elegant in a turban, with twinset and pearls. On the back is a Country Life portrait of a… Read more

Bright light at the end of the tunnel

25 March 2006
Life, End Of Christine Brooke-Rose

Carcanet, pp.119, 12.95

The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus: Four Novels Christine Brooke-Rose

Carcanet, pp.742, 18.95

Christine Brooke-Rose is not an easy read. She is a sublime roller- coaster: hold on and hurtle with her — the ride will be exhilarating. She is dark, despairing, but… Read more

. . . and a Parisian bombe surprise

1 January 2005
Piano Jean Echenoz, translated by Mark Polizzotti

Harvill, pp.179, 12

This is a French novel, a very French novel. The author won the Prix Goncourt for an earlier book and this one carries hints of Voltaire and Sartre. The publishers… Read more

Breaking out of purdah

18 September 2004
Maharanis Lucy Moore

Viking, pp.351, 20

Reading Maharanis has something of the poignant pleasure of rummaging in the attic of a great house fallen into desuetude: here are reminders of another age. Princesses stroll in their… Read more

The gringo’s progress

4 September 2004
The Zigzag Way Anita Desai

Chatto, pp.192, 12.99

In his History of the Conquest of Mexico, Prescott described the bafflement of the Spanish arriving in a country where savagery and sweetness, blood sacrifice and delicate manners co-existed unsettlingly.… Read more