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Matthew Dennison rss

Author Graham Swift Photo: Getty

You’ll never look at dried pasta in the same way again

12 July 2014
England and Other Stories Graham Swift

Simon & Schuster, pp.288, £16.99, ISBN: 9781471137396

A calculated ordinariness unites the protagonists in Graham Swift’s new collection of short stories. In each of these mini fictions, as in his novels, Swift revisits his conceit of the… Read more

Passionate Reunion

Not quite romantic fiction, or literary fiction, or commercial fiction – but still quite good

14 June 2014
From a Distance Raffaella Barker

Bloomsbury, pp.336, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408833735

Elements of Raffaella Barker’s new novel, her eighth for adults, suggest commercial fiction: a narrative that oscillates between the aftermath of the second world war and the present day, and… Read more

Margaret Drabble at the offices of publisher McLelland Stewart Photo: Toronto Star via Getty

Margaret Drabble tries to lose the plot

30 November 2013
The Pure Gold Baby Margaret Drabble

Canongate, pp.304, £16.99, ISBN: 9780956868389

Halfway through her new novel, Margaret Drabble tells us of Anna, the pure gold baby of the title, ‘There was no story to her life, no plot.’ That statement is… Read more

Jeeves

The imitable Jeeves

2 November 2013
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells Sebastian Faulks

Hutchinson, pp.272, £16.99, ISBN: 9780091954055

For as long as I can remember — I take neither pleasure nor pride in the admission — I have been one of those people who feels an irresistible curling… Read more

Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge, by Evan S. Connell - review

8 June 2013
Mr Bridge Evan S. Connell

Penguin Modern Classics, £8.99, ISBN: 9780141198668

Mrs Bridge Evan S. Connell

Penguin Modern Classics, £8.99, ISBN: 9780141198651

A policeman encountering Mrs Bridge on the home furnishings floor of a Kansas City department store recognises her at once for what she is: ‘a bona-fide country-club matron’. Had she… Read more

Another bleak house on the Fens

27 October 2012
Dolly: A Ghost Story Susan Hill

Profile, pp.192, £9.99, ISBN: 9781846685743

The Mist in the Mirror Susan Hill

Chatto, pp.192, £9.99, ISBN: 9780701187866

Some years ago, Susan Hill stated in an interview: ‘It’s not plot that interests me but setting, people in a setting, wrestling with an abstract subject.’ In her ghost stories,… Read more

Old lovers…

7 July 2012
Ancient Light John Banville

Viking, pp.256, 16.99, ISBN: 9780670920617

If it is true that we demand of our favourite authors above all consistency — a certain fidelity to the territory that they have earlier marked out as their own… Read more

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Bookends: Tilling tales

21 April 2012

Several years ago, I listed as my literary heroes Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations and E. F. Benson’s Lucia. The latter was the more damaging admission. Lucia is an egotist… Read more

060060_Winterhalter_Prince Albert

Prince of progress

10 December 2011

The tragedy of Prince Albert was not that he died at the age of forty-two 150 years ago this month, but that his quick-tempered and lusty Hanoverian wife loved him… Read more

Death of the Author

5 March 2011
Today David Miller

Atlantic Books, pp.176, 12.99

The death of the Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad is the central event of David Miller’s debut novel. The death of the Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad is the central… Read more

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UnEnglish triumph

30 October 2010

Sometimes an exhibition does what it says on the tin. The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy, the Ashmolean’s first major show post-revamp, is such an exhibition. Sometimes an exhibition does what it… Read more

Pass the cheese, Louise

23 October 2010
The Winds of Heaven Monica Dickens

Persephone, pp.320, 12

Widowhood in 1955 was not a desirable state. Not, at any rate, for Louise Bickford, heroine of The Winds of Heaven (first published in 1955, now reprinted by Persephone). Louise… Read more

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More than a painter of Queens

30 June 2010
Philip De Laszlo: His Life and Art Duff Hart-Davis

Yale, pp.412, 30

The last words of Hungarian-born portraitist Philip de László, spoken to his nurse, were apparently, ‘It is a pity, because there is so much still to do.’ As Duff Hart-Davis’s… Read more

Big frocks, silk stockings and lissom ladies

14 December 2009

Matthew Dennison on the life of Augustus Harris, the Victorian showman who invented the Christmas pantomime and pioneered sex, celebrity and excess as an art form Forget Lord Leighton and his… Read more

Dog days for British breeds

25 November 2009

Imagine the scenario. You are a military man who retires at 40. Able-bodied, cushioned by a small army pension and the income from a rural estate in west Wales, you… Read more

Strangely familiar

12 August 2009
Family Album Penelope Lively

Penguin/Fig Tree, pp.259, 16.99

In 1935, Noël Coward included in his series of playlets, Tonight at 8.30, a jaunty, song-filled exposé, in Victorian dress, of fam- ily relationships, Family Album. Penelope Lively’s novel of… Read more

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The day the music died

15 April 2009
The Immortals Amit Chaudhuri

Picador, pp.404, 16.99

An earnest young man upbraids his singing teacher. ‘Why don’t you sing classical more often?’ It is Bombay in the early Eighties. The young man’s father has enjoyed a successful… Read more

Not just for Christmas

29 December 2008

I live with a supermodel — excessively fussy about diet and grooming. Sadly this gorgeous creature has four legs not two, and is a boy not a girl. He is… Read more

Pink and potent

26 November 2008

Never gamble your pension on a food fashion. Last year sloes were everywhere. Even Waitrose sold them, hand-picked at a fiver a pop, in branches from the King’s Road to… Read more

Distinctive vision

29 October 2008

Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision Manchester Art Gallery, until 11 January 2009 Needlepoint nose-dived during the 19th century. This came about, like so many errors of taste, through a… Read more

Home On The Grange

13 August 2008

Few married men can match my boast of having been taught how to plump cushions by an interior decorator with a warrant to the Prince of Wales. The decorator in… Read more

Passionate collector

9 July 2008

Masterpiece Watercolours and Drawings Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, until 9 November Even passion has its limits. The first Lord Leverhulme — that ‘Soapy Billy’ who founded Lever Brothers… Read more

What’s in a name?

14 May 2008

Quite a lot, says Matthew Dennison — and it’s not all good On a day of sultry heat, a uniformed health visitor stood in our London sitting-room. Around her feet… Read more

Not the marrying type

7 May 2008
The Crowded Street Winifred Holtby

Persephone, pp.307, 12

Those days are gone in which romantic novels had heroines called Muriel. Even on first publication 84 years ago, The Crowded Street was not a conventional romantic novel nor Muriel… Read more

Echoes of the invisible world

18 March 2008
Daphne Justine Picardie

Bloomsbury, pp.405, 14.99

In 1958, Daphne du Maurier published a collection of short stories, The Breaking Point. Justine Picardie’s novel Daphne begins the year of the stories’ composition, 1957. Du Maurier, then Britain’s… Read more