Sebastian Smee rss

Whatever next?

9 April 2011
King of the Badgers Philip Hensher

Fourth Estate, pp.436, 18.99

Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers is set in Hanmouth, a small English coastal town described so thickly that it is established from the outset as effectively a character in… Read more

Cross-cultural exchanges

12 February 2011
Voice of America E.C. Osondu

Granta, pp.256, 14.99

The 18 stories, each around a dozen pages long, in E.C. Osondu’s Voice of America seem to have poured out of him like water. They have a fluency, an evenness… Read more

A fragile beauty

16 October 2010
The Empty Family Colin Toibin

Penguin/Viking, pp.214, 17.99

Colm Tóibín’s short stories hinge on lonely figures seeking what one of his narrator’s describes as ‘the chance… to associate with beauty’. Colm Tóibín’s short stories hinge on lonely figures… Read more


Shady people in the sun

3 March 2010
Trespass Rose Tremain

Chatto, pp.253, 17.99

The characters in Rose Tremain’s deft new novel are almost all remarkably unpleasant. The characters in Rose Tremain’s deft new novel are almost all remarkably unpleasant. Not just wicked or… Read more

Home is where the heart is

6 May 2009
Brooklyn Colm T

Viking, pp.252, 17.99

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín Colm Tóibín’s Brook- lyn is a simple and utterly exquisite novel. The writing is so transparent, so apparently guileless, that I kept wondering what trickery Tóibín… Read more


The invisible man

4 March 2009
Strangers Anita Brookner

Penguin Fig Tree, pp.202, 16.99

Bleak, bleak, bleak. Anita Brookner’s new novel, Stran- gers, is unlikely to inspire resolutions to self-improvement or even cathartic tears. But its main character, a retired bank manager called Paul… Read more

Conflicts of interest?

29 December 2008
Land of Marvels Barry Unsworth

Hutchinson, pp.287, 18.99

Land of Marvels, by Barry Unsworth Land of Marvels is so topical, and so cute, that its title can only be read with some irony. A tale of oil, archaeology,… Read more

Going the distance

17 September 2008
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Haruki Murakami

Harvill/Secker, pp.180, 9.99

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami There’s nothing tremendous, startling, or even revelatory about Haruki Murakami’s latest book. The whole exercise is too pointedly… Read more

Muddying the waters

20 August 2008
Dreams of Rivers and Seas Tim Parks

Harvill Secker, pp.431, 16.99

This fitfully involving, but for the most part irritating, melodrama is Tim Parks’s 14th novel, and not one of his best. Set almost entirely in India, it begins with the… Read more

A mask that eats the face

1 April 2008
The World Is What It Is Patrick French

Macmillan, pp.20, 400

A man whose personal life contains as many potentially unflattering episodes as V. S. Naipaul might easily have been resistant to the idea of biographical scrutiny. In fact, however, Naipaul… Read more


The pleasure of his company

3 October 2007

Some writers have the ability to poison one’s daily existence. James Salter, I have discovered, is one of them. To read him is to be painfully reminded of how mundane,… Read more

Once more with less feeling

5 September 2007
Diary of a Bad Year J. M. Coetzee

Harvill Secker, pp.pp. 231, £16.99

Diary of a Bad Year by J. M. Coetzee In the last scene of J. M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Disgrace, the main character, David Lurie, helps to put down… Read more

Too much information

12 April 2007
Tomorrow Graham Swift

Picador, pp.247, 16.99

In managing too carefully the revelation of truth, parents often betray it. Graham Swift’s new novel is narrated by a mother and addressed to ‘you’, her teenage twins, boy and… Read more

Formal feeling comes good

17 January 2007
Careless Deborah Robertson

Sceptre, pp.293, 12.99

Contemporary Australian fiction, like Australian film, is known more for its exuberance and antic energy than its reticence and restraint. Deborah Robertson’s Careless, a first novel that has already won… Read more

When all the clocks have stopped

9 November 2006
The Road Cormac McCarthy

Picador, pp.226, 16.99

A great many unspeakable things happen in the course of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant, distressing new novel. But the worst, the most unspeakable, has already taken place. We are not told… Read more

One kiss too many

3 August 2006
Be Near Me Andrew O’Hagan

Faber, pp.278, 16.99

Something is eating away at Father David Anderton, the narrator of Be Near Me, a novel as beautiful and perfectly pitched as its title. An English priest working in the… Read more

The art of the matter

31 May 2006
Theft: A Love Story Peter Carey

Faber, pp.260, 16.99

Listing page content here Peter Carey’s ropy, visceral prose casts a powerful spell. It has a swarming, improvised quality which besieges and easily overwhelms objections, including any reluctance to credit… Read more


Missing the middle path

10 May 2006
Black Swan Green David Mitchell

Sceptre, pp.371, 16.99

Listing page content here Reading David Mitchell’s fourth novel, which is told through the eyes of a 13-year-old boy, reminded me why girls have little or no interest in the… Read more

The fine art of appreciation

4 March 2006
Still Looking John Updike

Hamish Hamilton, pp.222, 25

John Updike is, among one or two other things, a model art critic. Observant, sympathetic and knowledgeable, he also writes at a useful remove from the polemics that rack today’s… Read more

Method acting with a vengeance

21 August 2004
The Double José Saramago

Harvill, pp.292, 15.99

Two of a good thing is usually better than one — unless, of course, the good thing in question is you. Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago’s new novel, The Double, is… Read more

The Man of Feeling

15 May 2004
A Bit on the Side William Trevor

Viking, pp.256, 16.99

Can a writer be guilty of an excess of sympathy for his characters? Sympathy, we are forever being reminded (Tolstoy and Chekhov being the great exemplars), is the hallmark of… Read more

His cup runneth over

17 April 2004
The Line of Beauty Alan Hollinghurst

Picador, pp.616, 16.99

Nick, the central character in Alan Hollinghurst’s wonderful new novel, is a young, alert middle-class boy with precociously refined aesthetic sensibilities and a gift for endearing himself to others. ‘He… Read more

The portrait of a gentleman

13 March 2004
The Master Colm T

Picador, pp.470, 16

Colm T

Both deep and dazzling

17 January 2004
The Early Stories, 1953-1975 John Updike

Hamish Hamilton, pp.838, 25

Rivalled only by the Rabbit novels, John Updike’s early stories — the 100 or so pieces of short fiction he wrote for magazines such as the New Yorker, the Atlantic… Read more

A great painter’s likeness perfectly caught

18 October 2003
Goya Robert Hughes

Harvill, pp.429, 20

Robert Hughes has suffered no shortage of appalling things over the past five years. He has experienced deep depression and a second divorce; he suffered atrocious injuries in a car… Read more