The loneliness of the long distance salesman

2 June 2010
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim Jonathan Coe

Viking, pp.352, 18.99

If only E. M. Forster hadn’t beaten him to it by exactly a century, Jonathan Coe could have coined the enigmatic phrase ‘only connect’ in this novel. If only E.… Read more


Lurking beneath the surface

12 May 2010
Tony and Susan Austin Wright

Atlantic, pp.352, 14.99

One’s past life is, usually, comfortably past. One’s past life is, usually, comfortably past. Susan Morrow’s first husband, Edward, is so firmly in her past that his second wife even… Read more


The woman behind the god

12 May 2010
Empress of Rome Matthew Dennison

Quercus, pp.320, 20

The emperor Augustus was the original god/father. Julius Caesar was often referred to as ‘the divine Julius’, but his nephew (and adopted son) was the first Roman to have temples… Read more


Low dishonest dealings

21 April 2010
At the Chime of a City Clock D. J. Taylor

Constable & Robinson, pp.242, 12.99

The strange, unsettled decades between the wars form the backdrop of much of D. J. Taylor’s recent work, including his novel, Ask Alice, and his social history, Bright Young Things.… Read more


To strive, to seek, to find . . .

21 April 2010
The Watkins Boys Simon Courtauld

Michael Russell, pp.208, 18.95

In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’ Watkins returned from an expedition to the white depths of the Greenlandic ice cap. In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’… Read more


The ultimate price

21 April 2010
The Courtesan and the Samurai Lesley Downer

Bantam, pp.338, 12.99

Lesley Downer is one of the most unusual authors writing in English. Years ago, determined to become an expert on the Japanese geisha, ultra-sophisticated entertainers and hostesses who are neither… Read more


Dogged by misfortune

17 March 2010
Landed Tim Pears

Heinemann, pp.230, 12.99

Unusually for a work of fiction, Tim Pears’ new novel opens with a spread of black-and-white photographs, part of an ‘investigator’s report’ into a fatal collision said to have taken… Read more


The stuff of legend

10 March 2010
Did You Really Shoot the Television? Max Hastings

HarperPress, pp.278, 20

This book could have been a classic. It starts as an account of the author’s family, no better, no worse than many such; but then, amongst the grandparents and the… Read more


The greatest rogue in Europe

24 February 2010
Birthright: The True Story that Inspired Kidnapped A. Roger Ekirch

WW Norton, pp.258, 17.99

On 11 November 1743, the most sensational trial of the 18th century opened in the Four Courts in Dublin. The plaintiff, James Annesley, claimed that his uncle, Richard Annesley, the… Read more


Throw it in a stream

24 February 2010
Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love Xinran

Chatto and Windus, pp.224, 12.99

I know a British couple with a Chinese daughter, pretty and fluent in English. Of course the little girl was adopted. It is necessary to steel one’s self against three… Read more


Unhelpful issues

10 February 2010
The Other Family Joanna Trollope

Transworld, pp.336, 18.99

It would not have been so easy to describe what Joanna Trollope’s early novels were ‘about’ in a few words, but recently she has been writing what the Americans call… Read more


The Knights of Glin

20 January 2010
The Knights of Glin: Seven Centuries of Change Tom Donovan (editor)

Glin Historical Society, pp.464, 50 Euros

In this splendid, monumental slab of a book, Desmond Fitzgerald, the 29th Knight of Glin, has made the chronicle of his family epitomise the whole turbulent history of Ireland since… Read more

The last man to know everything

11 November 2009
Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World Joscelyn Godwin

Thames & Hudson, pp.304, 40

Joscelyn Godwin, the author of this vast and beautiful book, admits at the outset that while Athanasius Kircher was held in awe during his lifetime in the 17th century as… Read more

Skeletons in the cupboard

4 November 2009
The Eitingons Mary-Kay Wilmers

Faber, pp.476, 20

Freudian analysis, Soviet communism and the garment industry: what do all of these things have in common? If your answer has something to do with central and east European Jews… Read more

His island story

4 November 2009
The Man-eater of Punanai Christopher Ondaatje

Rare Books & Berry, pp.237, 9.95

‘If you don’t come to terms with the ghost of your father, it will never let you be your own man.’ Here Christopher Ondaatje (brother of novelist Michael) combines his… Read more