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Fiction

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Why you might not want corridors in your historical novel

1 November 2014

I read C.J. Sansom’s novel Dissolution on the train recently with pleasure. For an historical novel narrated in the 1530s, what was the author to do about language? He eschewed… Read more

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L.P. Hartley’s guide to coping with a heatwave

26 July 2014

Those of us who have been struggling to endure the recent heat should turn to L.P. Hartley’s classic coming-of-age novel The Go-Between for some advice. ‘There’s no such thing as bad… Read more

(Photo: Central Press/Getty Images)

Jacqueline Wilson: 'The first book that made me cry'

12 April 2014

I’m not sure if Rumer Godden wrote An Episode of Sparrows for children or adults. It was originally published on an adult list but I read it when I was about ten,… Read more

Francis King   Photo: Denis Jones/Evening Standard /REX

From frankness to obsession - the novels of Francis King

1 March 2014

Gide wrote to Simenon: ‘You are living on a false reputation — just like Baudelaire and Chopin. … You are much more important than is commonly supposed.’ Something of the… Read more

Sting, William Burroughs and Andy Summers Photo: Getty

William S. Burroughs was a writer – not a painter, prophet, philosopher

8 February 2014
William S. Burroughs: A Life Barry Miles

Weidenfeld, pp.718, £30, ISBN: 9780297867258

William S. Burroughs lived his life in the grand transgressive tradition of Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde and, like all dandies, he had a nose for hedonistic hot spots which… Read more

A wounded soldier is carried through the mud near Boesinghe during the battle of Passchendaele in Flanders Photo: Getty

When No Man's Land is home

25 January 2014
The Lie Helen Dunmore

Hutchinson, pp.294, £14.99, ISBN: 9780091953982

Countless writers and film-makers this year will be trying their hand at forcing us to wake up and smell the first world war.  How do they plant a fresh, haunting,… Read more

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By the book: The NSA is behaving like a villain in a 1950s novel

18 January 2014

The continuing drip-feed of stories about governments and friendly-seeming internet giants sifting through our data has left some citizens feeling outraged and a bit duped. I have no doubt that… Read more

Woman in black: Madeleine St John, due for revival. 
‘Her steadiest relationships were with a series of cats’

Breakdowns, suicide attempts — and four great novels

18 January 2014
Madeleine Helen Trinca

Text Publishing, pp.384, £12.99, ISBN: 9781921922848

Among the clever young Australians who came over here in the 1960s to find themselves and make their mark, a number, as we all know, never went back. A few… Read more

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The many attempts to assassinate Trotsky

4 January 2014
The Man Who Loved Dogs Leonardo Padura, translated by Anna Kushner

Bitter Lemon Press, pp.576, £20, ISBN: 9781908524102

Leon Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban Volkov, is a retired chemist in his early eighties. I met him not long ago in the house in Mexico City where his grandfather was murdered… 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

Ann Patchett Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images

Ann Patchett's new book will win you over, in spite of yourself

30 November 2013
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage Ann Patchett

Bloomsbury, pp.300, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408842393

Ann Patchett’s novels revel in the tightly constructed ecosystems imagined for their characters: an opera singer besieged among diplomats in the Orange Prize-winning Bel Canto; State of Wonder’s pharmacologist in… Read more

Elizabeth Taylor (left) chats with Pamela Hansford Johnson, 1954 Photo: Getty

Angel, by Elizabeth Taylor - review

30 November 2013
Angel The talented and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor (no, not the actress)

Virago, pp.336, £12.99, ISBN: 9781844089345

‘She wrote fiction?’ Even today, with the admirable ladies at Virago nearly finished reissuing her dozen novels, Elizabeth Taylor remains mostly unknown except to fellow novelists, literary journalists, worthier publishing… Read more

Thirty Years on2

Rebus is good, but not as sharp as he once was

16 November 2013
Saints of the Shadow Bible Ian Rankin

Orion, pp.427, £18.99, ISBN: 9781409144755

Cig 1 Auld Reekie . . . Edinburgh . . . brewers’ town, stinking of beer, whisky, tweeness, gentility, hypocrisy, corruption . . . DS Rebus awoke with a start,… Read more

(Photo: The Art Archive/Anthony Stewart / NGS)

The thrill of the (postmodern neo-Victorian) chase

9 November 2013
Rustication Charles Palliser

Norton, pp.325, £12.99, ISBN: 9780393348231

Charles Palliser’s debut novel The Quincunx appeared as far back as 1989. Lavish and labyrinthine, this shifted nigh on a million copies, while more or less inaugurating the genre of… Read more

Black Sheep 2

Village life can be gripping

2 November 2013
Black Sheep Susan Hill

Chatto, pp.135, £10.99, ISBN: 9780701184216

Black Sheep opens biblically, with a mining village named Mount of Zeal, which is ‘built in a bowl like an amphitheatre, with the pit winding gear where a stage would… 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

Cuba

Carlos Acosta, the great dancer, should be a full-time novelist

2 November 2013
Pig’s Foot Carlos Acosta, translated by Frank Wynne

Bloomsbury, pp.333, £12.99, ISBN: 9781408833704

Carlos Acosta, the greatest dancer of his generation, grew up in Havana as the youngest of 11 black children. Money was tight, but Carlos won a place at ballet school,… Read more

‘The Goldfinch’ by Carl Fabritius, the theft of which is central to Donna Tartt’s new novel

Donna Tartt can do the thrills but not the trauma

12 October 2013
The Goldfinch Donna Tartt

Little, Brown, pp.771, £20, ISBN: 9781408704943

Donna Tartt is an expert practitioner of what David Hare has called ‘the higher hokum’. She publishes a long novel every decade or so. Her first book, The Secret History… Read more

What a coincidence

12 October 2013
Three Brothers Peter Ackroyd

Chatto, pp.240, £14.99, ISBN: 9780701186937

If you are going to read a novel that plays with literary conventions you want it written with aplomb. In Three Brothers we are not disappointed, as Peter Ackroyd shows… Read more

Colonel Georges Picquart

An Officer and a Gentleman, by Robert Harris - review

5 October 2013
An Officer and a Spy Robert Harris

Hutchinson, pp.496, £18.99, ISBN: 9780091944551

The Dreyfus Affair, the furore caused by a miscarriage of justice in France in 1894, is a source of perennial interest. It raises questions of national identity, political morality and… Read more

Stephen King isn't as scary as he used to be, but 'Doctor Sleep' is still a cracker

5 October 2013
Doctor Sleep Stephen King

Hodder, pp.485, £19.99, ISBN: 9781476727653

Though alcohol withdrawal is potentially fatal, booze has none of the media-confected glitz of heroin (imagine Will Self boasting of a Baileys Bristol Cream addiction). The 17th-century word for the… Read more

Monsieur le Commandant, by Romain Slocombe - review

28 September 2013
Monsieur le Commandant: A Wartime Confession Romain Slocombe

Gallic Books, pp.208, £8.99, ISBN: 9781908313508

There can be few characters in modern fiction more unpleasant than Paul-Jean Husson, the narrator in Romain Slocombe’s Monsieur le Commandant. Indeed, he is at times too nasty. If this… Read more

One Night in Winter, by Simon Sebag Montefiore - review

28 September 2013
One Night in Winter Simon Sebag Montefiore

Random House, pp.480, £16.99, ISBN: 9781780891088

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s One Night in Winter begins in the hours immediately following the solemn victory parade that marked the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany — probably the high… Read more

Expo 58, by Jonathan Coe - review

21 September 2013
Expo 58 Jonathan Coe

Viking, pp.263, £16.99, ISBN: 9780670923724

In 1958 a vast international trade fair was held just outside Brussels. As well as being a showcase for industry, Expo 58 gave each country the chance to present something… Read more

The Windsor Faction, by D.J. Taylor - review

14 September 2013
The Windsor Faction D.J. Taylor

Chatto and Windus, pp.373, £14,99, ISBN: 9780701187873

In both his novels and non-fiction, D. J. Taylor has long been fascinated by the period between the wars. Now in The Windsor Faction, he brings us a counterfactual version.… Read more