The courage of their convictions

12 May 2012
HHhH by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor

Harvill Secker, pp.336, 16.99

HHhH is a prize-winning French novel about a writer writing a novel about the plot to kill the Gestapo boss Reinhard Heydrich. A lot of people reckon it’s a big… Read more

Fatal entrapment

12 May 2012
Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West Edward Lucas

Bloomsbury, pp.372, 20

I am no great fan of spy thrillers and positively allergic to conspiracy theories, but I found this book difficult to put down. In an earlier study, Edward Lucas examined… Read more

Family get together 

5 May 2012
The Red House Mark Haddon

Cape, pp.264, 16.99

Mark Haddon is in what must sometimes seem like the unenviable position of having written a first (adult) novel which was, and continues to be, a smash hit. Drawing in… Read more

Putting the fun in fundamentalism

5 May 2012
Pure Timothy Mo

Turnaround Books, pp.388, 16.99

Turnaround Books, the publishers of Timothy Mo’s remarkable Pure, are revealed to operate from Unit 3, Olympia Trading Estate, Coburg Road, London N22. From this we may deduce that the… Read more

The usual suspects

5 May 2012
An Academic Question Barbara Pym

Virago, pp.19, 8.99

It is disconcerting to discover that a novelist a generation older than oneself has been trying to write ‘a sort of Margaret Drabble effort’, even if the book ‘hadn’t turned… Read more

Cry freedom

21 April 2012
Scenes from Early Life Philip Hensher

Fourth Estate, pp.320, 18.99

Scenes From Early Life is a rather dull title for a deeply interesting book. It is a novel; this is stated on the jacket, as if anticipating the possibility that… Read more

Nowhere to go but down

21 April 2012
Skagboys Irvine Welsh

Cape, pp.548, 12.99

I am just old enough to remember the terrific fuss that was made about the first Scots literary renaissance when it kicked into gear in the early 1980s. Inaugurated by… Read more

The lady vanishes

14 April 2012
A Foreign Country Charles Cumming

HarperCollins, pp.389, 12.99

The spy thriller is not the easiest genre for an author to choose. In the first place, it is haunted by the shade of John le Carré, past and present.… Read more

A bit of slap and tickle

14 April 2012
Skios Michael Frayn

Faber, pp.278, 15.99

Hard on the heels of the ecstatically received London revival of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (currently playing at the Novello Theatre) comes this hilarious novel. It’s not easy to pull… Read more


A polished fragment

The Hanging Garden Patrick White

Cape, pp.224, 14.99

One evening nearly 40 years ago the world’s press descended on Patrick White in Sydney: they rampaged outside his house, pounded its doors, shouted through windows, camped on the lawn.… Read more

To thine own self be true

31 March 2012
Azazeel Youssef Ziedan, translated by Jonathan Wright

Atlantic, pp.312, 15.99

Azazeel comes to Britain as the winner of the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, inevitably known as the ‘Arabic Booker’. It’s also been both a source of controversy and… Read more

… in the fall of a sparrow

31 March 2012
Painter of Silence Georgina Harding

Bloomsbury, pp.312, 14.99

Set in Romania in the 1950s, this is the story of two people, Augustin and Safta, who are both very different and yet very closely linked. Safta is the daughter… Read more

What was it all for?

31 March 2012
No Time Like the Present Nadime Gordimer

Bloomsbury, pp.421, 18.99

What happens to a novelist who becomes the conscience of a nation? Nadine Gordimer, who is now 89 and whose writing career began in the 1940s, has represented the progressive… Read more

Memory games

24 March 2012
The Man Who Forgot His Wife John O’Farrell

Doubleday, pp.309, 14.99

I read this novel while convalescing from pneumonia. It proved admirably fit for purpose. A light diet, mildly entertaining and with enough twists and turns of plot to serve as… Read more

Picking up the pieces

The Chemistry of Tears Peter Carey

Faber, pp.271, 17.99

‘The World of Interiors’ might have been a better title for this novel. Its two chief protagonists, Catherine Gehrig and Henry Brandling, live a century and a half apart, but… Read more

A choice of first novels

24 March 2012

Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat (Virago, £12.99) comes garlanded with praise from the likes of J. M. Coetzee and Hilary Mantel. Rogan, who has only taken up writing after a career… Read more

Joy to the world

17 March 2012
A Perfectly Good Man Patrick Gale

Fourth Estate, pp.405, 16.99

Patrick Gale’s new novel could be read as a companion work to his hugely successful Notes from an Exhibition, and in fact, in a satisfying twist, some characters and even… Read more

Enigma variations

17 March 2012
The Detour Gerbrand Bakker

Harvill Secker, pp.230, 12.99

This is a novel full of hints and mysteries.  Why does the Dutch woman rent a house in rural Wales, bringing with her a mattress, some bedding and a portrait… Read more

Deviation and double entendre

17 March 2012
Briefs Encountered Julian Clary

Ebury, pp.364, 12.99

If there’s anything full-time novelists hate more than a celebrity muscling in on their turf, it’s the celebrity doing such a good job that it seems as if anybody could… Read more

A matter of life and death

10 March 2012
Capital John Lanchester

Faber, pp.650, 17.99

Hmm. Of the 30-plus characters in this novel, not one is both black and British. Odd, since it’s set in 2007-8, in south London. An early passage shows us a… Read more

Thirty years on

10 March 2012
Uncommon Enemy Alan Judd

Simon & Schuster, pp.349, 18.99

One of the pleasures of Alan Judd’s books is their sheer variety. His work includes biographies of Ford Madox Ford and Sir Mansfield Cummings, the first head of what became… Read more

Apocalypse now

10 March 2012
The Land of Decoration Grace McCleen

Chatto, pp.304, 12.99

The blurb on the front of Grace McCleen’s debut novel (from Room author Emma Donoghue) proclaims it to be ‘extraordinary’, and goes on to praise it as ‘brutally real’, commending… Read more

The view from the top

3 March 2012
Over the Rainbow Paul Pickering

Simon & Schuster, pp.303, 16.99

Halfway through this book, the veil lifted, and I thought: ‘I see! I see what he’s trying to do!’ Pickering gets his characters, and moves them along, and then, after… Read more

Tragedy of Antigone

3 March 2012
The House on Paradise Street Sofka Zinovieff

Short Books, pp.336, 12.99

Sofka Zinovieff’s absorbing first novel has two narrative voices. Maud is the English widow of Nikitas, whose death in a mysterious accident leads her to contact Antigone, the mother-in-law she… Read more

A choice of recent thrillers

3 March 2012

Sam Bourne’s new thriller, Pantheon (HarperCollins, £12.99), is set just after Dunkirk in the darkest days of the second world war. James Zennor, an experimental psychologist, returns to his family’s… Read more