History is the art of making things up. Why pretend otherwise?

31 January 2015

In a recent interview, the celebrity historian and Tudor expert David Starkey described Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as a ‘deliberate perversion of fact’. The novel, he said, is ‘a magnificent,… Read more

The Long Shadow, by Mark Mills - a review

20 July 2013
The Long Shadow Mark Mills

Headline, pp.498, £14.99, ISBN: 9780755392315

Mark Mills is known for his historical and literary crime novels, including The Savage Garden, The Information Officer and House of the Hanged. The Long Shadow is written in a… Read more

Recent crime novels

26 May 2012

William Brodrick’s crime novels have the great (and unusual) merit of being unlike anyone else’s, not least because his series hero, Brother Anselm, is a Gray’s Inn barrister turned Suffolk… Read more


Method in her magic

12 May 2012
Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate, pp.411, 20

Bring Up the Bodies, as everybody knows, is the sequel to Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s fictional re-imagining of the life and times of Henry VIII’s most effective servant, Thomas Cromwell.… Read more

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

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


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

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

Serpents in suburbia

14 April 2012

Barbara Pym was never just a cosy writer. She could be barbed and sour — and seriously, hilariously funny. Kate Saunders, in her introduction to Pym’s last novel, explains how… 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

Speeding along the highway

31 March 2012
Under the Same Stars Tim Lott

Simon & Schuster, pp.341, 16.99

Back in the Sixties, if you wanted a fruitful, freakout-free LSD experience, you might have called on Mrs Aldous Huxley in Los Angeles, where she lived as a beatifically attuned… 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


Hero of his own drama

17 March 2012
Strindberg: A Life Sue Prideaux

Yale, pp.371, 25

Sam Leith is enthralled by the larger-than-life genius, August Strindberg — playwright, horticulturalist, painter, alchemist and father of modern literature When I’m reading a book for review, it’s my habit… 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