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Novel

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

Our man in Vienna

25 February 2012
Waiting for Sunrise William Boyd

Bloomsbury, pp.358, 18.99

Just in case Private Eye smells a rat, let me put my cards on the table. Not once, but twice, I have sent the galley proofs of my novels to… Read more

Winter wonderland

18 February 2012
The Snow Child Eowyn Ivey

Headline Review, pp.432, 14.99

Jack and Mabel move to Alaska to try to separate themselves from a tragedy — the loss of their only baby — that has frozen the core of their relationship.… Read more

Many parts of man

18 February 2012
The Divine Comedy Craig Raine

Atlantic, pp.184, 15.99

In some ways, you’ve got to hand it to Craig Raine. Two years ago, after a distinguished career as a poet and all-round man of letters, he published his first… Read more

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Bookends: A network of kidney-nappers

18 February 2012

Raylan Givens, an ace detective in the Raymond Chandler mould, has encountered just about every shakedown artist and palooka in his native East Kentucky. His creator, Elmore Leonard, is a… Read more

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Menace, mystery and decadence

11 February 2012
The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell

Faber, pp.880, 14.99

Amateurs in Eden Joanna Hodgkin

Virago, pp.335, 25

It is fitting that Charles Dickens’s bicentenary coincides with Lawrence Durrell’s centenary, for the two novelists have crucial resemblances: both of them are triumphant in the intensity and power of… Read more

A choice of first novels

4 February 2012
Mountains of the Moon I.J. Kay

Cape, pp.368, 16.99

Alys, Always Harriet Lane

Weidenfeld, pp.224, 12.99

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals Wendy Jones

Corsair, pp.208, 12.99

Mountains of the Moon is narrated by a woman just released after spending ten years in jail. The reason for her sentence and the details of her previous life are… Read more

The phantom lover

28 January 2012
The Greatcoat Helen Dunmore

Hammer, pp.208, 9.99

Driving past several long abandoned second- world-war airfields in East Anglia last year I was struck by how spooky they seemed, just like the decommissioned army base that used to… Read more

Chaos and the old order

28 January 2012
An Ermine in Czernopol Gregor von Rezzori, translated by Philip Boehm

New York Review of Books, pp.380, 9.99

If Gregor von Rezzori is known to English language readers, it is likely to be through his tense, disturbing novel Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (partly written in English), and/or his… Read more

Lake Michigan days

7 January 2012
The Art of Fielding Chad Harbach

Fourth Estate, pp.450, 16.99

It is probably hard to enjoy this new big novel from America without some understanding of the shortstop’s position on the baseball field. But that is easily remedied, thanks to… Read more

Rather a cold fish

31 December 2011
The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall Paul Torday

Weidenfeld, pp.288, 12.99

Published first novel (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) at the age of 59, Richard and Judy choice, won Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction; spent his whole career in… Read more

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Poison Ivy

17 December 2011

‘Who was she?’, a browser might ask on finding three re-issued novels by Ivy Compton-Burnett, and ‘Why should I read them?’ Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett (1884-1969) was one of 13 children… Read more

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Lifelong death wish

10 December 2011
Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig Oliver Matuschek, translated by Allan Blunden

Pushkin Press, pp.381, 20

In February 2009, in a review in these pages of Stefan Zweig’s unfinished novel, The Post Office Girl, I wrote: ‘Here surely is what Joseph Conrad meant when he wrote… Read more

A literary curio

26 November 2011
The Sea is My Brother Jack Kerouac

Penguin, pp.426, 25

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, better known as Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the son of French-Canadians spiced with the blood of Mohawk and Caughnawaga Indians and subdued, no doubt, by migration from… Read more

Pea-soupers and opium dens

19 November 2011
The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel Anthony Horowitz

Orion, pp.294, 18.99

So: does Moriarty exist, or not? Well no, not really, and not just in the literal sense of being a fictional character. He’s hardly even that. We have no evidence… Read more

Bird Brain by Guy Kennaway

12 November 2011
Bird Brain Guy Kennaway

Cape, pp.291, 14.99

Basil Peyton-Crumbe is a multi-millionaire landowner. An embattled man known to all, even his dogs, as ‘Banger’, he claims to have despatched at least 41,000 pheasants with the cheap old… Read more

The legacies of Jennifer Johnston

12 November 2011

Cross the soaring Foyle Bridge from the East and take the route to Donegal. Shortly before you cross the border — now completely imperceptible — you will find the grand,… Read more

The ripple effect

5 November 2011
How It All Began Penelope Lively

Fig Tree, pp.248, 16.99

Penelope Lively’s new novel traces the consequences of a London street mugging. As the culprit sprints away with a handbag, the victim, Charlotte, a retired widow, falls and cracks her… Read more

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

5 November 2011
The Marriage Plot Jeffrey Eugenides

Fourth Estate, pp.486, 20

Jonathan Franzen. David Foster Wallace. Jeffrey Eugenides. Giant, slow-moving, serious writers, notching up about a novel per decade, all with their sights set on The Big One, The Beast, The… Read more

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

5 November 2011
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson

Cape, pp.230, 14.99

In the 26 years since the publication of her highly acclaimed first novel, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson has proved herself a writer of startling invention, originality… Read more

The Golden Hour by William Nicholson

29 October 2011
The Golden Hour William Nicholson

Quercus, pp.438, 20

He’s got a winning formula, this writer, and he’s sticking to it. Set the action over seven days, in and around the Sussex town of Lewes, with occasional day trips… Read more