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Novel

The Thread by Victoria Hislop

29 October 2011
The Thread Victoria Hislop

Headline, pp.390, 18.99

Oh what a tangled web she weaves! Victoria Hislop’s third novel, the appropriately titled The Thread, is pleasingly complex. The story traces several generations of a fictional Greek family called… Read more

Golden corn

6 August 2011
On Canaan's Side Sebastian Barry

Faber, pp.256, 16.99

Sebastian Barry’s novels, I’m beginning to think, are a bit like that famous illusion of the two faces and a vase. Most of the time you’re reading them, they seem… Read more

Infuriating brilliance

6 August 2011
The Blue Book A.L. Kennedy

Cape, pp.373, 16.99

A.L. Kennedy is a very remarkable writer. And her new novel — the first since Day won the Costa prize in 2007 — is a remarkable book. What is really… Read more

Something happens to everyone

6 August 2011
My Former Heart Cressida Connolly

Fourth Estate, pp.240, 14.99

Towards the end of Cressida Connolly’s novel, one of the characters says of another, ‘I dare say she didn’t see her life as completely uneventful. Something happens to everyone.’ You… Read more

A choice of first novels

30 July 2011

As L.P. Hartley noted, the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. And no more so than during the two world wars, a fact that has provided… Read more

Recent crime fiction

23 July 2011

John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series constantly surprises. John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series constantly surprises. A Lily of the Field (Grove Press, £16.99), the seventh novel, has a plot stretching from… Read more

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The revised version

23 July 2011
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes

Cape, pp.150, 12.99

The narrator of Julian Barnes’s novella has failed disastrously to understand his first love. David Sexton admires this skilful story, but finds something missing Julian Barnes once said that the… Read more

The man who came to dinner

9 July 2011
There But For The Ali Smith

Hamish Hamilton, pp.357, 16.99

Each year Genevieve Lee holds an ‘alternative’ dinner party, to which she invites, along with her friends, a couple of people she wouldn’t ordinarily mix with — a Muslim, say,… Read more

Chinese whispers

2 July 2011
River of Smoke Amitav Ghosh

John Murray, pp.522, 20

River of Smoke begins with the storm that struck the convict ship the Ibis at the end of Amitav Ghosh’s 2008 Man Booker-shortlisted Sea of Poppies. River of Smoke begins… Read more

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Golden lads and girls

2 July 2011
The Stranger’s Child Alan Hollinghurst

Picador, pp.563, 20

Sam Leith tracks the careers of Alan Hollinghurst’s captivating new characters through youthful exuberance to old age, dust and a literary afterlife It’s quite hard to know where to begin,… Read more

When more is less

25 June 2011
Foreign Bodies Cynthia Ozick

Atlantic, pp.255, 16.99

If you know anything at all about Cynthia Ozick — an officially accredited grande dame in America, less famous in Britain — you won’t be surprised to hear that her… Read more

Mumbai and Mammon

25 June 2011
Last Man in Tower Aravind Adiga

Atlantic Books, pp.560, 17.99

This is a state of the nation novel or more accurately a state of Mumbai novel. Behind the tale of a struggle by a developer to acquire, for flashy redevelopment, … Read more

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Bookends: When will there be good news?

18 June 2011

I am in love with Jackson Brodie. Does this mean that, in a literary homoerotic twist, I am actually in love with Kate Atkinson, his creator? I think it must.… Read more

Those who die like cattle

18 June 2011
Wish You Were Here Graham Swift

Picador, pp.353, 16.99

An ex-farmer whose brother has died fighting in Iraq is the man at the centre of Graham Swift’s new book, a state-of-the-nation novel on a small canvas. An ex-farmer whose… Read more

We are the past

4 June 2011
Then Julie Myerson

Cape, pp.296, 12.99

Julie Myerson’s eighth novel is told by a woman who roams the City of London after an unspecified apocalypse (no power, bad weather). Julie Myerson’s eighth novel is told by… Read more

Pearls before swine

4 June 2011
The Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet: The Great Victorian Jewel Thief Duncan Hamilton

Century, pp.318, 14.99

The story of Harry the Valet is the stuff of fiction. He was a dazzlingly adept, smooth, glamorous jewel thief, who never stooped to petty crime but carried off the… Read more

Victorian rough and tumble

Derby Day D.J. Taylor

Chatto, pp.404, 16.99

Derby Day is meticulously plotted and written with bouncy confidence. It tells the story of a sordid, conniving rascal called Happerton who plots a betting swindle for a Derby of… Read more

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The way to dusty death

21 May 2011
The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress Beryl Bainbridge

Little Brown, pp.198, 16.99

Beryl Bainbridge’s last novel is a haunting echo of her own final years, according to A. N. Wilson Some writers die years before bodily demise. They lose their grip. In… Read more

Freudian slip

14 May 2011
At Last Edward St Aubyn

Picador, pp.224, 16.99

At Last is the fifth — and, it’s pretty safe to say, most eagerly awaited — of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels. At Last is the fifth — and,… Read more

Doomed to disillusion

7 May 2011
The Forgotten Waltz Anne Enright

Cape, pp.240, 16.99

The Forgotten Waltz is one of those densely recapitulative novels that seek to interpret emotional crack-up from the angle of its ground-down aftermath. At the same time, it is not… Read more

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The world according to ants

23 April 2011
The Devil’s Garden Edward Docx

Picador, pp.288, 12.99

The South American rain forest is the perfect environment for a dank, uncomfortable thriller. It’s brutally competitive; life is thrillingly vulnerable; you can’t safely touch or taste anything, and, beyond… Read more

Beastly behaviour

23 April 2011
Hill Farm Miranda France

Chatto, pp.284, 12.99

If the production team of The Archers ever needs a scriptwriter at short notice, they need look no further than Miranda France. For her latest book, she’s gone back to… Read more

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. . . or sensing impending doom

23 April 2011
On Tangled Paths Theodor Fontane, translated from the German by Peter James Bowman

Angel Books, pp.192, 9.95

No Way Back by Theodor Fontane, translated from the German by Hugh Rorrison and Helen Chambers

Angel Books, pp.256, 11.75

‘What am I? A completely ordinary person from the so-called higher reaches of society. ‘What am I? A completely ordinary person from the so-called higher reaches of society. And what… Read more

Random questions

23 April 2011
The Coincidence Engine Sam Leith

Bloomsbury, pp.271, 12.99

British writers who set their first novels in America are apt to come horribly unstuck. One of the pleasures of Sam Leith’s debut novel is its sureness of tone. All… Read more

In search of a character

23 April 2011
Lucky Break Esther Freud

Bloomsbury, pp.310, 11.99

A chronicle of three young actors desperate to forge careers in the acting profession sounds like a dangerously familiar proposition. We are all now habituated to the weekly Saturday evening… Read more