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


An existential hero

16 April 2011
The Pale King David Foster Wallace

Hamish Hamilton, pp.547, 20

Sam Leith is enthralled by a masterpiece on monotony, but is devastated by its author’s death When David Foster Wallace took his own life two and a half years ago,… Read more

A choice of first novels

9 April 2011
The End Salvatore Scibona

Cape, pp.304, 16.99

My Name is Mary Sutter Robin Oliviera

Penguin, pp.384, 12.99

Scissors, Paper, Stone Elizabeth Day

Bloomsbury, pp.256, 11.99

Rocco LaGrassa was ‘stout around the middle . . . wee at the ankles, and girlish at his tiny feet, a man in the shape of a lightbulb’. In Salvatore… Read more

Whatever next?

9 April 2011
King of the Badgers Philip Hensher

Fourth Estate, pp.436, 18.99

Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers is set in Hanmouth, a small English coastal town described so thickly that it is established from the outset as effectively a character in… Read more


The passionate friend

2 April 2011
A Man of Parts: A Novel David Lodge

Harvill Secker, pp.565, £18.99

Sam Leith explores H. G. Wells’s addiction to free love, as revealed in David Lodge’s latest biographical novel In the history of seduction, there can have been few scenes quite… Read more

Triumph and disaster

19 March 2011
When God Was a Rabbit Sarah Winman

Headline Review, pp.325, 13

The title of this first novel refers to a version of childhood as a magical kingdom where evil can be overturned and heaven and earth remade at the whim of… Read more


12 March 2011

About 80 per cent of books sold in this country are said to be bought by women, none more eagerly than Joanna Trollope’s anatomies of English middle-class family life. Her… Read more


The family plot

12 March 2011
Anatomy of a Disappearance Hisham Matar

Viking, pp.247, 16.99

Hisham Matar is a Libyan-American writer whose father, Jaballa — an opponent of Gaddafi — was kidnapped in Cairo in 1990. Hisham Matar is a Libyan-American writer whose father, Jaballa… Read more

Death of the Author

5 March 2011
Today David Miller

Atlantic Books, pp.176, 12.99

The death of the Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad is the central event of David Miller’s debut novel. The death of the Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad is the central… Read more

Desk-bound, needing to get out more

26 February 2011
Great House Nicole Krauss

Penguin/Viking, pp.289, 16.99

Great House is an ambitious novel, if it’s a novel at all. Great House is an ambitious novel, if it’s a novel at all. It’s an exploration of regret, longing,… Read more

The call of the wild

19 February 2011
Bird Cloud Annie Proulx

Fourth Estate, pp.234, 16.99

Annie Proulx (pronounced ‘Pru’) began her writing career — quite late, in her fifties — as E.A. Proulx, to baffle misogynist editors; then she was E. Annie Proulx, until she… Read more

Bruising times

12 February 2011
The Champion Tim Binding

Picador, pp.434, 12.99

In a market town in Kent at the time of Thatcher’s Britain, Charles Pemberton attends the town’s minor public school where his businessman father is a governor. In a market… Read more


Beatrix Potter meets the Marquis de Sade

12 February 2011
Animal Magic: A Brother's Story Andrew Barrow

Cape, pp.324, 18.99

Anthropomorphism and a weird, astringent sense of humour combined to make The Queue, the late Jonathan Barrow’s only novel, a work of genius in the opinion of his brother Andrew.… Read more


And then there was one . . .

5 February 2011
The Trinity Six Charles Cumming

HarperCollins, pp.406, 12.99

The English fascination with spies is gloriously reflected in our literature, from Kim to A Question of Attribution, and while their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts remain untranslated, and the Americans… Read more

Morphine memories

5 February 2011
Chapman's Odyssey Paul Bailey

Bloomsbury, pp.224, 16.99

Chapman’s Odyssey became quite famous before it was published, largely because it nearly wasn’t. Chapman’s Odyssey became quite famous before it was published, largely because it nearly wasn’t. Paul Bailey’s… Read more

Odd characters

29 January 2011
Cedilla Adam Mars-Jones

Faber, pp.733, 20

Cedilla picks up where Adam Mars-Jones’s previous novel Pilcrow (2008) left off. Cedilla picks up where Adam Mars-Jones’s previous novel Pilcrow (2008) left off. That book described the early life… Read more

The sweet smell of danger

22 January 2011
Snowdrops A.D. Miller

Atlantic Books, pp.288, 12.99

If this novel is ever published with a scratch-and-sniff cover — which incidentally, I think it might be successful enough to warrant — this is what it would smell of:… Read more

Smart ass

15 January 2011
Caroline: A Mystery Cornelius Medvei

Harvill, pp.153, 10

It’s the way Caroline pisses onto the concrete during the lunch break that delights her work colleagues: in a steaming, splattery arc. It’s the way Caroline pisses onto the concrete… Read more


Classic makeover

11 December 2010
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis

Penguin Classics, pp.342, 20

Philip Hensher finds Flaubert’s scorn for his characters relieved by hilarity Astonishingly, this is the 20th time Madame Bovary has been translated into English. I say ‘astonishing’ because, as everyone… Read more

Under the skin

27 November 2010
Perfect Lives Polly Samson

Virago, pp.223, 15.99

Why do so many aspiring writers think it best to begin with the short story and graduate to the novel? It’s madness. The short story is infinitely harder to write… Read more


BOOKENDS: Xmas with the exes

20 November 2010
Comfort and Joy India Knight

Fig Tree / Penguin, 14.99

‘I only see radiators these days’, announces one of the characters in this novel — ‘You know, people who give out heat and warmth.’ A radiator is a pretty good… Read more

Change, decay and success

20 November 2010
La carte et le territoire Michel Houellebecq

Flammarion, pp.428, 22

After having for so long been treated with such disdain by the French literary establishment, Michel Houellebecq has at last been embraced by it. Last week La carte et le… Read more


The start of the affair

30 October 2010
Eight White Nights Andre Aciman

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, pp.360, 17.99

In this season of Franzen frenzy, spare a thought for André Aciman, an American writer whose name, I think, is so far unmentioned in the daft pursuit of the Great… Read more


BOOKENDS: A Tiny bit Marvellous

23 October 2010
A Tiny Bit Marvellous Dawn French

Michael Joseph, 18.99

Criticising Dawn French feels like kicking a puppy. She’s so winning that the nation was even tempted to let The Vicar of Dibley slide. Criticising Dawn French feels like kicking… Read more

Out of time and place

23 October 2010
The Life of an Unknown Man Andrei Makine

Sceptre, pp.250, 16.99

The misleadingly titled Life of an Unknown Man is in fact the story of two men, and the dualities that their characters embody — fame and anonymity, unhappiness and happiness,… Read more