Lead book review

Sins of the flesh

Bill Schutt has an excellent subject, and he explores it from a promising angle. Cannibalism has long interested zoologists, anthropologists, historians, criminologists, literary theorists and students of theology and blasphemy — the absurd claim that Roman Catholics were commending it in their account of transubstantiation was a favourite with 18th-century English blasphemers. Few people have

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The great Norse soap opera

Norse myths are having a moment. Or should I say another moment; one of a long chain of moments, in fact, beginning in the primordial soup of the oral tradition of storytelling in Iceland and Scandinavia. This mythology is old; old and very tenacious. First chronicled by scholars and historians some centuries after the Christianisation

And then there was one

After a long struggle to receive mainstream publication, Paul Auster’s first few novels were a genuinely significant contribution to American letters, his patented mix of postmodernism, deadpan comedy and metatextual homage to Kafka, Hamsun, Melville and Hawthorne so singular it invited parody. Among these books, The New York Trilogy and The Music of Chance seem

Still giving peace a chance

Tibetans were once fabled warriors. Their empire, at the summit of its power in the eighth century, extended to northern India, western China and central Asia. The Arabs, making inroads into central Asia, were in awe of them. And China, according to an inscription commissioned to memorialise Tibet’s conquest of the Tang Chinese capital of

Riding the storm

Clover Stroud opens her memoir with the crippling bout of post-natal depression that hit after the birth of her fourth child. ‘I felt like a fist. Dash was always naked, plastered bare to my breast, sucking from me as my body dripped milk and tears.’ She even contemplates harming the baby then killing herself, guilelessly

The lure of the desert

The great deserts of the world hold a compelling attraction for a rare breed of men who are ‘unwise and curiously planned’. Once under the spell of that seemingly infinite arena of sand and stone, many are helplessly hooked. It is an arena where the sun burns down relentlessly during the day, to be replaced

Whited sepulchre

‘How often’, wrote Sigmund Freud in 1914, ‘have I mounted the steep steps from the unlovely Corso Cavour to the lonely piazza where the church stands, and have essayed to support the angry scorn of the heroic glance.’ The gaze that the founder of psychoanalysis struggled to withstand belonged to Michelangelo’s Moses, centrepiece of the

Another challenge for Trump

James D. Zirin is an experienced litigator as well as the host of a popular television talkshow. In this provocative polemic he uses skills developed both from behind the bar and in front of the camera to mount the charge that the US Supreme Court is a political court. How far does his evidence support

Satirising the artful Hoxha

Blood, they say, is quick on the knife in Albania, where Balkan-style revenge killings, known as giakmarrje (‘blood-takings’), settle ancient scores and land disputes. The great engine of vengeance — the old idea of purification by blood — was explored by the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare in his first novel, General of the Dead Army.

Agonised questions

It’s terribly difficult to write a novel about soul-searching, and Elif Shafak has come up with a rather clever device to do so: Peri grows up in Istanbul listening to her parents fighting about religion. Solemn, naive and tortured, she gets a place at Oxford, where she makes friends with Mona, who wears a headscarf

Big skies and frozen wastes

We know our way around Raymond Carver’s blue-collar cityscapes and Updike’s urban angst and despair. Rick Bass opens a window onto a wilder America — the far reaches of Montana, Alabama, Texas, Missouri… But to say his stories are about rural life would be like saying Moby-Dick is about whaling. Lauded by American critics and

In hot water

It’s good to be back in Spook Street, home of the nation’s secret service. From a handful of locations across London, its dedicated employees struggle ceaselessly against the nation’s enemies, when not otherwise engaged in scratching each other’s backs or scratching each other’s eyes out. Spook Street is Mick Herron’s fourth novel in the series,

Day of infamy

On 7 December 1941, without declaration of war, 350 Japanese carrier-borne aircraft struck at the US Pacific Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ringing words, ‘a date that will live in infamy’. For the 75th anniversary, Craig Nelson, a New York Times journalist, has, says his publisher, produced