Lead book review

Cheating death

2016 was probably the year even the most optimistic of us — those who can genuinely square the new populist politics with a bright future for truth-seekers, scientists and rational thinkers — gave up on the possibility of time travel. Surely, on every rally stage there should have been at least one white man from

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Righter of wrongs

I used to work for Ludo, as we all knew him on BBC2’s Did You See?, and was once thought to be his illegitimate son. In 1963, on a visit to Phnom Penh, he danced with my mother in a nightclub under the stars, but I was already six years old and, according to her,

Thirtysomething blues

If ever there was a book for our uncaring, unsharing times, it is Gwendoline Riley’s First Love, in which Neve, a woman in her mid-thirties, struggles with a truly awful family and with the men in her life, while trying to make a career as a writer. That latter point might suggest some kind of

Old, unhappy, far off things

August Geiger led an unremarkable life. Born in 1926, the third of ten children of a Catholic farming family in western Austria, the most unusual thing about him was his unwillingness ever to leave Wolfurt, the village where he had grown up. He built a house there, for his schoolteacher wife and their children, and

Intimations of mortality | 9 February 2017

In Deaths of the Poets two living examples of the species, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, retail the closing moments of close on 30 poetical lives, ranging from Thomas Chatterton to Robert Frost, Lord Byron to Rosemary Tonks, John Clare to Thom Gunn. Why? Because they feel the influence on ‘our’ generation (Farley was

A disgrace to feminism

‘I was single, straight, and female,’ Emily Witt begins, with all the élan of an alcoholic stating her name and what’s wrong with her. Only there isn’t anything wrong with Emily Witt. (The book jacket tells us she has three degrees and won a Fulbright scholarship to Mozambique.) Unless you count not having a fella

Bad behaviour

Molly Keane achieved fame and critical acclaim in 1981 aged 75, when she published the novel Good Behaviour, a razor-sharp social comedy about the Anglo-Irish in the 1930s. Her success was the more sensational because it was unexpected. Twenty years previously her play Dazzling Prospect had flopped disastrously at the box office. A drawing-room farce

The Baron is back

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had his Polish ancestor not been exiled to Siberia, he might have become a figure in European literature; living in Soviet Russia he was, in his own words, ‘known for being unknown’. His fiction and plays, written in the 1920s–1930s, remained mostly unpublished

A diamond set in sapphires

I was a young, aspiring writer when I decided to leave everything behind and move to Istanbul more than two decades ago. I rented a tiny, dingy flat at the bottom of the Street of Cauldron Makers not far from Taksim Square, the heart of the modern city. That first night, I sat by the

Recent crime fiction | 9 February 2017

There isn’t a clear line separating crime and literary fiction, but a border zone where ideas are passed from one genre to another. Flynn Berry’s debut Under the Harrow (Weidenfeld, £12.99) is set well to the literary side of this border, but doesn’t shirk on the thrills of a psychological mystery. Nora Lawrence expects to

Flights of fancy | 9 February 2017

Michael Chabon’s back. He’d never gone away, of course — more than a dozen books in all — but it’s been a long time since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), a book entirely true to its title, so amazing and adventurous, indeed, so full of pizzazz, that it seems to have taken