Lead book review

Books of the Year | 16 November 2017

Daniel Swift I spent too much of this (and last) year reading anaemic updatings of Shakespeare plays: pale novels which borrowed plots and missed points and, oddly, always misunderstood the minor characters. After these, Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young (Galley Beggar Press, £9.99) came as a relief and a surprise. Her novel is big,

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In cold blood

If you search Google Images for Ted Lewis, the results show an American jazz-age band-leader in a battered top hat, or the determined features of the world champion boxer Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, the ‘Aldgate Sphinx’. In between falls a picture of the crime writer Ted Lewis perched on a stool at a cable-strewn film location

The twice-promised land

If books about the Israeli-Arab conflict were building blocks, the Palestinians would have their own state already and then some. Most volumes bring little that is fresh or challenging, so selectivity is key. Daniel Gordis and Benny Morris are essential, Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev unavoidable. Take time on unsexy stylists like Mustafa Kabha or

Catfight at court

Apart from glorying in a memorable name, Lettice Knollys has chiefly been known for her connections — with her second husband, Robert Dudley, first Earl of Leicester; with the woman who was deeply in love with Dudley, Queen Elizabeth I; and with her hot-headed son who, as Earl of Essex, for a time enjoyed a

It’s grim up north

Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney was one of the surprise stand-outs of last year, and a worthy winner of the Costa First Book Award. His new novel, Devil’s Day, is equally good, even though its similarities slightly muffle the surprises. Like his debut, it is a work of gooseflesh eeriness. The Loney artfully described the

Pulling through

Grief is not being able to eat a small boiled egg. ‘Could you face an egg?’ the widowed Jean asks her daughter Eve in Susie Boyt’s sixth novel, Love & Fame. It is not long after Jean’s husband, Eve’s father, John Swift, a sitcom actor, a national treasure, has died. Eve can’t face an egg;

On the wild side

The terroir of the Kentish coast is faultlessly represented in The Sportsman (Phaidon, £29.95), a book of recipes from an acclaimed pub restaurant in the village of Seasalter, close to Whitstable. On the bill of fare (it’s that English) you will find slip soles and thornback ray, salt marsh lamb and oysters, seaweeds of all

Gathering moss

Many moons ago, I worked at the New Musical Express magazine, which transformed me from virgin schoolgirl to the fabulous creature I’ve been for the past four decades. It’s hard to describe how influential the NME was at its 1970s peak. I’ve met people who waited in exquisite teenage agonies for two-week-old copies to arrive

A different kettle of fish

Fish. Slippery, mysterious creatures. They are mysterious because of where they live, in vast waters, and because they elude the historical record, too: fishing equipment is soft and decays (bamboo, hemp, lines made from kelp, cedar bark, women’s hair). Brian Fagan is an archaeologist, a profession that we associate with dust and soil and stone,

Problems of her own

If you don’t yet watch Gogglebox on Channel 4, start doing so now. Far from making you despise our couch-potato nation, it will make you feel great affection for it. Sprawled on L-shaped sofas with comfort cushions or slobbering dogs on their tummies, or sitting side by side on armchairs with a vase of carnations