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A soft tread and a sure touch

Short stories are best read one a night just before you go to sleep, and this collection by Angela Huth, which brings together work from the last 30 years, would keep you going for nearly a month.

The boy who saw too much and too little

Already a bestseller in the many countries where it has been published, I’m Not Scared was described to me as a modern version of The Go-Between. After struggling through the wooden introduction to a group of children cycling up a hill somewhere in the south of Italy, I was steeling myself for one of those

A palely loitering revenant

‘Reviewers,’ laments the Dr Cake of Andrew Motion’s title, ‘they are devils. Devils. I have seen good men, good authors, broken by their deprecations. The worst of it is their presumption in supposing that those they chastise do not know their own faults, and admonish themselves with a ferocity others can only imagine.’ From a

The Stuart we fail to remember

In 1066 and All That there is a spoof exam question: ‘How can you be so numb and vague about Arbella Stuart?’ All the same, her name means little today. If she is known at all, it is as one of those fiendishly muddling and worryingly inbred claimants to the Tudor succession who all seem

Bum ego trip

‘Our lives are one endless stretch of misery punctuated by processed fast foods and the occasional crisis or amusing curiosity,’ remarks Augusten (pronounced You-gusten, by the way) Burroughs as he creeps towards the end of what must be one of the strangest and most engrossingly repellent memoirs of dysfunctional American family life ever to be

One man’s prime numbers

When you are a bestselling novelist you get to do things your way. So this isn’t 32 Songs, which would at least be a power of two, or even 30 Songs, but the defiantly prime 31 Songs, because that, says Nick Hornby, is how long the book needs to be. But then the millions of

The Russian language front

During the war against Hitler, secret services recruited on the old boy net: there was no other way of being sure that recruits were not duds, and even on the old boy net bad mistakes could be made – Philby and Maclean were only the most notable examples. All that was supposed to vanish with

Radiance in suburbia

Shena Mackay has had a difficult and unconventional career, and it has taken a long time for most readers to register what a powerful and original novelist she is. Several things have counted, unfairly, against her; her subjects are not just domestic, but often suburban, which she presents with a disconcerting rapture. She does not