Book review – fiction

Couldn’t Diana Evans’s fretful couples just shut up and deal with it?

5 May 2018 9:00 am

My husband started reading Diana Evans’s third novel, Ordinary People, the day after I’d finished it. Three days later, I…

The daring exploits of Romain Gary

28 April 2018 9:00 am

When Romain Gary, a courageous and much decorated pilot in the RAF’s Free French squadron, was presented to the Queen…

A single mother hits rock bottom in Tokyo: Territory of Light reviewed

28 April 2018 9:00 am

Before her death two years ago, Yuko Tsushima was a powerful voice in Japanese literature; a strong candidate for the…

Our sheltered lives have made us overly fearful: Aminatta Forna’s Happiness reviewed

21 April 2018 9:00 am

In her keynote lecture for a conference on ‘The Muse and the Market’ in 2015 Aminatta Forna mounted a powerful…

Six wintry days in Saratoga Springs: Upstate by James Wood reviewed

14 April 2018 9:00 am

Alan Querry, the central figure in James Wood’s second novel, is someone who, in his own words, doesn’t ‘think about…

The Spanish court’s fondness for dwarfs and dogs is captured by Velázquez

Spend, spend, spend at the court of Philip IV of Spain

7 April 2018 9:00 am

‘Nine hours,’ boasted my friend the curator about his trip to the Prado. Nine! Two hours is my upper limit…

How can we know what dead people want?

7 April 2018 9:00 am

In 1999, Patrick Hemingway published True at First Light, a new novel by his father Ernest. In his role as…

Alarm bells ring when I read about grown women and dolls

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Mona — single, childless, pushing 60 — sells wooden dolls made by a carpenter friend, which she delicately costumes from…

Down’s syndrome and dystopia in Jesse Ball’s Census

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Census is a curious, clever novel. It depicts a dystopia with a father and his Down’s syndrome son journeying from…

‘Spanish troops loot a village in Flanders during the Thirty Years War’, by Sebastian Vrancx

Simplicius Simplicissimus and the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War

31 March 2018 8:00 am

On 23 May 1618, Bohemian Protestants pushed two Catholic governors and their secretary through the windows of Prague Castle, in…

Drowning in superstition: a magnificent thriller of medieval England

24 March 2018 9:00 am

Samantha Harvey is much rated by critics and those readers who have discovered her books, but deserving of a far…

A nightmare scenario in the city of dreaming spires

17 March 2018 9:00 am

‘Dreaming spires’? Yes, but sometimes there are nightmares. Brian Martin, awarded the MBE for services to English literature, is at…

Frankenstein’s monster is more frightening than ever

17 March 2018 9:00 am

On the wall of her tumbledown house in central Baghdad, an elderly Christian widow named Elishva has a beloved icon…

Jessie Greengrass’s Sight is unashamedly philosophical

10 March 2018 9:00 am

The precarious stasis of late pregnancy offers the narrator of Jessie Greengrass’s exceptional first novel a space — albeit an…

Shadows of the past are ominously present in a trio of memorable first novels

10 March 2018 9:00 am

The Shangri-Las’ song ‘Past, Present and Future’ divides a life into three, Beethoven-underpinned phases: before, during and after. Each section…

You deserve a prize if you manage to finish Jim Crace’s latest novel

3 March 2018 9:00 am

This remorselessly slow-moving, hazily allegorical drama about ageing and xenophobia is Jim Crace’s 12th book, and the first to appear…

The Charlie Hebdo attacks form a backdrop to a complicated love triangle in C.K. Stead’s latest novel

17 February 2018 9:00 am

There has been much debate recently about what exactly constitutes ‘literary’ fiction. If the term means beguiling, gorgeously crafted novels…

Emily Hill is the Saki of sex

10 February 2018 9:00 am

How I love short stories! Long before the internet realised that we can’t sit still long enough to commit to…

Denis Johnson: where pain and comedy collide

3 February 2018 9:00 am

The death of Denis Johnson last May marked the loss of a great original who catalogued the lives of junkies,…

Trying hard to be somebody in Trump’s America

3 February 2018 9:00 am

For Horace Hopper, the half-breed protagonist of Willy Vlautin’s bleak new novel, essential truths come slowly, and usually too late…

Crime and puzzlement in Tony White’s Oulipo-inspired novel

3 February 2018 9:00 am

Tony White’s latest novel begins for all the world like a police procedural, following the delightfully named sleuth Rex King…

For Julian Barnes, the only story is a love story — and it’s inevitably sad

27 January 2018 9:00 am

The story, as it emerges, feels both familiar and inevitable. A bored 19-year-old student, on his university holidays in mid-century…

Michelle de Kretser: the modern Australian Jane Austen

27 January 2018 9:00 am

Twenty-odd pages into Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come, I pounded the table and bellowed an Australian-accented ‘fuck yeah!’…

An 80th birthday party causes no end of trouble in Barney Norris’s latest novel

20 January 2018 9:00 am

‘People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them,’ muses the…

Jenny Erpenbeck finds a novel way to tackle the migrant problem

20 January 2018 9:00 am

The title of Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go Went Gone, and the autumnal tone of its beginning — a classics professor retires,…