Random questions

23 April 2011 12:00 am

British writers who set their first novels in America are apt to come horribly unstuck.

In search of a character

23 April 2011 12:00 am

A chronicle of three young actors desperate to forge careers in the acting profession sounds like a dangerously familiar proposition.

An existential hero

16 April 2011 12:00 am

Sam Leith is enthralled by a masterpiece on monotony, but is devastated by its author’s death

A choice of first novels

9 April 2011 12:00 am

Rocco LaGrassa was ‘stout around the middle . . . wee at the ankles, and girlish at his tiny feet, a man in the shape of a lightbulb’. In Salvatore Scibona’s first novel we join this lightbulb of a man on perhaps his darkest day: the day on which the police arrive at his door to tell him his son has just died of tuberculosis in a prisoner-of-war camp in North Korea.

Whatever next?

9 April 2011 12:00 am

Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers is set in Hanmouth, a small English coastal town described so thickly that it is established from the outset as effectively a character in itself.

The passionate friend

2 April 2011 12:00 am

Sam Leith explores H. G. Wells’s addiction to free love, as revealed in David Lodge’s latest biographical novel

Triumph and disaster

19 March 2011 12:00 am

The title of this first novel refers to a version of childhood as a magical kingdom where evil can be overturned and heaven and earth remade at the whim of a power-crazed infant.


12 March 2011 6:00 am

About 80 per cent of books sold in this country are said to be bought by women, none more eagerly than Joanna Trollope’s anatomies of English middle-class family life. Her 16th novel, Daughters-in-Law (Cape, £18.99), is sociologically and psychologically as observant as ever, showing how not to be a suffocatingly possessive mother-in-law.

The family plot

12 March 2011 12:00 am

Hisham Matar is a Libyan-American writer whose father, Jaballa — an opponent of Gaddafi — was kidnapped in Cairo in 1990.

Death of the Author

5 March 2011 12:00 am

The death of the Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad is the central event of David Miller’s debut novel.

Desk-bound, needing to get out more

26 February 2011 12:00 am

Great House is an ambitious novel, if it’s a novel at all.

The call of the wild

19 February 2011 12:00 am

Annie Proulx (pronounced ‘Pru’) began her writing career — quite late, in her fifties — as E.A. Proulx, to baffle misogynist editors; then she was E. Annie Proulx, until she dropped the E and became simply Annie the Proulx.

Bruising times

12 February 2011 12:00 am

In a market town in Kent at the time of Thatcher’s Britain, Charles Pemberton attends the town’s minor public school where his businessman father is a governor.

Beatrix Potter meets the Marquis de Sade

12 February 2011 12:00 am

Anthropomorphism and a weird, astringent sense of humour combined to make The Queue, the late Jonathan Barrow’s only novel, a work of genius in the opinion of his brother Andrew.

And then there was one . . .

5 February 2011 12:00 am

The English fascination with spies is gloriously reflected in our literature, from Kim to A Question of Attribution, and while their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts remain untranslated, and the Americans unreadable, English spy novelists rule.

Morphine memories

5 February 2011 12:00 am

Chapman’s Odyssey became quite famous before it was published, largely because it nearly wasn’t.

Odd characters

29 January 2011 12:00 am

Cedilla picks up where Adam Mars-Jones’s previous novel Pilcrow (2008) left off.

The sweet smell of danger

22 January 2011 12:00 am

If this novel is ever published with a scratch-and-sniff cover — which incidentally, I think it might be successful enough to warrant — this is what it would smell of: cheap petrol, lust, the ripe, acidic scent of decaying corpse, cat litter, $2,000 suits, Cristal champagne, decaying encyclopaedia, corruption, fumes from the power plant, betrayal, sausage.

Smart ass

15 January 2011 12:00 am

It’s the way Caroline pisses onto the concrete during the lunch break that delights her work colleagues: in a steaming, splattery arc.

Classic makeover

11 December 2010 12:00 am

Philip Hensher finds Flaubert’s scorn for his characters relieved by hilarity

Under the skin

27 November 2010 12:00 am

Why do so many aspiring writers think it best to begin with the short story and graduate to the novel? It’s madness.

BOOKENDS: Xmas with the exes

20 November 2010 10:00 am

‘I only see radiators these days’, announces one of the characters in this novel — ‘You know, people who give out heat and warmth.’ A radiator is a pretty good description of India Knight’s Comfort and Joy (Fig Tree/ Penguin, £14.99), too: a book so kindly and funny and affectionate that you could probably warm your hands on it.

Change, decay and success

20 November 2010 12:00 am

After having for so long been treated with such disdain by the French literary establishment, Michel Houellebecq has at last been embraced by it.

The start of the affair

30 October 2010 12:00 am

In this season of Franzen frenzy, spare a thought for André Aciman, an American writer whose name, I think, is so far unmentioned in the daft pursuit of the Great American Novel.

BOOKENDS: A Tiny bit Marvellous

23 October 2010 10:00 am

Criticising Dawn French feels like kicking a puppy. She’s so winning that the nation was even tempted to let The Vicar of Dibley slide.