Alex Clark

Three men in exile: My Friends, by Hisham Matar, reviewed

Hisham Matar’s third novel is, among its many other virtues, a paean to reading widely; to imagining literature as not, in the narrator Khaled’s words, ‘a field of demarcations’, but as a great river that connects and animates ‘the entire human event’. Reading is how Khaled – exiled from Libya when his part in the

Bad boy on the run: Shy, by Max Porter, reviewed

Shy concludes Max Porter’s informal trilogy of short, poetic novels powered by pain and polyphony. First, in 2015, came Grief is the Thing with Feathers, in which a widowed Ted Hughes scholar is both shocked and comforted by the arrival of a croaking, crouching crow. Then, four years later, Lanny, which followed a young boy

Mad men plotting: The Unfolding, by A.M. Homes, reviewed

Fifteen years ago, A.M. Homes published The Mistress’s Daughter, an explosive, painful account of how she met her birth mother, Ellen, who had placed her for adoption as a baby when, as a very young woman, she became pregnant in the course of an affair with an older, married man. Perhaps the most memorable scene

A playful version of the universe: Pure Colour, by Sheila Heti, reviewed

Readers familiar with Sheila Heti’s work, most notably How Should a Person Be? and Motherhood, in which she examines both the possibility and implications of choosing one’s life and dealing with the consequences, will be familiar with her apparent capriciousness. Her prose — freewheeling, elliptical, a tangle of jokiness and jeopardy — seems to capture

An impossible guest: Second Place, by Rachel Cusk, reviewed

A great writer must be prepared to risk ridiculousness — not ridicule, although that may follow, but the possibility that the work will collapse into some or other version of nonsense. If it doesn’t, though, it is precisely the elements that flirt with disaster that will likely make it both superficially distinctive and artistically substantial.

Dreams of oblivion

The new novel by the author of the 2016 Booker shortlisted Eileen is at once a jumble of influences — Oblomov by way of Tama Janowitz and Elizabeth Wurtzl, Bartleby with a touch of Bright Lights, Big City, a lunatic psychiatrist who melds Ayn Rand and William Burroughs — and unnervingly original. It takes guts,

The priest’s tale

Samantha Harvey is much rated by critics and those readers who have discovered her books, but deserving of a far wider audience than she has hitherto gained — so much so that just before Gaby Wood’s appointment as literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, the critic wrote a lengthy exploration of Harvey’s prodigious qualities,

Write to the end

Always go to a storyteller if you want a sparky answer to a question. What does Jeffrey Archer, bestselling author, member of the House of Lords, one-time candidate for Mayor of London and prison diarist, think will happen to American politics next? Comes the reply: Angelina Jolie. Or perhaps George Clooney. Or maybe even Tom

On the waterfront | 12 October 2017

Much has been made of the American novelist Jennifer Egan’s mutation, in her latest novel, from purveyor of metafiction and fragmentary, experimental narratives to creator of a solid piece of traditional realism. Manhattan Beach tells the story of a father and daughter in New York in the years in and around the second world war:

The man who disappeared

Walking out of one’s own life — unpredictably, perhaps even without premeditation and certainly without anything approaching a plan — is a common staple of fantasy, and therefore fiction. But why, when we spend so much of the rest of the time fretting about losing what we have and hatching plans to safeguard it? In

Mother Medea

Medea’s continuing hold over spinners of tall tales from Euripides to Chaucer to Pasolini needs little explanation; she’s an archetype with everything going for her. As a fratricide and murderer of her own children, among assorted other acts of blood lust, her acts of brutality are so transgressive and symbolic that they offer themselves up

When less is more

It’s 2008 in Manhattan, and there’s still a brief window for the Goldman bankers to swill their ’82 Petrus before the crash, for the masters of the universe and social X-rays first sighted in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities to launch another hostile takeover or push a lettuce leaf around a $25,000-a-table benefit dinner-plate.

Mournful and meticulous

After a curtain-twitching cul-de-sac, a Preston shopping precinct, and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints brought to Lancashire, Jenn Ashworth ups sticks for the seaside in her fourth novel. Set in the determinedly genteel resort of Grange-over-Sands, just across the bay from Morecambe on the Cumbrian coast, Fell is a disturbing, precisely rendered tale of

A host of unquiet spirits

As its title suggests, Julie Myerson’s tenth novel is about stoppage: the kind that happens when one suffers a loss so absolute and cataclysmic that there seems no possible way forward; when the future seems not merely unthinkably disrupted but also irrelevant. For the majority of people lucky enough to live out their days beyond

Erica Jong’s middle-aged dread

Who’d get old? Bits fall off, your loved ones start dropping like flies and, perhaps worst of all, the only afternoon delight you’re up to is a cup of tea and a soporific radio play. Wealthy New Yorker Vanessa Wonderman, Erica Jong’s 60-year-old narrator, isn’t there yet, but she can see it coming down Fifth

Quiet desperation

Andrew Miller’s seventh novel, and the first since Pure, which won the Costa Book of the Year award, is an intensely curious affair; thick with material detail from the outset, it announces itself as a novel of closely observed and relished realism. But before too long, one begins to suspect that its specificity — much