Anita Brookner

A seamless whole

This short memoir deserves a longer review than this, encompassing, as it does, migration, intellectual excellence, a successful professional life, two marriages, children and an honesty and contentment not usually found in close proximity. Miriam Gross (née May), with a Jewish legal background (both her parents, who left Nazi Germany in 1933, were lawyers), was

Last Friends, by Jane Gardam – review

Any writer who embarks on a trilogy is either extremely confident or taking something of a risk. The danger is that the reader will have forgotten the first two volumes and will have lost any memory of the story and the characters who now occupy the foreground of what might be a fairly mystifying account.

Shy of the crowd

Elizabeth Taylor, the best-kept secret in English fiction, wrote novels and short stories in the 1950s and 1960s and thus contributed to the nostalgia for that modest period so keenly felt today by those who lived through it. She is an honourable writer; no publicity, no interviews, no mission statements — merely an unwavering production

Anita Brookner’s books of the year

My reading this year has been retrospective, dominated by Stefan Zweig, the most gentlemanly of writers. Beware of Pity, translated by the estimable Anthea Bell, remains powerfully shocking, yet classically restrained, while The Post Office Girl, in a less memorable translation, is queasily convincing. Both are published by Pushkin Press. Zweig seems unfazed by the

A mystery unsolved

This is a compelling and somewhat disturbing novel, conducted with Susan Hill’s customary fluency. This is a compelling and somewhat disturbing novel, conducted with Susan Hill’s customary fluency. It features Simon Serailler, the author’s usual protagonist, investigating a cold case of a missing teenager who was last seen waiting at a bus stop some 16

A singular voice

Barbara Pym, now thought of as a reliable and popular novelist of the 1950s and 1960s, has almost disappeared from sight, overshadowed by the more explicit and confessional writers we are accustomed to reading today. Indeed her eclipse was sudden and unforeseen: her mature novels were rejected by three major publishers when she was only

The people and the place

Where to begin? Graham Robb, like all dedicated Francophiles, begins early, when his enlightened parents made him a present of a trip to Paris and sent him off with a map and a voucher for a free gift at the Galeries Lafayette. For a week, and then two weeks, and then six months, he did

Missing link

In times of anxiety or confusion the most effective palliative is a good detective story. The requirement is that a sense of justice be restored, and, paradoxically, given the fictional events portrayed, a much desired sense of order. The effect is transitory but reliable. It is also necessary that the protagonist be a man of

Prize-winning novels from France | 2 January 2010

After an unremarkable year for fiction the Prix Goncourt was awarded to Marie Ndiaye for a novel — actually three novellas — which must have beguiled the judges by the sheer unfamiliarity of its contents. After an unremarkable year for fiction the Prix Goncourt was awarded to Marie Ndiaye for a novel — actually three

Nightmare in Dublin

Caroline Wallace, a journalist specialising in book reviews and the occasional travel piece, is asked, or rather told, to go to Dublin to interview Desmond FitzMaurice, a once famous playwright and foreign correspondent, in order to revive interest in his now forgotten work. Fitzmaurice is nearly 90, and so there is no time to be

Agreeable alliance

Noah’s Compass, by Anne Tyler This is Anne Tyler’s seventeenth novel and will be welcomed by her many fans. It will also be familiar, even a little too familiar, to be judged on its own. There is the same Baltimore setting, the same domestic reassurance, the same blameless clueless protagonist, and the same invasive presence

Familiar and unfamiliar

Gillian Tindall has had the ingenious and sympathetic idea of combining biography and topography in an overview of British visitors to Paris from 1814 to the present day — an enterprise of formidable research and enviable lightness of touch. Selecting various members of her own extended family, she traces their temporary residence in Paris and

Pure, but never simple

Here at last is a novel informed by exceptional intelligence. The blurb states that the author, Simon Mawer, was born in England, but it seems likely that his ancestry was Czech, since he is acquainted with the language and the customs of pre-war Czechoslovakia and has learned of its travails during the German and Russian

A grand overview

This unassuming book is in fact a valuable addition to the Proust bibliography. The author, himself a painter, has had the apparently simple idea of extracting all references to works of art in the great novel in an attempt to demonstrate Proust’s knowledge of, and reliance on, paintings to give resonance to his characters and

A crisis of confidence

The Believers, by Zoë Heller Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal won wide publicity and was deservedly praised for its depiction of female malice and the unhappiness that fosters it. Her present novel is so markedly different that it might have been written by another hand. This is no mean feat, but the effect is

A far cry from Paradise

This strange novel is described as a ghost story, although it reads like a nervous breakdown in which both writer and reader are embedded. So constricted is the narrative that the central figure, Jim Smith, delivers no opinion of his own, although his past life appears to have been full of incident: extensive travel, a

Not going to London to visit the Queen

It is a pleasure to encounter a new writer, particularly if that writer is modest, competent, and above all unheralded. Frances Itani is Canadian and recognisably from the same background as Alice Munro, although lacking Munro’s wistfulness and emotional delicacy. She is unknown in this country, although the author of a previous novel. On the

Vagabonds in Paris

Patrick Modiano is a nostalgic novelist who has consistently shown courage in investigating the boundaries between duty and loyalty. This ambiguity has featured in all his novels and seems to have had its roots in the character of his own father, whose activities in the troubled era of wartime and post-war Paris have left their

Linked by an oblique sadness

Connoisseurs of the short story will welcome this new collection by William Trevor, his first since 2004. Trevor has been compared with Chekhov, not without justification. He works by indirection, avoiding judgment, his sense of tragedy well concealed by a partiality for unfulfilled lives left free to exist on the page without the author’s intervention.

What Henry knew

In October 1875 Henry James moved to Paris to advance his nascent career as a man of letters, specifically as a novelist. This was not his first visit: his enlightened family encouraged travel, but the desire to take up residence was intimately connected with his ambitions: Paris, after all, was the epi- centre of forward