Anthony Cummins

Highly charged territory

I first heard of this tragicomic spy romp around Israel and Palestine when Julian Barnes sang its praises in the Guardian a few months ago, having been ‘lucky to see an advance proof’. Lucky? Well, he and Nathan Englander do share an agent, who perhaps noticed that Dinner at the Centre of the Earth just

The evil that men do

Early one summer’s morning in 1994, Paul Jennings Hill, a defrocked Presbyterian minister, gunned down a doctor, John Britton, as he arrived for work at an abortion clinic in Florida. Unrepentant by the time of his execution nine years later, Hill (who I really don’t recommend Googling) was associated with the Army of God (ditto),

Free love’s fallout

Ann Patchett’s new novel is an American family saga involving six children, 50 years and too many coincidences to count. The premise is straight out of John Updike — a writer she admires — but her eye is on free love’s fallout, not its thrills. As the title hints, she’s interested in the larger family

You can run but you can’t hide

In The Circle, Dave Eggers’s satirical dystopia about an insatiable Google-like conglomerate, there’s a scene in which drones hound a social-media refusenik to his live-streamed doom; the character’s name, Mercer, was a nod to the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose 1841 essay ‘Self-Reliance’ saw Twitter coming. At least that’s a hunch that looks fairly

Strange sightings in Essex

I suspect some readers might be too cool for this lovely book, partly because, despite its gothic horror set-up, it sets out unashamedly to lift the spirits; and partly because historical novels are sometimes derided as escapist, as if they’re only a fallback for authors who can’t keep up with, say, immigration or the internet.

More blood and tears

Irvine Welsh’s 1993 debut novel Train-spotting flicked a hearty V-sign in the face of alarm-clock Britain. ‘Ah choose no tae choose life,’ crows its giro-cheating antihero Mark Renton, proudly enslaved to heroin instead of mortgage repayments. But when Welsh revisited his native Leith for a 2012 prequel, Skagboys, he threw over this bourgeois-taunting amorality for

A plague on all P-words

This isn’t a book to read before lights out. It’s about a mentally ill man whose mother exiles him from rural Ireland after years of rumours and reprisals related to his habit of startling passers-by with his bared erection. She has tried strapping him to a chair and bolting the door, but all that did

Sibling rivalries

In The Past (set chiefly in the present) four middle-aged siblings spend an eventful summer holiday in the Devon country house vacated by their dead grandparents. When Alice, a failed actress, turns up with an unannounced male guest who’s still at university, her footloose ways vex the others — particularly the youngest, Fran, a harassed

The mask of death

Remember Ebola? It killed more than 8,000 people last year — before we were all Charlie — with a quarter as many again dying since January. Almost all the deaths have occurred in the war-weakened west African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; no licensed drug or vaccine yet exists for a virus that

A jaunty romp of rape and pillage through the 16th century

The Brethren, by Robert Merle, who died at the age of 95 ten years ago, was originally published in 1977, the first in a sequence of historical novels that sold millions in their native France but have gone untranslated until now. Set in a plague-ridden, conflict-ravaged 16th century, rife with beheadings, hangings, abductions and rape,

This year, discover Michel Déon

In Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, the efforts of an academic claque propel the mysterious German author Benno von Archimboldi onto bestseller lists across the Continent. But ‘in the British Isles, it must be said, Archimboldi remained a decidely marginal writer’. Bolaño’s joke came to mind when I looked at the website of the French novelist

Red or Dead by David Peace – review

The last time David Peace wrote a novel about football he got his publishers sued for libel, which may help explain why his new one avoids invention wherever it can squeeze interest out of such stony matters of record as team sheets and attendance figures. Red or Dead follows the legendary manager Bill Shankly from

A red rag, or just bull?

Howard Jacobson’s new novel is a satire on modern literary publishing seen through the eyes of a writer, Guy, who wants to sleep with his mother-in-law even though he’s married to a stunner famed for her casseroles and ‘street blow jobs’ (that’s what it says). Things happen in it not to feed the story but

The courage of their convictions

HHhH is a prize-winning French novel about a writer writing a novel about the plot to kill the Gestapo boss Reinhard Heydrich. A lot of people reckon it’s a big deal — Martin Amis, Mario Vargas Llosa, me — so naturally there’s a backlash afoot. In a fit of territorial pissing disguised as an interview,

A matter of life and death

Hmm. Of the 30-plus characters in this novel, not one is both black and British. Odd, since it’s set in 2007-8, in south London. An early passage shows us a Polish builder listening to a ‘crowd of black kids’ on the Northern Line: ‘You never—’ ‘He never—’ ‘Batty man—’ And that’s it: six words in

What’s going on?

An early sentence in this collection of stories, first published between 1979 and the current issue of Granta, runs thus: We were in the late stages now, about 45 minutes out, and I was thinking it could still change, some rude blend of weather might yet transform the land, producing texture and dimension, leaps of