Ben Hamilton

… and soon will be

Edmundsbury, the fictional, sketchily rendered town in which the action of this novel takes place, is part of a social experiment — its inhabitants lab rats for a digital overhaul that goes beyond surveillance. Everything they do is measured, tracked and recorded in exchange for treats, such as heightened security and increased download speeds. Sam

Snowy days in Saratoga Springs

Alan Querry, the central figure in James Wood’s second novel, is someone who, in his own words, doesn’t ‘think about life too much’. His peculiar surname may recall the brooding, godforsaken Querry of Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case, but this Querry — who lives in ‘the poshest part of Northumberland’ — isn’t much troubled by

Who’s the expert now?

The title might be taken as a provocation. In the compressed language of digital media, white tears, like first-world problems or man flu, are an ersatz version of the real thing. More plainly, the gripes and complaints of white people are, according to certain social codes, unearned and inauthentic. This zeitgeisty novel gives us two

The trouble with actors

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride’s acclaimed, prize-winning debut, felt like a one-off, not the beginning of a career. Its prose style — a staccato, Beckettian rush — was a good match for the subject of burgeoning womanhood amid grief and exploitation. But it was also very intense — so much so that

Scratching a living

John Gross’s The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: English Literary Life since 1800, a standard text for anyone set on a life of writing about books, was intentionally truncated, ending its chronology before Gross’s own time of eminence. Two decades after the book’s publication in 1969, Gross explained in a new afterword

Pessimism keeps breaking in

State-of-criticism overviews and assessments almost always strike a bleak note —the critical mind naturally angles towards pessimism — so it can be worthwhile occasionally to announce that, against expectations, despite everything, literary criticism is still alive and in print. Recent technological and economic threats have not been as damaging as the so-called theory wars of

The soundtracked novel that won’t sit still

The Emperor Waltz is long enough at 600 pages to be divided, in the old-fashioned way, into nine ‘books’. Each book has a date, sliding from 1922 to 1979 to next year to 203 ad to last month. This might suggest an overly systematic novel in the mode of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or Eleanor

Don’t mock pro wrestling. Today’s TV is made in its image

Earlier this month, when a 54-year-old man with the birth name James Brian Hellwig died of a suspected heart attack outside a hotel in Arizona, a million boyhood fantasies also clutched their chests and fell to the ground. To fans – and former fans – of professional wrestling, Hellwig was The Ultimate Warrior, the man

The talent and tragedy of Richard Pryor

The troubles of Richard Pryor’s life are well known — from his childhood in a brothel to his self-immolation via crack pipe — but arranged in a biography their impact is renewed. So grotesque was his upbringing that an early encounter with a dead baby in a shoebox warrants but a single sentence in David

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer – review

Thick, sentimental and with a narrative bestriding four decades, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings feels above all like a Victorian novel, one which finds itself as comfortable in our time as it would have been 150 years ago. It’s an American story ruled by classic English themes. Fate, coincidence, class and envy are what bind —

A Bright Moon for Fools, by Jasper Gibson – review

Harry Christmas, the central character of this bitterly funny debut novel, is a middle- aged, overweight alcoholic, with no friends and no prospects. After marrying a woman and running off with her money, he flies to Venezuela. He justifies this in two ways, the first sentimental, the second pragmatic. He wants to visit the country

A consummate craftsman

It is rare to encounter a writer whose work can be so neatly divided into two halves. George Saunders is known as a satirist with an interest in consumerism and the technology of the near future, but occasionally he will publish moving, sometimes brutal social realist tales. Early stories such as ‘Christmas’ were like strange,

A way to somewhere else

Since his suicide in 2008 at the age of 46, David Foster Wallace’s influence on contemporary literature has expanded to the point where even writers who haven’t read him struggle to keep out of his shadow. Traces of his style can be found every time a young writer uses a compound conjunction, or a comically

You can run, but you can’t hide

Stuart Evers’ debut short-story collection was called Ten Stories About Smoking, but even readers who are aware of this might be astonished by the multitude of burning cigarettes in his first novel, If This is Home. His characters smoke constantly, as if they are in the Forties film noir Out of the Past, where Robert