Christian House

A choice of first novels | 30 July 2011

As L.P. Hartley noted, the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. And no more so than during the two world wars, a fact that has provided a rich seam for several debut novelists to mine this summer. In Mark Douglas-Home’s puzzler The Sea Detective (Sandstone Press, £17.99), the tidal pull of

Our friend in the north

The last surviving leader of Norway’s anti-Nazi resistance Oslo Even in the glare of a crisp spring day the execution ground at Akershus Fortress is a chilling place. Snow still fringes the old gun battery and the Oslofjord clinks with ice. Sitting above this small patch of ground, in Norway’s Resistance Museum, I’m reminded of

A choice of first novels | 7 August 2010

Write what you know. Isn’t that what aspiring novelists are told? Write what you know. Isn’t that what aspiring novelists are told? While two first-timers have taken the advice this summer, there is also an exception to prove the rule. In The Imperfectionists (Quercus, £16.99), Tom Rachman draws on his time at the International Herald

The 89-year-old Boy

By the age of 21 Geoffrey Wellum knew his life had peaked. It was downhill from here on in. He was a squadron leader and had won a DFC. Moreover, he had lived through the Battle of Britain. Today, he is one of the few of ‘The Few’ left to tell the tale of how

Red faces in the galleries

Art fraudsters, especially forgers, have a popular appeal akin to Robin Hood. Their cock-a-snook cunning provides a twist on those money shots on the Antiques Roadshow when some dotty great aunt from Sidmouth discovers her umbrella stand is Ming Dynasty. ‘How much?’ cries Dotty. The forger levels the field from the other side of the

Novelty value

Auction house catalogues are multi-faceted publications. Primarily, of course, they’re sales tools, reassuring buyers that something is what it says it is, that it can legally be bought and where to do just that. Yet, they’re so much more. They can be a simple full stop to one of life’s chapters or, alternatively, a celebratory

A choice of first novels | 22 July 2009

This year’s summer flurry of debut novels appears to tick all the booksellers’ boxes. This year’s summer flurry of debut novels appears to tick all the booksellers’ boxes. There’s the headline grabber, the European bestseller, the wartime melodrama and the quirky romancer. Publishers recognise a good thing when they see it. 60 Years Later is

Bombs and bombshells

The Rescue Man, by Anthony Quinn The Other Side of the Stars, by Clemency Burton-Hill When journalists venture into no man’s land and begin writing fiction, they do so in the knowledge that it could all get a bit messy. It’s not long before the sound of grinding axes start up. So it’s a pleasant

The world at bay

In Wild Mary, his biography of the irrepressible Mary Wesley, Patrick Marnham describes Cornwall in the 1930s as ‘a lost world, a world that had its own rules and customs and mysteries’. While Wesley was bed-hopping on the Lizard peninsula, around the Atlantic-battered rocks at Newquay, Emma Smith was enjoying a most peculiar childhood in

A choice of first novels | 18 June 2008

The ghost of Harry Lime seems to be haunting the publishing houses of London. Graham Greene’s infamous anti-hero may have come to a sticky end in the Viennese sewers but his spirit lives on in several debut novels immersed in the noir world of post-war Europe. Hedi Kaddour’s Waltenburg (Harvill/ Secker, £20) is the most

Don’t judge a book by its cover

With its quartos, rectos and folio, the language of book-binding lends itself to the novelist’s palette. It’s a terminology rich in tactile pleasures and potential metaphor for a writer. So it’s a joy to find Belinda Starling doing it justice in The Journal of Dora Damage, not least by situating this idiosyncratic profession in the

A mean time in Greenwich

At 17, Truman Capote ‘just wanted to get out of Greenwich and get to New York’. At 17, Truman Capote ‘just wanted to get out of Greenwich and get to New York’. The local high school paper may have provided his first byline, but the dazzle of the bright lights, big city proved too much.

Short but neat

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July Short-story compilations are a tricky beast. For writers, publishers and readers alike they all too frequently prove unsatisfying. Those who’ve mastered the form draw their stories together in a tapestry of narrative voice, social milieu and location to create a cohesive whole from stand-alone parts.

Fighting naked on the beaches

Few have done more than Noble Frankland to dissipate the myths and propaganda that fog our understanding of modern warfare. After serving as a navigator in Bomber Command during the second world war, Frankland went on to become a historian in the Cabinet Office, Director of the Imperial War Museum and adviser to the Thames