Cressida Connolly

Cressida Connolly is the author of Bad Relations.

Jesus’s female disciples remain women of mystery

Is there a patron saint of conjecture? Perhaps it is a name known only to Bible scholars, who have rich cause to guard it jealously. Even if such a saint is invoked by the academy alone, the petitioning must be pretty constant. Lucky, then, that this account of the early female followers of Jesus is

The upsides of dementia

My 91-year-old father-in-law has always had a terror of hospitals. This dates from his time as a Royal Marine when, just after the second world war, he was infected with polio by a contaminated needle. The first he knew of it was when a visiting dignitary came on board ship and he was unable to

Something sensational to read in the train

Any memoir is a form of double-entry book-keeping, in which what has been lost is reckoned against what has been gained. It’s always easier to fill in the ‘lost’ column, since boasting is discouraged; sadness gets more attention, too, as it’s generally supposed to be more interesting than contentment. Sophie Ratcliffe includes an actual list

Outpourings of love and loss

The deserved success of Shaun Usher’s marvellous anthology Letters of Note has inspired several imitators, and Caroline Atkins’s sparkling collection makes an ideal companion volume. Here are missives both literary and otherwise, all of them destined never to be read by their intended recipients. Some are grave, some are tender; some are funny, several are

Ill-met by gaslight

What is it about Victorian murders that so grips us? The enduring fascination of Jack the Ripper caught the imagination of the American thriller writer Patricia Cornwell to such an extent that she allegedly spent more than $6 million of her own money examining the case and producing two books on the subject. (She thinks

Comfort the suffering

If a single book could help you to be kinder and more compassionate, could expand and deepen your understanding of other people (and possibly yourself) and make you less afraid of dying in the process, you would surely be eager to acquire it at once. Well look no further, for Grief Works is that book.

Between pony club and the altar

If you were to take a large dragnet and scoop up all the shoppers in the haberdashery department of Peter Jones in Sloane Square, your catch would be a group of women of the kind given voice in this marvellous little book. Readers old enough to remember Joyce Grenfell will know the type. Ysenda Maxtone

The mother of all crimes

During the heatwave in the summer of 1895, the Gentlemen v. Players match at Lords Cricket Ground on 8 July attracted more than 12,000 spectators. Among the crowd that sunny day were two little boys from the East End of London, brothers Robert and Nattie Coombes, aged 13 and 12. That morning they had got

Time out of mind

There can hardly be two novelists less alike than Sebastian Faulks and Will Self, in style and in content. Faulks writes in the grand tradition of realist fiction: a list of his themes might include the brutality and waste of war, France and, of course, romantic love. Self, meanwhile, has created dystopias in which to

Dick Whittington for the 21st century

Novels of such scope and invention are all too rare; unusual, too, are those of real heart, whose characters you grow to love and truly care for. The Year of the Runaways has it all. The action spans continents, taking in a vast sweep of politics, religion and immigration; it also examines with tenderness and

A noble undertaking

I adore undertakers. Unlike dentists or buses or boyfriends, they’re always there when you need them: even if you call in the middle of the night you will be answered by a human, not an answer-phone message. Funeral directors (as they prefer to be called) are surely the only businesses in Britain never to greet

Throw away the Valium and start bragging instead

This is not a book to be read in solitude. Not for the obvious reason that it’s frightening, but because every few lines some fascinating or unexpected fact forces you to exclaim: ‘Blimey! Listen to this …’ The three authors are American psychology professors. As young academics they were much influenced by the work of

The problem when novelists write short stories

Rose Tremain walks on water. Her historical novels are absolutely marvellous, brilliantly plotted, witty and wise, with some of the best characters you’ll find anywhere. Indeed one of their number has a good claim to being the natural heir to Falstaff, his bawdy antics giving way to a more melancholy conclusion: he is to be