Francesca Peacock

The perils of Prague: Parasol Against the Axe, by Helen Oyeyemi, reviewed

An informal survey of friends, family, acquaintances and previous reviews suggests that the word most usually associated with Helen Oyeyemi’s fiction is ‘weird’. The author of eight novels has hardly shied away from unconventional storytelling, with books about everything from Brexit-through-biscuits (Gingerbread, 2019) to magical trains and a pet mongoose (Peaces, 2021). Her style is

Refugee lives: The Singularity, by Balsam Karam, reviewed

One Friday evening in a half-ruined, half-rebuilt city, where smart tourists dine out in restaurants next to refugees in makeshift shelters, a woman walks the streets. In torn clothes and slippers ‘worn ragged’, she hands out leaflets. On every piece of paper the same words are written: ‘Has anyone seen my daughter?’ On the same

Tea and treachery: Sheep’s Clothing, by Celia Dale, reviewed

‘It was a nice way of living,’ huffs Grace, the fiftysomething anti-heroine of Celia Dale’s devilishly dark 1988 novel Sheep’s Clothing, republished by Daunt Books. Recently released from Holloway prison, and using a demure headscarf and twin-set as cover, Grace teams up with Janice, a former fellow inmate, to rob elderly women. Disguised as social

Satirical pulp: The Possessed, by Witold Gombrowicz, reviewed

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. It’s hardly an event which needs its significance re-stating, but there was one outcome which has received rather less attention than the impending crisis in Europe. After the first instalments – serialised in newspapers in the summer of that year – a bizarre, flamboyant, mock-gothic novel by an

Painful memories: Deep Down, by Imogen West-Knights, reviewed

‘What are you like with enclosed spaces?’ Tom asks his sister Billie before they head into the maze of tunnels under Paris. Away from the ‘tourist bit’ of the catacombs – the part filled with bones moved from the city’s cemeteries – is an extensive network of claustrophobic pathways beneath the everyday, visible level of

How to see two sides of Vermeer in the Netherlands

Why is it that the world of critics, gallery-goers and art-lovers is so overwhelmingly enthralled by Johannes Vermeer? His subjects – quiet interior scenes with women writing letters or playing music – are hardly the stuff of radical innovation or surprise. He wasn’t even that original: his works often have a similar focus to those

The truth about corsets

There’s a scene in the recent film Corsage in which Vicky Krieps, playing the melancholy anorexic Empress Elisabeth of Austria, has a strop with her maid. As part of the arduous process of getting dressed, she must be encased in an impossibly small corset (the real Empress reportedly had a waist of 16 inches). Krieps

Hiding out in wartime Italy: A Silence Shared, by Lalla Romano

The name Lalla Romano is not familiar to English readers. Despite being much acclaimed during her lifetime (and the recipient of Italy’s Strega Prize), works by the novelist, poet and painter have rarely made it out of her native language. Prior to A Silence Shared, masterfully translated by Brian Robert Moore, only one of Romano’s

The great deception: The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Li, reviewed

As introductions go, ‘My name is Agnès, but that is not important’ does not have quite the same confidence as ‘Call me Ishmael’. But there’s a reason for this. Agnès Moreau, the narrator of Yiyun Li’s disconcerting, mesmerising fifth novel The Book of Goose, only became a storyteller by accident. Writing from Pennsylvania, where the

Pre-Mussolini, most Italians couldn’t understand each other

Towards the end of Dandelions, Thea Lenarduzzi’s imaginative and deeply affecting memoir, the author quotes her grandmother’s remark that there are tante Italie – many Italys. ‘Mine is different to hers, which is different to my mother’s, which is different to my father’s, and so on down the queue,’ she writes. These Italys – of