Houman Barekat

Double trouble: August Blue, by Deborah Levy, reviewed

The narrator-protagonist of Deborah Levy’s August Blue, an elite-level concert pianist called Elsa, is going through a difficult time. She recently walked off stage after messing up a Rachmaninoff recital in Vienna. More worryingly, she has just dyed her hair blue. At a market stall in Athens, she becomes entranced by a pair of novelty

All about my mother: Édouard Louis’s latest family saga

Shunned by his father and his peers because of his homosexuality, Édouard Louis (born Eddy Bellegueule in 1992) left his village in rural Normandy and moved to Paris, becoming the first member of his family to attend university. By his mid-twenties he had published three well-received autobiographical novels: about working-class machismo (The End of Eddy), his

A universal language will always be an unattainable dream

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in his stage persona as the dim-witted interviewer Ali G, once asked Noam Chomsky if a person could simply invent a new language from scratch. The renowned linguist gave him short shrift: ‘You can do it if you like and nobody would pay the slightest attention to you because it

Short and sweet: Xstabeth, by David Keenan, reviewed

Aneliya, the Russian narrator of David Keenan’s enjoyably weird new novel, is worried about her dad. Tomasz’s modest music career is coming to an end; his wife left him years ago, and he lives in the shadow of his louche and much more successful best friend Jaco. ‘The famouser musician’ pulls some strings to get

False pretences: No-Signal Area, by Robert Perisic, reviewed

A journalist and poet based in Zagreb, Robert Perišic was in his early twenties when the socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1992. Croatia’s transition to capitalism inspired his 2007 novel Our Man in Iraq. Now No-Signal Area explores the search for meaning in a supposedly post-ideological world. Set in a fictitious town in

Bawdy, it’s not — Strange Antics: A cultural history of seduction

Anyone reading Clement Knox’s history of seduction for salacious entertainment is likely to be disappointed: it contains no mention of oysters or Barry White records, and only a very light sprinkling of bawdiness. Strange Antics is a serious and sober tome about libertinism and its consequences, thank you very much. Readers expecting ‘history’, in the

Crime and puzzlement

Tony White’s latest novel begins for all the world like a police procedural, following the delightfully named sleuth Rex King as he investigates the grisly murder of man in a Covent Garden theatre. Rex, who has a penchant for fish and chips, laments the tedium of police bureaucracy and frets over a cover-up relating to

Homage to catatonia

As a boy Josh Cohen was passive, dopey and given to daydreaming. Now a practising psychoanalyst and a professor of literature with several books to his name, he retains ‘a long and deep intimacy with lassitude and aimlessness’. Cohen believes the special affection reserved for pop culture’s fictional slackers, slobs and reverists — think Jeff

Sleeplesss nights and endless daze

A genre of memoir currently in vogue involves entwining the author’s personal story with the cultural history of a given phenomenon, so that each may illuminate the other. Mellow introspection and anecdotal whimsy are spliced with tidbits of cultural criticism; the prose is meandering and associative rather than linearly expository. This format can feel a

A very bourgeois revolution

The narrator-protagonist of D.J. Taylor’s new novel, a mild-mannered Oxford graduate named Nick Du Pont, has resisted the lure of a proper career to become a publicist for a flower-pop group called the Helium Kids. The story begins in 1964, with Nick and the band in the United States. It’s the year of the Civil

Soft dystopias

Science fiction, as any enthusiast will tell you, is not just about gazing into the future but also about illuminating the present. In a new collection of short stories by the veteran sf author M. John Harrison, lurid visions of aliens and spaceships play second fiddle to melancholic snapshots of plodding suburbia. Many of the

Folk-tale redux

Daniel and his big sister, Cathy, do not go to school. They live with their father, a gargantuan former prizefighter, eking out an autarkic existence as squatters on land belonging to the unscrupulous Mr Price; on a typical day they are engaged in woodwork, plucking mallards or tickling trout. Price’s personal fiefdom operates outside the

A choice of short stories

It can’t be easy to switch between editing others people’s fiction and writing your own: how do you suspend that intuitive critical impulse? Gordon Lish, who is best known as the editor of Raymond Carver’s short stories but has also written plenty of fiction in his own right, is familiar with this dilemma, and in

Whimsical digressions

The practical difficulties of extracting keys from the pockets of tight-fitting trousers while ascending stairs; the logistical hazards of seducing pub landladies; the absurdity of certain idiomatic expressions if interpreted too literally; the qualitative difference between homemade and shop-bought pizza. Such are the disparate matters occupying the mind of Simon Okotie’s unnamed detective protagonist as