James Mcnamara

Manhunt in the taiga

The Siberian-born novelist Andreï Makine has, as we say in the book world, a shedload of French literary bling. He’s the only writer to win the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Médicis for a single novel (Le Testament Français) which is, in pop cultural terms, like winning The Great British Bake Off and Strictly on

Endless petty squabbles

I wrote foul-mouthed marginalia throughout Benjamin Markovits’s A Weekend in New York. Not because Markovits is a bad writer — he has a deserved reputation for excellence. But because this study of a privileged American family reaches for a significance it doesn’t achieve, and leaves a self-consciously literary novel with a surfeit of detail. There

Hopes and dreams

Twenty-odd pages into Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come, I pounded the table and bellowed an Australian-accented ‘fuck yeah!’ This startled my wife, who startled the cat, which startled my gin and tonic into my lap. But it was worth it, and remains my unvarnished critical opinion. To varnish it a bit: The Life

A clash of loyalties

If someone was to lob the name Antigone about, many of us would smile and nod while trying to remember if this is the one about the guy who shagged his mum or the parent who offed their kids. (Bit of both.) For those whose Sophocles is hazy, let me summarise. After a civil war

Flee or die

Every nation has the right to control its borders, but we in the West are getting a bit too comfortable dehumanising other humans for failing to fill out forms in triplicate before fleeing the carpet-bombing of their cities. In recent months, Theresa May has rejected Calais’s child refugees; Donald Trump has seemingly tried (unsuccessfully, twice)

The legacy of Vietnam

At first glance, Robert Olen Butler’s Perfume River seems like an application for a National Book Award. Its protagonist, Robert, a 70-year-old history professor, lives in comfortable ennui with his semiotician wife, Darla: tenure, sabbaticals, staring through separate study windows in their sprawling Florida home. It’s a life of carefully brewed coffee and uninterrupted research.

A terrible beauty | 9 June 2016

It was only when I left Western Australia for university in England that I understood how vast and dangerous my homeland is. In freshers’ week, a group of us had spent a happy afternoon at a waterside pub. As we traced the pollen-dusty river back to Oxford, my friend Anish was overcome with joy (some

The big steal

In recent weeks, North Korea allegedly developed a hydrogen bomb and hangover-free booze. This would be a worrying combination in any government not widely thought to have the force projection of an aggressively drunk toddler with a bag on its head. North Korea is often portrayed as a cartoon state — something sustained by Kim

The Australian literary icon who fooled her family

There aren’t many places you can get shouty about Proust without losing your job. The Lane Bookshop in Perth, Western Australia, is one of them. As an undergraduate, I’d pitch up there for work on Saturday mornings with as much song in the heart as a hangover allowed. Because for me the Lane wasn’t just