John De-Falbe

Memories of loss

The first short chapter of The Other Side of You looks so simple. After introducing us to Elizabeth Cruickshank, a suicide patient who ‘in a certain light could have been 14 or 400’, Dr McBride explains how he and his psychiatrist colleagues ‘come alive at a certain kind of raving’. For McBride it is ‘the

The rich harvest of the random

There is a delightful moment in this novel when Nathan, the narrator, is standing on one side of the street with his nephew, Tom, and they see Nancy Mazzucchelli on the other side. Tom thinks of her as the BPM, the Beautiful Perfect Mother, and he would never dare approach. Nathan simply walks over and

Broadening the mind without moving

The phrase ‘armchair travel’ sounds quaint; suggestive of austerity at home and anarchy abroad; an era of currency restrictions and mustachioed bandits, when it was altogether more advisable to stay at home and read some daredevil’s account of the Damascene soukhs or the Grand Canal than risk venturing into such places yourself. But travel is

The lower end of the higher good

This superb novel takes place in the remote settlement of Yazyk, at the end of a 100-mile spur off the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is 1919. Most of the inhabitants belong to a bizarre Christian sect who desire no part in the political upheavals further west. But events have intruded upon them in the form of

The shooting gallery

The Rules of Perspective is set in a provincial German art museum as it is bombed by the Americans at the end of the second world war. The pivotal scene is revealed at the outset: Corporal Neal Parry comes across four corpses seated in the ruined museum’s vaults. There are two men and two women,

A late run on the rails

All of a sudden, there is a buzz about Cynthia Ozick. Although respected for many years as a writer of fiction and criticism, no one ever seemed to expect her to reach a wide audience. Now, together with more famous luminaries, she has been announced as a contender for the first Man Booker International Prize:

When someone has blundered

As a former second lieutenant leading a rifle platoon in France in 1945, Paul Fussell may be supposed to have an intense personal interest in posterity’s understanding of military combat. He is the author of The Great War and Modern Memory and several other related books, so this theme is certainly one of profound intellectual

Where Vlad once impaled

If the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, is one of those world events that many people remember very vividly, it may be because of its inherent drama, or it may be because it happened at Christmas, when we were all at home and ready to enjoy the heady voyeurism it offered on television.

Stifled at birth

This is a reissue in paperback of a novel that utterly vanished on its first publication in 1998. Since it is exceptionally good, it is worth explaining its disappearance. Review copies were sent out by Bellew, its original publisher, and copies were sent to the Society of Authors for submission to their Sagittarius Prize (best

A thick Celtic mist

Areview copy of Shade comes with two pages of admonitory blurb about what an important film-maker Neil Jordan is. This information might be useful for those with gossip columns to fill but it has no more bearing on the likelihood of this being a good novel than if we were told that the author is

Rather cold Turkey

In 1919 my grandfather was in Kars, near what is now Turkey’s north-eastern frontier, as part of a British occupation force connected with what might be regarded as the first oil war. Kars had recently been abandoned by the Russians after nearly a century (Pushkin stayed there) and was soon to be handed over to

Outposts of the imagination

This novel, translated from the Afrikaans by André Brink, was offered to me for review with an apologetic note advising me to abandon it at the first onset of boredom. Seven hundred and fifty dense pages later I can report that it is riveting throughout. Based on the first 50 years of Dutch settlement in

Blundering after a bird

Anyone who gave themselves the pleasure of reading Death and the Penguin should certainly treat themselves to this sequel. And if you missed it, never mind, read this one anyway: it’s delicious; it will not detain you long and you can always go back and catch up later on its predecessor. The earlier book left

A thoughtful trip to the seaside

Set in Anatolia in 1922, The Maze describes the retreat of a Greek brigade to the sea. Under the questionable guidance of a brigadier addicted to morphine and a hypocritical priest without the slightest understanding of their parlous situation, the detachment is lost in the arid landscape. Thanks to the trail of droppings left by

The boy who saw too much and too little

Already a bestseller in the many countries where it has been published, I’m Not Scared was described to me as a modern version of The Go-Between. After struggling through the wooden introduction to a group of children cycling up a hill somewhere in the south of Italy, I was steeling myself for one of those