John Self

Spirit of place: Elsewhere, by Yan Ge, reviewed

This collection of stories is so assured, and delivered with such aplomb, that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut – and, as it turns out, that’s because it isn’t. Although Elsewhere is Yan Ge’s first book written in English, she is a seasoned novelist in China, where she has been publishing fiction for more

The novels that became instant classics

In the world of books, a modern classic is an altogether more slippery thing than a classic: it must walk a line between freshness and durability; reflect the current age but hope to outlast it. For individual publishers, given many 20th-century writers are still in copyright, a modern classics list will necessarily be partial. However,

A smart take on literary London: Dead Souls, by Sam Riviere, reviewed

Sam Riviere has established himself as a seriously good poet who doesn’t take himself too seriously: his first collection, 81 Austerities, opened with an account of how he blew all the arts funding money awarded him, and his second, Kim Kardashian’s Marriage, is the only appearance of that august celebrity’s name in the distinguished Faber

Family secrets: Life Sentences, by Billy O’Callaghan, reviewed

Despite innovative work by younger writers, there remains a prominent strain in Irish literature of what we might call the ‘sad but nice’: tales of desperation elegantly unfolded, popularised by William Trevor and John McGahern and refined by Colm Tóibín and Mary Costello. A newcomer in this lane is Billy O’Callaghan, whose previous books have

Another alien in our midst: Pew, by Catherine Lacey, reviewed

It needs authorial guts to write a novel in which details are shrouded, meaning is concealed and little is certain. Step up Catherine Lacey, and welcome. Her previous novels specialised in confounding the reader, taking the frames of road trip and science fiction and giving them a good yank. Now she’s gone full religious allegory

Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming is a long, hard slog

The Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, who sounds like a sneeze and reads like a fever, is on a mission to build our collective stamina. His novels have always resisted easy interpretation, with their page-long sentences and catastrophic air, and in his ‘most popular’ book, Satantango, the clanging language and doomy setting worked to great effect.

The good sex award goes to Sarah Hall: Sudden Traveller reviewed

Sarah Hall should probably stop publishing short stories for a while to give other writers a chance. If she’s not the best short story writer in Britain, then — but why even finish that sentence? Her novels are good, but it’s in the short form that she excels, with strange, unsettling tales that have made

Stone walls do not a prison make

There’s no getting away from that title. I will never see the world again. It catches your eye on the bookshelf. I will never see the world again. It’s there, at the top of every page. I Will Never See the World Again. It’s a killer opening, before the book has even begun, and it’s

Black and white and read all over

In 1956, after Penguin Classics had published 60 titles, the editor-in-chief of Penguin Books, William Emrys Williams, wondered: ‘How many more titles in the classical literature of the world are there?’ As a case study in heroic shortsightedness, this measures up to Bobby Charlton’s question to his brother Jack after England’s World Cup victory in

The evil that men do | 3 August 2017

The first thing to say about Claudio Magris’s new novel is that it is, in an important sense, unreadable. There is no possibility of turning page after page engaged in finding out what comes next, of being lost in the characters’ stories. The usual pleasures of fiction are so thoroughly absent that the reader emerges