Jonathan Mcaloon

Bold venture

In 2017’s Goldsmiths Prize-winning novel H(A)PPY, Nicola Barker strewed pages with multicoloured text. The Cauliflower, her joyful previous offering, employed winky-face emoticons while telling the story of a 19th-century Hindu mystic. In her 13th novel I Am Sovereign, huge fonts careen, in the space of an exclamation, into tiny fonts. Bold and underlined text prickles

A multitude of sins

Approaching her death, and the end of Claire Fuller’s third novel, Frances Jellico — for the most part a stickler for order and rules — admits that ‘the truth isn’t always the right way’. A wasting disease has given her dementia, ‘but is kind enough to leave the summer of 1969 intact’. She dips in

Short stories: Life-changing moments

On a recent Guardian podcast, Chris Power — who has written a short story column in the Guardian for a decade — recognises the tendency of reviews of the form to begin with ‘an obligatory paragraph on “The Short Story” in capital letters, rather than talking about the work’. Power’s debut collection is itself a

Looking back, losing bits

As Roddy Doyle’s 12th novel begins, Victor Forde, a washed-up writer, has returned to the part of Dublin where he was born. He has a tendency almost to romanticise his loneliness, turn it into witticisms. It ‘would have been sad,’ he thinks, ‘a man of my age going back to some wrinkled version of his

Life classes

It has taken much of a celebrated literary life for Elif Batuman to produce a novel. At the beginning of her wonderful 2010 book The Possessed —a chimera of memoir, travelogue and literary criticism — she declares: I remember believing firmly that the best novels drew their material and inspiration exclusively from life… and that,

Let’s hear it for the boys

Girls creator Lena Dunham has received criticism from all sides. Detractors on the right see her as an exhibitionist provocateur. Those on the left see her as a privileged narcissist, who can’t help but see feminism through a white middle-class prism — and who unforgivably rooted for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. The HBO show

Buffy the Vampire Slayer made me the man I am

Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned 20 yesterday, which will make millennials feel as old as the actors who supposedly passed for teenagers back then. When Buffy came out I was eight. At first I was hooked by the horror aesthetic. Later I began to appreciate how it dealt with adolescent crises through supernatural allegory. But only now

Perhaps Michael Gove should get the Turner Prize

It is a week where you’d imagine most British politicians would be occupied by the Supreme Court ruling over Brexit. But late last night and in the early hours of this, two members of the last government found time for a spat about art on Twitter. Former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said

Murky subjects, misty settings

A short-story renaissance has been promised since 2013. That year Alice Munro won the Nobel, Lydia Davis won the Booker International, and George Saunders’s bestselling collection The Tenth of December won the Folio Prize. The rise of the form was declared, but it is mainly now that we’re reaping the harvest. Established novelists such as

Manhattan transfer

Good historical fiction takes more than research. Henry James once said that writers needed to shed everything that made them modern to feel their way into a completely alien world view — a near impossibility. But this ideal historical novel, bristling with ancient prejudice, would be rather heavy going for a general readership, and successful

Why boys love Jane Austen

When I first read Jane Austen I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to impress a girl who read her. I didn’t get the girl, but I got the novelist: persuading myself that I was the only 16 year-old boy in Newcastle who had read Jane Austen. Not yet subtle enough to appreciate the extent

Interview with James Wood

James Wood is arguably the most celebrated, possibly the most impugned, and definitely the most envied, literary journalist living. By his mid twenties he was the chief book reviewer for The Guardian. From there he moved to America’s The New Republic, then, as of 2007, The New Yorker. He also teaches at Harvard. There is

Interview with a writer: Lars Iyer

People call Lars Iyer a ‘cult author,’ which is odd, because almost every paper to have reviewed him from here to Los Angeles has praised him endlessly. The ‘cult’ thing is probably down to people naturally associating innovative, serious and challenging art with the marginal. This no doubt plays up to Iyer’s own theories about

Junot Diaz, the new Saul Bellow

Every so often a writer renovates a whole literary landscape from underneath. Armed to the teeth with slang and learning, Saul Bellow reinvented American prose with The Adventures of Augie March in 1953, and it took thirty years for a Martin Amis, a disciple of Bellow, to bring English up to date with Money. But

John Keats by Nicholas Roe – review

The joke has been made by Jack Stillinger, an American editor of Keats, that there have been so many treatments of the poet’s life that we know him better than his contemporaries did, and better than most people we see every day. This brilliant new biography by eminent Keatsian Nicholas Roe has caused controversy with

Back to the start – Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson

Train Dreams, the Pulitzer nominated novella by playwright, poet and U.S National Book Award winning novelist Denis Johnson, is the life story of Robert Grainer, a man who ‘had one lover… one acre of property, two horses, and a wagon… [had] never been drunk… never purchased a firearm or spoken into a telephone.’ Born at