Matthew Richardson

Your guide to the Booker Prize

Assorted literary grandees will squeeze into their tuxes this evening to compete for the Booker Prize. Of the debut novelists, one previous winner and a brace of old-timers, who stands the best chance of winning? Swimming Home by Deborah Levy This is a coiled, unsettling work. A group arrive at their French villa only to find

Review: Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson

Winning the Booker can do strange things. For one, critics tend to become noticeably shyer around authors with some bling in their trophy cabinets, hyperbole blunting their edge. But if ever there was a writer primed to dismantle automatic appreciation it is Howard Jacobson. Zoo Time, his first novel since The Finkler Question won the

Modern life in verse

Julia Copus’s new collection The World’s Two Smallest Humans exists in four parts, each in their own way circling the theme of loss. Two parts – ‘The Particella of Franz Xaver Süssmayr’ and ‘Hero’ – take on historic themes, the first inhabiting that of a man in 1791 ‘translating direct from the silence’ of Mozart’s

Setting sail

The sea has always been a powerful stimulant for the literary imagination, most famously, of course, for the likes of Messrs Hemingway and Melville. Both, indeed, are name-checked in Monique Roffey’s novel Archipelago, a new addition to the canon of ocean-inspired work, taking the trope of the waters and recasting it for the twenty-first century.

Better in Black

It is almost twelve months ago, following the below-par A Death in Summer, that I wondered aloud on these pages whether Benjamin Black (aka Booker-winner, John Banville) had what it took to write a crime series. A resounding yes comes in the form of the fifth instalment — sixth novel overall, after the 2008 stand-alone

Missing Mole

It is thirty years since Adrian Mole first hit our shelves. To celebrate, Penguin has re-released the oeuvre with shiny new covers and a celeb introduction from David Walliams for the first of the bunch, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾. But that’s not all. Joining the commemorative volumes is a new

The cruel sea

The early years of the twentieth century hold an irresistible draw for the modern imagination. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan takes us back to 1914, the world poised on the precipice of the modern age, with a plot and characters that are of the pre-modern era. A ship is stricken and, in a rescue bid,

Hollinghurst’s biographical ambitions

How does fiction mix with biography? Is all biography fiction, or all fiction merely finessed biography?  These questions were considered last night, at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing, by two literary grandees from opposing sides of the issue: Hermione Lee, biographer of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, and Alan Hollinghurst, whose recent novel, The

Biting to the core of Apple’s success

How did Apple gain such a hold on everyday life? Whether it’s checking overnight emails on the iPhone, reading a morning paper on the iPad, walking to the tune of the iPod or beavering away on a MacBook, Apple gadgetry is a companion from dawn till dusk. Inside Apple by Adam Lashinsky attempts to explain

Interview: Christopher Reid

Christopher Reid’s A Scattering — a collection of poems written in honour of his dead wife, the actress Lucinda Gane — won the 2009 Costa Award. Reid will be reading selected poems from that collection at the South Bank Centre later this month, as part of the forthcoming exhibition examining attitudes to death and grief.

Looking into the well-read future

E-books can be a strange, parochial beast. As any Kindle-user will know, the content of the Kindle store often varies wildly in terms of design and reading experience. Classics suffer especially from this. A lot of out-of-copyright classics have been digitized by volunteers and are available free, but devoid of any notes, substantial chapter headings

Rumpole’s seasonal cheer

Music fans may groan at the glut of greatest hit collections clogging up shelves at this time of year. Bookshelves are usually immune from such compilations, though the odd one slips through. In this case, it’s a positive. Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories brings together some of the most winsome of John

Becoming great

Christopher Reid’s Selected Poems moves through a neat thirty-year stretch from his first collection Arcadia (1979) to his acclaimed Costa-winning volume A Scattering (2009). We travel from Reid’s early period of inventiveness to the later years of solemnity. More importantly, however, it fleshes out a career many will only know through Reid’s recent work.   

One for the Christmas stocking

Wordy things have had a renaissance of late. Stephen Fry’s superb five-part BBC series, Fry’s Planet Word, aired recently; David Crystal has just produced a handsome new volume, The Story of English in 100 Words; and now Mark Forsyth, of Inky Fool blog fame, offers up the charmingly titled The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through

A quirky dish

The four-hundredth anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible has produced some great books. Almost all aspects have been covered: the general histories of Melvyn Bragg and Gordon Campbell ranged over the politics and history, while David Crystal’s Begat showed how its idioms and phrases have percolated through our language. Now, in The

Before Dickens was a Victorian

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist works as a companion piece of sorts to Claire Tomalin’s rival biography Charles Dickens: A Life. The clue is in the subtitle. While Tomalin takes the subject from birth to death, Douglas-Fairhurst’s book focuses on Dickens’s early years. And what early years they were.   With

A hatful of facts about … the future of the book

The BBC’s World at One recently asked five leading figures in the literary world for their thoughts on the ‘future of the book’. Here is what they had to say: 1.) Notorious literary agent, Andrew Wylie – aka ‘the Jackal’ – worried that the industry is at a crisis point. He argued the book industry is in

The importance of plot

As literary fly-on-the-wall moments go, it would be hard to beat. John Banville – the most austerely mannered stylist in the language, the archbishop of literary fiction – hands his publisher the typescript of his latest. Then he springs the surprise: by the way, it’s a crime novel. Plot, character, the lot. One would forgive