Michael Arditti

A redemptive fable: Night Watch, by Jayne Anne Phillips, reviewed

The Appalachians have become fashionable fictional territory. Following Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer and Demon Copperhead comes Jayne Anne Phillips’s Night Watch. Like Cold Mountain, it is set largely in the aftermath of the American civil war, but, for all its wealth of detail, it is less a historical account than

Back-room boys: Family Meal, by Bryan Washington, reviewed

There are meals galore in Bryan Washington’s latest novel: those that Cam and his lover Kai cook for one another; those that Cam’s childhood friend TJ cooks for his Thai boyfriend’s cousins; those that TJ’s Vietnamese father Jin cooked for his neighbours every weekend; and those that the now bulimic Cam vomits up after Kai’s

Literary charades: The Writing School, by Miranda France, reviewed

A recent YouGov survey found that 60 per cent of Britons dream of being writers, compared with 31 per cent who dream of being film stars. Although the chances of success, or even subsistence, are equally remote in both professions, aspirant authors flock to the country’s ever-proliferating creative writing courses. Miranda France’s splendid third book,

Carry on curate: scenes of modern clerical life

In A Field Guide to the English Clergy (2018), the Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie offered an amusing and informative survey of some of the more eccentric priests and prelates to have served the Church of England over the years. In Touching Cloth, he focuses on a contemporary eccentric: himself. On New Year’s Eve he was taken

Artistic achievements that changed the world

‘Astonish me!’ was the celebrated demand that the impresario Sergei Diaghilev made of Jean Cocteau when he was devising Erik Satie’s ballet Parade. Dominic Dromgoole has taken it as the title for a collection of essays on a series of seismic first nights, ranging across different public art forms. It is a celebration of the

Reworking Dickens: Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver, reviewed

Putting new wine into old wineskins is an increasingly popular fictional mode. Retellings of 19th-century novels abound. Jane Austen inevitably leads the way, with Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, and no fewer than four recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Dickens, too, has been updated, with Michael

Sixteen cathedrals to see before you die

There can be no clearer illustration of the central role that great cathedrals continue to play in a nation’s life than the outpouring of grief that greeted the catastrophic blaze in Notre-Dame in 2019. President Macron described the building as ‘our history, our literature, our imagination, the place where we experienced all our greatest moments’.

A gay journey of self-discovery

Seán Hewitt, born in 1990, realised that he was gay at a very early age. ‘A kind, large woman’ who was babysitting him told him that it was wrong. ‘I was perhaps only six or seven at the time, but she knew. I knew it too. It was as if she had peered into the

The making of a poet: Mother’s Boy, by Patrick Gale, reviewed

Charles Causley was a poet’s poet. Both Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin considered him the finest candidate for the laureateship, which Hughes later won. Now Patrick Gale has made him a novelist’s poet in this richly engaging fictionalised account of his early life. Mother’s Boy is bookended by two world wars: the first, in which