Philip Womack

Philip Womack is a writer, an ex-private tutor and a parent.

A break from sabre-thrusting

Allan Mallinson’s historical series concerning Matthew Hervey, the well-bred, thoughtful soldier, details a world where men are practical and not too clever; where the only sensible vote is Tory; where Moors make ‘uncommonly good cymbalists’. Everything gleams, buffed up to a shining surface: it is a fantasy of empire and glory. Two thirds of the

Questioning tales

Tessa Hadley’s previous book, The London Train, was one of the best novels of last year, though overlooked by prize committees. It concerned the gently disentangling lives of a pair of middle-class couples, and found its strengths in numinous revelations of the everyday. These short stories (all previously printed in magazines such as Granta and

Chuckles in the middle of nowhere

I really wanted to like this book. After the dire Eragon, which has now been made into a worse film, and this year’s The Meaning of Night, with its coy Victorianisms and pointless footnotes, I was longing for a ‘fantasy’ that would enchant and amuse in delicious detail. And somewhere, in the 750-odd pages of

In praise of unwanted gerundives

I had a succession of brilliantly eccentric Classics teachers. Father Hunnwycke, a kindly and acerbic priest, showed his hatred of school inspections by holding up a German book called Group Sex in Ancient Rome every time the inspector’s dreary head was bowed. Another, a small, military Scottish man, would, after berating my misuse of the

Magic and mischief

Susanna Clarke taps enchantingly into a vein of folkloric gold. She presents our world as existing in tandem with ‘Faerie’, but without butterfly-winged Victoriana. Instead she creates a sense of danger, as if the Faeries in question are the displaced gods of Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, still retaining elements of frightful power over mankind.

Just imagine that

This is a loosely connected series of tales which make up an intriguing, sometimes frustrating and occasionally both compelling and hilarious collection of ‘snatches’ from a bizarre alternative world history, which proclaims that there is no such thing as fiction, and that we are always one step away from destruction. Trotsky’s ghost, a cannibalistic contessa