Sofka Zinovieff

From teenage passion…

The 16-year-old hero of David Nicholls’s fifth novel is ostensibly Everyboy. It is June 1997, the last day at dreary Merton Grange and, having flunked his exams, Charlie Lewis attends the leaving disco — all dry ice, vomit and snogging, laced with Cointreau and disinfectant. An infinity looms of bloated summer days, with only a

The ballad of John and Anton

Tom Barbash’s dark and humorous second novel takes a risk by combining invented and real characters. I feared nagging doubts about what was ‘true’.  However, it absolutely succeeds. Set in 1979–80, the alluring (fictional) Winter family attend parties with neighbours like Betty Bacall or John and Yoko. They all live in the Dakota building —

Sisters in scandal

In our age of elasticated leisurewear, ready meals and box sets on telly, it is exhilarating to read about people who would come down to dinner in peacock-feather head-dresses, swathed in large snakes and dripping ornamental chicken blood. The Marchesa Casati has a loyal cult following and her bizarre style still influences fashion designers; but

No happy endings

Between agreeing to review this book and receiving it, I got worried. Like many, I adore Doctor Zhivago with its tragic love story between the eponymous doctor-poet and the beautiful Lara, set in post-revolutionary Russia. When in Moscow, I followed the trail of literary pilgrims to Boris Pasternak’s dacha in the writers’ village of Peredelkino.

The frog prince

It would not have surprised their friends in the 1930s when Peter Watson had a fling with my grandfather, Robert ‘the Mad Boy’ Heber-Percy. Both gorgeous young men were known for their risky sexual escapades. What did ruffle feathers, however, was when Watson subsequently gave the Mad Boy a car. Cecil Beaton was so jealous

A woman who wears her homes like garments

Depending on your approach, home is where your heart is, where you hang your hat, or possibly where you hang yourself. Our homes reflect our characters, social milieux and finances, but we also reflect them. Leonard Woolf wrote that a house ‘has an immense influence on its inhabitants’, and contended that Monk’s House (where he

When Rachel Cusk went to Greece: would she be nice or nasty?

Last year in Athens, rumours raced about Rachel Cusk’s creative writing classes at the British Council. Some of the (mostly Athenian) pupils revered her for her intelligence and pitiless honesty, while others reviled her for her ‘colonial attitude’ and an apparent antipathy towards Greeks. One might suspect Greeks of tending towards intense emotional reactions, but

‘Back to Delphi’, by Ioanna Karystiani

If you mixed Lionel Shriver’s chilling We Need to Talk About Kevin with a Joycean stream of consciousness from a female Ulysses in contemporary Athens, you’d be approaching the spirit of Ioanna Karystiani’s Back to Delphi. Viv is the mother of a notorious rapist and murderer, now locked up in Korydallos prison. Granted five days