Stuart Kelly

At home in the multiverse: Bridge, by Lauren Beukes, reviewed

Lauren Beukes is a writer who puts cerebral propositions into breakneck thrillers: structural misogyny in The Shining Girls; the flipside of patriarchy in Afterland. In Bridge, she investigates the depressive’s favourite hypotheticals – could have, should have, would have, might have. The protagonist is Bridget, whose mother, Jo, has recently died from brain cancer. Jo

At last, a book about James Joyce that makes you laugh

I do not think I am alone in confessing that I had read critical works on James Joyce before I got around to reading him. As a schoolboy I drew up my own private curriculum, and one influential book was Malcolm Bradbury’s The Modern World, where I first encountered Joyce; and then moved on to

Only Iain Sinclair could glimpse Hackney in the wilds of Peru

It seemed like a preposterous proposition. For decades, Iain Sinclair has been an assiduous psychogeographer of London, an eldritch cartographer mapping ley lines between Hawksmoor churches and Ripper tours, skulking around the torque of the M25 and fulminating about the Millennium Dome and the gentrification (and gerrymandering) around the Olympic Stadium. So when I learned

The poet with many lives

This is an ingenious and infuriating book about an ingenious and infuriating writer. I first encountered Fernando Pessoa in the wonderful and lamented Penguin International Poets series, and what intrigued me was that he was more than one person. There was his poetry, but also sections attributed to his heteronyms, or imaginary alter egos. Stylistically

Puzzle Pieces: Cowboy Graves, by Roberto Bolaño, reviewed

This might seem an odd confession, but the work of Roberto Bolaño gives me very good bad dreams. When I first read his epic masterpiece 2666 I had three nights of fractured nightmares. This happened with every other book as well — usually dreams about reading a book by Roberto Bolaño, except the words melt

All change: The Arrest, by Jonathan Lethem, reviewed

This is an Exquisite Corpse of a novel — or if you prefer another name for that particular game, Heads, Bodies and Legs, or Combination Man, or perhaps most appositely Consequences. The parlour game involves creating something and then passing along the hidden creation to which another then adds, and The Arrest reads like Jonathan

Philip Hensher’s latest novel is a State of the Soul book

This is a very nuanced and subtle novel by Philip Hensher, which manages the highwire act of treating its characters with affection and anger at one and the same time. Politically, ethically and emotionally it places the reader in a kind of vertigo by addressing a singular moral question: is it better to be steadfast

Haunted by a black cat: Earwig, by Brian Catling, reviewed

Genuinely surrealist novels are as rare as hen’s teeth. They are a different form from the magic realist, the absurdist, the wacky, the mimsical and the nastily satirical. But Brian Catling is a genuine surrealist novelist, and it no doubt helps that his artwork is surreal (he is professor of fine art at Ruskin College,

Spot on target

This is an ebullient, irreverent and deeply serious novel in the noble tradition of Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis (especially Babbitt and Elmer Gantry) and John Kennedy Toole. Sam Lipsyte certainly hits his prime target — the cultish behaviour around mindfulness, motivational speakers and pallid spiritual beliefs — but one of the joys of the novel

Relocate or emigrate

There is a degree of irony in the opening chapter of T.M. Devine’s history, lambasting popular previous depictions of the Clearances and citing ludicrous comparisons to Nazi genocide and the misty-eyed melancholy of John Prebble. Though it does not mention such iconography as Thomas Faed’s painting ‘Last of the Clans’, used for the paperback of