Suzi Feay

Making peace with a mother’s death – and life

A fundamental question is posed midway through this narrative by Michael Portillo. Speaking in his guise as a colourfully dressed TV presenter rather than politician, he demands of Natasha Walter as the cameras roll: ‘What did your parents actually achieve?’ They are standing in a nuclear bunker, the site of her parents’ most audacious stunt,

Fame came too late for Nick Drake

A friend suggested I might bring a feminine twist to this review by imagining what it felt like to be Nick Drake’s mother. It was a startling thought. When I read artists’ biographies I tend to stand with them eye-to-eye, rather than conjure the perspective of an older generation. But the further we are distanced

Hysterical outbursts: Bewitched, by Jill Dawson, reviewed

‘Witch-hunt’ has become a handy metaphor for online persecutions, especially of women, though these days it is reputations that go up in flames rather than bodies. The mob mentality behind the phenomenon may not have changed as much as the medium or the mindset. In retelling a celebrated case from Elizabethan England, Jill Dawson enters

The Victorian origins of ‘medieval’ folklore

I would guess that contemporary pagans have a love-hate relationship with Ronald Hutton. With books such as The Triumph of the Moon and Stations of the Sun, scholarly accounts of the history of modern witchcraft and the ritual year in Britain, no one writes more sensitively about their worldview. On the other hand, as an

Smugglers’ gold: Winchelsea, by Alex Preston, reviewed

The atmospheric medieval town of Rye on the south coast still celebrates being a former haunt of smugglers, and on foggy nights it’s not hard to imagine stealthy figures in the shadows rolling barrels of illicit rum down its cobbled streets. Alex Preston has relocated to nearby Winchelsea, making it the setting for this maritime

Death and dishonour: The Promise, by Damon Galgut, reviewed

If death is not an event in life, as Wittgenstein observed, it’s a curious way to structure a novel. But since death is certainly an event in other people’s lives, Damon Galgut’s family saga, shrunk to the moments of passing, is ingenious. That the narrative takes great leaps over time yet also gives a firm

The Generic Asian Man: Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu, reviewed

Of the handful of things we can establish about Willis Wu, the protagonist of Charles Yu’s second novel, the most crucial is that he has occasional small roles in an American TV detective series, Black and White, set in Chinatown. In a group of similarly complexioned jobbing actors, his scope is limited to Background Oriental

A dazzling fable about loneliness: Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, reviewed

Susanna Clarke is a member of the elite group of authors who don’t write enough. In 2004, the bestselling debut from a cookery book editor seemed to promise an unfailing fountain of the creative imagination: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a three-volume reworking of Britain’s military tussle with Napoleon, but with added fairies, felt like

The sorrows of young Hillary: Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld, reviewed

Question: which American president and first lady would you care to imagine having intercourse? If that provokes a shudder, be assured that the sex scenes between Yale law students Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton in Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel are cringe-free — even the one involving manual stimulation that takes place in a moving car.

The wanderings of Ullis: Low, by Jeet Thayil, reviewed

Jeet Thayil’s previous novel, The Book of Chocolate Saints, an account of a fictional Indian artist and poet told in a multiplicity of voices, was a tub filled with delicious things. It also contained quite a lot of bran. His follow-up, Low, is slimmer and more condensed, its scope just a few days rather than

Beetle invasion

Silicon Valley moguls might not find Zed a particularly amusing read. Joanna Kavenna’s latest mindbender features the CEO of a multinational tech company whose sway has long outstripped that of mere governments. Guy Matthias’s creation, Beetle, has invaded western lives to an unprecedented degree. BeetleBands on wrists advise users when they need to eat, hydrate