Suzi Feay

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

The pursuit of beauty

Michelangelo seems never to have travelled to Turkey to advise the Sultan on a bridge to span the Golden Horn, but he was asked to provide an architectural drawing after the design of his great rival, Leonardo da Vinci, was rejected. An ‘Author’s Note’ to this enigmatic novella references a sketch attributed to Michelangelo ‘recently

Oedipus vex

Coming 12 years after his acclaimed debut, Londonstani, Gautam Malkani’s second novel Distortion features a vivid argot, complicating and defamiliarising everyday terms and activities. In its pages, young people do things in exciting new ways, for example going down stairs: ‘It’s the most longed-out staircase you ever saw. Steps so far apart you gotta keep

Playing for time

In a pleasing nod to Marcel Proust, Eustace, the middle-aged protagonist of Patrick Gale’s new novel, is propelled into memories of his childhood by a piece of music. An online flirtation via Skype with a much younger serving soldier is beginning to consume his thoughts, at least until a health crisis looms. Telling Theo nothing

From Troy to the Troubles

Recently there has been a spate of retellings of the Iliad, to name just Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, focusing on the female slaves, and Colm Tóibín’s take on the aftermath of the Trojan war, House of Names. For his second novel, Michael Hughes attempts something more literal and more challenging: to transpose

All their wits about them

From Aphra Behn to Virginia Woolf, women who make a living by their pens have frequently felt the need to announce their singularity; to be, as Mary Wollstonecraft announced, ‘the first of a new genus’. Each of the women in Michelle Dean’s survey of mostly American essayists, reviewers and novelists had to defend her right

Getting away with murder | 22 March 2018

This true-crime narrative ought, by rights, to be broken backed, in two tragic ways. One is that the serial attacker it concerns, a sneaking California rapist who graduated to multiple murder, was never caught. The other is that its author died aged 46 before the book could be completed. That it is nevertheless so gripping

Just a few tweaks…

As I ploughed through this semi-autobiographical behemoth about an author and travel writer obsessed with his siblings and mother, I tried to imagine what a hapless editor might have had to say about the manuscript. ‘I like the way you, I mean Jay the narrator, makes the point that your, sorry his, mother is just

Something scary in the attic

How do you like your ghosts? Supernatural fiction is arguably the hardest to get right. Ideally it should terrify, but what appals A might bore B and merely confuse C. The mechanics of apparition, however fanciful, must be internally consistent, and explanations kept simple. M.R. James excelled at giving his spectres agency and focus, but

A gruesome retelling

‘A shudder in the loins engenders there/ The broken wall, the burning roof and tower/ And Agamemnon dead’ intoned W.B. Yeats in his sonnet ‘Leda and the Swan’, seeing in this avian rape the germ of the Trojan war. Leda gave birth to Helen of Troy and her sister Clytemnestra, the one renowned as the

Perilous times

Helen Dunmore’s new novel concerns lives, consequential in their day, that pass away into utter oblivion. Appropriately, the ‘solitary and no doubt rather grim middle-aged man’ of the opening pages is unnamed and never appears again, once he discovers a forgotten grave near the pathway of the title. Bearing the image of a quill, the

Changing lanes

It’s fair to say Sonja Hansen’s life has stalled. Forties, tall and ungainly, veteran of failed relationships, she’s an uncomfortable fit for modern life in bustling Copenhagen. Geographical, spiritual and emotional immobility is expressed in her physical lack of ease, including ‘positional vertigo’ which renders the manoeuvre of the title difficult. Not without a certain

Riding the storm

Clover Stroud opens her memoir with the crippling bout of post-natal depression that hit after the birth of her fourth child. ‘I felt like a fist. Dash was always naked, plastered bare to my breast, sucking from me as my body dripped milk and tears.’ She even contemplates harming the baby then killing herself, guilelessly

The American dream goes bust

One happy aspect of Lionel Shriver’s peek into the near future (the novel opens in 2029) is the number of unusually rounded elderly characters she presents. Her pitiless eye notes every mark of age and vanity in the older generation of the Mandible family, but they remain in robust health, sharp without being merely spry,

Angry, funny, timely

It’s not Paul Murray’s settings or themes — decadent aristocrats, clerical sex abuse, the financial crisis — that mark him out as original, it’s his handling: the wild plotting, the witty dialogue and the eccentricity of his characters. The follow-up to his widely admired second novel Skippy Dies swaps the adolescent funk of a Catholic