“I think part of a novel’s job is to insist that no human act or emotion is impossible. And by acknowledging some of the less presentable human acts and emotions you’re offering in your own way a kind of forgiveness.” – Michael Cunningham
Mr Cunningham's feelings for snow

Mr Cunningham’s feelings for snow

Michael Cunningham’s best-known work is the Pulitzer Prize-winning sensation The Hours, about three women whose lives intersect across the 20th century. His latest novel features another trio of characters, but this time their lives are more directly entwined. The Snow Queen opens in 2004 on a wintry New York day...
Medusa myths

Medusa myths

When I was a child, my biology textbooks consigned hair to the erotic Little League: “A secondary sexual characteristic” was the dry definition. Now I’ve written a novel that rehabilitates hair to the sexual A-List. It started with the question “What if there were seven sisters with hair flowing to...
Joshua Ferris: Down in the mouth

Joshua Ferris: Down in the mouth

Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells the story of Paul O’Rourke, a restless and anxious dentist in love with life but with no earthly idea of how to live it. A tangle of contradictions, he’s a Luddite with an iPhone (‘me-machine’) habit, and a God-fearing atheist...
Challenger deep

Challenger deep

When the jellyfish came, we woke everyone up. They floated down on the ship like snow and even Lev came into the sail to press his face on the periscope. The glow was dim but we could see our arms and outlines and after a minute we stepped away from...
Siri Hustvedt unmasked

Siri Hustvedt unmasked

Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World is a sparkling tour de force examining ideas about perception and identity. Harriet ‘Harry’ Burden, an artist railing against the New York art establishment that she believes has overlooked her work, undertakes a unique and complicated experiment: hiding behind the fronts of three male artists...
So long, and thanks for all the towels

So long, and thanks for all the towels

On the Kindle, I carry around the books I have probably read more times in my life than any other: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its four sequels. How splendid it is to have them on an electronic book “with a screen about three inches by four”, like...
Ove does his rounds

Ove does his rounds

It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time. The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly. The feeling was very much reciprocated. Ove had, as usual, got up ten minutes earlier. He could not make head nor tail of people who overslept...
Straight-talking Sadie Jones

Straight-talking Sadie Jones

There is no doubt that Sadie Jones is a generous-spirited woman. I get lost on my way to her house in Chiswick but when I arrive, flustered, instead of being cross that I’ve kept her waiting, she sweetly asks what kind of coffee I’d like, pointing at a complicated-looking machine....
The rain

The rain

Three motorboats rushed across the water, their bows abreast. The sun shone and the boats they met waved and assumed they were having a race. In the middle boat, the broadest of the three, an old woman lay on a litter. The litter was made of an old red deckchair...
Nicholson Baker's smokes and mirrors

Nicholson Baker’s smokes and mirrors

In Travelling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker revisits floundering poet Paul Chowder, the protagonist of 2009’s The Anthologist, and finds him abidingly disengaged. Pining for ex-girlfriend Roz, he seeks solace in protest songs, political hand-wringing, garden implements and other passing distractions, including a desire to be taken seriously as a cigar aficionado....
The invention of futebol

The invention of futebol

The crowd piled in around the São Cristóvão pitch and there were police and firemen, bacchanal experts and moonshine connoisseurs, employers and employees, handymen of every sort, pretty girls with cavityless smiles and a multitude of delicacies from Canal do Mangue and Ilhas dos Melões, said Tio Balela. The crowd...
Kerry Hudson: Love and need

Kerry Hudson: Love and need

Kerry Hudson’s award-winning debut novel Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma drew partly on her experiences of growing up on estates and in B&Bs. Her second, Thirst, is about Alena, a woman sex-trafficked from Siberia, and Dave, a security guard who catches her shoplifting....
Enduring war

Enduring war

Christmas cards, letters, cartoons, posters and the manuscripts of celebrated war poets are among the collection on display for the first time in Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Museum. The exhibition explores the many ways those both at home and on...
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George Saunders: ‘My Flamboyant Grandson’

George Saunders: ‘My Flamboyant Grandson’

Sometimes, when I’m walking down the street, I think about the grandfather in ‘My Flamboyant Grandson.’ George Saunders’ story is set in a semi-absurd dystopia where every citizen is required to wear Everly Strips on their shoes, bar-coded soles that summon customised ads to ubiquitous public screens, phantom voices beckoning to you as you amble...
Jerry Pinto in full voice

Jerry Pinto in full voice

In Em and the Big Hoom, Jerry Pinto invites the reader to inhabit the complicated lives of a family trying to deal with the manic-depressive episodes of its matriarch. The dialogue is often wild and quick and yet betrays the subtle aches of a family whose collective heart is breaking. FM: Jerry, thank you for...
Crossing bridges

Crossing bridges

When I first migrated to New York, a wide-eyed student with a frugal scholarship, I felt no fear, for Manhattan was connected to other land-masses by half a dozen bridges. That calmed an inner part of my soul. Given my family history, I do not know how it could be otherwise. Until that point, rivers...
Gong Ji-young: Dictators' daughters

Gong Ji-young: Dictators’ daughters

Gong Ji-young is at the forefront of the new wave of women writers who rose to the top of the literary tree in Korea in the 1980s and ’90s. We meet a few months after the UK publication of Our Happy Time, her invigorating tale of victimhood, love and redemption, on the eve of her...
Eve's mango

Eve’s mango

A long, sinuous highway cuts the town in half, stretching as far as the eye can see. The road connects and disconnects the southern and northern halves of the country, accentuating their differences, reawakening their desires. Adrift in the middle of nowhere, the town battles against boredom and oblivion. Old people in the streets and...
A novelist by default

A novelist by default

This year I became an accidental author. Not that I didn’t want to write a novel, I always thought I would one day, but it wasn’t on my to-do list anytime soon. My previous writing career had encompassed scriptwriting for everything connected to cinema and TV, from soap opera to drama, short film to feature...
War and imagination

War and imagination

The Oxford Book of War Poetry has been on active service for thirty years, one hundredth part of the history of warfare to which poets have borne witness. At no point in that history did man’s inhumanity to man generate more eloquent testimony from more poets than in the two world wars of the last...
A whiff of murder

A whiff of murder

There are many ways to wake up in the morning. At the castle of Roccapendente, for example, the servants were awakened by the crowing of a cock, the one creature enthused by the fact that once again the sun had managed to roll up over the mountains. Among them were some who did not hear,...
Home

Home

For a long time, whenever someone asked me where my home was, I never knew how to answer. I know where my house is, in the heart of the American Midwest where I’ve lived for the past seven years. I know where I was born, which is Delaware. And I know all the places I...
Rereadability unbound

Rereadability unbound

I’d like to think there’s something more essential about the short story than just its being, well, short. Are short stories inherently tidier, messier, more dramatic, voicier, paradoxically slower, better with beer and pretzels than neighboring forms? We could adjectival-phrase away for days on this, following up with maybe yesses and maybe nos, but I...