“I’d been in the wilderness thirty-eight days and by then I’d come to know that anything could happen and that everything would. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t shocked when it did.” – Cheryl Strayed
The sculptor

The sculptor

Scott McCloud’s first graphic novel in almost a decade is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond. David Smith is a young sculptor who is literally giving his life for his art. Thanks to a deal with Death, David gets his childhood wish: to sculpt...
Lissa Evans: Laughter in the dark

Lissa Evans: Laughter in the dark

Lissa Evans’ riotously comic Crooked Heart tells the story of bright ten-year-old orphan Noel Bostock, who is evacuated to St Albans from London to escape the Blitz. He is taken under the wing of sharp, unscrupulous Vera Sedge who, as soon as she claps eyes on Noel, hits on a...
Colm Tóibín: Loss and memory

Colm Tóibín: Loss and memory

We catch up with the prolific and acclaimed Irish author on the launch of the paperback of Nora Webster, his part-autobiographical novel about grieving and renewal. The same week saw the Sundance premiere of John Cowley and Nick Hornby’s adaptation of his earlier novel Brooklyn. Brooklyn and Nora Webster both deal with...
Imagining the unthinkable

Imagining the unthinkable

The Girl in the Red Coat begins with that premise – a missing child – that strikes fear in the hearts of any parent. It’s not anything I particularly intended to write about at all. But once the story came to me I found it difficult to stop. The idea...
Up for the fight

Up for the fight

I was strong and he was not, so it was me who went to war to defend the republic. I stepped across the border out of Indiana into Ohio. Twenty dollars, two salt-pork sandwiches, and I took beef jerky, biscuits, six old apples, fresh underthings, and a blanket too. There...
A man should be able to do things

A man should be able to do things

The first time I tried to install the star nut, I had no soft blocks to cushion the dropouts and no vice to steady the fork, so I rigged up the front end and straddled the wheel, squeezing with my knees. I placed the nut in the mouth of the...
Han Kang: To be human

Han Kang: To be human

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, her first novel to be published in English, is a haunting, startling and poetically rendered story about shame, alienation, rage, metamorphosis and desire in present-day South Korea. I meet her, with translator Deborah Smith and interpreter Kyeong-Soo Kim, to discuss its themes of identity and humanhood....
The marginal world

The marginal world

The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. All through the long history of Earth it has been an area of unrest where waves have broken heavily against the land, where the tides have pressed forward over the continents, receded, and then returned. For no two successive...
Never forget to remember

Never forget to remember

Roger Cohen’s The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family is a truly haunting, vibrant, unusual and staunchly poignant gentle book. It is in fact not one, but many books: a lingering, evocative memoir, a gripping narrative, a shrewd socioeconomic history of South Africa, Britain, Israel,...
Day 38

Day 38

Jean-Marc Vallée’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, scripted by Nick Hornby and starring Reese Witherspoon, is now out in UK cinemas. It tells the story of Strayed’s 1,100-mile wilderness walk towards personal discovery along the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon has been nominated for Best Actress in the Screen Actors’ Guild, the...
Latest entries
Double English

Double English

I was a slow learner; my primary school English teacher told me so and I almost believed her. She put me in remedial classes. I was taken off to another room away from the other children; but the support assistant let me sit and write stories, (I still have one of them, ‘Mrs Brambles’). After...
Mistaken identity

Mistaken identity

“Every crook in Greece is in the government,” the villager told the CBS correspondent. At first this declaration sounded extreme, but the man spoke with no emotion at all, a fact that impressed the foreigner. Barefoot, filthy, dressed in rags. Scratches on his ankles, dried blood, bruises everywhere. A man who took life as it...
Deep roots, rich dirt

Deep roots, rich dirt

There is a passage in Jean Toomer’s marvelous hybrid novel Cane that describes a woman, sitting in a theater in a northern city, whose roots, likely unbeknownst to her, sink deep through the floor and travel south. The image is fraught, of course, because the woman being described is African American and Toomer, who was...
Canoes don't fly

Canoes don’t fly

Canoas, 10/12/2011 Alright mate? Cecilia was the first person to go visit you when everything calmed down. You were still in intensive care. It was my second visit. I said you wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon, more to try and get rid of her than because I actually knew. “Tell him I stopped by?”...
Claire Keegan: ‘Men and Women’

Claire Keegan: ‘Men and Women’

I listened recently to an interview with Teju Cole on the subject of the author and photographer’s favourite film, Kieslowski’s Red, which starts off with a rumination on the nature – and, especially, on the timing – of favourite things in general. “The impression I have,” Cole says, “is that there’s a certain timing that...
A drink or two

A drink or two

Jack slipped under the counter and closed the door to the bar; propped behind it was a picture of Churchill, glass cracked, and in front beer-crates lined the wall leading straight to Georgie. Her buttocks strained against the seam of her skirt as she bent over and counted bottles. Jack tiptoed forward – one slap...
Philip Teir: Question everything

Philip Teir: Question everything

Philip Teir’s debut novel The Winter War chips away at Scandinavia’s much-trumpeted model society by examining individual lives in a well-to-do but barely functional Finnish-Swedish Helsinki family as they scrabble for meaning and identity. Max Paul is a retired lecturer on the point of turning 60, who is working on a biography of pioneering sociobiologist...
Marjorie Barnard: ‘The Persimmon Tree’

Marjorie Barnard: ‘The Persimmon Tree’

I have so many favourite stories! As I wander through them in my mind, the styles are so different, but each one has me excited me in some way. Sometimes it is perception, seeing beyond the familiar or the surface of things; sometimes it is the use of language; sometimes it is empathetic characterisation; sometimes...
Making history live and breathe

Making history live and breathe

I’ve always loved history, from the dry, factual interpretation-board-in-a-castle kind, to the Young Sherlock Holmes imaginary Victorian cults and poison blow-pipe kind. But it was when I was doing my masters in Shakespearean Studies that I realised I could never become a historian. This was the first time I’d studied literature in its historical context....
Ghosts of New York

Ghosts of New York

I have an American heiress to thank for leading me to Edith Wharton. I was a teenager – lank-haired, history addict, eye for drama – and I was visiting Blenheim Palace with my parents when I caught sight of a creature from the Gilded Age. Consuelo Vanderbilt, wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough, looked...