"I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.” Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall
Pennyfeather is sent down

Pennyfeather is sent down

Evelyn Waugh’s sparkling college satire Decline and Fall has been made into a three-part BBC One series starring Jack Whitehall, David Suchet and Eva Longoria, adapted by James Wood. As Penguin Classics publishes a special tie-in edition, we’re delighted to present an extract from the beginning of the book to...
Mohsin Hamid: Moving on

Mohsin Hamid: Moving on

Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel Exit West imagines a world in which war refugees and economic migrants have the chance to break for safety by passing through supernatural black doors that serve as wormholes to wealthier countries. It’s a magical conceit that fast-forwards the likely exoduses of the coming decades, and...
Tim Murphy: Shouting out

Tim Murphy: Shouting out

Published last year in the US, and now here in the UK, if you haven’t already heard of Tim Murphy’s novel Christodora, let this be your tip-off. Not least because Paramount TV have bought the rights and they’ve hired Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias – whose film collaborations Keep the...
Saunders in the zone

Saunders in the zone

If you want to succeed in art, you need to be constantly scanning the horizon for inspiration. For me, by and large, this comes more in the form of life experience than from direct artistic influence. A bit of happenstance, a string of tiny coincidences in my day-to-day activities, is...
Laura McVeigh: Journeys of the mind

Laura McVeigh: Journeys of the mind

Laura McVeigh’s debut novel Under the Almond Tree is a vibrant and tender modern fable of a young life blighted by war. Fifteen–year-old Samar is displaced from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and narrates her story from aboard the Trans-Siberian Express as it trundles east and west between Moscow and Vladivostok. With family...
Heart and darkness

Heart and darkness

As the current two top-ranking films at the US and UK box office testify, adaptations are a reliable route for getting a film out to a receptive audience. The Lego Batman Movie is an adaptation not only of the original DC Comics stories but also a playful take on just...
Driving to distraction

Driving to distraction

Sonja is sitting in a car, and she’s brought her dictionary along. It’s heavy, and sits in the bag on the backseat. She’s halfway through her translation of Gösta Svensson’s latest crime novel, and the quality was already dipping with the previous one. Now’s the time I can afford it,...
Steven Uhly: A life of encounters

Steven Uhly: A life of encounters

The chance to converse with Steven Uhly is not just a meeting but a real and even formative encounter, a moment of wisdom, laughter, serious and relaxed humanity. He is someone with a very distinct presence, ineradicable and self-effacing at the same time, poetic and materially concrete. He exudes indomitable...
Chris Cleave: Across the divide

Chris Cleave: Across the divide

Chris Cleave’s latest novel, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, is a London-set examination of the real impact of the Second World War, centring on an 18-year-old schoolteacher called Mary North. Cleave and I have tea one afternoon in Piccadilly to discuss it. There’s a reason why we’re drinking tea and not,...
Nathan Hill: Unpuzzling it all

Nathan Hill: Unpuzzling it all

Nathan Hill’s debut novel The Nix is a hefty, engrossing, deeply funny family drama and a sweeping examination of American politics, protest and the shifting media landscape over the last fifty years. At its centre is Samuel Anderson, a blocked writer, bored teacher and online gamer, whose mother Faye walked...
Out there

Out there

The Doll Funeral began as an image of a young girl running out from the back door into an unkempt garden. In my mind it’s as if there is a camera tracking behind her. The camera follows her out into the garden where she jumps off the step, runs through...
Michael Chabon: Flying high

Michael Chabon: Flying high

Michael Chabon’s latest novel Moonglow is a fake memoir that spans the Jewish slums of pre-war Philadelphia, rocket science and espionage in World War II Germany, the verve and machinations of the space race and the dwindling of the American Century in a sleepy Florida retirement home. It’s a comical,...
Alexandra Kleeman: Spaces in between

Alexandra Kleeman: Spaces in between

She’s been hailed by the New York Times as “one of the wise young women of our generation”; Ben Marcus called her “one of the sharpest and smartest young writers” around, “ambitious, promising, brilliant”; and Vanity Fair described her as a “future superstar”. These are just a handful of the...
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A memory of memory

A memory of memory

Memory is our own unreliable narrator. It forgets things that matter and recalls other events that never happened. It can slip away like receding mist or haunt us in a perennial nightmare. To the extent that they track selves through time, all novels are about memory. But some are more concerned with the notion than...
For Hekate

For Hekate

She wakes to the sound of axes. All through the forest around her, sharp over the howling of the wind. The sunshunted by sea-blown spray. Hekate unceasing, and the wind still hot, with no cloud, air warped and darkened. Her grandfather struggling to rise higher. The Minyae building on the shore, wearing very little and...
Land of the bens and the glens

Land of the bens and the glens

The Scottish clan that I belong to – or would belong to if it were now anything more than a sentimental myth – was broken a great many generations ago by a party of MacDonalds, who hunted down the last chief of my clan, captured him, refused him mercy, saying that a man who had...
I, Octavio

I, Octavio

The day I finished my degree in modern literature at the Sorbonne in May 2010, I was called before a board of examiners to present my dissertation on the ‘engaged literature’ of the interwar period. After I had spoken for three hours, I was awarded my MA. I went off to celebrate with friends from...
Splinters and reflections

Splinters and reflections

A Broken Mirror is the book on which Mercè Rodoreda worked the longest, which is not surprising given the novel’s ambitious scope. The plot spans three generations; it presents in detail scores of characters of different ages and social classes; it reflects momentous historical events – most notably the Spanish war of 1936–39. More important,...
Cloak and dagger à la Russe

Cloak and dagger à la Russe

The family of Governor Yegor von Rasimkara, we are told early in Ricarda Huch’s The Last Summer, have only one defect all told: that of “belonging to an era that must pass” – in order to make room for the one impatiently keen to take its place. A generally endearing walrus of a father in...
The facts of life

The facts of life

The Facts of Life is a beautifully drawn, funny and sometimes painful exploration of what it takes to be a woman, and a mother – or not. In 1970s northeast England, best friends Polly and April are sitting up a tree, whispering about periods and swapping their hazy knowledge of the facts of life. They...
A total portrait of the artist as an absence

A total portrait of the artist as an absence

Elena Ferrante is traditional in the most radical, boundary-dissolving ways; conventional with subversive fervour and delicately powerful talent. In Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey she proves above all the invincible strength of her authorial translucence, the rock-solid presence of her so-called anonymity, which she invariably corrects as being a determined gesture of absence. The word frantumaglia,...
The shovelist

The shovelist

Guillaume Morin stood at his kitchen window, peering through the falling snow. Across the street, two men in matching brown leather jackets were unloading boxes from a metallic blue Cadillac and lugging them into Suzanne Sillery’s old place. “Stop staring! It’s not proper.” Guillaume looked at his wife. She was seated at the kitchen table,...
Scenes from a Troubles childhood

Scenes from a Troubles childhood

“Where do you get your ideas?” Or, to paraphrase, “You look like a pretty normal person to me, so where did all that come from?” It’s the baseline question, the one we’ve all been asked. Often, the questioner is really asking something more specific: “How much of your book is written from life?” or “Did...