"Money won’t save us. Things won’t save us. We’ve failed our moral responsibility to be stewards of this planet. I hope this epiphany arrives, and I hope it leads to change." Rumaan Alam
Rumaan Alam: This is how civilisation ends

Rumaan Alam: This is how civilisation ends

“I woke up this morning and the world already feels safer!” declared a friend on Facebook the day after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris swept to victory in the US election. Hah! Wait till you read Leave the World Behind, I thought, perhaps a little too sceptically, you’ll soon change...
Mannequins and monsters

Mannequins and monsters

Edward Carey’s The Swallowed Man follows the adventures of Pinocchio’s creator Geppetto after he is stranded in the belly of a sea beast. As the woodcarver ekes out a frugal existence, living on his memories and imagination, the tale becomes a magical meditation on fatherly love, loss and regret, and...
William Boyd: Melting in the dark

William Boyd: Melting in the dark

In swinging Britain in the summer of 1968, three characters are leading troubled lives. Sexually conflicted producer Talbot Kydd is overseeing an archly arthouse movie in Brighton while sneaking away from his wife to a secret London flat and pondering a possible future with a scaffolder named Gary; his star,...
Antoine Laurain: Imagined reality

Antoine Laurain: Imagined reality

Antoine Laurain’s briskly comic new novel The Readers’ Room takes readers inside the rarefied world of a Parisian publishing house, and revolves around a reclusive debut author known as Camille Désencres whose murder mystery Sugar Flowers has made the Prix Goncourt shortlist. Things take a dark turn when ‘Camille’ emails her...
Multitasking

Multitasking

Catherine Steadman is a woman of many parts. A celebrated actress, novelist and screenwriter, best known as Lady Mary’s love rival Mabel Lane Fox in Downton Abbey, her two novels to date, both tightly wound psychological thrillers, have been huge bestsellers. We catch up with her as her second novel...
Cathy Rentzenbrink: Book whisperer

Cathy Rentzenbrink: Book whisperer

“When I make a friend I wonder what sits on their bookshelves,” writes Cathy Rentzenbrink, ex-bookseller, bestselling author and amiable bookworm. I smile as I read this. Yes, me too. These last few months of lockdown, forcing so many of us to work from home and Zoom with colleagues, has...
Nicola Maye Goldberg: Room for doubt

Nicola Maye Goldberg: Room for doubt

Nicola Maye Goldberg’s Nothing Can Hurt You is a literary thriller that revolves around the murder of a young female student by her boyfriend, but rather than investigate the crime, she deftly examines its repercussions on a broad spectrum of people, from those directly affected to a wider society habituated...
A new normal

A new normal

Rose Tremain’s latest novel Islands of Mercy is a daring exploration of sanctuary and identity that ranges from the genteel tearooms of 19th-century Bath to the rainforests of Borneo, via the slums of Dublin and the non-conformist nightlife of Paris. She tells us what makes her tick through trying times....
Distant echoes of a mighty paean

Distant echoes of a mighty paean

Readers long spellbound by Elena Ferrante’s Valhalla-like worlds of the Italian South, her redoubtable skills as a writer, the swarming opacity of the mystery that enshrouds her, her ‘voice’, defying every categorisation, or even personification, will instantly pick up the familiar echoes and sounds of her previous books as they...
Nicci French: What lies beneath

Nicci French: What lies beneath

The novel begins with a scream. It’s 3am and Tabitha has been woken up by the human howl. She’s in prison. Tabitha is currently on remand at Crow Grange Prison. She’s accused of murdering her neighbour and former maths teacher Stuart Robert Rees, whose body was found in her garden...
Megan Hunter: The shadow side

Megan Hunter: The shadow side

Megan Hunter’s second novel The Harpy is a dark and dazzling tale of pent-up rage and revenge festering beneath a veneer of everyday domesticity. Mother-of-two Lucy Stevenson’s life is upended by a phone call from a man who informs her his wife is having an affair with her husband Jake....
Kirstin Innes: Infinite variety

Kirstin Innes: Infinite variety

Scabby Queen is a Scottish version of the Old Maid card game in which “the queen goes round and round, and the object is to get rid of her – pass her on to the next one as quickly as you can” – and the person left with the queen...
Jini Reddy: Believing is seeing

Jini Reddy: Believing is seeing

There’s synchronicity at play as I emerge from lockdown and read Jini Reddy’s timely and entertaining Wainwright Prize-shortlisted travel guide Wanderland. Though, to be fair, travel guide is too simplistic a description. It’s autobiography, spliced with a search for self, and a series of escapades in places of spiritual interest...
Avni Doshi: Mother and daughter

Avni Doshi: Mother and daughter

Avni Doshi’s debut novel Burnt Sugar, longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize immediately prior to UK publication, is a compelling exploration of the ties that bind a mother and her daughter, and of an irreconcilable longing for self-expression in both of them that signifies betrayal. As a young woman, Tara...
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The portraitist

The portraitist

I have to admit that I had a few colleagues with whom I would have preferred never to have crossed paths. Sherman was one; the mere thought of him fills me with bitterness and disgust. Augustus Frederick Sherman. How could I possibly forget him? I can still picture him, stout and saturnine, with his prophet’s...
New arrivals

New arrivals

Augustus Frederick Sherman (1865–1925) worked as a registry clerk with the Immigration Division at Ellis Island from 1892 until close to his death. Over the course of his career he took around 250 photographs of new arrivals at the immigration centre, capturing pictures of Romanian shepherds, Italian peasants, German stowaways, circus performers, single women and...
A year of reading and sharing

A year of reading and sharing

When I started Ultimate Reads and Recommendations as a book group on Facebook a couple of years ago I didn’t think I would have readers from all over the world joining in. It started off with just a few people from my local community in South London and gradually spread through word of mouth. Now...
A clandestine Christmas

A clandestine Christmas

One day I went with the general 1 to the Swedish Legation to get some protective passports for his daughters. I met there a young man – one of the most handsome young men I have ever seen – in the garb of a Catholic priest. I looked at him,then looked again, and sure enough,...
The woman of the wolf

The woman of the wolf

Narrated by M. Pierre Lenoir, 69, rue des Dames, Paris. I do not know why I undertook to court that woman. She was neither beautiful, nor pretty, nor even agreeable. As for myself (and I say this without conceit, dear ladies), there are those who have not been indifferent to me. It is not that...
"We can fight with the mind"

“We can fight with the mind”

Sybil Oldfield’s The Black Book: The Britons on the Nazi Hitlist is, at first sight, an anthology of lives under terrible threat – a breathless, deeply personal, yet unflinching account of an impressive array of the many biographical journeys, the individual circumstances and diverse fates that earned 2,619 men and women an uncoveted place on...
Limelight's shadow

Limelight’s shadow

A neuroscientist by trade, Rachel Genn draws from a deep well of jargon to fill her novel What You Could Have Won. The two words that stick in my head for much of the time I’m reading it aren’t too obscure: Toxicity and Tragedy. It’s no wonder: the novel’s main character Astrid spends a good...
from Revolt Against the Sun

from Revolt Against the Sun

The Iraqi poet Nazik al-Mala’ika was one of the most important Arab poets of the twentieth century. A pioneer of free verse poetry, over four decades she transformed the landscape of modern Arabic literature and culture. Revolt Against the Sun, edited, translated and with a comprehensive introduction by Emily Drumsta, presents a selection of al-Mala’ika’s...
"Grab 'em by the pussy"

“Grab ’em by the pussy”

In a 2005 Access Hollywood videorecording, bankrupt businessman, soft-core porn film actor, and reality show star Donald Trump can be heard using objectifying and body-chopping language which escalates to airing his views on his expectation that he can sexually assault women. “Oh, nice legs, huh?” Trump says, eyeing a woman. “I did try and f—...
Absolute Bedlam

Absolute Bedlam

It was the week before Christmas. The place that I worked was closing down; offices shut up, people disbanded. The lunchtime buffet, part Christmas cheer, part farewell, was still going on late into the dark afternoon, but I wanted to see an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond. I snuck away...