"Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, even The Magus. That’s the stuff I keep coming back to. They lure you in with this idea of strangeness." Benjamin Wood
Jim Shepard: Some kind of hero

Jim Shepard: Some kind of hero

Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron is a remarkable portrait of the complicated nature of heroism and courage in the face of human atrocity. His fictional commemoration of philanthropist and children’s educator-activist Dr Janusz Korczak is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy forced to live on his wits,...
The empress's new clothes

The empress’s new clothes

One of the things that crops up a lot if you set fantasy in a historical period is, what’s real? I wrote about a watchmaker who remembers the future and that was fun, but it made everything else in the book look like I might have made it all up....
Benjamin Wood by extension

Benjamin Wood by extension

Benjamin Wood’s second novel The Ecliptic opens on a snowy winter’s day on Heybeliada, an island off the coast of Istanbul where a gated retreat, known as Portmantle, is home to a collection of artists, writers, architects and musicians seeking refuge from the outside world. Amongst them is Elspeth Conroy,...
The first apparition

The first apparition

I was attending a local kindergarten at the time, so I must have been about five years old. The azaleas had bloomed a bright red at the top of the hill, and my sisters were out filling their baskets with freshly-picked shepherd’s purse, which means it had to be early...
Visiting hour

Visiting hour

The hospital room smelled of antiseptic cleaner, but it could not mask the odor of sickness. It was Michael’s eighty-fourth birthday. He did not feel like celebrating. He had just survived a week in the Intensive Care Unit after his kidneys, heart and lungs had failed. When he was moved...
Nell Zink takes flight

Nell Zink takes flight

I’d be prepared to put money on the fact that even if you haven’t read either of her novels – The Wallcreeper and Mislaid – you’ve still heard of Nell Zink. Having burst onto the literary scene last autumn with the publication of the former in the US (by the...
Up in the clouds

Up in the clouds

Wednesday 27 May We are late taking off. The Airbus sits unmoving on the tarmac, the stale air tasting of dust and the faint, tantalising possibility of disaster, while outside the New York City evening is blackening to night. In London, it is one am: in seven hours or so,...
Miracle at Hawk's Bay

Miracle at Hawk’s Bay

Matthew High. We knew it would be him. Even before Hannah turned him over, we just knew it. It was Annie who saw him from the road. “Look,” she said, and when she pointed at the dark shape out there in the shallow water, there was only one thought in...
The fifth wife

The fifth wife

Blessings sometimes travelled in pairs. And when they did, especially during a rainy season, there was a unanimous decision by the Gods to give way to them through the traffic of the living. They floated above the still moist beds of earth where cassava plants slept, bounced off the hard...
Valeria Luiselli: Pearls among junk

Valeria Luiselli: Pearls among junk

Valeria Luiselli’s second novel The Story of My Teeth is a fiercely intelligent, inventive and hilarious exploration of worth, value and creation in the worlds of art and literature. The narrator, Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, is an enterprising auctioneer who will use his skills to sell anything – even his own...
Kitsune

Kitsune

“Goblin foxes are peculiarly dreaded in Izumo for three evil habits attributed to them… The third and worst is that of entering into people and taking diabolical possession of them and tormenting them into madness. This affliction is called kitsune-tsuki. “The favourite shape assumed by the goblin fox for the purpose...
Jami Attenberg: How to be

Jami Attenberg: How to be

Jami Attenberg’s new novel Saint Mazie tells the fictionalised story of one of Manhattan’s real-life heroes of the early 20th century: Mazie Phillips-Gordon, the brassy, big-hearted proprietress of the Venice movie theatre in the Bowery who spent most of her adult life helping the homeless. In 1940 Joseph Mitchell profiled Mazie for...
Sunny Singh: Among the ruins

Sunny Singh: Among the ruins

Sunny Singh’s new novel Hotel Arcadia plunges readers into the midst of a terror attack in a 5-star hotel in an unnamed city. War photographer Sam, known for her haunting portraits of the recently dead, has picked the wrong place to wind down after her latest assignment, but can’t resist...
Shouting at a river

Shouting at a river

Standing over a bassinet in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the early hours of Christmas Eve, 2002, I contemplated what the hell my first act as a father should be. My Miss Marie had been dragged into the world, with suction, only a few minutes before, and after flunking...
Latest entries
Housewarming

Housewarming

His grin shows off his molars, and he grips you with a handshake that could hold up a bridge. He announces his name like he’s its proud parent, and then holds your gaze in a vice so that when you mumble your own name back to him, it sounds like ‘Uncle’. When you turn a...
Friday in the park

Friday in the park

On the third Friday in June, Stephen decided it would be as good as time as any to leave the house. See, Stephen had been inside for nearly a month. That’s what happens after guys like Stephen lose their jobs. Get fired. Go home. Stay there. Indefinitely. Stephen had gained, I don’t know, maybe twenty...
Tania James: 'Lion and Panther in London'

Tania James: ‘Lion and Panther in London’

Some short stories exist as fragments of time, giving you the middle of a moment, letting you figure out what brought people to that moment and what will become of them long after that fragment. Some short stories are static, in a head, in a simple interaction. If written badly, uncontrolled or imprecisely, these short...
Hunters and hunted

Hunters and hunted

“Every morning the gazelle wakes up knowing that it has to run more swiftly than the lion or it will be killed. Every morning the lion awakens knowing that it has to run faster than the gazelle or it will die of hunger. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle: When the...
Campfire tales

Campfire tales

My bandanna is rolled on the diagonal and retains water fairly well. I keep it knotted around my head, and now and again dip it into the river. The water is forty-six degrees. Against the temples, it is refrigerant and relieving. This has done away with the headaches that the sun caused in days before....
The sickness

The sickness

More kids got sick but Madame Stefa still slept downstairs with the healthy ones and Korczak upstairs in the isolation ward. “It’s cold for May,” he said to me one night when I came up to sit with him. He was writing something while everyone else slept. “What’s that smell?” I asked. “The carbide in...
Dennison's dolce vita

Dennison’s dolce vita

July 9, 2015 “So, where were we?” I say, as she fills her water bottle and I rescue a fragile, yellow spider from the yoghurt container, in which I have packed the blueberries from my bushes. “What were we talking about?” Ruth Ozeki and I haven’t seen each other in over nine months. Time enough...
Fleet of word and deed

Fleet of word and deed

We know perhaps too much about Paul Morand, and certainly too little. Distillations of his being, his writer’s essence and his place in history most often focus on his celebrated friendships with Chanel and Proust, his occasionally bombastic, somewhat affected and at times self-glorifying public persona, his casual intolerance of much that did not conform...
The bazaar and the monastery

The bazaar and the monastery

The Spring 2015 issue of The Paris Review has a scoop to rival a sit-down with Pynchon: The first in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, in which the notoriously reclusive author explains her anonymity: “This demand for self-promotion diminishes the actual work of art,” she says. “The media simply can’t discuss a work of literature without...