"I didn't want people to read in the same way they might eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, but because I wanted them to know the mind-expanding privilege of walking a mile in someone else's shoes." Cathy Rentzenbrink
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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On the matter of eternity

On the matter of eternity

The past few years have seen the explosive emergence of a highly fetishised and merchandised cult of the home: as a fiercely protected private space of explicitly public (voyeuristic) visibility, as the locus of a redefined, globalised community of purported ecumenical camaraderie, as the shrine of high-design spirituality, and as a new status symbol of...
Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

The saturated colours, surreal architecture and surprising landscapes in the films of Wes Anderson have inspired a phenomenal photographic archive which has gathered well over a million followers on Instagram. Accidentally Wes Anderson, curated by Wally Koval, gathers images from around the world that capture or interpret the filmmaker’s signature aesthetic: an enthralling mixture of...
Opportunity

Opportunity

A proper job! At Waterstones! I’m thirty-one! Now I have a debit card and everything! But only just. On probation, I arrive three hours late after spending a night in a patch of nettles in Cannon Hill Park (Spiritus/Poles). After running a spike a long way into my flip-flopped big toe on the building site...
Escape

Escape

Teresa was, on the whole, a serious, earnest woman, with a slightly uneasy smile that barely lifted the corners of her mouth. Her black eyes always seemed to be trying to wrest a secret from the person they observed. She had a thick mane of hair with a streak of grey on the right temple....
Harassment

Harassment

It takes him a few seconds to recognize her. And even then, he isn’t sure she recognizes him. Whether she recognized him earlier from his name or only when he came into the room. Or maybe she’s embarrassed. You can’t tell anything from looking at her. She doesn’t blush. Doesn’t stammer. She continues asking him...
Before the beginning of years

Before the beginning of years

A chorus from Swinburne’s 1865 play Atalanta in Calydon was once an almost self-standing poetic topos, the expression perhaps of a particular moment in the progression of the human psyche – or of the temporal course of eternity, to fiddle with T.S. Eliot’s famous take on the pastness of the past and its presence. Before...
Interesting times

Interesting times

Staying Human is the latest addition to Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive series of world poetry anthologies, offering a broad, international selection of 500 more ‘real poems for unreal times’. The range of poetry complements that of the first three anthologies: hundreds of thoughtful and powerful poems about living in the modern world; poems that touch the heart, stir the...
Complicated and conflicted

Complicated and conflicted

One of the challenges I faced when writing People of Abandoned Character was the fact that the main protagonist was complicated – and a woman. I had a lot of feedback that she wasn’t likeable enough, but I was determined to keep her as flawed as she was. I think it’s a particular curse especially...
Lasting impressions

Lasting impressions

I often panic when I am asked about my ‘favourite’ books, especially since publishing my own debut novel Hashim & Family earlier this year. It is such a personal question – there is so much to be understood about someone from learning about the books that they love – that it can almost feel like...
The duty of disobedience

The duty of disobedience

Twenty-five years after its inception, ten years since the last instalment in the series, and with over 4 million copies sold to date, Penguin Great Ideas is back with a brand new selection of 20 titles. Bringing to readers the works of the many great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas have shaken civilisation and helped...