"I’ve always written short stories, I’ve always been interested in the form being dictated by the concept, rather than the other way round." Jon McGregor
Howling whispers

Howling whispers

Aeschylus wrote the Oresteia at the age of 67, after a life that had included divine inspiration (he was advised by Dionysus in a dream that writing plays, rather than cultivating vineyards, might perhaps be his true calling), overwhelming and continuous political change in his native Athens, valour in battle...
Through a mirror darkly

Through a mirror darkly

Well before Shakespeare made the feeling into one of the most celebrated tenets of art as well as life, the Greeks had already been there and done that. The principle of “all the world’s a stage” was for them the clearest, most perfect prism through which to analyse the full,...
Jon McGregor: The long and short of it

Jon McGregor: The long and short of it

Although it begins with the disappearance of a young girl while holidaying with her family in a Peak District village, Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 deliberately fails to resolve whatever accident or crime may have occurred, and instead explores how such an event lives on in the collective memory of a...
Russian Revolution: Hope, tragedy, myths

Russian Revolution: Hope, tragedy, myths

Marking the 100th anniversary of the world-changing events of 1917, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, shines new light on the experiences of ordinary Russians living through extraordinary times, as well as the life and times of key figures from Lenin to the Romanovs. It tells the story of the Revolution...
Civil rights and wrongs

Civil rights and wrongs

When James Baldwin died in 1987, he left behind 30 pages of letters titled Notes Toward Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript about the lives and deaths of three of his friends – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. – civil rights activists, all of whom were...
A positive betrayal

A positive betrayal

“On one hand it’s a psychological thriller, so people read it fairly quickly. On the other hand, it’s a novel that withholds things from you,” says Julian Barnes of his Man Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending. In the thoughtfully crafted new film version, that withholding remains vital to...
Poets, pedants and survivors

Poets, pedants and survivors

Masterful reworkings of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, Maylis de Kerangal’s Mend the Living, and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith transposed to Korea head another bright batch of literary adaptations and biopics opening in UK cinemas in April. Here’s a selection to keep you dazzled in the dark at your...
The wisdom of parrots

The wisdom of parrots

Govind Puri, in south Delhi, is home to the modestly aspirational. People move through its alleys with a sense of purpose. Young men press by on motorbikes; screechy horns announce their arrival. Acrid fumes linger. Uniformed children bustle past. Houses are neat but ramshackle, their ceilings low. In the tiny,...
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Morrissey built my bookshelf

Morrissey built my bookshelf

I didn’t read a lot as a child and, to a certain extent, I still don’t. Time being the most valuable commodity there is, ideas for my own writing – and the things that inspire me creatively – usually come from other sources; from visual media and, above all, from music. I’m someone who gets...
Immortality

Immortality

The sentence he was writing as he hovered over his keyboard, staring at the screen, pursuing the pulsing vertical of the cursor as it left in its wake a new letter, then word, punctuation, space, till the final full-stop, gave Stephen Osmer such an access of pleasure that he died. He skipped off his seat...
The dream of a ridiculous man

The dream of a ridiculous man

This is a dark firecracker of a book – a deceptively slim volume dominated by a single, long-drawn voice that holds tremendous evocative powers and contains almost overwhelming quantities of undiluted pain but also startling wisdom. The storyline is almost risible – and the main character is convinced that the murkiest ridicule is his quintessential...
Freedom from democracy

Freedom from democracy

The electoral process has often been compared to a marketplace in which ideas are sold by parties to voters who make their consumption choices in the voting booth. In his compelling study of American democracy, Golden Rule (1995), US political scientist Thomas Ferguson argues that we need ‘a different account of political systems in which...
A fresh start

A fresh start

She had decided to make a fresh start. She had to make a fresh start. And as soon as she arrived at the small apartment-hotel, chosen at random and booked in Barcelona through a travel agent, she thought it was the ideal place to allow her to stop wondering “How do I go about it?”,...
Where unhappiness ends: Naples beyond Ferrante

Where unhappiness ends: Naples beyond Ferrante

You know you are in Naples when the taxi taking you to the city centre from the tiny local airport seems to be driven by a perfectly amiable madman, dead set on breaking your neck (and his) as he hurtle-bumps his vehicle down the almost vertical, serpentine ribbons that are many of the city streets....
Lives in black and white

Lives in black and white

If we seek truths, we should look into fairy tales; at least this seems to be Meike Ziervogel’s advice, as she begins her novel with the all-familiar “Once upon a time…” It is still hard for Germany to search for truths, the many sore, dark, unspeakable looming truths behind the period of National Socialism, the...
A breath of sadness

A breath of sadness

“Like a breath of sadness” is how Edvard Munch felt at the time he painted The Scream. “I stood there shivering from dread – and I felt this big, infinite scream through nature,” he wrote in his diary for 1890­–92. A reader of Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove will inevitably feel the same – will...
Bret Anthony Johnston: Tricks at the top

Bret Anthony Johnston: Tricks at the top

Bret Anthony Johnston has won the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award with his story ‘Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses’, a touching meditation on memory and loss that weaves together significant moments from the life of an 80-year-old Texan through the prism of the three great loves of his life: his wife,...
Over the wall

Over the wall

In 2014 I decided to travel the length of the Green Line, the demarcation line agreed in the 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbours. On the other side of the Green Line is the West Bank, which Israel has now occupied for fifty years, ever since the Six-Day War in 1967. I spent...