“Lightin’ Hopkins is my muse, has been for years, it’s music deeply rooted in the part of the country I come from, and with Lightnin’ there are always moments of defiance." Attica Locke
America, are you listening?

America, are you listening?

Heaven, My Home is Attica Locke’s follow-up to her award-winning novel Bluebird, Bluebird. I’m pleased to report that the second instalment in the Highway 59 series is just as compelling as the first. Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is a fascinating character who is constantly having to balance his often conflicting...
Write what you want to forget

Write what you want to forget

What do you do with the things that cannot be expressed? Where do you put the things you cannot say? What do you do when words don’t work? In the opening pages of The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson cites Wittgenstein: “the inexpressible is contained – inexpressibly – in the expressed.” This...
Sanam Maher: The real Qandeel?

Sanam Maher: The real Qandeel?

Qandeel Baloch was the social-media siren who teased and titillated Pakistani society with her pouty posts and racy videos, empowering young women and outraging religious elders at every turn. Her highlights reel is well known: the failed audition on Pakistan Idol – all shrill voice, shocking pink leggings and fake...
Melanie Cantor: No regrets

Melanie Cantor: No regrets

 Well what would you do if you found out you had 90 days to live? Death and Other Happy Endings is nothing like as grim as that sounds. I was reminded of the opening to that Richard Curtis movie in which we see a sequence of people all arriving...
Mia Couto: Singular dualities

Mia Couto: Singular dualities

Mia Couto’s Woman of the Ashes is the first novel in a trilogy centred around the 1895 overthrow of southern Mozambique’s last emperor, Ngungunyane. As warring factions threaten to divide the country an unforeseen love affair unfolds between 15-year-old village girl Imani and exiled Portuguese sergeant Germano de Melo. Imani...
Tishani Doshi: Shifting tides

Tishani Doshi: Shifting tides

 There is nothing small about Tishani Doshi’s tightly wrought second novel Small Days and Nights – just as there is nothing small about India. Whether writing about its people, the scale of the challenges facing a country of epic unequal proportions, or simply describing the natural world on a...
Wayétu Moore: Liberia then and now

Wayétu Moore: Liberia then and now

Wayétu Moore’s She Would Be King is a vibrant historical novel about the tumultuous founding of Liberia, shot through with fantastical elements rooted in African fable. The heroine referenced in the title is wild, red-haired Gbessa [pronounced ‘Bessah’], who is cast from her Vai village because she was cursed at...
Laura Beatty: Insight and wonder

Laura Beatty: Insight and wonder

One comes away from meeting and talking with Laura Beatty with a combined sense of awe and the closest human affinity and immediacy. She possesses a formidable mind, a very composed and elegiac conversational style that one may only call a delicately poetic oral prose. The beginning of a thought...
The sea journal

The sea journal

The sea has been an endless source of fascination, at once both alluring and mysterious, a place of wonder and terror. The Sea Journal contains first-hand records by a great range of travellers of their encounters with strange creatures and new lands, full of dangers and delights, pleasures and perils....
Ottessa Moshfegh: Just one shot

Ottessa Moshfegh: Just one shot

Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a New York Times bestseller shortlisted for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize, is a darkly hilarious novel about narcotic hibernation and moneyed oblivion. The unnamed narrator is a recent graduate from New York’s Columbia University who has given up her underpaid job...
Stepping into the dark

Stepping into the dark

A lifelong passion for gothic novels led Sara Collins to give up a career in law and test her mettle as a fiction writer. We catch up with her in the midst of a whirlwind US tour ahead of publication of her hotly anticipated debut The Confessions of Frannie Langton....
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The next best death

The next best death

Death came for Eiolf early one bright summer morning. Before he had got as far as his office. Before he had got as far as putting on the water for his coffee and dumping his heavy shoulder bag. As usual, he was one of the first to arrive. It was the last time he would...
Heart to heart

Heart to heart

It’s August in Tunisia, I come across this scene. Before the wrought-iron window frame, in full sunlight, you can come and see what’s happening now as well as what has happened, you can sit and wait for the sounds to return, for the smells, the gestures, the words to revive and it’s suddenly all so...
Trying to tell a stranger about rock ’n’ roll

Trying to tell a stranger about rock ’n’ roll

Before I start in on Mark Radcliffe’s romp through pop history Crossroads: In Search of the Moments that Changed Music, I need to make a confession: prior to reviewing this book, I had never heard of Mark Radcliffe. I know it’s wearing pretty thin to use the excuse “I’m new here” after thirteen years living...
Joe Buck!

Joe Buck!

In his new boots, Joe Buck was six-foot-one and life was different. As he walked out of that store in Houston something snapped in the whole bottom half of him: A kind of power he never even knew was there had been released in his pelvis and he was able to feel the world through...
The muse

The muse

Night after night, a guard would come for me, and Semionov and I would have our little chats. And night after night, my humble interrogator would ask the same questions: What is the novel about? Why is he writing it? Why are you protecting him? I didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear: that...
Home at the asylum

Home at the asylum

In the nineteenth century Roosevelt Island, then known as Blackwell’s Island, was crowded with more than a dozen prisons, a smallpox hospital, workhouses, and even a home for “wayward girls.” Municipal leaders in the growing metropolis across the river decided that Blackwell’s Island would be the perfect place to lock away the criminal, the indigent,...
Don't hurry over them

Don’t hurry over them

John Gaskin (he likes to write his first name with a soupçon of Hellenic omega in its spelling) is a rather extraordinary man. A banker quickly turned philosopher and academic, he has been lecturing and writing prolifically on almost all things ancient for more than half a century. Revered for his scholarship and mellifluous paeans...
More than itself

More than itself

More than a poet, Rilke, one might argue, is a supreme embodiment of a Platonic idea of the artist, a sublime abstraction of the power of art and of words to haunt us and to grant us life. Even when alive, he was less a person than he was a persona, a complex yet intangible...
Let there be light

Let there be light

Tatyana Tolstaya lives a double life. A fiercely postmodern, vibrant writer of the here-and-now, an indulgently larger-than-life presence in Russian letters and culture at home and abroad, she is also a ghost – a rather hard-to-miss, palpably material ghost, but a ghost of Russian and Tolstoyan past, nonetheless. Her latest collection of short stories, Aetherial...
A neighbourly word

A neighbourly word

All around them, all this time, things were changing and continued to change. As Mrs Glass said, the place wasn’t the same. If she hadn’t lived right through the changes, she told her friend Mrs Fletcher, she wouldn’t have recognized it, she would have walked up the street and right past her house and not...