"The narrow alleys of pestilence and poverty run along the walls of the very richest in the land… in our current times, as the gap between rich and poor widens, there are many resonances across centuries to unearth.” Lucy Jago
Runaways and free spirits

Runaways and free spirits

“Every landscape needs a figure in it, perhaps especially a figure that is only intermittently visible, that is mysterious and alert,” observes a gardener in Jane Smiley’s The Strays of Paris who spies a beautiful racehorse roaming freely in the middle of the French capital. The racehorse is Paras (short...
Neema Shah: A place called home

Neema Shah: A place called home

If you’re non-white living in a majority white place or indeed a visible or identifiable ‘foreigner’ in a land, the chances are you will have at some point been told to “go back to your own country”. Especially in 1970s Britain. The people who regularly shouted this none-too-friendly command would...
Raven Leilani: In the air tonight

Raven Leilani: In the air tonight

Luster is an original, darkly funny debut about an interracial love triangle, by a new voice with the power to turn modern manners upside down and inside out.  Edie is having online sex with Eric, a man she met on a dating app who messages her with impeccable punctuation –...
Lucy Jago: Making a stink

Lucy Jago: Making a stink

Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes is a captivating story of female friendship and solidarity amid a scandal that rocked the court of James I. It is narrated by 30-something Anne Turner, a doctor’s wife and mother of six with a talent for fashion and a patent for saffron...
All the love in the world

All the love in the world

“It is nice when two people come together in the universe,” Huma Qureshi remembers telling her young son in the opening pages of How We Met. He promptly asks how she and his dad Richard came to be together, and so begins Huma’s story of her quest for married love....
Ellery Lloyd: Cracks in the mirror

Ellery Lloyd: Cracks in the mirror

People Like Her, by husband-and-wife team Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos writing as Ellery Lloyd, is a razor-sharp psychological thriller that picks at the dark edges of our obsession with social media and the peculiar world of online influencers. Emmy Jackson is an Instagram sensation as @the_mamabare, telling the world...
Bryan Washington: Neighbourhoods

Bryan Washington: Neighbourhoods

Bryan Washington’s debut story collection, Lot, a sweeping overview of Houston’s ethnically diverse communities that dips in and out of the life of a gay, mixed-race restaurant worker, was the winner of the 2020 Dylan Thomas Prize and won plaudits from everyone from Ann Patchett and Kiley Reid to Barack...
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...
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The last hike

The last hike

It was to be their last hike together. They had decided their relationship was over and they were in the kitchen preparing their rucksacks. Family members had been informed that a separation process had begun. Eileen had spoken to two girlfriends about her new lover, Leonard, and Eric had started gathering funds to climb in...
Starting over

Starting over

Kololo Hill by Neema Shah (Picador, 18 February) starts with Idi Amin’s declaration that all Asians must leave Uganda within 90 days. What follows is one family’s fear, sadness and the uprooting of their whole life. Jaya and Motiband moved to Uganda from India and have built up a successful life and business along with...
Bit by bit by bit

Bit by bit by bit

What happened? Everyone asked the question, had been asking since the election. They asked while watching the news, that storm of headlines, jump-cut footage of marches and speeches and hand-sharpied cardboard, an endless, swirling blizzard – a siege, really – of protests and counterprotests, action and reaction, people screaming at one another in the street,...
from Mother, Nature

from Mother, Nature

Aoife Lyall’s debut collection Mother, Nature explores the tragic and tender experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood, from antenatal complications and the devastating pain of miscarriage to the overwhelming joy of healthy delivery and healthy infancy. “Nothing prepares you for the loss of a child,” she writes in her prefatory note. “I turned to what...
from Lumen

from Lumen

How might poetry help us articulate the body in illness, in work, and in love? Tiffany Atkinson’s fourth collection includes the sequence ‘Dolorimeter’, which won the 2014 Medicine Unboxed Prize. Taking fragments of speech and found text from a hospital residency at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth to pay homage to the inventiveness and humour of...
The vulgar, not the Vulgate

The vulgar, not the Vulgate

A brief note on the word, ‘sex’. I find myself avoiding it often. It is an ugly word. Not because it is boorish, but because it is too refined. ‘Sex’ is clinical: sterile, precise, institutional. It comes from the Norman French, originally Latin – what philologists Reneé and Henry Kahane called ‘the status symbol of...
Black Britain: Writing Back

Black Britain: Writing Back

Penguin has pulled together a stunning new list of books by writers who have written about black Britain and the diaspora over the last hundred years. The six launch titles, each with a new introduction by Bernadine Evaristo, range from fast-paced thrillers to historical fiction, and showcase a diverse pool of black writing talent. The...
Towards a poetics of wreckage

Towards a poetics of wreckage

There is something thrilling about a beautiful book – a book whose aesthetic, material presence, and the evocative momentum of its ideas and the words that embody them, seek to touch a reader’s every nerve, even that insubstantial vital centre we call our soul. Susan Stewart’s The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture...
Hector Bisi: Not just dandy

Hector Bisi: Not just dandy

Writer and dandy Hector Bisi was born in Belém, in the Brazilian Amazon, and has donned several different hats since, working as an engineer, copywriter and modelling agent. He caused a bit of a stir some years ago with the publication of his debut novel Copacubana, which tells the tale of the owner of a...
Bad boys

Bad boys

Author’s note: What you’re about to read isn’t meant to be a positive or negative image or metaphor of Paris. Whether good or bad, beyond or besides all the clichés, and despite its possible arrogance, this book is meant to be Paris.   One possible September Beau Patrick returned. Paris wasn’t there anymore. A year...