"Good writing, for me, usually comes from groping around in the dark." J. Robert Lennon
Author Archive
Sun on grey water

Sun on grey water

There is no time or place in human history without a crisis (not even the Garden of Eden of Adam and Eve). Whether in the form of socio-political or cultural earthquakes of greater or lesser magnitude, or as underlying tensions, festering wounds or unquietened, maddening murmurs, crises are at the heart of the very act...
Bitter chocolate and the laughter of tears

Bitter chocolate and the laughter of tears

If chocolate-coated ‘Teffi’ bonbons tasted nearly as good as Nadezdha Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya’s own prolifically produced literary confections, they must have tasted perfectly delicious: light on the palate and yet a rich mouthful; intriguingly exotic textures and aftertastes enveloping an unadulterated kernel of pure truth. ‘Teffi’ perfume would have been equally alluring, causing men to melt...
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 during the Persian wars, fighting...
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...
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, multi-hued spectrum of human experience,...
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...
Catching the past

Catching the past

In 2014, Otto de Kat wrote a short essay for PEN, where he gives a poetic yet also practical definition of the art and skill of writing historical fiction, of crafting novels whose life must be fictional, and yet feistily rooted in factual reality. This genre has been his own home since 1998, when he...
Peter Shaffer: An immortal life

Peter Shaffer: An immortal life

Our lives, our intellectual and emotional worlds, our humanity and imagination, owe a great, indelible debt to Peter Shaffer, for revealing to us the wonder and the dark mystery of our existence, for enhancing so starkly and so gently our knowledge of ourselves, of our history and society, its ethics, aspirations, the sheer mechanics and...