"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
January 2021
Behind the mask

Behind the mask

There’s a movie I love called The Red Violin, by Canadian filmmaker François Girard. I was in university when it came out in 1998, and watched it in one of those old theatres where the seats were upholstered in rough velour, the tickets were cheap and the popcorn stale. The Red Violin, if you’re not...
Wise parables and meaningful tales

Wise parables and meaningful tales

Specific leitmotifs dominate any attempt to weave together a narrative of the history of Romania and Hungary during the Second World War: the complex, troubled, vital historical background of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and the emergent territorial claims of the Soviet Union; the cultural, ethnic and demographic tessellation of the region; the inalienable plexus...
The secret mission

The secret mission

In the few days that had elapsed since the ghetto was set up in the little Carpathian town of Ostrov, the Jewish Council, the so-called Judenrat, had succeeded in being neither good nor bad, but rather in being wholly naïve. Appointed chairman of the council, Mr Faivel Fischknopf was an elderly Jew with a little...
The lives of others

The lives of others

I was expecting more from Sea State by Tabitha Lasley (Fourth Estate, 4 February). I wanted to get a real insight into the lives of an offshore platform in the North Sea, but instead this book was more about the messy life of a 30-something writer who was running away from herself and trying to...
Who makes history happen?

Who makes history happen?

Imagine a perfect (imperfect), remote and rural, Volkisch German landscape: replete with lush meadows and muddy, green pastures, well-ordered small villages abuzz with their perennial hierarchies of landed gentry, newly rich bourgeois grandees, the teachers and clergy, the pure and echt common Volk of farmers and housewives, the idle, reminiscing elderly, the burgeoning young. A...
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 all about her trials and...
A Pox on this Plague!

A Pox on this Plague!

It’s 1349 in the Season of the Plague. The Black Death is scorching its path through England, leaving half the population dead in its wake. Folk suppose it’s a lethal miasma of foul airs. Or maybe it’s God’s punishment for human corruption. Or perhaps vagrants and money-lenders have been poisoning the wells. Medicine doesn’t help....
Fiction at work

Fiction at work

‘Workplace’ is a vague, literal term. It’s too broad to conjure an image, though it might summon a feeling. (For some: not here again, for others: here we go!). Nowadays my workplace is also my dinner table, the place where I wrapped Christmas presents I’m yet to give. But old, paused office life was fertile,...
Gints Zilbalodis: Doing it all

Gints Zilbalodis: Doing it all

Latvian prodigy Gints Zilbalodis’ critically acclaimed debut animated feature Away is a stunning, dialogue-free film about a boy travelling across an island on a motorcycle, trying to escape a dark spirit and return home. Along the way, he makes a series of connections with different animals and reflects on how he may have ended up...
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 Obama, who named it one...