"In my experience of writing – and of life – the frenzy of dreams and that of form always go together." Iosi Havilio
Kate Murray-Browne: Buyer beware!

Kate Murray-Browne: Buyer beware!

Kate Murray-Browne’s brilliantly suspenseful first novel The Upstairs Room has been described as a ‘property horror story’. Eleanor and Richard, an editor and lawyer respectively, move into a large four-bedroom house in East London with their two small daughters. The house is at the upper limit of what they can...
The first bride

The first bride

They went crazy for weddings after the war. All weekend long, the shooting of impotent bullets into the air, the aggravating honking of horns and the incessant drone of the traditional Albanian music. As if they were so glad to be alive that they wanted everyone from Podujevo to Pristina...
Iosi Havilio: Getting away with it

Iosi Havilio: Getting away with it

Iosi Havilio’s Petite Fleur is a virtuoso meditation on life, death, depression, anxiety, temptation, recovery and miraculous resurrection. Narrator José is down in the dumps when his job at a fireworks factory goes up in flames, but as the gloom lifts he gains an unexpected talent for guilt-free murder. Establishing...
Suspicious country

Suspicious country

Right after the diagnosis, I find it nearly impossible to read. I can’t think clearly, and I don’t have the patience for the development of other people’s ideas and images. “Yeah, I had that, too,” my mom says when I mention it to her. “I did a lot of staring...
In the shadow of Poe

In the shadow of Poe

It’s commonplace to credit Edgar Allan Poe with inventing the modern mystery story with his trio of tales featuring the Parisian detective C. August Dupin. Poe’s innovation explains why to this very day the annual awards given by the Mystery Writers Association are called the Edgars. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle...
Diksha Basu: On the money

Diksha Basu: On the money

Diksha Basu’s debut novel The Windfall is a highly entertaining Indian comedy of manners. Family, friendship, identity, romance, a Swarovski-embellished sofa, worthless sons and insecurity in all its forms make up this sharp comic tale. The Jha family are new millionaires, thanks to the sale of Mr Jha’s internet start-up...
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The malediction of Minerva

The malediction of Minerva

The story of the passionate last affair in Lord Byron’s life, a culminating point for many of his erratic, errant motion through truth and illusion, has always held a particular fascination for scholars; it has caused vocal perplexity to his admirers and deep-felt sighs of ‘if only’ to the many women (and men) who loved...
Disquiet revisited

Disquiet revisited

Fernando Pessoa’s life divides neatly into three periods. In a letter to the British Journal of Astrology dated 8 February 1918, he wrote that there were only two dates he remembered with absolute precision: 13 July 1893, the date of his father’s death from TB when Pessoa was only five; and 30 December 1895, the...
What's in a picture

What’s in a picture

I don’t remember where I first saw the photograph, but I do remember what I saw: A man standing on a box wearing nothing but a blanket. A bag over his head. Arms stretched out from his sides. Wires attached to his body. … To look at a photograph of someone after that person has...
Message in two suitcases

Message in two suitcases

There is an old Urdu/Hindi word that would suit well this explosively funny, irresistible, and profoundly tragic human comedy: lifafa/lifaafaa, a term that can mean a bag, an envelope, a wrapper or a cover, anything frail, or an outward show. Mama Tandoori is all of these and indeed much more, a surging personal narrative and...
The Leica way

The Leica way

In his previous book, Norwegian Wood (MacLehose Press, 2015), Lars Mytting composed an elegy to trees – not only as an elemental form of life, as symbols, and as the other, vital half of the animate cosmos, but also in their immutable relation to man. Norwegian Wood is about the transcendental materiality of timber, logs,...
A biblical paradise

A biblical paradise

An impish dog playing tricks on his mistress brings about a meeting that will change the life of a monarch. Or so goes the story in Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, where a corgi-chasing Elizabeth II runs into a travelling library. The rest is a journey into a world of enchantment, discipline, determination, revelation. What...
Curious about curiosity

Curious about curiosity

Adventurous forgetting is common with scholars. The urge to move beyond the page estranges us from the work. We chase the next illuminating ‘maybe’, losing sight of the words we began with. The problem is not iconoclastic interpretation; not disorienting or disturbing responses – this is all the stuff of creative reading. “There is a...
Elegy in E minor

Elegy in E minor

Of a summer in Spain, where she is vacationing as a university student, M.A. will mostly recall “the portraits of Franco; you thought that was just his first name and you were surprised everyone was on such familiar terms with a head of state.” It is this subtle blend of French phlegm, disingenuously simulated naiveté...
Going it alone

Going it alone

What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘single mother’? Despite the passage of time, the opening of minds and general social progression, the term still comes loaded with negative connotations. Around a quarter of UK families are headed by a lone parent, and 90% of them are women. If some headlines are to...
Every way out

Every way out

The shortlist for the 2017 Polari First Book Prize, announced at the Polari Literary Salon at London’s Southbank Centre on 31 July, brings together an eclectic and provocative range of fiction and non-fiction from Cardiff to Kuwait and beyond that throws light on the LGBT experience from surprising angles. Now in its seventh year, the...