"In my experience of writing – and of life – the frenzy of dreams and that of form always go together." Iosi Havilio
A bear in a million

A bear in a million

The varying merits of the UK’s early November film releases appear to be in direct proportion to the protagonists’ face-fuzz. Much was made in advance of Kenneth Brannagh’s reimagining of Hercule Poirot’s ‘magnificent moustaches’ in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox, 3...
Magritte: This is not a biography

Magritte: This is not a biography

Intoxicated by the prospect of a promotion, Charles Singulier allows himself a small extravagance: he buys a bowler hat. But unbeknownst to him, this particular hat was once the property of the great Surrealist René Magritte – and by donning it, he is transported into the artist’s off-kilter world. What’s...
Lilja Sigurðardóttir: Caught in a trap

Lilja Sigurðardóttir: Caught in a trap

Iceland is a country that has loomed large in my imagination since I was a young child. My father was stationed on a United States military outpost near Reykjavík in the mid-sixties. Heavily pregnant and unable to return to Pakistan to be with her parents, my mother and older brother...
Laughter in the dark

Laughter in the dark

One of the memories I most treasure about In the Loop, writer-director Armando Iannucci’s previous big-screen outing, is the moment when Alastair Campbell sat down to view the film with critic Mark Kermode. As Tony Blair’s ex-spin-doctor, Campbell was understandably tetchy at being compared to onscreen fixer Malcolm Tucker, a...
Harry Potter: A history of magic

Harry Potter: A history of magic

Marking the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this major exhibition delves into centuries-old British Library treasures and surprising artefacts from other cultural institutions in a celebration of all things magical. Rare books, manuscripts and objects capturing the traditions of magic and folklore around...
Lina Meruane: Blood in the eye

Lina Meruane: Blood in the eye

When she was a PhD student at NYU, Chilean author Lina Meruane was temporarily struck blind as her eyes haemorrhaged and blood flooded her vision. Her semi-autobiographical novel Seeing Red, set in contrastingly chaotic New York and Santiago, spins off from that episode in a searing examination of illness and...
Taking an interest in the meerschaum tram

Taking an interest in the meerschaum tram

Once, when Moomintroll was quite small, his father got a cold at the very hottest time of summer. Moominpappa refused to drink warm milk with onion juice and sugar, and he refused to go to bed. He sat in the garden hammock blowing his nose and saying his cigars had...
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A happy nation

A happy nation

I don’t believe this is an emergency for Great Britain, officer. It’s just a crisis, you know, a little crisis. See, in an emergency, you call the ambulance. You call the police. But a political crisis is different. It’s just an inconvenience. So you can relax, really. Fully. Entirely. Relax. You can even fall sleep....
Boy wanderer

Boy wanderer

One of the most intense pleasures that can overcome any translator is the joy you feel when you take a book you’ve been hungering after for decades and run it through the mill of your imagination. That was my good fortune with The Evenings by Gerard Reve. Written back in 1947 and first published in...
Stilted life

Stilted life

Our times belong, in many ways, in an eerie brotherhood with moments in human history from almost half a millennium earlier: in our audacity, curiosity, enterprise, demographic explosion and multi-ethnic convergence, in the vibrancy (dark or light) of our questioning of what it means to be human, to belong to society, to progress and to...
Graphic science

Graphic science

Much is known about scientists such as Darwin, Newton, and Einstein, but what about lesser-known heroes who have not achieved a high level of fame, but who have contributed greatly to human knowledge? What were their lives like? What were their struggles, aims, successes and failures? How do their discoveries fit into the bigger picture...
In the zone

In the zone

In early 1947, the time in which The Ashes of Berlin is set, the Second World War had been over nearly two years. Although the guns had fallen silent, the war’s effects lingered on, and the peace had thrown up problems all its own. The main character of the novel, Inspector Gregor Reinhardt, returns to...
“Don’t kill me, I beg you. This is my tree.”

“Don’t kill me, I beg you. This is my tree.”

He woke up and , before the last vestiges of the nightmare faded, made up his mind. He’d take him out to the forest and finish the matter off. Fifteen years ago, before he’d shot him, he’d heard him say, “Don’t kill me, I beg you. This is my tree.” Those words had stayed with...
Claire Messud: Craft and fusion

Claire Messud: Craft and fusion

I meet Claire Messud at the London Review Bookshop one sodden evening in September when she is London to promote her latest novel, The Burning Girl. Her normal speaking voice is gentle anyway, but tonight she is speaking particularly softly so as not to disturb book browsers in the shop’s basement. I’m conscious we don’t...
Lamentation

Lamentation

This son has become so light, wasted away literally to skin and bones, his legs thin as sticks, so light that his mother can hold up his torso effortlessly on the flat of her hand. Her fingers unnaturally long, she could embrace his hips with her two hands. But is she his mother? If my...
Never happier

Never happier

When I first came across Jia Pingwa’s Gaoxing (高兴: Happy) in 2007, I felt an immediate empathy with this handful of migrant workers collecting the trash of a sprawling Chinese metropolis, and being treated like trash too. In the novel, now published as Happy Dreams, Happy Liu and his fellow villager Wufu arrive in Xi’an...
It must be love

It must be love

I sat Yichun on a park bench while I hunkered down to crack the walnuts with a stone. Her face was the same color as the flowers nearby, and I went into a sort of trance as I bashed away. One must have had a mind of its own because, after I struck it, it...