"I’ve always written short stories, I’ve always been interested in the form being dictated by the concept, rather than the other way round." Jon McGregor
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...
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,...
Jon McGregor: The long and short of it

Jon McGregor: The long and short of it

Although it begins with the disappearance of a young girl while holidaying with her family in a Peak District village, Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 deliberately fails to resolve whatever accident or crime may have occurred, and instead explores how such an event lives on in the collective memory of a...
Russian Revolution: Hope, tragedy, myths

Russian Revolution: Hope, tragedy, myths

Marking the 100th anniversary of the world-changing events of 1917, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, shines new light on the experiences of ordinary Russians living through extraordinary times, as well as the life and times of key figures from Lenin to the Romanovs. It tells the story of the Revolution...
Civil rights and wrongs

Civil rights and wrongs

When James Baldwin died in 1987, he left behind 30 pages of letters titled Notes Toward Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript about the lives and deaths of three of his friends – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. – civil rights activists, all of whom were...
A positive betrayal

A positive betrayal

“On one hand it’s a psychological thriller, so people read it fairly quickly. On the other hand, it’s a novel that withholds things from you,” says Julian Barnes of his Man Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending. In the thoughtfully crafted new film version, that withholding remains vital to...
Poets, pedants and survivors

Poets, pedants and survivors

Masterful reworkings of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, Maylis de Kerangal’s Mend the Living, and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith transposed to Korea head another bright batch of literary adaptations and biopics opening in UK cinemas in April. Here’s a selection to keep you dazzled in the dark at your...
The wisdom of parrots

The wisdom of parrots

Govind Puri, in south Delhi, is home to the modestly aspirational. People move through its alleys with a sense of purpose. Young men press by on motorbikes; screechy horns announce their arrival. Acrid fumes linger. Uniformed children bustle past. Houses are neat but ramshackle, their ceilings low. In the tiny,...
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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...
Pioneers Awake!

Pioneers Awake!

The Director had been pulling strings to get his nephews Mfoumbou Ngoulmoumako, Bissoulou Ngoulmoumako and Dongo-Dongo Ngoulmoumako onto an ideological training course in Pointe-Noire so they could later become section leaders of the National Movement of Pioneers for our orphanage. They still remained under the control of their paternal uncle and particularly under that of...
On borrowed ground

On borrowed ground

It is fair to say that the ancient Greeks gave to the literary imagination some of the greatest female characters, that they created, even, the very genre of a female protagonist. In a world presumed to be dominated by men, male thought and undeniably masculine politics, it is women who often offer the starkest, most...
Internet dating for immortals

Internet dating for immortals

George sat on the park bench, holding his head in his hands. He’d already turned away a couple of concerned passers-by, assuring them, between sobs, that he would be all right. And he would, he knew. Experience told him that. But it didn’t make it any easier. It was always tough saying goodbye. It hadn’t...
Seduced by utopia

Seduced by utopia

“Now do tell me – what does it feel like to wake in the morning on a Tuscan farm?” Virginia Woolf asked a much younger Iris Origo in 1935. Invited to stay for tea at the Tavistock Square flat above the Hogarth Press, Origo, we may assume, obliged with a beautifully eloquent answer – after...
A memory of memory

A memory of memory

Memory is our own unreliable narrator. It forgets things that matter and recalls other events that never happened. It can slip away like receding mist or haunt us in a perennial nightmare. To the extent that they track selves through time, all novels are about memory. But some are more concerned with the notion than...
For Hekate

For Hekate

She wakes to the sound of axes. All through the forest around her, sharp over the howling of the wind. The sunshunted by sea-blown spray. Hekate unceasing, and the wind still hot, with no cloud, air warped and darkened. Her grandfather struggling to rise higher. The Minyae building on the shore, wearing very little and...
Land of the bens and the glens

Land of the bens and the glens

The Scottish clan that I belong to – or would belong to if it were now anything more than a sentimental myth – was broken a great many generations ago by a party of MacDonalds, who hunted down the last chief of my clan, captured him, refused him mercy, saying that a man who had...
I, Octavio

I, Octavio

The day I finished my degree in modern literature at the Sorbonne in May 2010, I was called before a board of examiners to present my dissertation on the ‘engaged literature’ of the interwar period. After I had spoken for three hours, I was awarded my MA. I went off to celebrate with friends from...
Pennyfeather is sent down

Pennyfeather is sent down

Evelyn Waugh’s sparkling college satire Decline and Fall has been made into a three-part BBC One series starring Jack Whitehall, David Suchet and Eva Longoria, adapted by James Wood. As Penguin Classics publishes a special tie-in edition, we’re delighted to present an extract from the beginning of the book to remind readers why it’s remained...