A story about two families in Sheffield – one white English; the other from Bangladesh – meanders through the decades
Like his Man Booker-shortlisted 2008 novel The Northern Clemency, Philip Hensher’s new book is set in Sheffield and describes the lives of two families over recent decades. And like his semi-biographical Scenes from Early Life, it includes many descriptions of the 1971 war of liberation in Bangladesh. While the Spinster family is white and English, like Hensher’s own, their neighbours the Sharifullahs are, like his husband, from Dhaka.
In keeping with Hensher’s recent output, the novel is an ample work: 624 dense pages are stuffed with an immense cast of characters. There are lengthy journeys by train and car, many very detailed meals, and buckets of chat. The setting is bulked out with quantities of period detail – Hensher is especially good on interior design, and snacks – ...
Barnes deftly explores time and memory in his latest novel, about an older man recalling the romance that defined his life
Like his Man Booker-winning 2011 novel The Sense of an Ending, and indeed his 2008 memoir Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Julian Barnes’s latest novel is narrated by an older man puzzling over the meaning of existence. All three speakers share a 1950s childhood in the “Metroland” of Barnes’s debut novel, and a promising, if anxious, academic 60s youth that took them away from their suburban families. Each also has a similarly melancholy, intimate tone, a fine line in rhythmic, elegant, understated prose, and plenty to say about time, love and the slippery nature of memory.
Our new hero, Paul, places himself nearer the truth-telling memoirist Barnes than his fictional predecessor, the fascinatingly unreliable Tony Webster in The Sense of an Ending. Paul begins, as if ...
Marriage, loss and meeting Thomas Mann … these stories are rich in autobiographical insights, but Sontag lacks the craft to carry them off
In her essays, Susan Sontag spoke with one of the great, sure voices of the last century. From her salon at the centre of the cosmopolis, marvellously at one with her books and her learning, she considered, renamed and renewed our relationship with camp, with photography, with illness: a living legend of braininess and cool.
Sontag, was not, though, as her editor Benjamin Taylor admits in the introduction to this gathering of stories from across her career, a committed short-story writer. She turned to the form in order to evade what Chekhov called “autobiographophobia”, which Taylor uses to mean the fear of writing and reflecting directly about one’s life. Evading this fear, Sontag clearly found the name “stories” very helpful: half of them are pure autobiography. “Pilgrimage”, ...
Poet and translator who introduced new audiences to leading poets from around the world
Sarah Maguire, who has died aged 60 from breast cancer, was for 25 years a vital presence in British poetry as a poet and translator. Her three collections of poetry, Spilt Milk (1991), The Invisible Mender (1997) and The Pomegranates of Kandahar (2007), laid out new poetic ground in their concerns with nature, growth and the body. In 2004 Sarah founded the Poetry Translation Centre at London University, which aims to introduce new audiences to leading poets from around the world.
The PTC emerged from workshops she inaugurated during a Royal Literary Fund residency at Soas between 2001 and 2003. The centre extended Sarah’s personal practice of pairing a poet and linguist and bringing a poem into satisfying English, to many others: the PTC has now translated poets from South Korea to Somaliland, with the involvement ...
The Booker-shortlisted author interrogates sexuality, motherhood and our animal nature in stories that range from SF dystopias to tales of metamorphosisThe opening story of Sarah Hall’s new collection, Madame Zero
, won the BBC National Short Story award
. It’s called “Mrs Fox”, and in it, a young married woman undergoes a transformation. This may sound soothingly familiar: after all, David Garnett’s story “Lady into Fox” follows the same theme and was made into a film and a ballet; and then there are Colette and her cats, and Manga fox-spirits, and we’ve all heard the term foxy lady.
But Hall’s lady doesn’t turn into any of those anthropomorphic creatures. She isn’t a piquet-playing, clothes-wearing fox, nor a ladylike, balletic fox: she is an actual fox, the light, alert animal, spotlit in Hall’s precise imagery. “At his feet she sits with her tail rearing. Exceptional, winged ears. Eyes like the spectrum of ...
This retelling of the tragedy of the house of Atreus is magnificently dramatic, but loses its way in Orestes’ wanderingsOne of the reasons Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn
and Nora Webster
are such loved novels is that they give mythic grace to ordinary women’s lives. Restrained, restricted and undervalued, his Eilis and Nora are recognisable to many readers as our mothers and grandmothers; and their decisions – to emigrate, to work, to marry, to buy a gramophone – as the stuff of our family legends. Tóibín’s tender, intense attention fills these acts with the weight and difficulty they originally carried, and the heroic significance we feel they deserve, just as his spacious, clean prose clothes the streets of our childhood in Olympian light. His 11th novel reverses the process. Rather than turning human-sized stories into myths, Tóibín sets out to humanise the myths of the house of Atreus: of Agamemnon and ...
From the glamour of Glyndebourne to murder in Greece – a woman’s intriguing quest to find the husband who divorced her
Katie Kitamura’s first novel, The Longshot
, was set in the closed, masculine universe of martial arts, while her second, Gone to the Forest
, was a fable of destruction set in an allegorical, unnamed country. This third novel also takes place in an attenuated world stiff with custom: that of the English upper classes and their sorrowful literary offspring.
Here, everyone lives in the same neighbourhood, attends Glyndebourne and a round of dinner parties, and there are neither politics nor bills. Jobs have atrophied – publishers commission books with no deadlines – and so have gender roles. Our narrator accepts that a mother with three children is ipso facto “always in need of help and companionship”; that men only “achieve a little privacy [on] the shores of ...