How The Lonely Londoners extends the novel’s language

By integrating Caribbean dialect into his narrative, Sam Selvon takes the English novel a step beyond even Dickens

The Lonely Londoners is a milestone in English literature. Or at least, it is if we are to believe its author Sam Selvon. He wrote in an essay in 1973:

I think I can say without a trace of modesty that I was the first Caribbean writer to explore and employ dialect in a full-length novel where it was used in both narrative and dialogue.

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Not the Booker prize 2018: Rebecca Ley wins with Sweet Fruit, Sour Land

The judges have overturned the public vote and awarded the 2018 prize to Rebecca Ley’s post-apocalyptic vision

Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley is the winner of the 2018 Not The Booker Prize.

Our three judges have taken the brave decision to overrule the public vote and put their weight behind this dark dystopian novel in the place of Ariel Kahn’s optimistic and gentle Raising Sparks.

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Booker judges shouldn’t blame editors for overlong novels

Authors take the credit when their books win prizes, and it should be admitted that they are also responsible for their failings

Every year, there is a controversy at the Man Booker prize; this year, it is all about the work of editors. Or rather, the supposed lack of work that editors are doing.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges, implicitly blamed editors for the poor quality of some of this year’s submissions while announcing the 2018 shortlist: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one, sometimes a thinner one, wildly signalling to be let out.” Fellow judge Val McDermid went further by suggesting modern editors don’t know what they’re doing. “I think,” she said, “young editors coming through are not necessarily getting the kind of training and experience-building apprenticeship that happened when I was starting out.”

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Reading group: The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon is our book for October

Published in 1956, the Trinidadian author’s vision of the UK’s capital is fresher than ever

Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners has come out of the hat and will be our book for this month’s Reading Group.

This novel was the overwhelmingly popular choice last week, when we were nominating titles to celebrate the Windrush generation. “It’s wonderful and sometimes uplifting,” explained commenter Fourpaws, “but at its core is the relentless prejudice and racism that greets [Windrush immigrants] at every turn.”

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Not the Booker prize: vote now for the 2018 winner

It’s been a fine competition, and the panel are readying their verdicts. But your choices will be decisive. You have just under a week to pick a favourite

It’s time to decide the winner of the 2018 Not the Booker prize. Almost. Before we get to the exciting business of taking votes, we need a quick recap of the rules and events so far in the competition.

Here are those terms and conditions, and as for the “so far”, it’s been another fine year. The six books in contention are:

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Reading group: what should we read to celebrate the Windrush generation?

This month, we’re looking for books by and about the postwar Caribbean immigrants to the UK and their descendants – what will you choose?

This month on the reading group, we want to celebrate the Windrush generation. This was a reader suggestion – and it’s a fine one.

Now is a very good time to acknowledge the debt we owe to this essential part of UK community, and the many fine things the Caribbean diaspora has brought the world, enriching both literary culture and our daily lives.

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Not the Booker: Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash review – curiously impressive

This fiendishly complicated story is made even tougher by its tricksy prose, but it’s not hard to admire its daring

Hold tight. Because I’m now going to try to explain what I think is happening in Three Dreams in the Key of G. As the title hints, there are three narrative strands, although they are not particularly dreamy. The first contains the journal entries of Jean Ome, a mother of two children living in Ulster and married to a man who has connections to violent Protestant paramilitaries. These journal entries have been written infrequently and with no definite purpose by an intelligent and frustrated woman trapped by circumstances who is prone to prolixity. Just to make things extra difficult, they have all been muddled up and are presented out of order.

The second strand is made up of internet messages from ...

Not the Booker: Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash review – curiously impressive

This fiendishly complicated story is made even tougher by its tricksy prose, but it’s not hard to admire its daring

Hold tight. Because I’m now going to try to explain what I think is happening in Three Dreams in the Key of G. As the title hints, there are three narrative strands, although they are not particularly dreamy. The first contains the journal entries of Jean Ome, a mother of two children living in Ulster and married to a man who has connections to violent Protestant paramilitaries. These journal entries have been written infrequently and with no definite purpose by an intelligent and frustrated woman trapped by circumstances who is prone to prolixity. Just to make things extra difficult, they have all been muddled up and are presented out of order.

The second strand is made up of internet messages from ...

Not the Booker: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan review – thriller lost in plot

Opening with a powerful, sensitively drawn portrait of two bereaved children, this book’s drama soon becomes mechanical

Dervla McTiernan’s path to publication has been unusually smooth. That’s not the same as easy. She clearly had to put in plenty of hard yards, writing at nights after finishing up at her day job and putting her children to bed. But still. She says she started writing in earnest in 2014, having given herself five years to make a go of it – but that within just two years (by early December 2016) she found herself the subject of publishing auction and signed up for a two-book deal.

“It helped,” she has said, “that I had a story, or at least the beginning of one. It was a single image, really. A girl, 15-year-old Maude Blake, sits on the stairs in a ...

How Chaucer weaves high-minded poetry with low comedy

The Canterbury Tales manage to combine the most solemn chivalric concerns and bright lyric poetry with bawdy gags about bums and red hot pokers

The thing that most people know about The Canterbury Tales is that it’s full of good old-fashioned filth. The storytellers may be on a religious pilgrimage, but they’re just as interested in matters earthy as they are celestial things. For every religious reference, there’s a bum joke; scatology always follows eschatology.

The Knight’s Tale is a case in point. It is a story full of high-minded sacrifice, courtly love, complex delineations of rank and honour, and examples of chivalry in action. It’s set in an Athens ruled over by the legendary Theseus, but the account of Palamon and Arcite and their rivalry for the love of the “fair” Emily doesn’t feel particularly classical. If you wanted an archetypal story from the days of olde when knights ...

Not the Booker: Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley review – post-apocalyptic confusion

Political incompetence and male entitlement speak to our times, but it’s not enough to make up for an obscure setting and laboured prose

There’s no faulting the timeliness of Sweet Fruit, Sour Land. It’s set in a Britain destroyed by famine and shortages of material goods. The leader of the country is a woman who churns out meaningless slogans but achieves nothing. The men beneath her – judging by a minister we meet called George – are deceitful, selfish, violent abusers of truth and seducers of women. You don’t need me to draw the parallels.

Rebecca Ley’s novel is given urgency by the mess of Brexit and revelations of #MeToo – but it isn’t a straightforward future projection of our current problems. The prime minister turns out to be some kind of socialist who says she has nationalised power supplies and ...

The Canterbury Tales: Chaucer’s ‘plein speke’ is a raucous read

Newcomers to the Canterbury Tales may expect piety – but this trip with Chaucer’s motley crew is more like a blowout in Magaluf

The opening lines of the Canterbury Tales are among the most famous in English literature, but they are also far from the easiest to say out loud. It isn’t just that you’ve got to have some idea how to pronounce the Middle English (here’s a valiant attempt), it’s also that Chaucer kicks things off with a breathtaking 18-line sentence:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen ...

Not the Booker: Raising Sparks by Ariel Kahn review – coincidence unbound

Any reader will need to be spiritually inclined to love this interesting, tender-hearted novel

Late on in Raising Sparks, the thoughtful lead Malka considers the idea that “there is no such thing as a coincidence”. It’s an interesting point to raise 250 pages into a story that’s kicked into action by a moment of pure happenstance – and subsequently booted along by fortuity after fortuity.

Ariel Kahn’s story begins when Malka follows a cat into a house in her native Jerusalem that turns out to have been the former home of Reb Zushya, an expert on Kabbalahwho conducted a rite with Malka’s own parents in order to help them conceive their children. Following the cat further in, she finds it is now the home of a young man called Moshe, a pupil in Malka’s father’s yeshiva who is madly in love ...

The Canterbury Tales is our reading group book for September

A big one this month – Chaucer’s 14th-century masterpiece. Please join me for a long but much revered pilgrimage

The Canterbury Tales has come out of the hat and will be the reading group choice for September. First off: don’t be alarmed! I admit that my initial thoughts could be roughly translated into Middle English as “develes ers” – but the more I think about it, the more I like this challenge. I’ve overcome my initial disappointment that I was going to have to tackle a massive slab of foundational literature instead of sinking into a light holiday read. Now I think it’s going to be a blast as well as an opportunity to experience an important cultural milestone.

You don’t need me to tell you that it doesn’t get much bigger than Chaucer: a poet who didn’t just inspire everyone who came after him, but who also ...

Not the Booker: Dark Pines by Will Dean review – icy thriller does the job

The body and cliche count clock up in a tiny Swedish town – but a complex protagonist elevates this debut above other Nordic noir

This second novel on our Not the Booker 2018 shortlist is about a serial killer in rural Scandinavia. If you’re like me, that knowledge may make you feel slightly cynical. I’ve no way of verifying this, but I have a hunch that, in the decade or so since Stieg Larsson popularised Nordic noir, more people have been murdered in novels about Sweden than in the whole history of that famously safe country.

With dozens of post-Larsson Nordic noir novels out (and even a couple post-Larsson-Larsson novels out), the cliches of the genre are becoming tedious. At first glance, Dark Pines doesn’t escape them. There’s blood, snow, long dark nights, deep empty forests, people with wholesome exteriors covering ...

Reading group: which novel set on holiday should we read this month?

Whether we’re being taken on vacation by Ernest Hemingway or Esther Freud, this month’s reading is likely to be melancholy, hedonistic or both

This month, the Reading group is asking for recommendations about vacations. Summer’s on the wane in the UK, but that simply makes me want to cling to the last vestiges of sunshine, take one more dip in the sea and feel the warm glow on my skin before the cold sets in. And read or reread summer classics.

Choosing reading material so late in the season works for me because so many of my favourite books about holidays are infused with the melancholy of passing time and deal with pleasures that feel all the brighter because they are brief. In fact, it is often better to read these books at home rather than on the beach, in case they leave you feeling painfully mortal (Thomas Mann’s Death ...

An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans review – shocking Dutch classic

In this brutal novella set amid the bloody churn of the second world war, a partisan finds himself living alongside Nazis


It won’t surprise anyone who reads this remarkable Dutch novella, set among the bloody churn of partisans, Russians and retreating German forces towards the end of the second world war, that it has long been regarded as a classic in the Netherlands. In a sharp new translation, the first standalone English-language edition arrives more than half a century after the book first appeared in Dutch.

But be glad that it has finally emerged. It remains a shocking read, even if you have to imagine the impact it must have had when it was published in its home country in 1951, exploding the prevailing postwar discourse of brave resistance to the Nazi occupation with a story of selfish opportunism and amoral nihilism.

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Not the Booker: Sealed by Naomi Booth review – a promising debut

This pre-apocalyptic novel about a condition that seals people in their own skin is tense and admirably gory – but occasionally clunky

The world is becoming unbearably hot. The authorities are detaining people in camps. The companies that run the camps are more interested in profit than the people in their care, and inmates are treated with casual brutality. The government lurches between incompetence and mendaciousness, and can only be relied on to lie about its own mistakes.

Naomi Booth’s pre-apocalyptic debut Sealed has been reviewed as science fiction, but there are enough real-world parallels to make it a bracing, discomforting read – especially after the fiery, crazy summer of 2018. The elements of speculative fiction, meanwhile, are given an interesting edge because they are shown through the eyes of a woman who is heavily pregnant – and hugely paranoid.

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‘The MacGuffinest MacGuffin of them all’: what do you think of The Moonstone’s ending?

We’re in spoiler territory here – but Wilkie Collins’ bizarre grand finale is both ludicrous and wonderful

As we come to the end of The Moonstone, we must ask a very important question: what the hell?

Here – and this is spoiler territory, so please go and enjoy the end of the novel for yourself before reading the following paragraphs – is how things conclude.

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How Wilkie Collins found sensation in ordinary life

The Moonstone certainly has elements of breathless storytelling, but some of its thrills derive from the precision of its down-to-earth details

In 1871, Thomas Hardy approvingly described “the sensation novel” as a “long and intricately inwrought chain of circumstance” that involved “murder, blackmail, illegitimacy, impersonation, eavesdropping, multiple secrets, a suggestion of bigamy, amateur and professional detectives”. Give or take a bit of illegitimacy, this could be a direct description of The Moonstone.

Except that’s only half the story. It is not just strange events that make The Moonstone so compelling: Wilkie Collins wrote just as well about the everyday world as he did about the extraordinary. In his famous attack on sensation novels in the Quarterly Review, HL Mansel inadvertently explained the appeal of this thrilling realism:

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