The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor review – a new light on Reservoir 13

The Costa award-winner returns to the scenes of his success with a collection of linked stories

Last April, when his Costa award-winning novel Reservoir 13 was published, Jon McGregor gave an interview in which he took polite issue with the praise heaped on him throughout his career for writing about “ordinary” lives. “It’s quite an othering statement,” he said. “My take is that nobody is ordinary to themselves. Everyone’s life story is interesting, complicated and nuanced.”

As a position, it’s irrefutable – but to me it seemed to undercut McGregor’s formal experiment. Despite Reservoir 13’s classic crime-fiction set-up (it opens with the New Year’s Eve disappearance of a 13-year-old girl), the book soon reveals itself to be the chronicle of a community, in which the lives of the inhabitants are merely threads in the wider warp and weft of village life. The novel is delivered almost entirely in ...

21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox review – rich and glorious rural brew

Cats, scarecrows and Devon are just a few of the ingredients in this melange of nature writing, memoir and more

Tom Cox’s latest foray into non-fiction is, he tells us, “the result of my stubborn conviction that something that a lot of people told me wouldn’t be ‘marketable’ enough to work would be a much better book than the marketable stuff they recommended that I did instead”. He was right – but spare a thought, if you can, for the publishing types to whom he’s referring. Consider the thing from their side: in an industry where the first essential of marketing consists of being able to distil your author’s work into a pitch of a single sentence, Cox’s book presents a formidable challenge. Although superficially it shares characteristics with the nature writing-cum-memoir subgenre that’s been giving the medical writing-cum-memoir subgenre a run for its money in recent years, it quickly ...

21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox review – rich and glorious rural brew

Cats, scarecrows and Devon are just a few of the ingredients in this melange of nature writing, memoir and more

Tom Cox’s latest foray into non-fiction is, he tells us, “the result of my stubborn conviction that something that a lot of people told me wouldn’t be ‘marketable’ enough to work would be a much better book than the marketable stuff they recommended that I did instead”. He was right – but spare a thought, if you can, for the publishing types to whom he’s referring. Consider the thing from their side: in an industry where the first essential of marketing consists of being able to distil your author’s work into a pitch of a single sentence, Cox’s book presents a formidable challenge. Although superficially it shares characteristics with the nature writing-cum-memoir subgenre that’s been giving the medical writing-cum-memoir subgenre a run for its money in recent years, it quickly ...

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng review – hidden passions

A burning house sparks tensions within an all-too-perfect suburban community in a story exploring race, identity and family secrets

Is it possible to plan a community; to construct it from scratch, instil it with virtues and benefits, and order it to your satisfaction? The founders of Shaker Heights, Ohio, certainly thought so: in 1905, railroad magnates the Van Sweringen brothers picked a wide place in the road and set about developing one of the United States’ first garden cities. Their intention was to create a suburban retreat, connected to the industrial powerhouse of nearby Cleveland but insulated from its fug and bustle: a place built on notions of harmony and cooperation, with rules regulating every aspect of communal life, down to the colours you could paint your house (“slate blue, moss green, or a certain shade of tan”) and how high (“six inches”) your lawn was permitted to grow.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng review – hidden passions

A burning house sparks tensions within an all-too-perfect suburban community in a story exploring race, identity and family secrets

Is it possible to plan a community; to construct it from scratch, instil it with virtues and benefits, and order it to your satisfaction? The founders of Shaker Heights, Ohio, certainly thought so: in 1905, railroad magnates the Van Sweringen brothers picked a wide place in the road and set about developing one of the United States’ first garden cities. Their intention was to create a suburban retreat, connected to the industrial powerhouse of nearby Cleveland but insulated from its fug and bustle: a place built on notions of harmony and cooperation, with rules regulating every aspect of communal life, down to the colours you could paint your house (“slate blue, moss green, or a certain shade of tan”) and how high (“six inches”) your lawn was permitted to grow.

...

Little Labours by Rivka Galchen review – when a baby is like a puma

The Canadian-American writer has produced a fragmentary set of observations about new motherhood that lodges in the memoryOne of the most conspicuous things about the novelist and short story writer Rivka Galchen’s collection of essays on new motherhood is how clearly resistant she was to the writing of it. She “didn’t want to write about” her baby, she says, a few pages in. “Mostly because I had never been interested in babies, or mothers; in fact, those subjects had seemed perfectly not interesting to me.” Post-birth, however, she is unexpectedly ambushed by her own preoccupation; she finds herself “in the position (now interested in babies) of those political figures who come to insights others had reached decades ago only after their personal lives intersected with an ‘issue’, like, say, Dick Cheney, with his daughter who married a woman.” This is not, we are to understand, a ...

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes review – an Oedipus myth for the 21st century

Sidelined by Sophocles, two women find their voice in this reimagining of his three plays Natalie Haynes has found success in the fields of journalism, broadcasting, children’s fiction and comedy – but she is a classicist by training, and it’s to her first love that she returns in her second novel. The Children of Jocasta, which joins a slew of classical retellings this year from Colm Tóibín, Kamila Shamsie, David Vann and others, takes the story of Oedipus as it unfolds in Sophocles’ trio of Theban plays, and attempts to recast it for the 21st century. Haynes’s aim, as she explains in a lengthy afterword, is to rescue two of the plays’ minor characters from unjust obscurity. In Oedipus Tyrannos, it is the doomed, anguished king who stands in the limelight. (Haynes has no truck with those who reach for the tragedy’s Latin name: “I can’t stop you from calling it Oedipus Rex, ...