Swift’s Atonement


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Of that generation of mainstream writers who were brought to prominence by the first of Granta‘s Best Young Writers promotions, I steadily lost interest in most of them over the years. Amis fils fell away after just a couple of books, I managed four by Pat Barker before losing interest, it was pretty much the same with Julian Barnes, and the last few novels by Ian McEwan were so dull that the most recent has been sitting on my to-be-read pile for a couple of years without me ever feeling like opening it. Only William Boyd and Graham Swift have, for rather different reasons, stayed the course: I enjoy the historical sweep of Boyd’s novels at his best, and the narrow focus of Swift’s at his best. Continue reading

The Innocence of Museums


I have a somewhat ambiguous relationship to the work of Orhan Pamuk. I have read only two of his novels: My Name is Red, which I loved, and Snow, which I really struggled with. But we have all of his books because Maureen loves them.

Which is a way of saying that I have not read The Museum of Innocence. Nor have I been to Istanbul (much as I would love to do so), and so I have not visited the Museum of Innocence that Pamuk set up with the money from his Nobel Prize, though I have flicked through the book about the museum that Pamuk produced a few years back. (As I write this, an exhibition related to the Museum of Innocence is on in London; we are intending to go, but have not done so yet.) I therefore approached Innocence of Memories in a state of, yes, innocence. Continue reading

Would it help?


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There’s a running joke in Bridge of Spies. James Donovan (Tom Hanks) will ask his client, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), if he is worried. He has plenty to be worried about, after all, his liberty, possibly even his life, is in danger. But Abel always replies, placidly: “Would it help?”

These are men who do not show emotion, because emotion is not helpful. Which is why Donovan, who does show emotion, and who does not understand the ice in the veins of those with whom he now finds himself associated, is out of his depth in this company. And it is precisely because he is out of his depth, because he does show emotion, that Donovan turns out to be the right man in the right place at the right time. Continue reading

All the World’s a Stage


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One of the things that Shakespeare did throughout his career was draw attention to the very theatricality of his plays. Think of the role of Chorus in Henry V, or the play within a play that is The Taming of the ShrewAs You Like It is very much of the same company; it is, after all, the play in which Jacques delivers his famous speech beginning “All the world’s a stage …”. Given that, therefore, it is well worth giving serious attention to how the play is staged. Continue reading

Thomas Mallon, Finale


I sometimes wonder if I am the only person in Britain who reads Thomas Mallon’s fiction. (I sometime wonder if I am the only person in Britain who has even heard of Thomas Mallon.) Yet, for me, Mallon is one of the best of America’s historical novelists. His work is very much in the tradition of Gore Vidal, with its concentration on American political history, and with a gay subtext that becomes more pronounced in his more recent works. Continue reading

2015, a year in review


Well, that was a strange year. We are currently living in what used to be called genteel poverty, which means we’ve got just about enough money to live on but not much more than that. So we’ve not been seen around as much as we might like, and we’ve missed out on a lot of things that everyone else takes for granted but that have suddenly become luxuries. Hopefully, things will get better, but probably not for a couple of years. Meanwhile, we keep reading and writing, and every so often someone might notice what we do though more often than not they don’t.

Primarily, for me, this has been the year of Iain Banks. Which means that most of my reading has been research for the book; that is, re-reading all of his science fiction, dipping into a number of others, spending a lot of time reading interviews and essays and reviews and other stuff. Making notes, and then writing the notes up. The first draft of the book is done, revisions will follow any day now, and with luck the whole thing will be going off to the publisher around the end of January.

All of which has meant that I haven’t written as much as usual (I deliberately cut back on the number of reviews I write), though I still managed to produce well over 50,000 words of reviews and columns and essays, in addition to the book.

It has also meant that I haven’t finished as many books as usual, since my reading has been otherwise directed. 50 books in a year is the lowest total I’ve achieved for a very long time, probably for a matter of decades. Still, here’s the usual list, and as ever those I particularly rate are in bold. Continue reading


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