Book review – fiction

The Spanish court’s fondness for dwarfs and dogs is captured by Velázquez

Spend, spend, spend at the court of Philip IV of Spain

7 April 2018 9:00 am

‘Nine hours,’ boasted my friend the curator about his trip to the Prado. Nine! Two hours is my upper limit…

How can we know what dead people want?

7 April 2018 9:00 am

In 1999, Patrick Hemingway published True at First Light, a new novel by his father Ernest. In his role as…

Alarm bells ring when I read about grown women and dolls

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Mona — single, childless, pushing 60 — sells wooden dolls made by a carpenter friend, which she delicately costumes from…

Down’s syndrome and dystopia in Jesse Bull’s Census

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Census is a curious, clever novel. It depicts a dystopia with a father and his Down’s syndrome son journeying from…

‘Spanish troops loot a village in Flanders during the Thirty Years War’, by Sebastian Vrancx

Simplicius Simplicissimus and the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War

31 March 2018 9:00 am

On 23 May 1618, Bohemian Protestants pushed two Catholic governors and their secretary through the windows of Prague Castle, in…

Drowning in superstition: a magnificent thriller of medieval England

24 March 2018 9:00 am

Samantha Harvey is much rated by critics and those readers who have discovered her books, but deserving of a far…

A nightmare scenario in the city of dreaming spires

17 March 2018 9:00 am

‘Dreaming spires’? Yes, but sometimes there are nightmares. Brian Martin, awarded the MBE for services to English literature, is at…

Frankenstein’s monster is more frightening than ever

17 March 2018 9:00 am

On the wall of her tumbledown house in central Baghdad, an elderly Christian widow named Elishva has a beloved icon…

Jessie Greengrass’s Sight is unashamedly philosophical

10 March 2018 9:00 am

The precarious stasis of late pregnancy offers the narrator of Jessie Greengrass’s exceptional first novel a space — albeit an…

Shadows of the past are ominously present in a trio of memorable first novels

10 March 2018 9:00 am

The Shangri-Las’ song ‘Past, Present and Future’ divides a life into three, Beethoven-underpinned phases: before, during and after. Each section…

You deserve a prize if you manage to finish Jim Crace’s latest novel

3 March 2018 9:00 am

This remorselessly slow-moving, hazily allegorical drama about ageing and xenophobia is Jim Crace’s 12th book, and the first to appear…

The Charlie Hebdo attacks form a backdrop to a complicated love triangle in C.K. Stead’s latest novel

17 February 2018 9:00 am

There has been much debate recently about what exactly constitutes ‘literary’ fiction. If the term means beguiling, gorgeously crafted novels…

Denis Johnson: where pain and comedy collide

3 February 2018 9:00 am

The death of Denis Johnson last May marked the loss of a great original who catalogued the lives of junkies,…

Trying hard to be somebody in Trump’s America

3 February 2018 9:00 am

For Horace Hopper, the half-breed protagonist of Willy Vlautin’s bleak new novel, essential truths come slowly, and usually too late…

Crime and puzzlement in Tony White’s Oulipo-inspired novel

3 February 2018 9:00 am

Tony White’s latest novel begins for all the world like a police procedural, following the delightfully named sleuth Rex King…

For Julian Barnes, the only story is a love story — and it’s inevitably sad

27 January 2018 9:00 am

The story, as it emerges, feels both familiar and inevitable. A bored 19-year-old student, on his university holidays in mid-century…

Michelle de Kretser: the modern Australian Jane Austen

27 January 2018 9:00 am

Twenty-odd pages into Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come, I pounded the table and bellowed an Australian-accented ‘fuck yeah!’…

An 80th birthday party causes no end of trouble in Barney Norris’s latest novel

20 January 2018 9:00 am

‘People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them,’ muses the…

Jenny Erpenbeck finds a novel way to tackle the migrant problem

20 January 2018 9:00 am

The title of Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go Went Gone, and the autumnal tone of its beginning — a classics professor retires,…

Drugs and drag queens in New York’s vanished clubland

25 November 2017 9:00 am

In 2014 Michael Alig, impresario, party promoter and drug provider, was released on parole after 17 years in prison for…

Susie Boyt neatly skewers the self-help trends

18 November 2017 9:00 am

Grief is not being able to eat a small boiled egg. ‘Could you face an egg?’ the widowed Jean asks…

More menace – and magic – on the moors

18 November 2017 9:00 am

Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney was one of the surprise stand-outs of last year, and a worthy winner of the…

The enigma of Enric Marco

11 November 2017 9:00 am

Enric Marco has had a remarkable life. A prominent Catalan union activist, a brave resistance fighter in the Spanish Civil…

More secrets and symbols

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Being reflexively snotty about Dan Brown’s writing is like slagging off Donald Trump’s spelling: it just entrenches everyone’s position. In…

How to be good

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Suffering, wrote Auden, takes place ‘while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along’. His…