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Geoff Dyer – The Search

Knowing Geoff Dyer as a writer of brilliantly titled, slippery works of non-fiction (Out of Sheer Rage, Working the Room, Zona), I almost didn’t bother with this blandly titled, early novel of his. But I’m glad I did. Well, I was glad by the end. Among the laudatory quotes on the back of my Abacus

Edward Thomas: Adlestrop – close reading

This is not quite my favourite Edward Thomas poem, but it’s probably his most famous, and maybe his most “Thomasian”. It shows his gift for counterposing the barest of statements – “It was late June”, “Someone cleared his throat” – with something rather stranger-sounding. Would anyone say “one afternoon / Of heat” rather than “one

Jessie Greengrass – The High House

Critics among you: kindly refrain from using the term “climate fiction”. (And don’t abbreviate it to “cli-fi”, either – that’s even worse.) For one thing, climate change is not a fiction, and for the sake of the deniers out there I think we have a duty to keep the two words as far apart as

Penelope Fitzgerald – Innocence

Penelope Fitzgerald’s sixth novel Innocence (1986) concerns the Ridolfi, a family of quietly dignified, denuded Florentine aristos who trace their lineage back to the sixteenth century. It opens with the story behind “the Dwarfs”, a group of statues that crown the family residence, Villa Ricordanza. “Strictly speaking they are not dwarfs, but midgets…pathologically small, but

V. S. Naipaul – Miguel Street

In the most literal sense of the phrase, I absolutely do judge books by their covers, and won’t read one if its design and condition don’t meet my high aesthetic standards. At the same time, books can be too good-looking. A case in point is my mint Penguin copy (from 1969) of V. S. Naipaul’s

John le Carré – Call for the Dead

George Smiley: a character I’ve encountered many times on screen and radio, but never actually on the page. Yes, Call for the Dead is my first John le Carré novel, and at the risk of giving “the game” (as Smiley would call it) away too soon, all I will say for the moment is that

Shakespeare’s sonnets

When I consider how this little book Has followed me through nation states and schools, I marvel that it took the paths it took With student, teacher, and with all my fools. Collector’s Library, A6 pages gilded, John Taylor’s portrait ovalled onto cream, The unpaid, unplayed fourteen lines that Will did Are pinstriped to a

Lisa Harding – Bright Burning Things

This is the third time I am writing about contemporary Irish fiction on this blog, and if I didn’t quite have the confidence to say it in those reviews, then reading Lisa Harding’s Bright Burning Things has given me the confidence to say it in this one: Irish literature is in a very good place

Martin Amis – Heavy Water and Other Stories

I know it’s passé to like Martin Amis but I do. The first Amis I read was Money (1984), and if you’ve read that novel you’ll know that, for better or worse, that’s not an encounter you’re likely to forget. For me, it was all positive: a junk-fuelled wonder of voice and vocabulary that had

John Berryman – John Berryman (Poet to Poet Series)

I’ve owned this slim little book for nearly seven years, and it still has the paper price tag on the back: £3.99. Those were the days. I bought it after a night of undergrad boozing chez my friend Tristram, whose bookshelves I had combed in conspiracy with another friend, Thea. Thea pulled out this very

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