Posts in Reading

The Russian Window by Dragan Velikic: Review

When I was in Belgrade a while back, I bought four novels in a wonderful bookshop on the main street, Knez Mihailova. They were all literary novels by Serbian writers, translated into English. One thing they all had in common was a lack of plot. In literary fiction in any language, of course, plot can be less central than it is in other types of novel, but I was struck by the fact that in all of them, very little actually happened. They had a quieter, more meditative feeling than most novels I’ve… Read More

Review of Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

Did you know that there’s an Albanian tradition in which, if there are no male heirs, a woman can choose to become a man, as long as she swears herself to virginity for life? Neither did I until I read Sworn Virgin, a fascinating novel by Albanian writer Elvira Dones, translated into English and published in 2014 by And Other Stories (a wonderful not-for-profit, largely reader-funded UK publisher). I’ve been interested in Albanian literature ever since I discovered Ismail Kadare (who wrote the foreword for this book) many years ago, and… Read More

Completism

Can you recommend a good book by an author whose surname begins with Q, U, X or Y? It’s a strange question, I know. The thing is, I’ve been documenting all the books I’ve reviewed on this site since it started ten years ago, and I’ve organised them alphabetically, and… Yeah, OK, I admit it. I’m a frustrated librarian. In another lifetime, I would have loved to spend my days quietly shuffling books around from shelf to shelf in a library or bookshop. My choices have taken me down a… Read More

Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The self-fulfilling prophecy is an ancient and fascinating component of literature. From Oedipus to Macbeth and beyond, characters have wrestled with disturbing or tempting prophecies, often with tragic results. As we survey the wreckage of their lives, we wonder to what extent the events were indeed fated or foreseen, and to what extent the characters’ own actions brought about their downfall. It’s a great device for exploring the concept of free will. A recent addition to the literature is The Fishermen by Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma. In a way, this is a simple… Read More

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

I read this book back in the spring, before it got shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize and got a fair bit of attention. But, as you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t been blogging very regularly, so I’m only writing about it now. What I liked about Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun was the way it explored the contrast between the internal and external life of its main character. We all have an internal life, don’t we? A set of memories and desires and fantasies that often don’t bear much… Read More

Q&A With Dodge and Burn Author Seraphina Madsen

Recently I read and reviewed Dodge and Burn, a startling and very original debut novel by Seraphina Madsen. I had the chance to interview the author about her writing journey and process, how it felt to convert painful personal memories into fiction, her experience of writing a novel and seeing it published, and more. She took the time to write very full and interesting answers, so please read on to get an insight into her experience as a novelist. Could you give us an overview of your writing journey so far? I have… Read More

Review of Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen

Imagine Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Hunter Thompson engaging in a wild, drug-fuelled orgy somewhere out in the Arizona desert, and by some mystical process conceiving a daughter who then turns around and gives them the finger, inverting their male-dominated world and creating a road trip novel for the 21st century, complete with a strong female lead who might have made a great companion for Sal and Dean if they hadn’t been so busy gunning for girls and turning their patronizing male gazes on beautiful honey-haired darlings. Actually, don’t imagine… Read More

Why I still love bookshops

I’ve written about bookshops a lot on this blog over this years. There’s a good reason for this. For me, good bookshops have always been inseparable from the joy of reading. When I was in my early twenties and working in a job I absolutely hated, I used to escape to the nearest bookshop and browse the shelves for a different world to inhabit for a time. When I moved to New York, I was astonished to discover huge, sprawling bookshops where they not only allowed you to stay all… Read More

Review of All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

The first thing to say about this book is that the prose is just stunning. It had me hooked from the first lines: Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. Crows, their beaks shining, strutting and rasping, and when I waved my stick they flew to the trees and watched, flaring out their wings, singing, if you could call it that. I shoved my boot in Dog’s face to stop him from taking a string of… Read More