Book review: Notes From The Fog, by Ben Marcus

There are many different emotions and reactions that pass into a reader when reading the work of Ben Marcus. You can wonder at his emotional acuity; you can be dazzled by the intellectual brilliance; you can savour the subtle lyricism of each and every sentence. But in me his work induces a kind of queasy vertigo, and I do not mean that as a bad thing. A book than can create such a visceral response is a rare thing indeed. These stories have that roller-coaster sense of both excitement and nausea. Once you have read them, it is wondrous to unpick how he manages such effects.

Aftershocks, by AN Wilson

Book review: Aftershocks, by AN Wilson

If AN Wilson had written only fiction he would surely be regarded as one of the two or three outstanding English novelists of his generation. But since he published his first novel, The Sweets of Pimlico, way back in 1977 he has not only written more than 20 others, including the delightful five volumes of The Lampitt Chronicles, but at least as many very varied works of non-fiction. These include The Laird of Abbotsford, one of the best books ever written about Sir Walter Scott, and biographies of figures as various as Hilaire Belloc, Tolstoy, Dante, Queen Victoria, Hitler and Charles Darwin. (This last book was slated by many biologists, which suggests it struck a nerve.) He has also been a newspaper columnist, literary editor, and author of television programmes. The consequence of his prolificity is that many of his novels have received less attention than they deserve.

Christopher Reid

Book review: Old Toffer’s Book Of Consequential Dogs, by Christopher Reid

Next year will see the 80th anniversary of the publication of Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats, TS Eliot’s much-loved collection of feline-inspired poems for children large and small which gave us such memorable characters as Old Deuteronomy, Mr Mistoffelees and Macavity – all of whom went on to win a degree of fame far in excess of that of their creator when they became the stars of the spectacularly popular Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical Cats. Eliot had intended to write a follow-up book of poems about dogs, but never got round to it. According to his late widow Valerie, the idea came to him following a conversation with his chauffeur, who was describing his own hound – not pedigreed but loved all the same. “He’s not what you’d call a consequential dog,” the chauffeur said. Eliot apparently loved that phrase and quickly decided to write a book of “consequential dogs”. We can only guess what his dog poems might have been like had he found the time to pen them, but with the greatest respect to the internationally revered author of The Waste Land, it’s hard to imagine him coming up with anything more energetic or enjoyable than the rhymes in this collection by Christopher Reid, produced with the blessing of the Eliot Estate and winningly illustrated by Elliot Elam.

Sarah Moss PIC: Pako Mera/REX/Shutterstock

Book review: Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss

There is a danger, in the current political climate, of reading anything and everything in the context of Brexit, but while Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall would still be just as gripping and just as powerful a work of fiction had the vote gone the other way on 23 June, 2016, the circumstances in which we now find ourselves certainly give it added resonance. (It’s also interesting to note that in the acknowledgements the author says she started work on the book while she was on a writing residency as part of the tenth Hexham Literary Festival - an event which took place in July 2016, in the immediate aftermath of the referendum.)

Sebastian Faulks PIC: LNP/REX Shutterstock

Book review: Paris Echo, by Sebastian Faulks

The Paris of Sebastian Faulks is a city in which voices from the past echo disturbingly, a city also where every Metro station has a story behind its name. One of the novel’s epigraphs comes from Kafka: “The Metro furnishes the best opportunity for the foreigner to imagine that he has understood the essence of Paris.” So enjoyment of this dazzling if also at times darkly bleak novel will be enhanced if you read it with a plan of the Paris Metro to hand: it will help you keep track of the movements of the principal characters.

Gary Shteyngart PIC: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Book review: Lake Success, by Gary Shteyngart

Is there a new genre – Rapid Response Fiction? Ali Smith has been documenting a post-Brexit Britain in her quartet of novels, and now we have Gary Shteyngart with a typically hilarious and melancholy odyssey across America in the months before the election of their new president.

Ambrose Parry - aka Chris Brookmyer and his wife Dr Marisa Haetzman PIC: John Devlin

Book review: The Way Of All Flesh, by Ambrose Parry

The Way Of All Flesh begins, as so many hackneyed crime novels have done before, with a man standing over the dead body of a young female prostitute; “just another deid hoor” as a character remarks later. But we also begin with a young man’s fear, guilt and sadness, and an apology from a narrator for beginning thus, both neatly subverting the cliché. We also begin with a scene of Edinburgh’s Old Town in 1847 described so richly we feel the chill of Evie’s corpse and smell the middens that medical student Will Raven picks his way through after leaving the building.

The Silence of the Girls

Book review: The Silence of the Girls, by Pat Barker

The epigraph of Pat Barker’s new novel is taken from Philip Roth. “You know how European literature begins?” says the teacher in The Human Stain. “With a quarrel. All European literature springs from a fight... And what are they quarrelling about? It’s as basic as a barroom brawl. They are quarrelling over a woman. A girl, really. A girl stolen from her father. A girl abducted in a war.”

To Provide All People

Book review: To Provide All People, by Owen Sheers

In a decade and a half of reviewing books for this newspaper, I have never once felt strongly that a new publication should be made compulsory reading; after all, if history has taught us anything it’s that, on the whole, people who tell others what they should or shouldn’t read are not to be trusted. That said, if it were up to me this clear-sighted yet emotionally charged hymn to the NHS by the Welsh poet Owen Sheers would be added to the curriculum in every high school from Land’s End to John O’Groats with immediate effect.

Tom Bateman stars in ITV's Vanity Fair Picture: Debra Hurford Brown

Interview: Tom Bateman

Rising star Tom Bateman talks to Janet Christie about the contemporary feel to his new ITV costume drama Vanity Fair, learning from the likes of Kenneth Branagh and why he keeps his private life private
Portrait by Debra Hurford Brown

Chris Brookmyre and wife Marisa Haetzman, two very different types of writers, have produced a novel with the best of both of them in it. PICTURE: JOHN DEVLIN

Books interview: Ambrose Parry (aka Marisa Haetzman and Chris Brookmyre)

Indulge me for a moment. It’s Edinburgh, 2020, and the tourists flying in from America, Australia and everywhere else Sky Atlantic sold the first series of The Way of All Flesh know exactly what they want to see. The Castle, obviously, Holyrood Palace if there’s time. First, though, they’ll want to check out 52 Queen Street. It doesn’t matter how many times they’re told it’s not open to the public, they still want to see it.

Edinburgh festivals
Jane Harris

Book festival round-up: Tania Kovats | Steve Trent | Barbie Latza Nadeau | Donal Ryan | Jackie Kay | Kamila Shamsie

Visual artist Tania Kovats is one of the Guest Selectors at this year’s Book Festival, curating a mini-programme of five events on the theme of the sea. Kovats’s own work has focused, for a decade, on the oceans, and what began as a “personal, psychological and poetic” interest has broadened to an awareness of the sea as a locus for global, enviromental and humanitarian crisis.

Edinburgh festivals
Yanis Varoufakis emphasised winning over the Right's voters. Picture: Edinburgh Book Festival

Edinburgh Book Festival: Our democracy is not what it once was

Economist Yanis Varoufakis, who served briefly as finance minister in the Greek government in 2015, is one of this year’s Guest Selectors at the Book Festival, programming four events on the theme of “Killing Democracy?” On Sunday evening, in an interview with Ruth Wishart, he offered his personal thoughts on its demise, and its possible resurrection.

Edinburgh festivals 1
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