Beta
X

Bookface Blog

RSS
Sep 14, 2022

The author of The Salt Path returns with another heartwarming odyssey, this time on one of the wildest walks in Britain

“I’m not really sure why I’m here, lying in a bin-bag on the side of a hill, but I’m strangely glad that I am,” writes Raynor Winn, part of the way through her latest walking odyssey with her husband, Moth. She won’t be the only one glad. With her previous books, The Salt Path and The Wild Silence, having sold more than a million copies, Winn’s fans are legion and they won’t be disappointed by Landlines. Its pages offer the same potent blend of big themes (the climate crisis, extinction, migration, food security, homelessness, terminal illness, friendship) illuminated by intimate details, small observations, and a sort of magic as simple and complex as love itself. I’ve never met Ray or Moth, but it’s hard not to feel I’d know them at a glance, even from a great distance, by the comfortable glow of their old and intricate partnership, fray-edged and worn to exquisite imperfection.

The story of Landlines is another leap of faith, another long walk. Some things have changed: Ray and Moth no longer pass unrecognised, they are no longer homeless, they no longer have to survive on the most meagre of trail rations, but the shadow of Moth’s illness – a degenerative condition known as corticobasal degeneration – has not gone away. In fact, it has encroached further, as the doctors said it would, albeit more slowly than anyone expected. After a relapse and a grim consultation, they do what they have done before in the face of disaster, and hit the trail. Not just any trail, but the toughest and wildest Britain has to offer: the Cape Wrath. I’ll resist spoilers, but it doesn’t go according to plan.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 14, 2022

Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak are the international star names, but all of these writers bring a distinctive lightness of heart to bear on a very heavy history


I am often asked what defines Turkish literature. Is it Orhan Pamuk’s depictions of a society caught between modernity and traditionalism? Or Elif Shafak’s novels, which highlight the difficulty of being a woman in Turkey? Does our literature have to be political in order to be considered “Turkish”?

If, as Abraham Verghese says in his brilliant Cutting for Stone, “geography is destiny”, then I think it does. In my latest novel, At the Breakfast Table, a family gathering to celebrate the matriarch’s 100th birthday soon exposes the family’s – and Turkey’s – fraught history. The book examines the complications of family life alongside the despotism, violence and atrocities that litter our history and the social amnesia that now surrounds us. In this way, I see my writing as Turkish – these are the issues that we breathe every day; they are buried in the soil under our feet. Yet there is also a balance: the greatest Turkish literature discusses serious issues, but will also lighten the heart and put a smile on your face.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 14, 2022

This political primer from the former Lib Dem leader favours head over heart – but can it speak to gen Z activists?

Have you ever thought of going into politics? Oh, come on – if Boris Johnson can do it, surely it can’t be that hard. And if it doesn’t all work out quite as planned, then you can always dash off a quick book about it, as the former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has.

How to Be a Politician is, much like the coalition cabinet in which Cable once prominently served, a strange hybrid: half jolly careers talk, of the sort many MPs are likely to have delivered to sixth formers when visiting schools in their constituency, and half loo book. It’s padded out to a rather eye-opening extent by page after page of well-known quotes from famous politicians, which can’t have taken a researcher all that long to Google, grouped roughly by themes such as operating in government or dealing with failure. Each chunky selection of other people’s witticisms is prefaced with a short essay by Cable drawing on the experience of his own half-century in politics, also liberally sprinkled with yet more quotes from other famous politicians presumably left over from the research process (there is a lot of “To quote George Bush” or “As Pericles put it … ”).

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 13, 2022

London’s criminal underworld between the wars is brought vividly to life in this witty ensemble tale

A sulphurous drollery animates Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson’s ensemble portrait of Soho’s underworld between the wars. It continues a run of novels – Life After Life, A God in Ruins, Transcription – that put a quirkily self-conscious spin on period drama, their focus much sharper on the intricacies of character than the forces of history. But Atkinson is an expert juggler of both.

The year is 1926. Nellie Coker, matriarch and nightclub proprietor, has just been released from a six-month stretch in Holloway. Educated in Paris, widowed in Edinburgh, Nellie flourished in London after an ill-gotten windfall from a deceased landlady who happened to be a gangland fence. She manages her six children with the same impersonal efficiency as she runs the business, the Amethyst being the “gaudy jewel” in her string of clubs – others include the Crystal Cup, the Sphinx and the Pixie. While in prison her domain has been under threat from rivals. She’s also haunted by the drowned, dripping ghost of a former employee, Maud, yet another of the young women lately fished from the Thames – but did they kill themselves or are they murder victims?

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 13, 2022

Section of the Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh is expected to fetch between £4m and £6m at auction next month

A folio from the Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh, one of the “finest illustrated manuscripts in existence” according to Sotheby’s, is expected to fetch between £4m and £6m at auction next month.

The Shahnameh, also known as the Book of Kings, is an epic poem containing 50,000 rhyming couplets, telling the history of Persia’s rulers. It was written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 13, 2022

The Spanish author’s death has robbed us of his unique, riddling investigations into reality

Spanish novelist Javier Marías dies in Madrid hospital aged 70
Javier Marías: modern literature’s great philosopher of everyday absurdity

Javier Marías won’t get the Nobel prize that many people, including me, think he deserved. No matter. He had plenty of prizes while he was alive. The greater loss is that we won’t get any more of his extraordinary novels. There is no other writer like him, certainly not in English. He was a complete original, at ease with philosophy and pop-cultural trivia, genre and literary fiction. He looked the great writers of the past, from many national traditions, squarely and companionably in the eye.

Marías, perhaps above all, was a profoundly cosmopolitan writer. He taught all over the world and said he did “not much believe in national literatures”. Translation was a central preoccupation of his life and work – he translated Nabokov, Hardy, Faulkner and Conrad, among many others. He was at home in Oxford and Madrid alike, and didn’t mind having a character notice a multilingual pun or tick off Lady Diana Spencer, in a slightly peevish aside, for her “awful, mistake-ridden English”.

This is what Tupra said in a fake accent which was perhaps his real accent, inside his fast car, in the lunar light of the streetlamps, sitting on my right, with his hands still resting on the motionless steering wheel, squeezing it or strangling it, he wasn’t wearing gloves now, they were hidden away, dirty and sodden and wrapped in toilet paper, in his overcoat, along with the sword. -- “That’s the thing, Jock. Fear,” he added ...

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 13, 2022

Lviv BookForum is partnering with Hay festival for a programme of in-person and online events, which will be streamed free from 6-9 October

Writers including Nobel prize-winning Abdulrazak Gurnah and Booker prize winner Margaret Atwood will appear alongside Ukrainian authors at Lviv BookForum, which is partnering with Hay festival to broadcast its events around the world.

Lviv BookForum is Ukraine’s largest book festival, and will take place in person and online from 6-9 October. As digital partner, Hay will broadcast all the festival’s 15 events free online, and has also curated a number of events with an international digital audience in mind.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 13, 2022

Republican plotters conspire to seize power in a slippery and elusive tale

AM Homes specialises in characters, mostly men, who find themselves unexpectedly unmoored from the American way of life. Whether it be Harry in her previous novel – the 2013 Women’s prize for fiction winner May We Be Forgiven – in bed with his sister-in-law when his brother beats her to a pulp with a table lamp. Or stock-trading millionaire Richard in This Book Will Save Your Life, who after a maybe, maybe not heart attack finds himself hanging with the Hindu owner of the local doughnut shop. Her latest hero – known only as “the Big Guy” – is similarly up against it. In a novel running very precisely from election day in November 2008 to Barack Obama’s inauguration day in January 2009, this lifelong Republican donor is struggling with the idea of a black man sleeping in “his” White House.

Intent on righting what he believes is an egregious wrong, he builds around him a group of like-minded, like-resourced Republicans who will do whatever it takes to ensure the US never makes the same mistake again. But Democrats are not his only problem: the Big Guy’s wife is sliding into alcoholism while his 18-year-old daughter – after proudly casting her first vote for John McCain – is also starting to unravel. Riding her beloved gelding in the woods back at her elite east coast boarding school, Meghan encounters an injured doe. A 911 summons – her Pavlovian sense of entitlement demands an instant clean-up – only worsens the situation (euthanised doe, bolting horse, hours lost in the woods). But rather than driving her towards her father’s authoritarianism, it instead elicits the beginnings of empathy in her half-unformed soul.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 12, 2022

The authorised biography of the Rolling Stones’ late drummer is warm and diligent on his love of jazz and family – while ducking any difficult issues

“Never do the authorised biography,” a colleague once told me. “You’ll find out where the bodies are buried, metaphorically speaking, but you won’t be allowed to publish their location.” That advice surely applies double when the act under consideration is the Rolling Stones, a group who have left in their wake a trail of outrage, depravity, misogyny, addiction and a few real-life cadavers. There has been some decent music at times, too. The group’s incendiary past gets scant airtime here – the hellish Altamont concert of 1969, for example, with its on-film crowd murder, was merely “an event waiting to go wrong”. Even the Stones’ music gets little attention. There are lists of who guested at which shows and on which albums, praise for Charlie Watts’s unerring timing and ability to hold together a rowdy, loose-limbed band (bassist Bill Wyman gets rare praise for his part too) and some commentary on drum technique, but the impact and meaning of the Stones’ music stays unremarked.

It doesn’t much matter. There are already walls of books about the Stones, including Keith Richards’s memoir, Life, and we are here to celebrate the late Watts, who, while bringing stability to their shows and inspiration to their records – the tom-tom gallop of Paint It Black, say, or the wonky cowbell of Honky Tonk Women – was always ambiguous about Stonehood. As early as 1966 he told Rave magazine: “It’s just a job that pays good money”, which remained his default position. “I have tried to resign after every tour since 1969, but each time they talk me back into it,” he tells author Paul Sexton later in his career. “It’s like being in the army,” he once told NME. “They don’t let you leave.”

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 12, 2022

Simon Armitage’s poem, which spells out the late monarch’s name acrostically, pays homage to ‘a promise made and kept for life’

The poet laureate, Simon Armitage, has released a poem to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Floral Tribute, which has been distributed by Armitage’s publisher, Faber, is a double acrostic, with two verses consisting of nine lines, the first letters of which spell Elizabeth, a nod perhaps to funeral floral arrangements that spell out the deceased person’s name.

The poet directly references himself in the first verse: “I have conjured a lily to light these hours, a token of thanks.” Armitage thanks the Queen for her gift of “a promise made and kept for life” and offers his poem as “a gift in return”.

Wisdom who, with power infinite,
Utterest death to every creature born,
Grant to us now the mercy of Thy light,
With comfort to beloved Queens who mourn.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 12, 2022

The current false dichotomy holds back research and stigmatises patients

A few months ago, I was infected by coronavirus and my first symptoms were bodily. But as the sore throat and cough receded, I was left feeling gloomy, lethargic and brain-foggy for about a week. An infection of my body had morphed into a short-lived experience of depressive and cognitive symptoms – there was no clear-cut distinction between my physical and mental health.

My story won’t be news to the millions of people worldwide who have experienced more severe or prolonged mental health outcomes of coronavirus infection. It adds nothing to the already weighty evidence for increased post-Covid rates of depression, anxiety or cognitive impairment. It isn’t theoretically surprising, in light of the growing knowledge that inflammation of the body, triggered by autoimmune or infectious disease, can have effects on the brain that look and feel like symptoms of mental illness.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 12, 2022

An allegory of Christian devotion also sounds a lot like a lyric of unrequited love

Till the slow daylight pale,
A willing slave, fast bound to one above,
I wait; he seems to speed, and change, and fail;
I know he will not move.

I lift my golden orb
To his, unsmitten when the roses die,
And in my broad and burning disk absorb
The splendours of his eye.

His eye is like a clear
Keen flame that searches through me; I must droop
Upon my stalk, I cannot reach his sphere;
To mine he cannot stoop.

I win not my desire,
And yet I fail not of my guerdon, lo!
A thousand flickering darts and tongues of fire
Around me spread and glow;

All rayed and crowned, I miss
No queenly state until the summer wane,
The hours flit by; none knoweth of my bliss,
And none has guessed my pain;

I follow one above,
I track the shadow of his steps, I grow
Most like to him I love
Of all that shines below.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 12, 2022

Beaton’s melancholic and humane memoir records her bleak time under the male gaze in Canada’s oil sands

Kate Beaton’s new graphic memoir, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, is, I think, going to come as something of a surprise to her fans, for it could hardly be more different in tone from her popular larky strip Hark! A Vagrant, in which she gently sends up historical figures such as Napoleon and Ada Lovelace. Yes, it’s funny at moments; Beaton’s low-key wryness is present and correct, and her drawings of people are as charming and as expressive as ever. But its mood overall is deeply melancholic. Her story, which runs to more than 400 pages, encompasses not only such thorny matters as social class and environmental destruction; it may be the best book I have ever read about sexual harassment.

How do men behave when women are (mostly) not around? Alas, the answer is: not terribly well. Ducks is an account of the two years Beaton spent (beginning in 2005) working in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, a far-off planet to which she travelled from her beloved home in Nova Scotia for the sole purpose of paying off her student loans (in these booming wildernesses, the money is too good for a humanities student from a small rural community to refuse). Naturally, the wrench involved in this move is painful; like just about everyone in the places she is employed – in a town called Fort McMurray and in various camps in outlying areas – she comes from far away and must contend with aching homesickness. But for Beaton there’s something else: her loneliness is exacerbated to an immeasurable degree by the fact that the women there are outnumbered by men by 50 to one.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton is published by Jonathan Cape (£25). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 11, 2022

The French writer’s record of an obsessive affair with a Russian diplomat is a riveting, sexually frank study of a woman in the throes of love and lust

In 1988, the award-winning French writer Annie Ernaux went on a junket to Soviet Russia. On the last day of the tour, in Leningrad, she began an affair with a married Russian diplomat from the Soviet embassy in France. He was 35; she was 48. When they returned to Paris they kept it up. Getting Lost (now published in translation) is the unaltered, original journal that Ernaux wrote during their 18 months together.

This was a period of her life when she admits to being lethargic from sex and thus useless for work (“Intense desire keeps me from working”). Yet this affair has produced not one but two books. Simple Passion, her novel-like memoir of the same fling, is probably her best-known work (along with The Years, her masterpiece, an artistic retelling of postwar French history as experienced by a woman). Like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, Ernaux’s affair should be counted as one of the great liaisons of literature. She writes honest, deeply felt books while the others were pioneers of what, post-Ferrante, we now call the “invention of women”. Her subversion is not simply the subversion of gender – a woman writing about her own affair, which was historically the dominion of men – but her sexual frankness, which has a way of making such elaborate inventions seem needless.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 11, 2022

Ruth Jones’s Welsh generational saga, Joanna Bagniewska’s real-life fantastic beasts and Simon Morden’s Mars exploration

Love Untold
Ruth Jones
Bantam, £20, pp416

Actor and author Ruth Jones’s third novel tells a story of conflict between four generations of Welsh women. Matriarch Grace has been estranged from daughter, Alys, for decades. Alys abandoned her own daughter, Elin, years before, and now Elin’s daughter, Beca, is facing emotional dilemmas too. Rich in warm, engaging characters and a judicious mix of humour and pathos for which Jones is renowned, it’s a compassionate, wise and life-affirming book.

The Modern Bestiary: A Curated Collection of Wondrous Creatures
Joanna Bagniewska
Wildfire, £16.99, pp256

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 11, 2022

The fourth novel by the chatshow host is a darkly comic Irish domestic drama that has emotional depth but is undemanding

When Graham Norton surprised the literary world with his adept fiction debut, Holding, adroitly adapted into a Kathy Burke-directed television series earlier this year, the amiable narrative spun around a body uncovered in a sleepy Irish hamlet and the secrets the community held close to their hearts. Six years and three novels later, there’s again a gruesome discovery in a domestic basement and a litany of rumours and family upheavals in a quiet Irish town to unpick. Formulaic? Let’s just say Norton is really good at undemanding, popular fiction with emotional weight and something to say about the vagaries of contemporary life.

Actually, he promises that Forever Home is both the “funniest and darkest” story he’s written thus far. Whether he gets that balance right is a moot point. At its heart is Carol, a quietly heroic late-fortysomething divorcee who finds love again with the much-older Declan. He’s seemingly revelling in a second chance at a relationship, too, given the wife of his two adult children mysteriously disappeared years ago. Naturally, all cannot be well. Declan is soon moved into a nursing home, his untrusting and clearly messed-up children booting Carol out of their house so they can secure a quick advance on their inheritance.

Forever Home by Graham Norton is published by Coronet (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 11, 2022

The editor-in-chief of British Vogue recounts his remarkable journey from fleeing Ghana to head of the venerable fashion magazine

It was the astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus who first came up with a model of the universe that placed the sun rather than the Earth at its centre, a formulation published in 1543 to which the rest of us have held fast ever since. But it seems that an alternative point of view may now be abroad. Read the opening pages of A Visible Man, and you’ll find that its author, Edward Enninful, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, is in grave danger of believing himself to be the burning star around which our planet revolves.

Why has Enninful written an autobiography? It seems that the urge, fierce and momentous, came upon him in the summer of 2020, when the pandemic was at its height and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis had filled streets with protesters. The world having “tilted on its axis as the most significant social justice movement in decades met the worst international health crisis in a century”, Enninful felt “a familiar gnawing sensation” somewhere deep inside himself. “The world had stopped,” he writes. “Then it had exploded. It was time.” He would now respond to those who’d long begged him to tell his story, and carefully take stock of his career in fashion, scrutinising it against “the backdrop of a world I helped to change too, in my way”.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 11, 2022

This exhilarating book illuminates a group of extraordinary thinkers – among them the writer Goethe and playwright Friedrich Schiller – who gathered in Germany in the 18th century and introduced the concept of romanticism

A philosophy student attending a concert in the heart of Germany in the spring of 1797 could scarcely believe the evidence of his eyes. Seated in one row were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the greatest writer of the age; Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the philosopher of the moment, whose packed lectures attracted students from across Europe; Alexander von Humboldt, just setting out on a career that would transform our understanding of the natural world; and August Wilhelm Schlegel, then making a name for himself as a writer, critic and translator. It seemed extraordinary to see so many famous men lined up together.

Except that it wasn’t, not then in Jena, a quiet university town at the heart of Germany of only 800 houses and fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. For a brief period, as the 18th century gave way to the 19th, Jena had a claim to be the intellectual capital of Europe. The nation’s finest minds were gathered there.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 11, 2022

This 500-year survey of art by women is an inspiring, beautifully written corrective

The Royal Academy of Art has never hosted a solo exhibition by a woman in their main space. The National Gallery was founded in 1824 and held its first major solo exhibition by a female artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, in 2020. The first edition of EH Gombrich’s supposedly definitive The Story of Art featured no female artists in its first edition in 1950 – and one woman in its 16th edition. In 2015, the curator and art historian Katy Hessel “walked into an art fair and realised that, out of the thousands of artworks before me, not a single one was by a woman”.

And so she created this positive, beautifully written corrective, which should become a founding text in the history of art by women. Starting in 1500 and shooting through to artists born in the 1990s, The Story of Art Without Men brings centuries-old figures to life while giving form and gravitas to emergent voices and covering every substantial movement from dadaism to civil-rights-era antiracist art along the way.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 10, 2022

This sharp profile details how the man once known as ‘America’s mayor’ fell from grace thanks to his willingness to work with foreign rogues and mop up the mess left by the former president

Blustering demagogues such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have made politics the last and most dangerously lively of the performing arts. The state is now a stage, and those who strut and fret on it think of power as a licence for self-indulgence. Rudy Giuliani’s managerial style when he was mayor of New York pointed the way: as Andrew Kirtzman says in his biography, Giuliani replaced prudent governance with “over-the-top drama” and delighted in spectacularly “blowing things up”. Kirtzman’s phrase knowingly anticipates the scenario of 9/11, when al-Qaida operatives toppled the World Trade Center: ill-tempered and incendiary, Giuliani in his small way reigned through terror.

Chronicling Giuliani’s “rise and tragic fall”, Kirtzman picks apart the “hero narrative” that once exalted a man who these days seems so mentally befogged and physically seedy. His leadership on 9/11 made Giuliani seem “godlike”; one worshipful New Yorker upped the ante by gasping “He is God!”. He came to be known as “America’s mayor”, a stalwart guardian envied by communities everywhere, and during a global victory lap he received an honorary knighthood from the Queen. Off duty, he exchanged glory for glitz: after the investiture at Buckingham Palace, he schmoozed with Simon Cowell and Andrew Lloyd Webber in Richard Branson’s Babylonian roof-garden restaurant.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 10, 2022

The Salvadorian poet on his journey to the US as a nine-year-old, the exciting literature coming from his homeland – and why he is indebted to Dave Eggers

Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador in 1990. Both his parents emigrated to the US before he turned five. At the age of just nine, Zamora undertook a treacherous journey by land and sea to join them in California – events recalled in his debut poetry collection, Unaccompanied, and now in his memoir, Solito, described by Dave Eggers as “a riveting tale of perseverance and the lengths humans will go to help each other in times of struggle”. A graduate of the creative writing programme at New York University and a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University, California, Zamora lives with his wife in Tucson, Arizona.

What prompted you to write this book?
A lot of things, but mainly the weight of the trauma that I carried for so many years. My book of poems begins to touch on these themes, but I was lying to myself that writing poetry about something so traumatic was enough. I began to write this book during Donald Trump’s America, when everybody was talking about immigration. In 2017, when we had the Central American child crisis at the border, it seemed it was the first time Americans realised that there had been child migrants. It angered me that they didn’t realise it had been occurring for decades, and I was part of that.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 10, 2022

Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk on Salman Rushdie’s attack, responding to extremism in Turkey – and his new, oddly prophetic, pandemic novel


The Turkish Nobel prize‑winning novelist Orhan Pamuk never sleeps for more than four hours at a time. He likes to read and maybe write a bit when he wakes. So it was the middle of the night when he learned the news about the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US last month. Like Rushdie, who has needed protection since a fatwa was decreed following the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989, Pamuk has had bodyguards for 15 years, after he made comments about the 1915 mass killings of Armenians and Kurds in an interview in 2005. Pamuk and Rushdie became friends when they were both living in New York in the early 2000s.

Earlier that day, I had interviewed Pamuk on Zoom about his new novel, Nights of Plague, set on an imaginary island in the early 20th century, at the end of the Ottoman empire. Does it make him more fearful for himself, I asked in a follow-up call. “I would say cautious is the right word,” he replies carefully. At first, unable to sit in cafes, or stroll about his beloved city of Istanbul alone, he worried that having protection would distance him from the everyday life that is his inspiration. But over the years he has become “quite relaxed about it … I’m used to it.” As he likes to joke: “I used to have three bodyguards, now I have one, which means Turkey is improving.”

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 10, 2022
Read More
Sep 09, 2022

Translation is the key to magic, as Kuang uses her genre to sharpen a historical investigation into colonisation, learning and power

Welcome to Babel: the great Oxford translation institute in an alternative version of Victorian England, where translators hold the keys to the British empire. Every device and engineering technique there is, from steam trains to the foundations of buildings, relies on silver bars enchanted with “match pairs”; words in two different languages that mean similar things, but with a significant gap between them. The bars create the effect of the difference: feelings, noises, speed, stability, colour, even death. The magic comes from “that sublime, unnameable place where meaning [is] created”.

Bright children are taken from all corners of the empire, fluent in Chinese or Arabic, raised in England, and put to work at Babel to translate, thus finding new match pairs and making new magic – only ever used for the benefit of the rich in London, and to the detriment of those the translators must leave behind in their colonised homelands. We follow Robin Swift from his earliest childhood in China, through his time at Babel, and from his hope that translation is a way to bring people together, to the terrible realisation that, in this colonial framework, “an act of translation is an act of betrayal”.

Continue reading...
Read More
Sep 09, 2022

Malarkoi by Alex Pheby; Beyond the Burn Line by Paul McAuley; The Coral Bones by EJ Swift; Expect Me Tomorrow by Christopher Priest; and The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle

Malarkoi by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar, £17.99)
Mordew, the first volume in the trilogy, was hugely praised, and this sequel is eagerly awaited. It is certainly as unusual and ambitious an epic fantasy as its predecessor, but the narrative has shattered into multiple storylines from multiple viewpoints, and none (apart from the talking dog) is quite as engaging or compelling as the original protagonist. It can be a struggle to keep up with all the characters, their alliances, enemies and progress (a common issue with lengthy fantasy series); and despite leavenings of dark humour, the situations are grotesque and unrelentingly grim, creating the sense of being trapped in a nightmare. This is a world where magic works because it is fuelled by sacrifice, so demigods and magicians maintain their power with casual mass slaughter. Pheby is an undoubted original, turning the standard tropes of modern fantasy into something much weirder and more disturbing, but this is not a book fans would wish to live in.

Beyond the Burn Line by Paul McAuley (Gollancz, £22)
In the far distant future, hundreds of thousands of years after the self-immolation of human civilisation, convergent evolution has given rise to a new intelligent species, with a culture that allows most of them to live in low-tech but comfortable harmony with their world. The first section of the novel feels rather like a Le Guinian fantasy as it focuses on Pilgrim Saltmire, a young scholar researching what are known as visitor sightings. The mysterious visitors are described as tall, slim, white-clad figures, and their visits are heralded by bright lights in the sky. Pilgrim has various adventures before he meets Foeless Landwalker, a ranting preacher who claims to be in regular communication with the visitors. At this point, the narrative takes an audacious, breathtaking leap into full-blooded science fiction. The second section, set a few decades after First Contact between natives and visitors, takes up the story from the viewpoint of one of the visitors. The book is an absolute delight: evocatively written, surprising, thought-provoking entertainment.

Continue reading...
Read More
Page 4 of 397 [4]

Search