In the Great Wide Out There

 On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to America’s congress, I attended a dinner for the Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, whose excellent debut novel, One Night, Markovitch, has just been published. I was looking forward to meeting Ayelet because I love her book – she writes with lightness of sad and…

Going to Work on the Page

With politicians attacking each other every day – about tax, healthcare, pink vans – the general election campaign is intensifying. Expecting MPs to illuminate matters of relevance would be like consulting the best-sellers’ lists to get an idea of where contemporary fiction is at. However, I remain fascinated by elections and that’s connected to two…

Stirring Memories

It would have been brilliant, not least because it would have proved that money doesn’t conquer all. If Liverpool had won their first league title for twenty-four years, in the Spring of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in the month David Peace’s Red or Dead appears in paperback, it would have reminded us…

The Ocean Between Us and It

A. S. Byatt was coming out of the Folio Prize ceremony and I was going in. Was I imagining it or did the author of Possession look perturbed? Was she leaving in disgust? I’d missed the announcement of the winner because I was busy knotting my tie. Now I noticed that very few people were…

Making It Look Easy

‘Lydia Davis,’ Ricky Moody says, ‘does the hardest thing: she makes it look easy.’ You could say the same about Lorrie Moore whose first book, Self Help, appeared in the mid-1980s and, along with Davis’s Break It Down, refreshed American short fiction in a style that was funny, philosophical and female. Moore, however, said something…

MA vs NW1

The American magazine N+1 has published excellent journalism, memoir and criticism over the last decade. A politically-energised community, real and online, has grown as the Brooklyn-based editors have lead the way in engaging with the practical, intellectual and existential questions that face emerging writers in tough times. It’s exciting then that this month Faber &…

Another Great Year for Books

This is going to be a great year for books. While 2013 was a great year for books, 2014 will be greater. Or so people keep saying. Is every year a great year for books? It’s hard to pinpoint a bad year but how do we know this year will be great? Plenty of excellent…

Keep On Running

Never one to waste words, Leonard Cohen answered succinctly when he was asked to define success: “Survival.” This was around the release of his 2012 album, Old Ideas, and it felt pertinent, not because Cohen sounded past it on songs like “Show Me the Place” and “Amen” – far from it – but because he…

Gnarled November

Despite being too young in 1963 to remember the day, George Packer (The Unwinding) has been fascinated ever since by the Kennedy assassination. Like so many of us. In his recent blog for the New Yorker, Packer writes of haunted dreams and of something locked away in our psyches that refuses to go away. As…

The (Not Such) Fun Stuff

‘What if you’re asked to review somebody who’s not only a reviewer himself but actually part of the reason that you wanted to become one?’ Do you go about your business any differently? Of course you don’t. But can you expect even a small amount of goodwill from another member of the critic’s union? Evidently…

The Imprint Books Leave

This summer, I ignored those newspaper articles where writers reveal which books they’re taking on holiday. I knew I wouldn’t be hitting Monte Carlo, decamping to Tuscany or even returning home to Cornwall, although I implore David Cameron to stop going there in the same spirit as Johnny Marr told him to stop name-checking The…

On Competition: ‘Who’s Number One?’

Gore Vidal, who died almost exactly a year ago (31st July 2012), said: “It is not enough to succeed, others must fail.” When I read this, aged 17, I hadn’t succeeded at anything so I had no way of knowing if it was true. But the grave tone appealed to me and, years later, I…

Dissent and Literature: Part 2

In the current world of first-hand accounts, social media and 24-hour news, what licence does an author, especially one honoured by the Nobel Academy, have to consider the aesthetics of literature at times of political upheaval, when the expectations for a fitting response are so high? ‘I don’t see an easy solution‘, said Orhan Pamuk…

Rhythms & Reverberations

The news that Faber will publish a book by Beastie Boys in 2015 got me thinking about distance, longing, things the best bands evoke, but not necessarily subjects that are synonymous with NYC’s most raucous. Interesting that Lee Brackstone should describe listening to Mike D, Adam Horovitz and the late Adam Yauch in North Yorkshire,…

‘A Blue-Collar Modernist Masterpiece’: Well by Matthew McIntosh

The publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 1813, the publication of Marcel Proust’s The Way by Swann’s in 1913 and the publication of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and subsequent death, in 1963, are this year’s major literary anniversaries. There’s another, however, which has so far gone unremarked. In Summer 2003 a friend…