Articles in Fiction
The critical consensus around reclusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante is enough to make you suspect collusion – but to what end? and at what cost? Rohan Maitzen reviews the reviewers.
Can Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda heal Canada’s colonial relationship with its First Nations? Why should we expect literature to succeed where our leaders have failed?
A disaffected British colonial officer with a yearning for heroism is relegated to a doomed imperial outpost where he meets a native boy with a yearning for heroes – and from this unlikely pairing, Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman weaves its fantastic, moving story.
It’s been half a century since the appearance of Saul Bellow’s seminal novel Herzog – Jack Hanson revisits the work to see how Bellow’s various machinations have held up over time.
Christopher Beha’s new novel Arts and Entertainments aims to be that weirdest of all things: a serious, even elegant, book about … reality television. As our reviewer reports, the oddity is that it was even attempted, and the wonder is that it succeeds so well.
In the world of Julie Hayden’s stories, the contingency of all experience, let alone of literary creation and reputation, is inescapable.
A tightly drawn disturbing novel, The Frozen Dead is Bernard Minier’s auspicious debut. The Long Way Home is the tenth in Louise Penny’s celebrated Armand Gamache series.
A fascinating debut collection of short stories set in modern China
Ben Lerner has followed his breakout novel Leaving the Atocha Station with a metafictional tale of a second-time novelist trying to throw a book together. Is it more than a game?
If you think distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art are stuffy Victorian relics, our beleagured Stephen Akey says, you’re just not paying enough attention. So are you a highbrow? And should you be? And should everybody be?
Metaphor: a tool for poets and rhetoricians, but also, perhaps, the way that people connect to the world at large. Lianne Habinek reviews a gamesome new study by the great literary critic Denis Donoghue.
What place do deep questions about the meaning of life have in our technological age? Is philosophy more important than ever?
Cover art from Omni, the new-age science mag of yore, is now a coffee table book: Giger, Frazetta, and Grant Wood are all here, but something crucial has been left out.
A Colder War is the latest from Charles Cumming, one of the best at depicting the frail and brutal world of spydom. Neely Tucker’s The Ways of the Dead marks the debut of what promises to be a first-rate series.
Powerful South Korean writer Kyung-sook Shin’s second novel to be translated into English tells a touchingly human tale set in a world which, for most of her Western readers, could scarcely be more alien.
Michael Cunningham’s beautiful new novel The Snow Queen follows the wisdom of fairy tales: its revelations occur at dusk, because the hour of despair is the most fertile of the day.
Over time, the books of our youth make way for titles better suited to the grown-up readers we have become. But not all of them: YA or not, some books — such as K. M. Peyton’s Pennington trilogy — deserve a lasting place on our shelves.
It’s summer at last, and you won’t find any relief from the heat in our editors’ round-up of the hottest books they know.
Daniel Wilson’s first book, Robopocalypse was a straightforward adventure story about robots rising up against their human makers. His new book takes that simple premise and expands on it in complex and timely ways.
The new Scribner “Hemingway Library” edition of The Sun Also Rises offers annotations, rough drafts, and alternate line-edits – but how much light does it shed on its “near-perfect work of fiction”?
Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, those supersmart, sophisticated sleuths, are back in The Late Scholar, a savvy new detective story by Jill Paton Walsh.
A ticking clock hangs ominously over every page of Craig DiLouie’s genuinely creepy new horror novel, filled with beings who aren’t quite zombies and not quite vampires. Our resident horror maven Deirdre Crimmins tells us all about it.
Middlemarch is all the rage now – as it should be! But what if you’ve already read not just George Eliot’s masterpiece but all of her novels? Do not despair: these eight books will bring you close to her in spirit.
Rusty Barnes’ debut novel Reckoning is both a hardbitten Appalachia noir and tender coming of age tale, both real art and real fun.
Rjurik Davidson’s stunning debut – an epic of espionage, magic, and beasts migrated out of mythology – isn’t the sixth in a series, or the tenth, or the fifteenth; it’s that rare thing in the genre: a stand-alone novel
For a little over two years, shortly before she died, short story master Katherine Mansfield wrote a weekly book review column. Those pieces not only shed light on Mansfield’s particular slant of genius, but have much to say about the embattled art of reviewing.
Major Kolt “Racer” Raynor doesn’t salute the U.S. flag – it salutes him. He punches bad guys so hard their grandkids are born with bruises. He once garrotted a terrorist using a string made from his own eyelashes. He stars in Dalton Fury’s new action novel – and if you don’t read the book, he’ll know.
Legendary Indian author Saadat Hasan Manto’s choicest short stories – depicting a teeming Bombay that’s both long-vanished and eternal – receive an attractive new paperback edition from Vintage International
Our mystery columnist looks at a highly anticipated debut, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, as well as the second novel in Jonathan Holt’s brilliant Carnivia trilogy, The Abduction.
Is it really the immigrant writer’s job to represent third-world suffering for the sake of first-world catharsis? In All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu resists the pressure to substitute autoethnography for art.
Characters never go wrong when their poor life choices make for fascinating reading. Kathleen Rooney supplies us with eight unmissable examples.
In Valeria Luiselli’s debut novel, a young Mexican woman imagines the real life of a long-dead man whose writings she has forged in the voice of a famous American poet. Then things get complicated.
As the world’s supply of writers outpaces the world’s demand for their books, the financial returns for writing have fallen to laughable levels. Then why keep doing it? Paul Griffin explores the problem of writing and money.
A troika of mysteries—one a gripping debut, Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, the others superb new novels from two very special authors: Peter Robinson returns with Children of the Revolution and Donna Leon is back with By Its Cover.
In his latest novel In Paradise Peter Matthiessen dramatizes a collision between the thoughtful philosophy of Zen and the worst of the 20th Century’s horrors.
William S. Burroughs’s notorious Cut-up Trilogy was his fiercest broadside against what he felt was the tyranny of linear thought. Steve Danziger delves into their Word Hoard.
“Your field is the mind, mine is the brain – will the twain ever meet?” Master novelist E. L. Doctorow’s latest deals with the traumas of duality.
The Cairo Affair is an elegant new espionage thriller from the highly accomplished Olen Steinhauer. And in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall, Vaughn Entwistle teams Arthur Conan Doyle with Oscar Wilde – what could be better?
B. J. Novak, the gamine and unassuming star of the American version of The Office, has written a collection of short stories, and that collection, remarkably, got published. Justin Hickey decides to judge it on its merits.
Raintree County may be the greatest American novel nobody has ever read. When Michael Johnson pulled it off his shelf, he was instantly hooked: maybe it’s time for a revival.
A dazzling, kaleidescopic debut novel journeys through Kenya’s fraught post-colonial history while unpacking the tangled question of what it means to be a Kenyan.
A close reading of Elisabeth de Waal’s The Exiles Return reminds us that the dream of every returning exile is to savor not only a lost land but a lost time.
A veteran master of suspense, Gerald Seymour enhances his track record with The Dealer and the Dead. Scott O’Connor’s Half World is a chilling fictional take on a secret CIA mind control program activated in the middle of the last century.
We mourn the death of the great Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant and are re-running Karen Vanuska’s moving appreciation from 2009 in tribute.
The books we reread say a lot about who we are or who we hope to be. They also shape us, as Rebecca Mead discovers in exploring her own long relationship with George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
Spike Jonze is the most mainstream of indie directors — or the most indie of mainstream directors — and his newest film Her is a triumph of quirky charm and visionary depth. Matt Sadler reviews.
February would be unremittingly bleak if it weren’t for the excuse it gives us to ponder the meaning of love, that many-splendored thing. Our editors offer up their favorite literary treatments.
Martha Grimes’ The Way of All Fish is a delectable satire set in the cutthroat world of New York publishing. Max Kinnings’ Baptism is a taut thriller of unbridled terror in the London subway.
One could argue, from the evidence of cable TV ratings, that we’ve entered the age of the anti-hero. But why are they so popular? Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel provides some unexpected answers.
To literary scholar Laura Frost, the great 20th century modernists created readerly pleasures not through familiar comforts but by transforming difficulty and strangeness into something exciting and new. Daniel Green tests the theory.
Romance, nostalgia and beguiling delusions are hallmarks of Lara Vapnyar’s novels, including her sinuous newest, The Scent of Pine
Two fine, first-rate thrillers usher in the New Year. One centers on a major drug bust in a cutting edge contemporary setting, the other tackles one of the most baffling and notorious crime sprees of the Victorian era.
Every correspondent in Moscow wanted to be the first to find Solzhenitsyn after he won the Nobel Prize in 1970. Michael Johson had that honor – but the great Russian writer wasn’t altogether pleased so see him.
The new Bridget Jones novel will make you laugh and cry — but it might also make you fret, as it continues the series’ ongoing celebration of incompetence. Is blue soup really the best we can hope for, or the most we should strive for?
John Ford’s story of star-crossed lovers is bloodier than Shakespeare’s and more heart-wrenching, too, for it’s a tragedy of childhood, of innocence lost.
Charles Blackstone, author of the novel Vintage Attraction and managing editor at Bookslut, speaks with Kevin Frazier about Chicago literature, online publishing, and being the spouse of a sommelier
A murder, a trip to the dump, and oh yah – September 11. That wacky Thomas Pynchon is at it again!
“The Moonstone will have its vengeance on you and yours!” Those fateful words propel us into one of the first and best of modern English detective novels — still sensational after all these years.
Led on by a “shared obsession,” a philosopher and a psycyhoanalyst have teamed up to offer their interpretation of Hamlet. With the ghosts of countless critics looming before them, how has this pair fared?
Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s expansive novel Americanah centers on a Nigerian woman’s immigration to the United States and eventual return to Nigeria. Orem Ochiel explores what her story says about complex, often traumatic experience of being black and African in the West.
Vintage records, black dogs, and lost souls fill Dead Set, a teen novel for readers (of all ages) who are sick of half-hearted Hunger Games clones.
A light mantle of frost settles over the crowded events of Jumpha Lahiri’s new novel, which is “about” loss in the way that Anna Karenina is “about” love
The splendid Tatiana is Martin Cruz Smith’s eighth Arkady Renko novel, while Sins of the Flesh is the fifth thriller to feature Colleen McCullough’s offbeat detective Carmine Delmonico.
Jonathan Franzen has translated and annotated a collection of essays by Karl Kraus, the Austrian polemicist known as the Great Hater and one of the signal curmudgeonly influences behind Franzen’s fiction.
How do you follow up on creating Tarzan of the Apes? You give the Ape-Man a son, stranding him in the jungle, and sending him out on hair-raising adventures of his own. And if you’re lucky, a legendary comic book artist will come along and draw it all.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s ambitious new novel imagines the life of a 19th-century woman botanist, as insightful as Darwin but lost to history. It’s an interesting project, and a worthy one, but does the novel live up to its premise?
Throughout its history, humankind has been both terrified by and obsessed with monsters – hence the booming ‘cryptid’ industry, traversing the globe in search of legendary beasts like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. A new book looks at the science and psychology behind our modern bogeymen.
The style of Clarice Lispector’s unconventional and uneasy fiction was driven by both social anxiety and physical pain. How did this transubstantiation take place?
Fearless reporter Renata Adler’s novel “Speedboat” has been stirring debate and controversy since it was published in 1976; now, in a new reprint from the New York Review of Books, it retains its power to shock, subvert, and just maybe seduce.
Never Go Back, Lee Child’s 18th Jack Reacher adventure, is a winner; plus, the second in a nifty new series, Mortal Bonds by Michael Sears, redefines “follow the money.”
To many the scriptural story of Joseph is ancient and arcane. But its exploration into divine and authorial omniscience make it seem powerfully contemporary.
Distance is complicated: it measures intimacy, but in unpredictable ways. Rebecca Solnit’s evocative new book explores the meaning of distance and closeness.
An aspiring young writer encounters the journals of legendary Canadian novelist Elizabeth Smart, whose virtuoso novella By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept gives no hint of her struggles with her own writing
Today George Orwell is a buzzword; what can his collected letters tell us about the man himself? G. Robert Ogilvy looks for the human being beneath the persona.
A newly translated selection of occasional prose by Robert Walser demonstrates the Swiss eccentric’s range of manic humor and Romantic melancholy
Two special thrillers, The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton and Alex by Pierre Lemaitre: They “star” a duo of sexual predators—each a particularly nasty piece of work that makes for heart stopping suspense.
A wild fever-dream of a book, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept careers between thrilling emotion and absurd histrionics.
Is David Rakoff’s novel-in-verse either worthy verse or a worthy novel? Does he pull off a high-wire act, as so many critics have concluded, or is it all a grand illusion?
The meek and peaceful Jesus has become the standard Christian image of the Messiah. Religious scholar Reza Aslan’s controversial new book shatters that image and replaces it with something very different: a violent revolutionary who came not to bring peace but a sword.
In Caleb Crain’s debut novel, a young man puts his ordinary life on hold and goes to post-revolution Prague in search of all the usual things young people go searching for in Prague. But, as reviewer Yulia Greyman observes, “false selves are a part of love.”
“We must compensate the man for the loss of his gun,” wrote Virginia Woolf. Roxana Robinson’s riveting new novel challenges us to imagine how we can do that as we work for peace.
A young man on a tentative law school track encounters the fiction of Philip Roth, and suddenly, his lostness acquires a commanding sense of purpose. An essay by Barrett Hathcock.
The Lord of the Rings draws on many medieval stories and myths. Oddly absent, however, are overt references to the one myth that ruled them all. A newly published poem fills that gap – but it may bemuseTolkein’s usual readers.
‘Everyone knows who won the war,’ runs the refrain of Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast; her newly published 1930 novel about the Spanish Civil War shows what it meant to be a witness to it.
The stories of British writer H.H. Munro, known by his pen-name Saki, are devastating studies in torment and cruelty; they’re also exceptionally funny. A new collection offers a bracing reminder of that duality.
From the surfeit of Scandinavian thrillers comes one that stands out with the best: Bad Blood by Arne Dahl.
Shirley Jackson is best known – infamous, even – for her chilling story “The Lottery.” But it’s her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, where battle rages between evil within and without, that’s her masterpiece.
When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1964, her moral authority was called into question. Now Margarethe von Trotta’s new film Hannah Arendt explores both who has the right and who has the responsibility to speak about the Holocaust.
In the famous jingle ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,’ Katherine Parr comes last – the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. But she was far more than that – scholar, regent, and passionate young woman – as a new Tudor historical novel attempts to portray
An auspicious debut, The Abomination is a riveting conspiracy thriller by Jonathan
Holt. Plus, Philip Kerr’s cheeky, charismatic Berlin cop Bernie Gunther is back in A Man Without Breath.
As the haze and heat of summer kick into full swing, the folk of Open Letters break out their annual Summer Reading recommendations!
Our feature continues, as more Open Letters folk share their annual Summer Reading recommendations!
Is close reading disappearing? And is that the most pressing problem facing universities? Terry Eagleton’s latest, How to Read Literature is a plea for a return to what made the humanities worth knowing.
Richard Ford likes complexity, and he filled his novel, The Sportswriter, with sonnet-like weights and counterweights of tangled and gorgeous intricacy. As Spencer Lenfield’s reading demonstrates, single sentences can contain worlds.
Olivia Manning: A Woman at War
By Deirdre David
Oxford University Press, 2013
When is a woman writer not a “woman writer”? What does it mean to claim or resist that identity — for a woman who writes, …
Fintan O’Toole is an idealist about Irish republicanism and his books begin a desperately necessary conversation. It’s a bad sign, though, that he can’t quite get past the preliminaries.
Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster is merely the newest Great Gatsby for film or television–four adaptations before it attempted to capture the dazzle and pathos of the classic. Matt Sadler us on a tour of West Egg across the decades.
Nice as it is to revisit old friends, readers of Jane Gardam’s latest may end up wondering if all the most interesting things happened somewhere else, at some other time.
John le Carré, the pre-eminent spy writer of the 20th century and beyond, dazzles us again with A Delicate Truth. Plus a debut addition to the ranks of the genre, Red Sparrow, might just earn the author Jason Matthews a pat on the back from the master.
In life there are no second chances, no do-overs. But what if we could keep trying until we got it right? Kate Atkinson explores the possibilities in a novel that just might win her a coveted literary prize or two.
In Andre Aciman’s latest novel, a man recalls his time as a graduate student at Harvard, revisiting the early days of a long-estranged friendship.
On Kate Zambreno’s Heroines and the crime of dismissive criticism in both Bookforum and The LA Review of Books
Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife was universally acclaimed by critics, but behind its beautiful writing lie some dangerously unexamined stereotypes about the Balkans. Pedja Jurisic digs beneath the mythology.
Mark Wallace’s novels won’t be found at a Barnes & Noble, and that may be a shame beyond words: both Dead Carnival and The Quarry and the Lot reveal haunting truths and wrestle language into terrifying attitudes.
In a new memoir packed with garbled madness, we get a funhouse-mirror autobiography of the legendary Richard Hell, who did more than anybody to invent punk rock and only haphazardly survived to tell the tale
Does love create an unbridgeable distance between two souls? Marco Roth’s searching memoir of his microbiologist father alternates between longing and numbness in its search for what, if anything, binds fathers and sons
Born of ancient Buddhist philosophy into the fragments of the modern world, Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge asks essential questions about what it means to be human.
Two seductive thrillers: one starring a fearless female cop, the other a boatload of washed-up MI5 spies.
Traumatized by her baby’s kidnapping and murder, disappointed in her marriage to a fallen hero, Anne Morrow Lindbergh found hope in the beautiful, fragile shells she found on the beach. The result was her gentle masterpiece Gifts from the Sea.
The lurid pathology of Patrick McGrath’s fiction – its endless procession of madmen, derelicts, and misguided psychiatrists – can often blind us to the fact that he is first of all a historical novelist – and a great one.
Why, asks James Meek’s latest novel, should the rich get smoother, easier lives than their less well-paid fellow men? And what can an innovative novelist do with the oft-visited ‘immoral rich versus honorable poor’ premise?
The great Russian writer Maxim Gorky’s heart may always have been in Russia, but for years his intermittent stays in Italy stirred his creativity and fired his passion. “In love you discover everything right away,” he wrote – and he loved Italy.
The media just won’t leave old man Voltaire alone! We run a transcript of the latest interview.
Elie Wiesel once claimed “a novel about Treblinka is either not a novel or not about Treblinka.” How does Steve Sem-Sandberg grapple with representing the unrepresentable in his sweeping chronicle of the Łódź ghetto, The Emperor of Lies? A review from our archives.
Venice has traded flinty commercial acumen and world-weary merchant princes for an ennui worthy of M. John Harrison’s science fiction; her profession has now become the art of insubstantiality. For centuries authors have tried and failed to capture her. Steve Donoghue surveys the glorious wreckage.
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is beloved for its wit and wisdom. But behind its many beauties lurks a disquieting possibility: that misery is the price we must pay for morality.
After fictionalizing his experiences in his previous four books, Aleksandar Hemon revisits his memories in a new collection of essays.
Yes, we know Sam Lipsyte’s stories are laugh-out-loud funny. But all that low comedy–the pratfalls, the dirty jokes–serves as the ballast for some of the darkest stories in contemporary fiction. Steve Danziger elaborates.
To make something we must first unmake or take apart something else. Why, then, in a novel preoccupied with acts of destruction and reconstruction, does Pat Barker not offer a corresponding deformation of form? Has her critique of Modernism led her to disavow art altogether?
Car crashes, suburban swingers’ societies, accidental prostitution, Nixon enthusiasts, and a cameo performance by Don DeLillo – in her latest novel, A.M. Homes maintains her equilibrium
Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs, is a dazzling debut that deserves a place as a benchmark of the crime-thriller genre
Spoiler alert! It’s a familiar warning — but isn’t it also a silly one? There’s so much more to novels than their plots. And yet what if we’re better readers for not knowing? Consider The Mill on the Floss, for example.
When the Paris Review, long regarded as a literary standard-bearer, publishes a volume on the art of the short story, it flushes a flurry of conversations into the open: what is a short story? What constitutes an anthology-worthy example? What’s the audience for this kind of thing? And: can these stories answer such questions?
“The eye says ‘Here is Anna Karenina,’” wrote Virginia Woolf; “A voluptuous lady in black velvet wearing pearls comes before us. But the brain says ‘that is no more Anna Karenina than it is Queen Victoria.’” Joe Wright’s cinematic adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic avoids the pitfalls of such literalism.
In M. John Harrison’s lyrical Viriconium trilogy, the high science of quantum physics meets the low art of fighting giant locusts. Justin Hickey finds a quiet spot to watch the chitin fly.
Joseph Epstein has a cult following as a sharp-tongued critic and essayist. His latest collection showcases his love of words and ideas as well as his caustic wit.
“The proper function of a critic is to save a tale from the artist who created it” wrote D. H. Lawrence, but sometimes – most of the time – despite the best efforts of the best critics, both tale and artist disappear. What do we do with the criti-cal darlings of yesteryear, now filling the library bargain sale? And what of the critics, who called them imperishable?
The startling revelations in Anonymous turn out to be only the beginning: literary sleuths have uncovered a slew of other authorial misdemeanors.
Year after year, D. H.Lawrence found love, lust, and gainful employment in Italy – and through the strange alchemy of the place, he also found the inspirations for some of his most enduring works of art.
John le Carré is still as popular as he’s ever been, but what about Len Deighton? Our correspondent has gone back to Deighton’s novels and found their Cold War intrigue and human dramas as rewarding as ever.
Watching the Dark, the latest in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series, shows the master crime writer at the top of his form.
A conversation about the enduring appeal of Pride & Prejudice.
In 2011, Aleksandar Hemon chooses his favorite short fiction from all across Europe. From our archives, Kevin Frazier celebrated these bracing imports.
It is said that Thomas Hardy fell deeply in love with his wife, Emma, only after she died. Stephen Akey revisits the stunning, elegiac poetry he wrote in her memory.
Say “Evgeny Onegin” to any educated Russian and you will trigger the first stanza or two of Pushkin’s great novel in verse. Now Russia’s national poet is finally coming into his own in the West as well.
Unsettled and penniless, James Joyce’s exile was initially more imrpovised than cunning. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story of his early years on the continent.
Not every actor gets the plum role of vampire hunter and romantic lead Jonathan Harker. Steve Brachmann reflects on his part in the Dracula-inspired rock musical The Dead English
Dan Fesperman’s The Double Game is a complex literary novel of intrigue that makes spy fiction a central character, “doubling” the reading pleasure.
The Hemingway Library has given us a variorum edition of A Farewell to Arms with 39 alternate endings. But how might Hemingway himself have felt about the resulting collage?
A rumor of Narnia at Trinity Church prompts two questions. Can a building have a spiritual life? Can a work of art not? Phillips Brooks and the idea of ecstasy
Anthony Burgess is famous, but not for his best book. John Cotter sees your A Clockwork Orange and raises you the new Europa edition of Earthly Powers.
Anthony Burgess the novelist had dreams of being a composer. He had little success, but along the way he delved deep into the nature and meaning of music.
Europa Editions has reprinted Anthony Burgess’ masterpiece Earthly Powers. Our editors talk about that seminal volume which has inspired an issue wide celebration of Burgess and his work.
Respectable novelists are solemn, meditative, and deliberate–they certainly don’t churn out book reviews every week. Anthony Burgess smashed that fussy mold and left us a lifetime’s work of brilliant, omnivorous literary journalism.
A Clockwork Orange turned 50 this year and received the gift of an anniversary edition. Justin Hickey looks anew at the novel Anthony Burgess claimed to have knocked off in three weeks, and which made him famous.
Anthony Burgess’ first novels were a series of dark comedies set in colonial Malaya. Did he fall prey to Edward Said’s Orientalist crtitique, or did he anticipate it?
Some of Anthony Burgess’ most accomplished inventions roam into the past, to Shakespeare and Marlowe’s England and Jesus’ Judea. How well has his historical fiction stood up across the years?
“I knew my trip would mean an encounter with Adela Quested”: Victoria Olsen reflects on what she found, and what was lost in translation, when she travelled to India with E. M. Forster on her mind.
A city in northern England and a remote Scottish island are appropriately bleak settings to launch two impressive new series.
Open Letters Weekly has been the venue for hundreds of book reviews in 2012. For your reading pleasure and holiday book-buying convenience, we gather them here in chronological order.
Bossophilia: The idolization of Bruce Springsteen that comes from midlife nostalgia and a fear of dying. Steve Danziger confronts the phenomenon, and a new biography.
The fairy tale has been through several metamorphoses; the next might result in its extinction. Max Ross reviews Jack Zipes’s cultural history of the genre.
Although I would rather do almost anything than attend a literary reading (like, for instance, stay home and read), I made an exception for Jorge Luis Borges when he lectured to a packed house at …
What does it mean to say “only the music matters?” In her bleakly intelligent new novel, Lynne Sharon Schwartz challenges us to consider what we really value in music and how our own demand for superhuman perfection strips it of its soul.
William Kent Krueger and Steve Hamilton, authors of two critically acclaimed series, have winning new detective novels. Irma Heldman reviews.
Renowned reviewer and cultural critic Daniel Mendelsohn has a scintillating new collection of his recent work; John Cotter and Steve Donoghue compare notes on “Waiting for the Barbarians”
How can writers depict the fragmented modern soul? For Zadie Smith, the solution is an untidy, fragmented novel. M.K. Hall reviews NW
In the opening volume of the “Toxic City” series, London is cut off from the rest of the world and filling up with super-powered mutants – two things which have been true on YouTube for some time now.
Can a famously cold and impersonal writer like Paul Auster make a memoir of aging that works against his strengths? And are they strengths after all?
Madman, lothario, despot, drug fiend, friend and enemy of Mussolini – and immortal poet. Gabriele D’Annunzio was all of these things and many more in his whirlwind of a life.
Julio Cortázar and Gabriel Garcia Marquez brought Latin American fiction to the attention of the world. Now a young crop of writers are trying to move beyond magical realism–a new anthology charts the diverse approaches.
The seventeenth Lee Child is vintage Jack Reacher and the eighth Louise Penny is, as always, compelling and charismatic
The son of a powerful crime family falls in love with a young woman in the Witness Protection Program – a young woman his family wants dead! Don’t you hate it when that happens?
What does the soul-searching writer do when the concept of the soul–to say nothing of God–has lost its currency? Two new confessional novels try to navigate that uncharted territory.
It’s a bridge, a barrier, and a burden; it’s used in the bedroom, the kitchen, and the outhouse. Leah Price helps us think again about what we can, should, or want to do with that most fetishized of objects: the book.
The worlds of fine art, porno, hollywood, meth addiction, and quality lit cross and recombine in Bruce Wagner’s latest Dead Stars. We made this culture, now what do we make of it?
Pound wrote The Pisan Cantos on toilet paper while prisoner in an open-air metal cage during WWII, and he spent many of the following years in mental hospitals. “I can get along with crazy people,” he quipped. “It’s only the fools I can’t stand.”
What would it mean if history were a joke, a shaggy dog story? J. G. Farrell’s bleakly funny Troubles reflects the struggle of post-war British literature to come to terms with the inheritance of modernism.
There are warring schools of fad and interpretation, there are critical readings of an hour or a season – and then there’s Wordsworth’s verse itself, annotating and amplifying the personal reading experience.
A rare film is the centerpiece of Syndrome E, a cutting-edge, mesmerizing thriller.
“Ellis, Leyner, Leavitt, Franzen, Powers…their fictions reduce to complaints and self-pity. Dostoevski has balls.” This and other gleanings from a trip to the David Foster Wallace archives.
The great Antonio Machado loved his native Spain and was disgusted by its descent into fascism; that fusion of enchantment and grief vivifies his unforgettable poetry.
Two scalpel-sharp political thrillers that mark the welcome return of the thoroughly winning, charismatic protagonists: Charlie Muffin and Joe DeMarco.
You think you know Ivanhoe: it’s the original swash-buckling adventure story, full of fights, escapes, ambushes, and then, of course, a happy ending. But what you see if you look more closely may make you think twice about its chivalric ideals.
The verses of the neglected poet James Schuyler seem to ramble, but they don’t really ramble; they seem dishevelled, but they aren’t; they seem miniaturist, but they contain whole worlds. Stephen Akey makes the case for your renewed attention.
2012, a William Gaddis renaissance year, sees the reissue of the author’s awesome, strangely prescient 1975 novel J R. Greg Gerke and Gabriel Blackwell discuss their experiences tackling the tome.
Nerdy teenager Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider – and a super-franchise was born! As a new blockbuster Spider-Man movie hits the summer theaters, Justin Hickey takes us on a tour of the character’s colorful – and often tortured – past!
The inventor of the beloved Inspector Maigret was gigantically prolific – hundreds of novels, churned out at lightning speed (80 pages a day, according to the author himself) – and in this as in many other things, Georges Simenon was a world unto himself.
John Updike once affably damned James Agee as a wasted talent who failed to cultivate his craft. Liza Birnbaum replies with a defense of the glories of Agee’s ragged, heartfelt work.
Cop to Corpse, the 12th in Peter Lovesey’s Detective Supt. Peter
Diamond series, finds the master at the top of his form.
Book reviewers are split on whether Toni Morrison’s new novel is a further triumph or a falling off. Or have these critics only found what they anticipated? We review the reviews, then we review the book.
As Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” takes movie-goers back to the world of his “Alien” classics, we take a look at the long and lively history of modern cinema’s most famous monsters.
Dubbed the Voltaire of science fiction, Robert Sheckley often denied that there was anything serious in his fabulations. But a new collection belies the claim, displaying inventive satire mixed with wisdom
“You come as opportunely as cheese on macaroni” is a terrible line, a symptom of all the reasons George Eliot’s Romola is a failure. But is failure really such a bad thing? Maybe a novelist’s reach should exceed her grasp.
This picaresque classic by Colombian novelist Álvaro Mutis doubles as an extended valentine to the author of Heart of Darkness. Robert Latona revisits it.
Carsten Stroud’s Niceville is a wildly edgy thriller with the heart of a dark comedy–our resident mystery maven reviews
Steve Donoghue takes the emperor’s box to thumbs-up or thumbs-down an array of Roman historical novels, as “A Year with the Romans” continues.
Felix Holt, the Radical may be one of George Eliot’s least-read novels, but its questions about a democracy that puts power in the hands of “ignorant numbers” still have both moral and political resonance.
Brian Evenson’s work is a violent exploration of a violent medium: language. His new novel Immobility and the stories collected in Windeye continue that journey into dark territory.
The real mystery of Richard III is not the fate of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, but why we never tire of telling and re-telling his story. What do we really see when we stare at his enigmatic portrait?
Art, Truth, Data, Sex, and Facebook–rabble-roused by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact, Max Ross connects them in a key to all nonfiction aesthetics
No form of literature seems as thoroughly doomed in the 21st century as the printed encyclopedia, but even dinosaurs can have rich and rewarding life-stories. Where did we go, before we all went to the Internet?
Ken Layne’s political writing is sharp and raucus, and a novel about a financially devastated near-future United States would seem like a perfect vehicle for more anger. But though that fire is still there, a gentle-but-compelling spiritualist tone has risen to to the fore.
Known as much for how she exited her life as for the poetry she wrote during it, Sylvia Plath remains a polarizing figure in the world of verse. What are we reading, when we subject ourselves to her poems?
Randall Jarrell was suspicious of attempts to turn criticism into a science: he wrote as a reader, for other readers, with the work itself foremost in his mind.
A thumping mix-tape of dystopian fantasy and gangster noir, Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane defies easy categorization–but does it offer a story to match its stylistic bravura?
The box office record-setting movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is the latest incarnation of an unsettling children-as-prey plot that’s been with us in one form or another for a long time – and never more vividly than in Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale
The raw sexuality of the Catullus’ love poems keeps them alive even today, and the things he implied about Julius Caesar STILL can’t be repeated in polite conversation – how do we deal with this young man who’s always making us feel just a bit uncomfortable?
When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2010, it was given to an empty chair. Its recipient, Liu Xiaobo, was in prison for advocating human rights in China. Though he is still incarcerated, a collection of essays sheds light on his thought and struggle.
With its headspinning wordplay and lunatic cast of characters, Seth Morgan’s 1990 novel Homeboy blazed like a comet into the literary pantheon. Steve Danziger revisits this grime crime classic.
To the quintessential virtues the Puritans lent to a fledgling republic – globality, philantropy, and autonomy – the ‘speaking aristocracy’ of the Boston Brahmins added one more: the love of learning
Long-time critic John Sutherland’s latest book The Lives of the Novelists takes readers on a biographical tour of 294 creators’ lives. But does it work? Long-time critic Steve Donoghue and novelist John Cotter try to figure that out.
In Nick Harkaway’s altogether remarkable novel Angelmaker, blistering gangster noir meets Rabelaisian comedy
In The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson evokes the brutality of North Korea’s authoritarian regime by way of an over-the-top love story. Joyce W. Lee investigates whether torture and romance can coexist in one novel.
Of his 60+ books, one in particular, The United States, is best representative of his work as a whole and, by readers, best loved. On the Collected Essays of Gore Vidal.
Frank Kermode consumed all of the tumultuous 20th century’s literary theories without being consumed by them. A look at the work of this wisest of secular clerics.
For two generations, the great American critic and man of letters Edmund Wilson has been instructing and delighting his readers – and inspiring some of them to become critics themselves.
Elizabeth Hardwick joined the literary world of mid-20th century Manhattan with every intention of making her mark upon it – which she did, in review after inimitable review, taking American book-discourse to levels and places it had never reached before
Where would Lionel Trilling, godfather of the liberal imagination, fit into our contemporary culture of ideas? And how much of that culture is of his making?
Most criticism is reactive, but in his essay “The Poet,” Ralph Waldo Emerson proved prophetic. He set a challenge and Walt Whitman took him up on it.
Richard Poirier was one of the great bridge-builders–his sorely neglected classic A World Elsewhere drew upon the writing of Emerson but presciently anticipated the postmodernist ideas that would soon enter the mainstream.
The best of Anthony Lane’s many New Yorker reviews and essays were collected in Nobody’s Perfect, a big volume that amply displays this writer’s wit and subtlety.
Agatha Christie has received praise from wide and varied corners, and mystery columnist Irma Heldman adds to the chorus with this retrospective on the life and work of the Queen of Crime.
Is there more to romance fiction than perfect people meeting cute and living happily ever after? Sarah Wendell thinks so, but her arguments in defense of this most reviled of genres may themselves sell it short.
Wallace Stevens, so long considered the driest and most cerebral of poets, can in fact touch the soul. It all hangs on the nature of poetry itself, what it is.
Eli Gottlieb’s novels are built on dissimulation: lies to be cruel, lies to be kind … how does this formula hold in The Face Thief, and what is Gottlieb getting at?
This new novel has all the grit, violence, and hopelessness we expect of the noir sub-genre, but here it’s infused with an almost philosophical edge.
Tom McCarthy’s Derrida-inspired linguistic and narrative fixations are once again on full display in Men in Space, his first novel now reissued after the popularity of Remainder and C
Nobody would accuse the mature Larkin of being a greeting card poet, and yet a warm and even vulnerable sentimentality bubbles up in his verse, often when it’s least expected.
The Silent Oligarch is a smashing debut thriller that has Chris Morgan Jones assuming the le Carré mantle in his own very original way
She’s a shadow, an absence, that haunts the letters, diaries, and novels of her famous half-sister Virginia Woolf. What can we really know about Laura Stephen?
Ayad Akhtar’s debut novel American Dervish describes joins a Pakistani-American boy’s coming-of-age story with the exploration of a Muslim family’s assimilation into picket-fenced suburbs. What traditions will be kept or compromised? And more importantly, how well does the author present his vision?
If anything’s taboo in our society it’s a thoughtful, humanistic portrait of a terrorist, which is why more established writers failed where Jarett Kobek delivers something new.
Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is usually overshadowed by her sisters’ masterpieces, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but this gripping novel, a startling exposé of Victorian patriarchy, deserves a turn in the spotlight.
Is Don DeLillo’s short game as good as his long? Is it better? His first collection of short fiction — or is it his first? — offers occasion to take the much-lauded writer’s measure.
P.D. James takes on Jane Austen: a match made in elite whodunit heaven.
Prince of the Bengali renaissance, internationally feted poet, composer, painter, educator — why don’t we know Rabindranath Tagore today? And will a new book open our eyes?
His own life was the great tragedy he was never quite able to write. Michael Adams assesses the career of playwright Terence Rattigan.
A rich, beautiful, but sadly neglected historical masterpiece: Hilda Prescott’s The Man on a Donkey is the War and Peace of the English Reformation
Carte Blanche is bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver’s new take on James Bond—bringing Agent 007 into the post-9/11 age.
“I made no particular effort to keep the portrait of Byron consistent from one novel to another. I wanted to show him in different lights, from different angles.” Joshua Lustig interviews the author of the esteemed Byron Trilogy.
Does marriage mean much anymore? Does the novel? Jeffrey Eugenides sets out to reinvent the classic literary story—but can he combine the style and the substance of the greats he hopes to update to our times?
A meticulously-researched rendition of the horrifying massacres that comprised the “Rape of Nanjing” is the backdrop for Ha Jin’s latest telegraphic and affecting novel.
Robert Musil’s magnum opus The Man Without Qualities was groundbreaking not because it’s unfinished but because it’s unfinishable. A new study attempts to take scope of its deep and mesmerizing pointlessness.
A gripping thriller, the debut collaborative work from a duo of Danish writers, is the first in a trilogy you won’t soon forget.
Umberto Eco’s potboiling new novel The Prague Cemetery was denounced in Europe for anti-Semitism, and then went on to become a best-seller. Is the controversy valid? What strange creation has Eco brought forth?
Provocative public intellectual/muckraker Christopher Hitchens offers an enormous volume of collected essays and articles, probably his last.
In Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel The Stranger’s Child the renown of a minor English poet balloons and distorts in each succeeding decade after his death
Novelist António Lobo Antunes’ books are searing and wildly original indictments of Portugal’s needlessly protracted and bloody colonization of Angola.
Ben Lerner’s arresting first novel sets a funhouse mirror before the author’s own formative years as a poet, poseur, and pill-popper in Madrid.
Eleven years after her breakout novel The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt returns to satirize the chattering nonsense of the corporate world.
A Death in Summer is the fourth and best addition to the literate, elegant mystery series by Benjamin Black, the pen name of an award-winning author.
Colonialism, feminism, witchcraft, the Lord of Darkness — themes such as these once made Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novels bestsellers. Now her charmingly subversive fiction is back in print.
Nicholson Baker’s provocative new book is an attempt at mainstream literary pornography, but does it suffer from the same performance anxiety as other novelistic efforts to depict sex?
One of the most significant voices of the Harlem Renaissance was Jessie Redmon Fauset — novelist, essayist, translator, and editor. She’s become obscured behind many of the male writers she published, but Joanna Scutts returns her poignant work to the main stage
Newly released in paperback are three Young Adult novels aimed at that sometimes-elusive reading demographic: teen boys.
The larger-than-life exploits of Lord Byron drew an erratic and daunting trajectory through the lives of those nearest him. A trilogy of novels attempts to go where so many biographies have gone before.
Once considered a credible rival to Dickens and Thackeray, W. H. Ainsworth is nearly forgotten today. It’s our loss: his historical novels – full of sensuous detail – run the gamut of romance and horror, tragedy and comedy.
Irmgard Keun depicted exceptionally naive women and seemed even to play the the role herself, even suing The Gestapo for banning her books. But was there a strategy behind playing dumb?
A witty young woman meets a devastating man — literally, he devastates her. From the wreck of her life she tells her tale, and it is a tale well told. Sex meets death in Deborah Kay Davies’ brilliant True Things About Me
Its early readers found the novel shocking, unfeminine, un-Christian, revolutionary. So why are film adaptations of Jane Eyre so studiously inoffensive?
Vladimir Sorokin’s gruesome (and frequently censored) satires puncture Russia’s surprising nostalgia for the glory days of Stalin and Khrushchev; Amelia Glaser reviews two newly released works.
The self is strange and divided in Jenny Boully’s new book of poetry; Karen Hannah tries to piece it together.
Visionary novelist J.G. Ballard’s penultimate book “Millennium People,” about an outbreak of middle-class revolution and terrorism, has finally been published in the U.S.
It’s a comfortable truism that the novels of Jane Austen are all things to all readers. But … a life-instruction manual? From the OLM Archives, a review of A Jane Austen Education
Good writers borrow, great writers steal. Sure, but should they steal whole characters? plots? authors? Robert Coover and the writers of Re: Telling steal it all and let their readers sort it out.
Scott Sparling’s first novel Wire to Wire has rushed up at the reading world full of glue-sniffers, freight-hoppers, wedgeheads, and knives midair — so what’s it really about?
French trailblazer Raymond Roussel created teeming and fertile worlds from a secret process of wordplay. Two of his most spectacular works are coming back into print after a long, undeserved absence.
Widowhood is lonely, darkly comic, defiant, and emotionally vital in Michelle Latiolais’s new story collection. Jeff Bursey reviews.
How to write a great novel of the financial crisis? One contender has published his attempt, and it features an updated version of that bugbear figure from Shakespeare and Trollope: the Jewish banker.
Is Marjorie Garber’s defense of literary studies balm to the beleaguered English professor’s soul? Not yet, anyway.
Walking talking cats? mysterious birthmarks? ancient secrets? Bogdan Suceava takes us to a strange place (Romania, present day) in his newly translated novel.
The omissions in Javier Marías’s beguiling, enigmatic novels are just as important as what appear on the page, and two newly translated books are marked by this juggling of the known and the unknown.
Kurt Wallander’s touching swan song shows why his creator Henning Mankell is an acknowledged master of the police procedural.
Francis Spufford’s new story collection blends fact and fiction to explore the truths and towering delusions of the Soviet economic system–and its production model, the American fast food chain.
Tea Obreht’s “The Tiger’s Wife” is one of the most heralded fiction debuts of the season. Kevin Frazier weighs the switch-ups of its tone against the beauties of its prose.
It’s fitting that Ahdaf Soueif is narrating this exciting new chapter in Egypt’s history: for decades she has offered her readers richer, more complicated stories of the Middle East than the commonplace ones of submission and extremism.
The protagonist of Teju Cole’s “Open City” roams New York, gathering and subtly processing observations; Andrew Martin trails this enigmatic walker in the city.
Death-in-a-Box meditates on sameness, doubling, and identity’s dissolve. So who is this Alta Ifland? And what sets her apart?
Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is the epitome of lurking evil — but two recent novels do their best to unearth the smoldering bad-boy behind the murderous facade. So: Was Mina Harker smitten before she was bitten?
The premise of this elegantly wrought thriller puts a chilling new spin on the notorious British spy ring, “The Cambridge Five.”
Stanley Elkin’s fiction is marked by verbal wizardry and a searing comic vision; does a new biography do justice to his underappreciated artistry?
She was an orange-seller, an actress, a whore, and the most popular of Charles II’s many mistresses: Nell Gwynn stars in two new novels.
Teenage Catherine Howard weds the older and ailing Henry VIII to serve her family’s ambition, and uses her status to take lovers of her own – risking everything. Novelist Suzannah Dunn spins a fine tale out of the girl’s brief rise and fall.
Tarzan is one of the most popular fictional creations in modern times. Does the Ape Man define something essential in the human experience – or do we keep redefining Tarzan to suit our ever-changing needs?
‘She’s a drug; I’m her main focus, the focus of all her attention. No one has ever loved me like that.’ Victoria Best explores the fraught relationship between Marguerite Duras and the young man whose love inspired and tormented her.
Matt Taibbi is the foremost political-writing muckraker of his generation, matching an acerbic wit with a pressure-cooked prose style. But is there substance behind the bluster?
For nearly three decades, Sara Paretsky has used the familiar form of the private eye novel to turn a critical eye on contemporary America. Rohan Maitzen reviews the latest in her V.I. Warshawski series.
You think you want to look beauty in the eye? Get ready to tremble… Alice Brittan reviews Michael Cunningham’s paradoxical novel “By Nightfall”.
Molly Allgood was only a young, up-and-coming actress when her fiance J.M. Synge died of cancer. Joseph O’Connor’s novel “The Ghost Light” imagines how the rest of her life played out in the shadow of that loss.
Virginia Woolf imagined the Almighty seeing us coming towards Paradise, books in hand: “We have nothing to give them, they have loved reading.” But does reading always bring salvation?
Lance Olsen’s page-turning experimental novel-in-stories mugs, flirts, ends the world, and dares the reader to make a rondel of intuitive leaps.
His short novels are the ‘ugly stepchildren’ of 20th century fiction, and yet his admirers are legion; A Year with Short Novels takes a look at Nathanael West and his two best-known works.
Assimilation is the nightmare of Joshua Cohen’s daring novel “Witz,” and the book is therefore designed to be strange and prickly to the gentiles who try to read it.
In our Internet-fueled new century, can the in-between genre of the short novel survive? Or have novellas – with their speed and feral intensity – finally come into their own? Our Year with Short Novels concludes.
Tom McCarthy’s new palimpsest of microscripts, C, attempts a new technocratic and poetical re-imagining of its protagonist’s life story. What’s at stake, and what’s won?
Is the death of literature finally dead? If not, it’s been dealt a healthy blow by Gregory Jusdanis’ Fiction Agonistes, even it art does have to “justify itself in a way not necessary before.”
Ever since Cain and Abel, literature has reserved a prominent place for sterling heroes — and the flawed, grasping, and entirely more interesting brothers who live in their shadow.
John le Carré not only has a new novel — all his old ones are being inducted into the pantheon of UK Penguin Classics. Has this indefatigable crafter of spy novels transformed into the litterateur in our lifetime?
Charles Portis’s “True Grit” features a young girl who’s all business and a grizzled gunslinger who’s all heart — but there’s far more complexity and humor to the story than the Hollywood pairing implies. Ingrid Norton looks at a great American novella.
A new collection of Nadine Gordimer’s short fiction illuminates the stark realities of apartheid and showcases the literary talents of the woman who saw it all.
In Yoko Ogawa’s beautiful, violent take on the Bluebeard legend, a stern old man and a biddable girl meet in a hotel and embark on a sexual journey of surprising poignancy.
The most Bellovian figure of all may have been the man who lent us the term. A new collection of Saul Bellow’s letters present the man in all his exuberant passion and thorny short-temper.
Of the charismatic Yale lecturer one adoring student wrote, “Charles Hill is God,” and in his new book, Hill moves in mysterious ways. He claims that statecraft and the Western canon are inextricably linked — but there are doubters in the temple.
In his latest book, Stephen King works in extremely familiar territory — ordinary people presented with extraordinary moral choices, with a dash of the eerie thrown in. Do an old hand’s usual tricks still entertain?
For more than fifty years and more than fifty novels, Louis Auchincloss chronicled the lives of New York’s upper class. His last book is a memoir of his life among that upper class — but is truth stranger than fiction?
As reproductive technology has become more advanced, the value of those engineered lives has become more complicated. Two recent novels provide a striking perspective on this growing conflict.
George R. R. Martin’s epic “Song of Fire and Ice” has sold millions of copies and is about to be a new HBO production. A timely appreciation gives you some idea of what all the fuss is about.