Articles in Fiction
In Michel Houellebecq’s uncannily timely new novel, the triumph of an Islamist government relieves the dreary banality that defines the secular France of the 21st century.
On its schematic blueprints, the latest book by noted literary polymath Alberto Manguel is “about” Dante’s Divine Comedy – but as Robert Minto discovers, this author is at his best when he’s digressing.
An Orwellian dystopia, a deposed humanity, and a cat passionately in love with a dog – Justin Hickey reviews Robert Repino’s fiendishly clever novel Mort(e).
Set in the precarious territory between fiction and history, Nicolas Rothwell’s beautiful, haunting Belomor explores the ways storytelling serves as an impetus for self-discovery.
The star translating team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (aided this time by Richard Nelson) translate Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, with predictably disruptive results. Jack Hanson reviews.
Two grand novels of crime and passion from a pair of stars in the field: The Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr and Dennis Lehane’s World Gone By.
April 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of great Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope. In this essay from 2009, Open Letters‘s resident Victorianist Rohan Maitzen looks at how this author made the everyday epic.
The high school students in Tommy Wallach’s fantastic debut face more than graduation and an uncertain job market: they face an honest-to-gosh killer asteroid
A young boy and his gorgeous white elephant become apprenticed to the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire in this stunning new novel by the author of “The Bastard of Istanbul”
In the latest Princeton “Writers on Writers” installment, novelist Colm Toibin writes about poet Elizabeth Bishop
In N. K. Traver’s exciting debut, a young cyber-hacker finds his life steadily being commandeered – but his own reflection in the mirror.
In Dan Simmons’ latest fantastic novel, Henry James finds himself teamed up with fiction’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, in order to solve a very real – and very heartbreaking – mystery.
At the outbreak of the First World War, American writers flocked to Europe and headed for the Western Front in order to find their Muse – and to make some quick cash. A new book follows a handful of these earliest chroniclers
In the concluding volume of James Enge’s gripping fantasy trilogy, a band of unlikely heroes is caught between warring godlike beings in a world quickly tearing itself apart
“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” Woody Allen famously quipped; “I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” Robert Minto reviews a new book on what it takes to make it big in the literary afterlife
In a dystopian future, a plucky young woman from a poor village suddenly finds herself at the heart of the corrupt power system and the focal point of a rebellion in “The Hunger Ga-” um, in Victoria Aveyard’s “The Red Queen.”
For over a century, Oscar Wilde’s notebook on Thomas Chatterton has been regarded as a ‘smoking gun’ of Wilde’s plagiaristic tendencies. A new book radically re-examines the issue
Joanna Stafford – niece of an executed man and distant cousin to King Henry VIII – is called to court, where she immediately becomes the focal point of deadly intrigues
Three impressionable young 13th-century Franciscans embark on an improbably odyssey to bring a momentous manuscript to the Pope
In a world very much like our own, super-powered clandestine operatives vie with each other on missions to save or destroy humanity
Sabina, the wife of the enigmatic Roman emperor Hadrian, is beset by enemies in Rome – and safeguards a secret they’d all kill to know …
A businessman is on a trip to new-money Tunisia when the world’s economy goes into meltdown…
Can you improve on a classic? A new novel retells George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda — but much more is lost than gained in the attempt.
The great Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa claims he became a writer in order to annoy his father; his new novel takes up this age-old theme of the strife between fathers and sons.
As we should expect from someone whose previous work is both experimental and kinky, Miranda July has written a first novel that refuses to play by the rules.
Despite his iconic status today, in the 19th century Sherlock Holmes was neither the alpha nor the omega of crime fighters: a fascinating new book introduces us to his many contemporaries.
Ron Howard’s adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s bestselling In the Heart of the Sea will soon appear, but even the trailers raise rich questions: Why does this story still have the power to fascinate? A Moby-Dick fan ponders.
When we say of someone that they died too early, does this posit that there is a perfect time? How does the meaning of a life change the longer it’s lived. Jenny Erpenbeck’s new novel End of Days explores some answers.
Stalking the pages of Thomas Pierce’s debut story collection, where the surreal shares quarters with the ordinary, are dwarf mammoths, genetically modified guard dogs, baby Pippin monkeys, and a parakeet named Magnificent.
The Friendship of Criminals by Robert Glinski is a fresh, original and totally entertaining perspective on mob relationships; A Murder of Magpies is Judith Flanders deliciously wry take on murder and publishing.
Irma Heldman dives into a rollicking, bawdy yarn depicting an infamous, turn-of-the century caper masterminded by Professor Moriarty—Sherlock Holmes’ archenemy. Then she matches wits with a cheeky mini-tome refuting the great detective’s solution to his most illustrious case.
Free thinker, strong-minded woman, scholar, lover, novelist: George Eliot lived a courageous life that should be known and celebrated. But does Brenda Maddox’s biography do it justice?
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.
In this New York Times bestseller, a hapless woman spots a mysterious event from the window of her commuter train and is soon caught up in a police investigation.
Driven into hiding by the victorious forces of William the Conqueror, the heroic Hereward the Wake and his band of freedom fighters must struggle to survive
A strong-willed Bavarian princess captures the eye of the young Austro-Hungarian emperor in Allison Pataki’s opulent new historical novel. Steve Donoghue reviews.
In Jo Walton’s latest novel, the “just city” of Plato’s Republic is brought to life via Greek gods, robots, and a little discreet time travel
In Dewey Lambdin’s latest rousing Alan Lewrie adventure, our dashing hero sees action off the coast of a Spain imperiled by Napoleon
In V. E. Schwab’s new fantasy novel, a young man can travel between a string of alternate-reality Londons
In Matt Sumell’s debut, his main character manages to alienate every other person in the book, often by punching them.
For twenty-five years, the “Table Talk” feature of The Threepenny Review has offered occasional musings on a wide range of topics by some of the best freelance writers and critics in the business. A new hardcover collects a generous helping of highlights
When a 21st-century woman travels to the hometown of Emily Dickinson, she finds herself caught between a passionate present and a past far more human than she imagined
In the very engaging latest from Sharma Shields, one family has a very unusual encounter with the legendary Bigfoot
A small group of Americans visit a super-secret Chinese nature-park with a very unusual star attraction.
The author of “Dogwalker” returns with a new collection of interlinked short stories that revel in their own straight-faced absurdity
In this arresting debut, a young woman working in Paris is hiding from her past – and she worries that the old friends she betrayed are hunting her.
To shut down his internal censors, Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote My Struggle at the astounding rate of over a thousand pages a year. The result is fiction that is vibrantly alive.
Any new translation of a classic like Anna Kareninainevitably raises an awkward question: what was wrong with all the old translations? Debut writer Zach Rabiroff takes it line-by-line
Claudia Rankine articulates the truths of the black experience so poignantly in her celebrated collection Citizen by putting them, paradoxically, both plainly and artfully.
Like an overheated love letter, André Aciman’s novel Eight White Nights is easy to mock–but is it perhaps just as candid and emotionally powerful?
With so many versions of War and Peace to choose from, is there anything that translators can do to set themselves apart? Yes, says Steve Donoghue, they can make old mistakes.
97 years ago this month, the great, acerbic novelist Muriel Spark was born; we look back at Martin Stannard’s richly detailed biography from 2010
A slim picaresque novel that was a runaway bestseller in France gets a stylish English-language translation
A true believer in the tenets of Darwinism in the 19th Century goes on what amounts to a pilgrimage to that great Darwinian destination, the Galapagos Islands, in James Morrow’s glowing new novel
Only one man can possibly save a plague- and fire-stricken sub that’s burning and adrift at the top of the world …
When young Promise’s family is killed on their peaceful frontier planet, she signs up with the space-Marines – as one tends to do in such circumstances
The legendary fantasy author Michael Moorcock returns after a long absence to the genre he helped to create
Michael Mewshaw comes not to praise Gore Vidal but to bury him in this new memoir of a friendship that did not outlast Mr. Vidal’s funeral.
Horror fiction may not at first compare with more respectable genres, but look a bit closer. Horror is one of the oldest emotions known to man, and the artists who’ve evoked it have been some of our most brilliant and most strange …
It’s comforting to believe there are lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, or to treat it as a story about the triumph of the human spirit. Jona Oberski’s Childhood rightly refuses us these consolations.
The voice of poetry can often be the voice of lyric witness, turning our attention to moments in history that would have eluded us, or that might never have been felt as well as understood. These titles perform this function about as well as it can be done.
The contemporary American short story is a kind of stunt double for the novel. Monica McFawn’s Bright Shards of Someplace Else is one such collection, each of its eleven stories posturing like a dare accepted.
Historical novelist Andrew Levkoff stuffs the last installment of his “Bow of Heaven” trilogy with battles, love, loyalty betrayed, crucifixion, cross-purposes, loyalty regained, and deep reflections on what it all means.
Open Letters Monthly interviews the author of Blood of Eagles, book three of the Bow of Heaven series.
“We must compensate the man for the loss of his gun,” wrote Virginia Woolf. Roxana Robinson’s riveting novel challenges us to imagine how we can do that as we work for peace.
Book critic James Wood is a fascinating collection of contradictions: an apostate true believer, a champion of experimental fiction, an earnest searcher in empty temples. Sam Sacks reads one of our foremost readers.
Nora Webster may be Colm Tóibín’s slightest novel yet, but his later novels are born from and echo this wise and intimate investigation of the interior life.
Literature by post-Yugoslavian writers is often about identity in flux. That includes the books of David Albahari, one of the most widely read of contemporary Serbian authors and one of the most worth reading.
The author made immortal by the novel Dune also wrote a career’s worth of short stories. Robert Minto looks at the first-ever complete collection of those stories.
Norman Mailer was as fiery and mercurial a letter-writer as he was a novelist and journalist – and ten times as prolific. A big new volume collects the highlights of a lifetime in the post.
Now back in print: an English translation of iconic Polish writer (and compulsive re-inventor of himself) Marek Hlasko’s most powerful novel.
“Our belief in Literature has collapsed” Lars Iyer once wrote, but his new novel Wittgenstein Jr, the story of a passionate philosophy professor and his apathetic students, bristles with literary faith.
A veteran and a newcomer give us two gripping thrillers: The Big Finish by the critically acclaimed master of suspense, James W. Hall, and The Life We Bury, a mesmerizing debut by Allen Eskens.
Against a pervasive American sports culture, author Steve Allmond pits a devastating critique of the savage violence – and staggering toll in injuries and deaths – of football.
Title Menu: A list of great political books that doesn’t include What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer
Just in time for the November midterm elections, we do what doubters said couldn’t be done: we present you with a list of ten great political books that doesn’t include Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson returns to small-town Iowa in this new novel full of deceptive calms and clear mastery.
A reissue of James Agee’s letters to Father Flye give a picture of the writer’s naked ambition, excoriating self-hatred, and unrefined genius. But it also raises the question: Do we remember Agee more for what he wrote or what his addictions prevented him from writing?
Felix Francis continues to artfully follow in his late father’s footsteps with his newest thriller, Dick Francis’s Damage. The Button Man, Mark Pryor’s fourth Hugo Marston novel, is a prequel that adds a fascinating dimension to the highly charismatic protagonist of this splendid series.
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.
As Hollywood looks to science fiction and fantasy novels for the ‘source material’ of its newest CGI spectaculars, Justin Hickey picks ten sci-fi/fantasy books he hopes the studios never find and ruin …
In his latest collection of essays, Theater of Cruelty, Ian Buruma launches a series of expert investigations into the springs of cruelty and the perils of victomhood.
The wide-ranging themes of this wrenching novel are unified by imagery that links its heroine to an unexpected community of the traumatized living dead.
Martin Amis’ new novel not only delves into the souls of a small group of characters involved in the running of concentration camp – it also interrogates the very nature of Holocaust fiction. Jack Hanson reads the latest from the author of Time’s Arrow.
James Ellroy begins a second L.A. Quartet with his new novel Perfidia. But does it harness the demonic madness and stylistic panache of the author’s earlier works of historical crime fiction?
A British historian’s richly-sourced accounting of Molotov-Ribbentrop offers fresh insights into this Nazi-Soviet pact of “non-aggression.”
With literary criticism disappearing as a popular artform, we increasingly look to the book reviewer to do the critic’s work. A new collection by John Domini offers an example of reviews that transcend their form to provide analysis alongside mere evaluation.
Sophie Hannah revives Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot with panache in The Monogram Murders, and Joe Gannon’s debut thriller Night of the Jaguar is a tightly wound, gut-wrenching read.
In her debut collection of stories, Tiphanie Yanique attempts to capture in prose the complexities of modern-day life and racial identity in a Caribbean behind the tourism ads.
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.”
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.
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.
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.