Thumbs up for Anglican Women Novelists: From Charlotte Brontë to P.D. James edited by Judith Maltby and Alison Shell. Literary criticism.

At the risk of sounding facetious: it is a book of short biographies and literary analyses of Anglican Women Novelists; and it is excellent. Does the topic interest you? Then read it. You will discover interesting things, your literary conversations will expand, and you will discover even more authors you want to read.… >> Read more

Two thumbs up for Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale by Herman Melville. Literature.

I’m not going to review Moby-Dick; you already know if you are the kind of person who will read Moby-Dick or not. If you are interested, but perhaps a little intimidated, I will recommend the free audio version performed by Stewart Wills on LibriVox. I do not enjoy audio books, but Moby-Dick is secretly poetry rather than prose, so I found that it suited walking home from work, as if some elder were recounting an epic in my ear to speed up a necessary expedition.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan. Literary criticism.

I will laugh gently over the world “crucial” in the title. Crucial, no. Some of the topics touched upon in these essays are rather silly. But most are illuminating in some way, and when they are good they are very interesting indeed. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of “What Games do Characters Play?” (which refers to cards, not psychological games).… >> Read more


Thumbs up for Offshore and The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Literature.

Two short masterpieces, but I think I am unequal to describing either of them; to begin with, they were so easy to read I vanquished each in a few gulps. The Blue Flower is based on the life of a real German Romantic poet and philosopher, Fritz von Hardenberg, later known as Novalis.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for A Book of One’s Own: People and their Diaries by Thomas Mallon. Literary history.

It is a crying shame this book is out of print. After contemplating at length what to say about it, I will have to bow to the supremacy of Phyllis Rose’s review on the back: “This is more than a book about diaries; it’s a celebration of life and the many ways people have of savoring it.” Yes, that.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. Literature.

A quiet woman writer who has acted disgracefully in love is shipped off by her friends to a Swiss hotel. A small, precise, witty, internal book: if you read non-genre fiction, you know the sort of thing, I think; and it is one of the best examples. Very enjoyable indeed. This was my first Brookner but it won’t be my last.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. Literature.

Lesbian love amongst an Orthodox Jewish community in London. I stayed up late to finish this book. That said, it is a peculiar work. Told in sometimes-awkward but strangely-relaxing third person from the perspective of Esti (who has stayed in the community), alternating with the just-borderline-irritating first person narrative of Ronit (who has moved to New York and become relentlessly cosmopolitan), along with sections of…Torah mysticism?… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Literature.

A sensualist wanderer and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village. Good magical realism is hard to find, but Chocolat is a perfect truffle. Vianne Rocher is a witch – maybe. And the “maybe” is why it’s so lovely. Celeste Bradley once compared my novella The Portrait of Géraldine Germaine to Chocolat, so whyever did it take me so long to read it?… >> Read more