He – Tom – (into her next story she would fling, rebelliously, as many dashes as possible) – neglected to say, ‘So, how did it go?’ and Karen therefore sulked for the rest of the day. She turned to the solace of drudgery and, dragging out the vacuum, hoovered in places generally left undisturbed. She tried to block out the image of someone, perhaps a treble-chinned someone, with a paunch like a mudslide tucked into perma-press – or a rigidly thin, long Venetian nosed someone, with little sense of humor and a cold coming on – glassily regarding her neatly-typed pages. She shivered and winced as though they were leafing, with their tongue-moistened fingers, through layers of her own, excessively thin skin [Read more...] in Reviews
I force a smile and sit down with the day’s third cup of coffee. On a tray in the centre of the table are some inviting-looking chocolates, but when I bite into one I discover they are cubes of coated Parmesan (or perhaps I should say ‘in disguise’). It’s difficult to know if they’re a delicacy for connoisseurs or a cruel initiation rite. Everyone’s eyes are pinned on me. I take a deep breath and swallow, trying to forget the experience [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Women kept calling Turcan on his mobile. He exchanged smutty banter, roared with laughter and belched every now and then. His forehead sweated as he laughed, and when he wiped it away his wig moved. While he was speaking to women, to the women I imagined to be virtually boneless and so very pale, I thought how very many and beautiful women there were in the world. My wife never once came to my mind while thinking about the beautiful women in the world.. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
These photographs were being taken for an urgent reason, as if to bear witness to an event that would be momentous in all our lives. Many years later, my mother told me that this was the day that my father had told her that their eleven-year marriage was over. He could only explain that hard though he had tried, he could not be the person she wanted him to be. He had fallen in love with his secretary and he had chosen to spend the rest of his life with her. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Our story began on the dawn of a fresh new era. That’s what the headline of the newspaper article said, the one Mama kept folded into the cover of her ID book: The Dawn of a Fresh New Era. It was D-Day, the last day of the petrol-car amnesty, when everyone was meant to change to electric. We only learned that in history class when we were ten, though. Until then, I thought we were the dawn they meant, and I told anyone who teased us that we were so special our birth made headlines [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Bertie took a deep breath and walked into the space that had been left around the horse. He stood still, gauging the rhythm of the animal, waiting until he could feel the fear and the unease of its mind, until he could see the flashing shadows that flicked across the horse’s eyes, smell the acrid odour of human sweat that fouled its nostrils, until he could taste the bitter metal thick between its teeth and feel the scorch of sore skin pricked raw by the burning air. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
I had a sense that it was the best book I had ever written, and that I was pushing myself in a new direction. From an artistic perspective, I was certainly happy. Of course, I was happy with all of my other books, too. But, for example, moving away from the first person perspective of my other novels, giving myself the opportunity to write from a male perspective, experimenting with time and structure, all of that felt like I was breaking new ground for myself. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
She went down the stairs and removed the pictures from the walls. There were only three: the painting of Princess Elizabeth that hung in the dining room, the picture of Jesus in the foyer, and in the kitchen, a framed reproduction of Millet’s The Gleaners. She placed Jesus and the little Princess together, face-down in a box. She made sure to put Jesus on top. She took The Gleaners out of its frame and looked at the picture one last time. She wondered why she had let it hang in the kitchen for so long. It bothered her, the way those peasants were forever bent over above that endless field of wheat. ‘Look up’ she wanted to say to them. ‘Look up, look up!’ The Gleaners, she decided, would have to go. She set the picture outside with the garbage. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Tom’s father was among the first of the white settlers. Forty years ago, the old man arrived in the country and claimed his piece of land. One hundred thousand acres down a ten-mile spine running through the valley. The land belonged to no one and then it belonged to him. A stake driven into the soil. The old man swallowed up the land and filled it with native hands. The money and good fortune came shortly after. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘Alright, alright,’ Titi finally said. ‘I met him at a conference. I noticed him right away because he was the only black guy there. Throughout the conference our eyes kept meeting and afterwards, he came to say hello to me and we got talking. He took me out for a drink and we exchanged numbers.’
‘What does he do?’ Maureen asked.
‘He’s a lawyer too, it was a legal conference.’
‘That’s cool,’ Funmi said. ‘So why the need for secrecy now?’
‘Well, since you guys will see him today, I might as well tell you.’ Titi paused. ‘He’s older than me.’ [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
I considered those months, and still do to this day, as a time of very deep privacy. The smallest of things – a goshawk overhead, the tracks of a wolverine left on a snow bank – would linger and echo in the halls of my mind well into the reaches of evening. Halloween weekend, my only autumn there, a blizzard had started near lunchtime. I was excited for the silence the snowfall would bring; I was trying to get to know myself better. Near dusk I heard noises past the living room’s window. With two fingers I parted the slats of the blinds and saw Ludd kneeling by the side of my cabin. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
It isn’t like the Kid is locally famous for doing a good or a bad thing and even if people knew his real name it wouldn’t change how they treat him unless they looked it up online which is not something he wants to encourage. He himself like most of the men living under the Causeway is legally prohibited from going online but nonetheless one afternoon biking back from work at the Mirador he strolls into the branch library down on Regis Road like he has every legal right to be there. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
On the morning they woke to shouts, nothing happened as it had happened before and Saladin woke from his half sleep against the truck window to find the streets in front of the barracks crowded with new trucks and jeeps and revolutionary guards, bearded men no older than Ali and somehow even more serious. They followed their father inside and no one stopped to salute him, to bid him good morning or to take his hat. All available bodies were occupied in the ordered busyness required to take apart the barracks and dismantle the hanging guns and ammunition and flags that had forever decorated the walls [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Outside is a clear circle of light. Hector’s underpants, shirts and trousers move silently in the breeze. Holding the cigarette upright, the glowing tip towards the ceiling, I notice the red-rimmed edges of my fingernails. A shadow shifts across the table. I see a hand, reaching out: the fingers spread open to take it. It is small, with bitten-down nails, a silver ring gleaming on the index finger. Without thinking, I offer the cigarette, but when I look again the hand is gone. The hairs on my arms rise. I turn quickly, my heart beating, but the room is empty. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘Do you like trucks?’ she asked Zodelia, thinking that because of their relatively greater intimacy she might perhaps agree with her.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They are nice. Trucks are very nice.’ She seemed lost in meditation, but only for an instant. ‘Everything is nice,’ she announced, with a look of triumph.
‘It’s the truth,’ the women said from their mattress. ‘Everything is nice.’. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
The skin on his face looks like rubber. His eyes are closed but for a slit of darkness. I can smell the ocean on his skin. I can smell the putrefaction of seaweed. Tears roll down my cheeks; they fall on his lips and follow the waxy curve of his chin. I touch his face. He is cold, yet softer than I would imagine. His nose seems different. His lips look too wide. His hair is too red. This man cannot be Sean and yet I am crying – crying because only I know what happened. I alone will have to carry the burden of guilt. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Sirens were part of the soundtrack of Junction Street. The fire station was nearby and the engines would regularly burst out of a side street and speed off, jumping the lights on the wrong side. And there were always police cars. More around closing time as arguments became things to be settled with fists. That was the third ambulance tonight. Beth had been counting. Not out of concern, or sympathy, or even morbid curiosity. It was just something to do. Tonight’s scoreboard said: 3 ambulances, 4 police cars, 1 fire engine, 2 stag parties, 1 hen night, 46 bags of chips, 25 fish, 17 smoked sausages, 3 indecent proposals and 2 death threats. No partridges or pear trees, yet. But she was trying to keep an open mind. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘So you’re the last Greenblatt,’ grunts the proprietor of the Hotel Guelfa, in Italian, without looking at her, glancing sullenly instead at the photo in her passport. ‘Your parents arrived late last night,’ he adds—repeating, in a tone heavily laced with reproach, ‘Very late.’
Rena doesn’t correct him, doesn’t explain that they’re not her parents, or rather that one is and that the other isn’t; having not the slightest wish to open that can of worms, that Pandora’s box, that raft of the Medusa, she holds her tongue in Italian, smiles in Italian, nods in Italian, and strives to radiate the serenity to which she ardently aspires. The truth is that she’s been dreading this moment for weeks. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Once he was on the sand and had removed his shoes and socks, Wilfred, deaf to the screaming gulls, blind to the shifting clouds and light, strode briskly. He must clear his head. He must pull himself together. His apprenticemaster, Mr Auden, had instructed him to get married, saying, ‘The moment you have a profitable funeral parlour you will need a wife. Don’t wait. No life without a wife, Wilfred.’ But Wilfred had made a mistake. But people made mistakes – made them all the time. He wiped the sweat from his temples. He must do something about it. Rectify it. Yes, just because a chap blundered once he shouldn’t have to pay for it for the rest of his life – good God, no! He’d act, tell the girl, say he didn’t want to get married, after all. [Read more...] in Authors and articles
I still remember what it feels like to be that man, and not a morning goes by that I don’t see his striving, confident image in the mirror of my thoughts. Which is maybe why, watching this father and son approach, caught in the glow of their radiant connection and prosperity, I can only stand in aisle seven, my mouth slack and my heart in lockdown. Still unable after all these years to relinquish my phantom grip on what I had and lost – a wife and son, whose health and happiness were my charge. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Pat always said that the stuff we erase with our rewriting and repainting is more revealing of our truth than the stuff we overlay it with, our second and third thoughts. Our unconscious motive in rewriting and repainting, he claimed, is always to conceal ourselves. The unbidden truth that stares at us, ugly and blemished. So we erase and rework in the name of art, in the name of refinement and perfection. And we do this not to reveal the reality of the thing, but to distract ourselves from the problems of depicting its reality. Art is the expert lie, he said. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Creativity is not confined to creating works of art. The term describes an approach to the whole of life, allowing playfulness and spontaneity to enter our lives; accepting some slack; letting go of the need to control and direct every move. Creativity is living adventurously. Imagine leaving the day open, with nothing in the diary or on the to-do list, allowing things to emerge as they will. Wander outside and see whom you meet, what you find, what you are moved to explore. Such formlessness feels risky: there is a fear that nothing will happen – indeed – or maybe something unexpected will greet our consciousness. Can we cope with the unexpected? Can we make ourselves vulnerable to the unknown? [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
In the doorway stood a man with big, blood-shot eyes: the biggest eyes I have ever seen in my life. He said something to me, but no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t understand a word. His small mouth moved like earthworms in the mud as he repeated what seemed to me to be the same words. I asked him to say it again, I told him I couldn’t understand a thing, but he didn’t listen. He seemed veiled by his huge eyes, which somehow prevented me from seeing the rest of his face. The dark pupils swam in blood and in their clear reflection, my frightened face lay suspended. His mouth moved faster and faster, it seemed that he even reached the point of shouting, but I couldn’t know for sure… And then I woke up. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Sunlight began to fail in the west, across the ribbon of desert beyond the New Quarter. Alif pocketed his phone and slid off the window ledge, back into his room. Once it was dark, perhaps, he would try again to reach her. Intisar had always preferred to meet at night. Society didn’t mind if you broke the rules; it only required you to acknowledge them. Meeting after dark showed a presence of mind. It suggested that you knew what you were doing went against the prevailing custom and had taken pains to avoid being caught. Intisar, noble and troubling, with her black hair and her dove-low voice, was worthy of this much discretion. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘You must know I’ve agreed to the project under duress. I’m a very old woman, but that doesn’t mean I intend dying any time soon. You, for instance, might well die before me, and no one is rushing to write your biography. You might be killed in an accident this afternoon. Run down in the street. Carjacked.’
‘I’m not important.’
‘Quite so.’ There’s a lick of a smirk on one side of the mouth. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
The family was accustomed to buying the finest products, the best brands, the most prestigious labels. Just as the dinner service that Gretl inherited from her aunt Ida was one of the earliest sets of Flora Danica, the celebrated hand-moulded, hand-painted porcelain decorated with Danish plants made by Royal Copenhagen, so the grand piano she inherited from her mother Hermine was a Steinway. Their furs included chinchilla and sable stoles and a sealskin mantle. But the paintings, furniture, silver, ceramics and glass once owned by Moriz and Hermine were their most remarkable possessions. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘The bedrock of LifeGame is personal responsibility,’ Xavier continued. ‘This means that you accept the consequences of your actions and inactions. You have accepted to play a game of bridge for the ultimate prize: the possibility of eternal life. And what you are risking is death. You have accepted this, and you will abide by it, for it is natural that you should do so. In nature there are no safety nets, no do-overs for the unlucky, those with poor judgment, or for those of weak and insufficient character.’ [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
When I opened the first letters of condolence, my tears falling on my hands reminded me of Maman’s, and I let them fall, to see where they might have gone, the tears of this woman I had loved so much. I knew what the letters would have to say: that Maman had been an extraordinary woman, that the loss of a loved one is a terrible thing, that nothing is more wrenching than bereavement, et cetera, et cetera, so I didn’t need to read them. Every evening I divided the envelopes into two piles: on the right those with the sender’s name on the envelope, and on the left those without. And all I did was open the pile on the left and jump immediately to the signature to see who had written to me and who I would have to thank. In the end I didn’t thank a lot of people and nobody held it against me. Death forgives such lapses of courtesy. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Standing up, still connected to that which all of a sudden had slithered out, wild with relief and panic, she could see the cord glinting white and blue. She cursed for her knife. Searching with her fingers found a piece of quartz with an edge that felt sharp enough. Sawed it back and forth, then, because that clearly wasn’t going to work, picked up the baby and walked wide-legged, hunting away that young boar coming in too close. Found her belt with its knife. Cut cord with a flick of her wrist. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts.
The mirror that was to prove fateful for me I bought one autumn, at some sale or other. It was a large cheval-glass, swinging on hinges. The unusual clarity of its reflections impressed me. The ghostly reality within was transformed by the slightest tilt of the glass, yet it was extremely lifelike and distinct. When I studied the cheval-glass at the auction, the woman who reflected me stared into my eyes with a kind of arrogant challenge. I did not want to submit to her, to betray that she frightened me; I purchased the glass and ordered it to be placed in my boudoir. Once I was alone in my room, I immediately approached the new mirror and fixed my eyes on my rival. But she did the same: standing opposite each other, we began to pierce each other with our stares, like two snakes. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Charles bends down and looks more closely, straining his eyes in the low light. Without a word, the man brings the bull-dog lower, and Charles feels its warmth on his skin. It’s clear to him now what must have happened. Judging by the exposed knots of red yew root, the last week’s rain has washed at least an inch of mud from the surface of the soil. And what it’s revealed is the tiny body of a newborn baby, still wrapped in a dirty blue woollen blanket, a scrap of white cotton tangled about the neck. He may never have completed his medical training, but Charles knows enough to make a pretty shrewd guess how long these bones have been here. In this waterlogged London clay, probably three weeks; certainly no more than four. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
The arcade that led to the bus stops was suffocated by Christmas decorations. They were intricate and fierce, the colours mashing together behind the plate glass. Laurie kept catching sight of the patterns blinking out of the corner of her eye. She’d turn her head towards the movement, convinced someone was motioning towards her. She really ought to get on with decorating the Christmas tree. It was only, what, nine days until the big day? But what was the point? Why bother getting lots of sparkly pointless tat and finding places to put it all? Ed wouldn’t notice the tree anyway. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
The young man knocked at the great cherrywood door, and Marya Morevna’s mother blushed under his gaze. ‘I have come for the girl in the window,’ he said with a clipped, sweet voice. ‘I am Lieutenant Gratch of the Tsar’s Personal Guard. I have many wonderful houses full of seed, many wonderful fi elds full of grain, and I have more dresses than she could wear, even if she changed her gown at morning, evening, and midnight each day of her life.’ [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
My sister-in-law Carine studied pharmacy, but she’d rather you said medicine, so she’s a pharmacist, and she has a chemist’s shop, but she ’d rather you said pharmacy. She likes to complain about her bookkeeping just when it’s time for dessert, and she wears a white coat buttoned up to her chin with a thermal adhesive label that has her name stitched between two blue medical logos. These days she sells mostly firming creams for buttocks and carotene capsules because that’s what brings in the most cash; she likes to say that she has ‘optimized the potential of her health and beauty section’. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Airyolland is a tiny triangle of ancient oak wood that clings to the side of a steep valley in Galloway. It is a little fragment of what was once a far more extensive forest and we are lucky to have it still. A small stream, crystal clear and fast, rushes down towards the river in a series of sharp little falls; each sudden drop has a miniature deep pool at the bottom of it and the sides of the pool are rich with ferns, even this early in the year. The oak trees are old and tangled, many multi-trunked from long-ago coppicing, and they are festooned with epiphyte ferns, with moss, and with epicormic twigs sprouting whiskery from the rough bark. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘Now look here.’ Napoleon fisted the map. ‘If Italy’s a leg, then we’re midway between the navel of Nice and the genitals of Genoa. Right? Put it to the troops that way, humanize your geography. Beaulieu, dodderer that he is, will think we intend the march through Genoa. He’ll bring his lot down from Alessandria, which is the sort of inner recesses of the genitals, Italy being a woman. Right?’ [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else should be perfectly obvious. After all, what manner of a man would sit down to set down the story of his own life if at the end of it he came out looking like an idiot, buffoon or wally-chops? Only an idiot, buffoon or wally-chops would do thusly and, barring one incident involving a lack of trousers and an unnaturally curious horse, I have never been one of those. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Although it was a somewhat dark oil painting, I now saw it quite well and looked at it with interest. It was of a Venetian carnival scene. On a landing stage beside the Grand Canal and in the square behind it, a crowd in masks and cloaks milled around among entertainers – jugglers and tumblers and musicians and more people were climbing into gondolas, others already out on the water, the boats bunched together, with the gondoliers clashing poles. The picture was typical of those whose scenes are lit by flares and torches which throw an uncanny glow here and there, illuminating faces and patches of bright clothing and the silver ripples on the water, leaving other parts in deep shadow. I thought it had an artificial air but it was certainly an accomplished work, at least to my inexpert eye. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Just My Typo
MY FAVOURITE TYPO Alan Titchmarsh
‘When employed as a gardening books editor some years ago, I was proofreading an entry in a gardening encyclopedia for pulmonaria, the lungwort, whose leaves are attractively spotted with white. It was only by sheer good fortune that I noticed the entry read:
Pulmonaria, the lungwort, whose leaves are attractively spotted with shite.’
[Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Now some six months old, bookoxygen has amassed a sizeable archive of extracts and reviews covering new work published since April 2012. (See under Authors and extracts, and Reviews.) Always facing forward means not always having the time to go back and look again at valuable material possibly missed or considered too rapidly the first time round. With this thought in mind, bookoxygen intends, during the run-up to Xmas, to remind readers of notable books that might have been overlooked and may just make the perfect gift, for others or oneself. So today’s extract is a second chance to sample Kathleen Jamie’s remarkable Sightlines. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
As befits the ample address book of His Satanic Majesty the guest list is a Who’s Who of damned souls from history, including: kings, dukes, knights, suicides, poisoners, cut-throats, gallows-birds, procuresses, jailers, cardsharpers, hangmen, informers, traitors, seducers and vampires. Amongst the infamous invitees are:
Caligula, mad and despotic Roman Emperor, murdered by his own bodyguards in AD 41.
Signora Tofana, retailer of bespoke poisons to Italian ladies who wished to murder their husbands. Strangled in prison in 1709. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
On one occasion his father made him step barefoot into a bowl full of ink and then walk along the length of a roll of paper. To begin with Zhu’s footprints were wet and black; with each step they became lighter until they were barely visible any more. Then he hopped from the paper back on to the wooden floor.
His father took a brush and wrote at the top of the scroll: A small segment of the long path of my son Zhu Da. And further down: A path comes into existence by walking on it. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Having a frabjous time down at Swinners*. Fruity and Wog** are here and everything is simply too killing, darling. There was a bit of an awkward moment when Farve shot a gamekeeper – you know how ‘pushing’ the working classes are becoming these days – but happily Ye Ancient Retainer was just divine about it and said he was proud to have his blood (of which there was rather a lot – don’t get squeamish, Nard) shed by a gentleman, so that was all right. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘Umm . . . It’s just that I never get any proper dialogue.’
‘Well, we’re in a Nick Hornby novel aren’t we?’ [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
In order to read – or write – plots in a playful way we need to know something about narrative shapes in general. If a narrative is working against convention, it helps if we know what the convention is. So often it is crucial to look at what is not dramatized, and what does not happen when we expect something will. In order to do this we have to know what a more typical structure would include. This is why I still think that some theory of basic plots is helpful, even though we may never agree on how many of them there are, or what each one should contain. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
The Turks treated Sophie Asmus differently because she had an educated, middle-class air and papers. She retied her headscarf and stood for a moment. North, south, east or west?
A man spoke. ‘Do you need help, miss?’
This very polite, very correct man in a peaked cap and leather gloves, and carrying a leather-upholstered cane, addressed her. He was much smarter than the seedy port police, and he spoke English, not just a few words.
It depends what you mean by help.’ [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
The sticker on its smooth pink surface read ‘offer applies to stickered items only’ and I saw that more stickers were stuck on other items, on many different things, but not on what I wanted. I wanted trams and pies. ‘Trams and pies, please,’ I asked the sales girl and she blinked at me. ‘Trams and pies, please,’ I repeated, a little louder in case she was caught with the deafness, ‘and I’d like them with stickers, please, the stickers that mean that the offer applies.’ [Read more...] in Reviews
Wouldn’t they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn’t let me straighten? My light-blue eyes were going to hypnotize them, after all the things they said about ‘my daddy must have been a Chinaman’ (I thought they meant made out of china, like a cup) because my eyes were so small and squinty. Then they would understand why I had never picked up a Southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pigs’ tails and snouts. Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
You might not believe my story. You might read it as a fairytale, a fable straight out of my imagination. But all of it is true. The dead boy stayed with us for three days. Papa laid him, frozen and stiff, on a bed in the blue room and that’s where he remained until the delivery boat came. The island is still out there in the ocean; an island so tiny that it can’t be found on any maps. Only a cross tells the weary sailor about the possibility of salvation in the middle of an endless sea. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Like Molly Malone in the old ballad, I was a fishmonger, because my parents were. They kept the restaurant, and the rooms above it. I was raised an oyster-girl, and steeped in all the flavours of the trade. My first few childish steps I took around vats of sleeping natives and barrels of ice; before I was ever given a piece of chalk and a slate, I was handed an oyster-knife and instructed in its use; while I was still lisping out my alphabet at the schoolmaster’s knee, I could name you the contents of an oyster-cook’s kitchen – could sample fish with a blindfold on, and tell you their variety. Whitstable was all the world to me, Astley’s Parlour my own particular country, oyster-juice my medium. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘It’s a bit dry,’ Angela said to him. She was talking about the fish she had put on the plates for their evening meal. She could have been talking about their relationship. How could he put that in a lighthearted way, without seeming critical or prurient, inviting comparisons with wetness, which she wouldn’t approve of, and which he hadn’t actually meant to suggest? After some consideration, he said nothing.
[Read more...] in Authors and extracts
The middle finger of Harriet’s right hand had a lump on the side of it; that was her writing lump; she had it because she wrote so much, because she was a writer. ‘I am going to be a poet when I grow up,’ said Harriet; and she added, after another thought, ‘Willy-nilly’. She kept a private diary and a poem book hidden in an old box that also did as a desk in an alcove under the side-stairs, her Secret Hole, though it was not secret at all and there was no need to hide her book because she could not resist reading her poems to everyone who would listen. Sometimes she carried her book pouched in her dress. She was writing a poem now, and as she began to think of it, her eyes grew misty and comfortable [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
‘Let her alone, Lucy,’ [my father] said, ‘let her alone. The rubbishing conventionalities which are the curse of her sex will bother her soon enough. Let her alone!’
So, smiling and saying, ‘She should have been a boy,’ my mother let me alone, and I rode, and in comparison to my size made as much noise with my stock-whip as any one. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Ibrahim fumbled in his shirt pocket and produced a piece of Hadassah Hospital stationery:
‘You can read me this?’
It was half Hebrew, half English, a doctor’s indecipherable scrawl.
‘What did they say to you?’
‘Something about the heart.’
[Read more...] in Authors and extracts
But times are changing. It is the year 1920; and James, last fruit of a late marriage, is but seven years old. Victim of overwork during the war, his father has retired at sixty in poor health; a gap yawns for the first time in the line of direct succession. Distant relatives and relatives by marriage and such as are not relatives at all assume authority. Besides, nowadays who knows what boys will grow up to be, to want or not to want? What happens to the descendants of those Victorian grandees? Where are the young men? The mould is the same but it is cracked: the flavour is strange; it dissipates itself; is spent. Perhaps the last James will never have a car and go to and from Tulverton mills. [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
Mary knew she had much to be thankful for, from the leather soles under her feet, to the bread in her mouth, to the fact that she went to school at all. Dull as it was, it was better than mopping floors in a tavern at eight years old, like the girl in the cellar beside theirs. There weren’t many girls who were still at school when they turned thirteen; most parents would call it a waste of education. But it had been Cob Saunders’s fondest whim that his daughter should learn what he never had – reading, writing and casting account – and as a matter of his respect, his widow saw to it that the girl never missed school. [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
No reading experience, even of an identical text, is the same. I discovered ironies in Middlemarch I had not fully appreciated before, no doubt the product of my advancing age, which has been paralleled by the internal accumulation of more and more books that have altered my thoughts and created a broader context for my reading. The text is the same, but I am not. And this is crucial. Books are either unleashed or occluded by the reader. We bring our life stories, our prejudices, our grudges, our expectations, and our limitations with us to books. I did not understand Kafka’s humor when I first read him as a teenager. I had to get older to laugh at ‘The Metamorphosis’. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Grace knocked before entering. The man was lying on his back, wearing a hospital gown, an IV drip attached to his arm. He was staring at the ceiling with a blank expression that didn’t change when she came in. Whatever pain he’d been feeling on the mountain was absent from his face now; he might have been waiting for a train. Visible around his neck was the thick red abrasion from the rope. Clearing her throat, she sat down in a chair next to the bed. [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
It wasn’t New Year’s Eve, but never mind. I entered the flat carrying some plastic bags and called out in a deep voice from the door: ‘Ho-hoho, Daddy Frost is here!’
‘Oooo!’ She held her hand coyly over her mouth, imitating an innocent girl.
I put the bags down next to the fridge.
‘But that’s not all!’ Daddy Frost said, standing up tall and proud. ‘I’ve brought some drugs too!’ [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
On no account should there be any interruptions to the process in which his daughter is making clear progress. He requests their patience, he writes. I need this one extra day. Alone with your daughter. She now knows what’s expected of her. She knows what’s at stake. She does what she ’s told. I am amazed. And you. You will be amazed. At how the girl concentrates. On everything put before her. How she tries to see. And how she can look. You won’t recognize her! She can make out objects. The globe on the table. The telescope and the fortepiano. The microscope. Tomes in the library. Her wig. The wig stand and whatever is put before her. [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
Who are they?’ whispered September.
‘That’s Latitude, with the yellow belt, and Longitude, with the paisley cravat. We can’t get very far without them, so be polite.’
‘I thought latitude and longitude were just lines on maps.’
‘They don’t like to have their pictures taken. That’s how it is with famous folk. Everyone wants to click, click, click away at you. It’s very annoying. They made a bargain with the Cartographers’ Guild several hundred years ago – symbolic representations only, out of respect, you understand.’ [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
The half-gram of fat was invaluable to Rhea. With a visionary’s clarity, she saw through it to the assortment of cells caught inside: the bountiful-bellied mature adipose cells with their loading of energy-rich fat, the tough, scrawny fibroblasts that made the connective tissue and, most desirable and least distinguished of all, the uncommitted stem cells. They were the important ones, still capable of developing into blood cells, or bones, whatever was needed. Grow your own spare parts? Surgeons everywhere held their breath, waiting for the science to do for the worn-out body what nature did for every new baby. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
I feared my grandfather. Always nothing but fear. I knew him only as Papa Schneider. What else they called him, what his Christian name was I had no idea. It made no difference anyway, since I wouldn’t have dreamt of calling him by his first name. He was not a man you were on first-name terms with. [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
Msa l’khir. Good evening. Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Hassan. I am a storyteller, monarch of a realm vaster than any you can envisage, that of the imagination. My memory is not what it used to be, but if we can settle on a democratic price, I will tell you a tale the like of which I promise you have never heard before. It is a love story, like all the best stories, but it is also a mystery, for it concerns the disappearance of one of the lovers or the other, or perhaps both of them or neither. [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
Witty, modern and unpredictable, Deborah Levy’s latest novel, which takes two middle-class families sharing a villa in southern France and puts them down somewhere less sunny, is now on the 2012 Man Booker shortlist.
Julia Pascal’s prescient review in The Independent compared the book to Mrs Dalloway: ‘Although a short work, it has an epic quality. This is a prizewinner. ‘
Insightful and subversive, this novel was the subject of the very first bookoxygen extract slot in the spring of 2012 and is happily revived in the week of the Man Booker shortlist announcement. [Read more...] in Authors and extracts
Hillary Jordan is back with When She Woke, another story exploring the impact of politics on women’s lives, which, with its oppressive scenario – updating The Scarlet Letter to a futuristic USA – inevitably invites comparison with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. American reviews have ranged from warm to angry. bookoxygen readers can sample the first chapter for themselves [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
Bram Stoker died 100 years ago
An extract from Barbara Belford’s biography of Bram Stoker
On a rainy December evening in 1876 Henry Irving invited the theatre critic of Dublin’s Evening Mail to dine with him in his suite at the Shelbourne Hotel, overlooking St Stephen’s Green. Over breakfast that morning, Irving had read Bram Stoker’s review of his Hamlet at the Theatre Royal and asked to meet the young man [Read more...] in Authors and Extracts
bookoxygen is not only a place to read reviews of new books but also somewhere readers can sample new writing for themselves. In the first of an irregular series of extracts, here is the first chapter of Axolotl Roadkill by Helene Hegemann, to be published by Constable & Robinson on 21 April in a translation by Katy Derbyshire. [Read more...]in Authors and Extracts
She hadn’t been feeling right for weeks. Gassy and bloated, a malaise of fatigue. Waking exhausted and anxious from dreams of a male fetus floating over the bed, the umbilicus plugged into an outlet like an electrical cord. Both her daughters were nearly through high school and she thought the dream might be regret, not having had a boy. Tropical fish swimming among the baby’s coral-coloured limbs, his little penis swaying like a strip of seaweed in a tide…
[Read more...] under Authors and extracts