Poem Of The Week: 'Vanitas Vanitatum' By John Webster (C. 1580 - C. 1632)

Vanitas Vanitatum ALL the flowers of the spring Meet to perfume our burying; These have but their growing prime, And man does flourish but his time: Survey our progress from our birth— We are set, we grow, we turn to earth. Courts adieu, and all delights, All bewitching appetites! Sweetest breath and clearest eye Like perfumes go out and die; And consequently this is done As shadows wait upon the sun. Vain the ambition of kings Who seek by trophies and dead things To leave a living name behind, And weave but nets to catch the…

Interview With Victoria Princewill

Engaging with a debut novel is one of my most highly treasured delights. Sans the osmotically invasive baggage of preconceived expectations, or the earnest entreaties of epistemophilia, I am able to allow these fresh voices to meet my sensibilities unmolested by the distorted prism of my preconceptions or canonical reverence. The pages themselves will debouch subjectively adduced authorial talent, or conversely cause me to consider its antithesis. It’s a profoundly scintillating leap into the unknown and more often than not,…

‘Those Things We Do Not Say’ : All The Beautiful Liars By Sylvia Petter

The gestation of Sylvia Petter’s astonishing novel – it was twenty five years in the making – might suggest a labour of love, if the phrase didn’t set platitudinous limits on a profoundly meaningful, perhaps autobiographical, investigation of the hinterland of one family’s complex and troubled history I infer the guiding hand of experience because Ms Petter’s trajectory – Australian by birth, professionally settled in Austria – is a semblance of that of her protagonist, Katrina Klain. Klain’s journey is motivated…

Review: Lonely Castle In The Mirror By Mizuki Tsujimara

Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a Japanese bestselling, prize-winning novel by Mizuki Tsujimara that follows the story of Kokoro, a seventh-grade pupil who can no longer attend her school. The reason isn’t laziness, but instead fear: she has been bullied, and without being able to openly talk about the episode, she has turned inwards. Perhaps it is a child's instinctive response; to turn away when all allies appear lost, when there is no one to turn to. She retreats…

'A Book For Writers But Also, I Hope For Readers' : A Swim In The Pond In The Rain By George Saunders

Forming a prima facie conclusion about a book’s content based upon erroneous assumptions is by definition likely to be misleading and on occasion, tantamount to clumsily administering an ungrateful slap upon the well-meaning face of Serendipity herself! A cursory thumbing of George Saunders’s latest book led me to pigeon-hole it as a potentially interesting ‘how-to’ guide for writers. Saunders, best known as a Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth

Poem Of The Week: 'Blood And Lead' By James Fenton

Blood and Lead Listen to what they did. Don't listen to what they said. What was written in blood Has been set up in lead. Lead tears the heart. Lead tears the brain. What was written in blood Has been set up again. The heart is a drum. The drum has a snare. The snare is in the blood. The blood is in the air. Listen to what they did. Listen to what's to come. Listen to the blood. Listen to the drum. James Fenton’s declamatory exhortation in short, forceful rhyming quatrains wears the appearance of a…

The Greatest Doublecross In The History Of Espionage: Our Friends In Berlin By Anthony Quinn

It’s always good to be offered something different to read and this came from the shelf of my brother who answered my plea. Good choice! Our Friends in Berlin is a tale of wartime espionage which neatly combines both a love story and a thriller. Within the pages lie a marriage bureau, MI5 and a group of Fifth Columnists, intent on ensuring World War Two victory for Hitler and the Fatherland, as they pass on valuable intelligence to the Nazis –…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Urine Specimen' By Ted Kooser

The Urine Specimen In the clinic, a sun-bleached shell of stone on the shore of the city, you enter the last small chamber, a little closet chastened with pearl, cool, white and glistening, and over the chilly well of the toilet you trickle your precious sum in a cup. It’s as simple as that. But the heat of this gold your body’s melted and poured out into a form begins to enthrall you, warming your hands with your flesh’s fevers in a terrible way. It’s like holding an organ – spleen or…

Doggerel For The Discerning: 'The Sad Tale Of The Reckless Rhubarb'

The Sad Tale of the Reckless Rhubarb 'Twas on a clear and moonlit night in Castleford's green fields, the stick of rhubarb's mind to thoughts adventurous did yield. And turning to his nearby love, he made a solemn pledge to sail away, like Hemingway, and live life on the edge. His love, a slender leek, was anxious for his safe return, but with a brave and loving smile disguised her grave concern and pinned a white rose on his chest, so he might not forget his roots lay…

Bitter Fruit Ripening: The Kilt Of Many Colours By David Bleiman

There is much of sad, surpassing beauty in David Bleiman’s expansive new collection of poems. If a negotiated sense of identity, or rather the dissolution of identity in a glorious oceanic harvest of heredities, is an overwhelming theme here, then so is the voice of the individual singer and of history’s silenced. And it is to the latter that Bleiman turns especial attention. Hymning the voice of the dead in song and in verse, calling forth the dead shamanically, the poet…

The Traumatic Legacy of Denial: The Sanatorium By Sarah Pearse

Sarah Pearse’s debut novel has been garlanded by many effulgent reviews, celebrity endorsement and judging from myriad positive responses on social media platforms, has delighted many of its readers. A bold fusion of the classic locked-room murder mystery, with the stalwart tropes of the crime thriller genre, Pearse also laces her edgy spine-chiller with a baleful, disquieting undertow, dextrously grafted onto her story by dint of her consummate use of the psychological thriller genre. She has penned a genuinely absorbing…

Doggerel for the Discerning: 'The Tripe Hound of Little Ormstonmere'

Here is the first in a series of light-hearted rhyming poems which, after appearing in a Blogspot, attracted the unlikely attention of the Tripe Marketing Board. Subsequently published by the TMB as a collection bearing the similarly unlikely title of My Camel’s Name is Brian, I commend them to your discerning gaze: The Tripe Hound of Little Ormstonmere Amongst the dark foreboding hills of ancient Lancashire, the eerie howls rolled down the moors o'er misty peatland bogs, to echo round the cobbled streets of…

‘Goddesses, Housewives Or Whores’: Women Of York By Claire Shaw

George VI famously said the history of York is the history of England. The prologue to this book tells us that historical information about the women of York is mostly ‘obscure and undocumented’, which raises the question: what does this say about the women of England? Although Claire Shaw's book is steeped in history, the question is as relevant today as ever. The epilogue provides some thought-provoking questions which would challenge any discussion group and there is a useful bibliography for…

Poem Of The Week: 'Night Garden Of The Asylum' By Elizabeth Jennings

Night Garden of the Asylum An owl’s call scrapes the stillness. Curtains are barriers and behind them The beds settle into neat rows. Soon they’ll be ruffled. The garden knows nothing of illness. Only it knows of the slow gleam Of stars, the moon’s distilling; it knows Why the beds and lawns are levelled. Then all is broken from its fullness. A human cry cuts across a dream. A wild hand squeezes an open rose. We are in witchcraft, bedevilled. The measured lines, pauses, and languid delivery of Elizabeth Jennings’ intensely focused poem…

The Imposter by Anna Wharton: A Review

The Imposter is the chilling debut novel from the print and broadcast journalist Anna Wharton. At its thematic heart is the human need for connection, the need to belong somewhere, to someone, and the depths of despair we encounter through loss, fear and ultimately, deception. The central protagonist is Chloe, a newspaper archivist who would rather exist out of sight, buried in her preciously recorded newsprint, living vicariously through the stories of those who have come before her. She cannot or…

'Zugzwang...no Move Without Loss': Lucia's War By Susan Lanigan

‘The true novelist is one who understands the work as a continuous poem, is a myth-maker, and the wonder of art resides in the endless different ways of telling a story’ - Pulitzer Prize winning American author Eudora Welty sagaciously encapsulating the quintessence of puissant storytelling. Her oeuvre included depictions of black Mississippians meeting reality not with mawkish panglossian denial, but with dignified stoical resilience. A story’s form is as important as its function, its thematic motherload carried not by…

Of Blood And Bone: When I Think Of My Body As A Horse By Wendy Pratt

I couldn’t pretend to fully apprehend the terrible emotional ramifications of the loss of a child, but I do know that tea and sympathy don’t cut it as panaceas. The kind of experience that informs the major theme of Wendy Pratt’s latest collection of poems is too painful for most of us to assimilate, yet, acting as a kind of interpreter, she gives depth and meaning where propitiatory words might otherwise fail. Continuing, to some degree, where Gifts the Mole

Poem Of The Week: ‘All The Pubs Where We Used To Meet Are Sinking’ By Carole Bromley

All the Pubs Where We Used to Meet are Sinking The Little John is up to its knees, The Lowther shoulder high, The Kings Arms just keeping its head. In The Bonding Warehouse, the barman snorkels to collect empties and only fish remember what we said. At The Cock and Bottle barstools are afloat, banging against the window I looked out of when you asked how I’d been and I lied. Carole Bromley’s three brief tercets dwell, amongst other things, on the depressing inexorability of rising water. Sinking beneath a…

'These Are The Hands' : Many Different Kinds Of Love By Michael Rosen

If ever the NHS needed to justify its own existence – it doesn’t, nor ever should – then its astonishing handling of the Covid crisis, and subsequent roll-out of a vaccination programme, is a triumph of endurance, endeavour and world-class effectiveness. Michael Rosen’s new book is many things: an impressionistic, in places lyrical, diary of a terrible, defining experience; an ‘anthology’ of deeply touching notes and diary entries written by an assortment of nurses, reassigned professionals and volunteers describing their patient’s…

‘You Have To Know Your History If You Want To Put Things Right’ : Charity By Madeline Dewhurst

Well, what a debut novel! Although a work of fiction, Charity sprang from the case brought against the British Government for its treatment of Kenyans in the 1950s, during the British colonial administration of the country. The case was settled in 2013 and there was a formal expression of regret issued for the torture and ill-treatment which had been meted out to thousands of Kenyans. Native Kenyans, mainly the Kikuyu tribe, had been displaced from the land they had worked…

Review: Bright Burning Things By Lisa Harding

Bright Burning Things is a beautifully crafted insight into a dark world, full of trepidation, leaving the reader at times almost fearful to turn the next page. The opening paragraph gives voice to the evocative nature of the prose: we meet Sonya, together with son Tommy, walking across the sand at a local beach, “warm velvet beneath the soles of my bare feet,” and Sonya fleetingly feels “an intense feeling of connection with all that is right and good in…

Practise To Deceive: Transcription By Kate Atkinson

Having already read a few of Kate Atkinson’s novels, I picked this one off the bedside pile and settled down to enjoy it. It was a slow burn to say the least, as I read a few pages and put it down, only to be drawn back to it repeatedly over the next couple of days. Thank goodness then for a particularly inclement day which allowed me to wholly immerse myself for several hours in the world of war time…

Poem Of The Week: 'Going Blind' By Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Going Blind She’d sat just like the others there at tea. And then I’d seemed to notice that her cup was being a little differently picked up. She’d smiled once. It had almost hurt to see. And when eventually they rose and talked, and slowly, and as chance led, were dispersing through several rooms there, laughing and conversing, I noticed her. Behind the rest she walked subduedly, like someone who presently will have to sing, and with so many listening; on those bright eyes of hers, with pleasure glistening, played, as on…

'We Shall Be Forgotten' : In The Palace Of Flowers By Victoria Princewill

Historical fiction saturated in conspicuous facts, can descend into little more than an erudite concatenation bereft of humanistic verisimilitude and emotional resonance. Hours spent in assiduous research, like the mellifluous voices of sirens, can tempt an author to eschew narrative power and have this sine qua non of fiction usurped by the desire to convey facts, not life. Such works are at best turgid tomes which pay dull homage to desiccated details. Consequently, the reluctant reader feels more like a…

Review: The Smash-up By Ali Benjamin

The Smash-Up is a timely novel for those, like me, who observe the world around them with disbelief, forcing personal expectations to flex in anticipation of the next peculiar occurrence. The book is best described as an honest attempt to process the absurdity of the modern world, injecting truth, honesty, humour and despair into the analysis. The opening words, "What happened?", set the scene. It's 2018 and the question is initially being asked in response to the election of a president…

Review: The Devil And The Dark Water By Stuart Turton

One of the many reasons why Greek Tragedy is time transcendent is that it is thematically all-consuming and therefore highly serviceable: a Sophocles play need not depend on a performance that remains scrupulously faithful to its Athenian context because the simplicity of Tragic form – dealing with revenge, remorse, guilt and love - carries a gravitas and weight that speak to all succeeding generations. Paying due respect to the relativity of cultural nuance, the meaning of Tragedy will sustain, regardless…

An Interview With Femi Kayode - Author Of Lightseekers

Femi Kayode, author of debut novel Lightseekers (published in February) is a writer who knows how to craft a compelling story. It was unsurprising, therefore, to interview him and discover his personality to be vibrant, forthcoming and honest. I praised his characterisation in the novel, and I understand now that this must stem from his own self-awareness, his sensitivity to others, and his life experience. I asked who he is, beyond clinical psychologist-cum-advertiser-cum-writer: “I think I am many things… I…

Poem Of The Week: 'All' By Alison Brackenbury

All And all who died, from winter’s sleet, From flu, from guns, from cells grown wrong, Still stand, one breath from fingers’ reach, Just out of touch, all colour gone. The dead grow smaller. From a train Mist takes the fields, drinks green to grey, The fog has swept across their face. In yard or park, they walk away, Then wait in rooms, without a fire, With tea uncleared, without a fuss; In cushioned chairs, now closer drawn, Nod to each other, not to us. But in mid age it is not strange To…

Jamaica Inn By Daphne du Maurier - A Review

There are moments in teaching which never leave you and watching the light suddenly go on in a previously disaffected pupil is wonderful. It was thirty years ago and I cannot remember her name but, for ease, will call her Emma. I can remember that she was only interested in Art and Photography and that she eventually pursued a career in the latter. She wasn’t a naughty girl, just switched off and it was a relief to hear in the…

Girl In The Walls By A.J. Gnuse - A Review

Girl in the Walls is the debut novel from New Orleans-based writer A.J. Gnuse. It’s the story of Elise, who literally is a girl in the walls, occupying her former home in Louisiana, but out of sight. Can she exist? Does she exist? At first the reader wonders whether she is in fact a spirit; she remains nameless, unidentified in the opening chapters. Recorded episodically, we are introduced to her existence, the house she occupies and the family she observes.…