The Heat Of The Night: An American Marriage By Tayari Jones

Recommended to me by a friend and ex-colleague, this novel is definitely worth a read. The first couple of pages of the book are simply reviews from all sorts of luminaries from Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama and all the major newspapers, both here and in the US, and it deserves every one of the accolades. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and a New York Times Bestseller, this has a well-deserved pedigree. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds, educated,…

Review: Anyone For Edmund? By Simon Edge

Anyone for Edmund? is a highly entertaining work of satire, written by former features writer and theatre critic, Simon Edge, who deftly applies his journalistic skills to fiction. The story delivers a wonderful blend of what you know to be pure fiction and what you suspect has been written with ‘insider knowledge’. The depiction of the press and the media industry is wry, and the inner schisms of government departmental hierarchy portrayed in what one presumes to be an equally…

Review: Never Let Me Go By Kazuo Ishiguro

This dystopian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is a complex and deeply compassionate insight into friendship and humanity. The narrative follows the life of Kathy from her childhood in Hailsham (an idyllic institution for raising children) to her work as a carer as an adult. From the outset there are subtle undertones of the unspoken treatment that would befall the children once leaving Hailsham - they are clones raised for their organs to be harvested to save the…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Marriage' By Anne Stevenson

The Marriage They will fit, she thinks, but only if her backbone cuts exactly into his ribcage, and only if his knees dock exactly under her knees and all four agree on a common angle. All would be well if only they could face each other. Even as it is there are compensations for having to meet nose to neck chest to scapula groin to rump when they sleep. They look, at least, as if they were going in the same direction. The geometrical arrangement of limbs in Anne Stevenson’s fine poem of marital disharmony is the key to an…

The Picture Of Dorian Gray And Bel Ami : A French Connection

In The Book of Five Rings of 1645, legendary Kenjutsu master Miyamotto Masashi wrote ‘Be detached from desire your whole life long…do not seek pleasure for its own sake or let yourself be guided by the feelings of lust or love’. Neither the infamously vain Dorian Gray nor the socially ambitious self-styled Baron, Georges du Roy de Cantel, heeded this sagacious advice. The causative agent acting upon these iconic literary anti-heroes was a decidedly French muse of an altogether different…

Review: The Mating Habits Of Stags By Ray Robinson

For some writers, plot development is secondary to considerations of tone, of mood. Ray Robinson’s brave excursion into the sparse interior of the world of itinerant Jake Eisner – ex-farmer, on the run for murder – reveals narrative through back-story, allowing the reader to construct a picture of a life, and the dramatic emotional turning points of that life, in thralled harness to shifting temporal tableaux. Moving between Wensleydale and the North Yorkshire coastline, the hinterland of Jake’s life is…

The Decline Of The American Dream: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Oh no! I told you previously that my favourite novel was Jane Eyre and now I’ve remembered The Great Gatsby. The Oscar-winning 1974 film with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford, despite seriously mixed reviews on its release, is far better than the more recent version with Leonardo di Caprio, but that’s my opinion (and probably my age!), and it’s not even wholly true to the book. I have little literary features in my garden: ‘Squirrel Nutkin’, the ‘White Rabbit’ and (a…

Poem Of The Week: 'Second Person' By Sam Gardiner (1936-2016)

Second Person You rush into the shopping arcade and step aside to avoid the mirror-clad pillar When you meet yourself rushing out. Swiftly you pass, and may even glance over your shoulder just in time to glimpse yourself spinning on your heel, wondering which of you is real. As I did, before hurrying off, getting home first and trying to persuade her there was only one of me. But apparently she had always known there were two, and the one she loved should soon be home, if I’d care to wait. Good, I…

Review: The Decadent Society By Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success by New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat is a thoroughly compelling read that dissects life as we know it, diagnosing all its flaws and providing rational and well-informed suggestions as to where, why and how it all went so very wrong. Douthat’s style is informative but not didactic. He shares fact but doesn’t often voice opinion. The book, therefore, doesn’t read from a one-sided perspective: all options…

Maupassant - Tales Of Day And Night: Folly Satirically Eviscerated By A Master Of The Short Story

‘All of them were possessed by violent passions, by irresistible impulses, that inspired them with fanatical devotion and drove them to commit, not only the wildest follies, but even crimes’. An elucidatory line from one of the short stories contained within Tales of Day and Night by Henri-René Guy de Maupassant, published in book form in 1885. At the age of twenty, Maupassant (1850-1893) was diagnosed with syphilis, a terminal disease leading to insanity and an ignominious demise. Perhaps we…

Review: The Miseducation Of Evie Epworth By Matson Taylor

We’re in Yorkshire during the summer of 1962 and sixteen year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. What should she do with her life? And even more importantly, how will she cope with her father’s soon-to-be new wife, the bossy and controlling Christine? Christine is a money-grubbing and manipulative schemer who wants to consign Evie to a life of shampooing and setting at the local salon, even though Evie has shown no inclination or propensity towards this career choice.…

The Safety of Clouds: Fledge By Jonathan Humble

If you studied English Literature at school in the late sixties or early seventies, and you were searching for a way through the woods, it’s very likely that you encountered the figure of Ted Hughes on your journey. The brooding, visceral presence in your mind’s eye, the hand that drove the instructive pen in Poetry in the Making, and the shockingly original natural images of Hawk in the Rain, may even have given you an impetus to write. Those of…

What Is Alien? Bridging The Abyss In The Man Who Fell To Earth And Under The Skin

It is traditional in works of science fiction for humankind to fear that which is alien. We are familiar with H. G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds and the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day, in which alien races of superior intelligence, bent on human destruction, arrive in vast spaceships and blot out the sun. But should the terms “alien” and “evil” necessarily be synonymous? As Nietzsche cautioned, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a…

Poem Of The Week: 'Lacrimae Hominis' By Vicki Feaver

Lacrimae Hominis You’ve cried three times, you say: once when your mother died, once when you visited her grave, and now, in powdery dawn, as I sing, tentatively, a song she used to sing, ‘The Ballad of Barbara Allen’. Are you crying? Your eyes shine – but the cheeks I touch are hot, waterless. If I dived into the black light of your pupils, I’d break my head in a dry pool. If I took an axe to you, you’d weep like a fir – resinous tears, amber drops hardening in the air. ‘In a…

Review: Losing You By Susan Lewis

Have the tissues ready, even for the happy bits, if you choose to ride this emotional rollercoaster! This is a novel which takes you through any parent’s worst nightmare. Lauren is a beautiful, musically-gifted young lady about to embark on what is surely destined to be a highly successful adult life. She is popular and loved - most of all by her mother, Emma, recently divorced and trying to re-establish herself after an acrimonious and expensive settlement. Oliver is the…

Review: Au Revoir, Tristesse: Lessons In Happiness From French Literature By Viv Groskop

‘To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s’, said Fyodor Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment. Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), the French Renaissance philosopher and putative father of the essay form, tells us in his Essais that, ‘There is no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally’. Helpfully, he provides a little written guidance, ‘Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself’.…

Review: Gimson's Presidents: Brief Lives From Washington To Trump By Andrew Gimson

In Andrew Gimson’s estimable new book on presidents of the United States the focus is entirely on the character and statesmanlike virtues, or more often vices, which have given definition to the great leaders of American history. This book is not a comprehensive dive into a national history but a summary guide of the men in control during all of the momentous changes unfolding since the American War of Independence. Covering all of the substantive changes - from the Emancipation…

A Tale Of Two Hulls: Writer Chris Speck And The Art Of The Sea

Chris Speck is the author of Hull boxing novel, Beast, which was recently reviewed in these pages. Based in Cottingham, Yorkshire, he describes himself as a passionate and simple storyteller. His next book, A North Sea Tale is out in August, and before we sit down to enjoy reading it, we wanted to find out more about the man behind the idea, and discover what inspires and motivates him. Chris began writing as a teenager, inspired by the passion…

A Writer's Journey: Julia Chapman

Julia Chapman is the pseudonym of Julia Stagg, who has had five novels - the Fogas Chronicles, set in the French Pyrenees - published by Hodder. She is also the author of the ongoing Dales Detective series of books which describe the adventures of Samson O'Brien and Delilah Metcalfe as they solve cases in the Yorkshire Dales. Born with a relentless wanderlust, Julia has followed her restless feet to Japan, Australia, the USA and France. With a kaleidoscopic curiosity for employment,…

Review: Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi

My virtual book club voted to read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi as we wanted to diversify our shelves in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. I approached this book completely blind; the process of discovery is a revelation, yielding surprises at every turn, giving full vent to imaginative possibility. All I could reliably say about Homegoing before reading it was that it was about two sisters, that it involved slavery, and that the repercussions of the protagonists’ involvement…

An Echo In The Wind: Date With Danger By Julia Chapman

When I was twelve or thirteen, a mainstay of Rawthorpe County Secondary School English Language classes was something called ‘Comprehension and Understanding’. If I was oblivious to the efficacy of this curricular activity fifty years ago, then experience has opened a window on its wider application. The idea was to render a version of a given paragraph, or several paragraphs, of prose, in blind synoptic form, reducing the text to its salient points. If the sense of this escaped me…

'You'd Better Get Yourself Off Then, Pet': The Seagull By Ann Cleeves

What do Shetland and Vera have in common - other than providing excellent viewing, often on a Sunday night? Both series spring from the novels of the prolific writer, Ann Cleeves. Hailing, as I do, from the North East, Vera, set on the Northumberland coast, is a must for me. Open space and a good sea breeze can clear away the worst of cobwebs and Cleeves’ eponymous lead uses the often wild location to help her find a path through…

Poem Of The Week: 'Race Riot, Tulsa, 1921' By Sharon Olds

Race Riot, Tulsa, 1921 The blazing white shirts of the white men are blanks on the page, looking at them is like looking at the sun, you could go blind. Under the snouts of the machine guns, the dark glowing skin of the women and men going to jail. You can look at the gleaming horse-chestnuts of their faces the whole day. All but one descend from the wood back of the flat-bed truck. He lies, shoes pointed North and South, knuckles curled under on the splintered slats, head thrown back as…

A Writer's Journey: Matson Taylor

Matson Taylor grew up in Yorkshire (the flat part not the Brontë part). He comes from farming stock and spent an idyllic childhood surrounded by horses, cows, bicycles, and cheap ice-cream. His father, a York City and Halifax Town footballer, has never forgiven him for getting on the school rugby team but not getting anywhere near the school football team. Matson now lives in London, where he is a design historian and academic writing tutor at the V&A, Imperial College…

A Withering Light: Brighton Rock By Graham Greene

Much has been said about Graham Greene's 1938 novel, Brighton Rock. As with all serious novels, to the intellectual reader there are numerous themes to explore and analyse and this is where I should confess to my own limitations. I have no contextual knowledge of Brighton in the 1930s, I know nothing of gang warfare either then or now, and I have little understanding of Catholicism, or how it influenced Greene. In the introduction to the edition I read, J.M.…

The Bonds That Define Us: And The Mountains Echoed By Khaled Hosseini

I have long understood that boys and girls often prefer different reading matter. Too often, as English teachers, we would complain that there were not enough books to engage boys and no wonder we struggled to get them to read. In reality, I believe that it’s not the reading so much as the sitting down with which many teenage boys struggle. Much has, of course, been done to redress the balance: Anthony Horowitz has written the Alex Rider Series, John…

The Phone Box At The Edge Of The World – Laura Imai Messina: A Finely Modulated Meditation Upon Grief

“The telephone line won’t carry my voice. So, I let the wind do it, hence the name The Phone of the Wind”. The words of Itaru Sasaki. Wanting to speak to his recently deceased cousin, Itaru instals a telephone box in his garden, which sits at the bottom of the Mountain of the Whale and overlooks the sea off the coast of Otsuki in Japan. Twelve months later in March 2011, Otsuki is decimated by a tsunami which kills 861…

Yorkshire Festival of Story Takes 80 Events to Digital Stage

At a time when our experiences are limited, Yorkshire Festival of Story will offer audiences the chance to use stories to escape, to gain new perspectives and to get active. Under the expert curation of guest Festival Director Joanne Harris MBE, Yorkshire Festival of Story will take place online across August 2020. With over 80 events, this diverse, immersive programme is all free. 2020 marks 10 years since Settle Stories began producing a festival in one of the most beautiful…

A Writer's Journey: Rebecca Sullivan

Rebecca Sullivan is a twenty-two-year-old student at the National University of Ireland, studying English Literature and Geography. She is obsessed with fluffy socks and anything to do with owls, particularly in the form of candles and other odd trinkets. Even when sleeping there’s no escape from writing for Rebecca as she plans story arcs by inducing a lucid dreaming state. Today she releases her coming of age, lesbian summer camp romance novel called Night Owls and Summer Skies, so we…

Turgenev’s Fathers And Sons: Nihilism’s Ineluctable Catalytic Force For Change

Referring to the novels of Ivan Turgenev in his Partial Portraits, Henry James (1843-1916) wrote, “They gave one the impression of life itself and not of an arrangement, a réchauffé of life”. Having recently extolled the virtues of Turgenev’s On The Eve (1860), I described that novel as a flawed literary gem. Fathers and Sons (1862), however, represents the apex of what James found so impressive in his friend’s writing. Eclipsing the earlier novel in terms of ideological force, psychological…