culture wars logo archive about us links contact current
archive
about us
links
contact
current

 

This page is no longer in use, as of summer 2008 - if you have it bookmarked, please change it now: go to the new Culture Wars site, or use the archive button to look for older content.

 

Fiction

 


The road to nowhere The Road Home, by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus - Orange Prize 2008 WINNER)
If anyone can spot an incident in the book that doesn’t seem inspired by the Guardian editorials page, then I would be indebted if they would point it out.

James Topham

Savage civility Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong - translated by Howard Goldblatt (Hamish and Hamilton)
Rong is dual spokesman: Outer Mongolian to the Chinese and Chinese to everybody else, not caught between fact and fiction but navigating a path between the two roles.

Sarah Boyes

Gleefully wretched The Isle of Dogs, by Daniel Davies (Serpent's Tail)
But then Davies does something halfway through which threw me utterly, so subtle it’s difficult to be sure whether it’s intentional.

David Bowden

The pinnacle of matriarchy When We Were Bad, by Charlotte Mendelson (Picador - Orange Prize for Fiction 2008 Shortlist)
Mendelson keeps a firm hand on her style. The prose is economical, and characters are stung off the page with sharply aimed epithets – Frances, for example, is described by her mother as ‘a particularly disappointing segment of tangerine’.

Dean Nicholas

Frustrated expectations Fault Lines, by Nancy Huston (Atlantic Books - Orange Prize for Fiction 2008 Shortlist)
Language, a recurring theme as the generations of the family move from country to country, is both a symbol of identity and an expression of the pragmatism of children, who learn to get along wherever they are.

Timandra Harkness

Identifying fragments Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)
Using the protagonist as a uniquely-minded spy into the world of mundane middle-class existence, Faulks is able to give the reader a fresh insight into the issues that we all know so well.

Abigail Ross-Jackson

Misandry unfulfilled Liza and Her Men, by Alexander Ikonnikov; trans. Andrew Bromfield (Serpent's Tail)
Her men can be interpreted as both a commentary of the political climate and a criticism of the female condition: each new lover embodies everything from the con artist to the corrupt politician and each one seems to close off yet another section of her original naïve character.

Becky Sayers

Will he, won't he? The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
Diaz’s narrator masters a fabulously authentic idiolect, combining phrases of Spanish (refreshingly unitalicised) whose onomatopoeic meanings are often clear but occasionally opaque to the non-speaker, whilst touching on – but never quite becoming – the stereotypical streetwise Noo Yawk-based Latino.

Dean Nicholas

Charmed youth remembered Something To Tell You, by Hanif Kureishi
The novel takes us on the kind of ‘where were you’ journey, from Thatcher through to Tavistock Square, from charmed youth through to the first deaths of his generation.

Brenda Stones

The problem of belonging Day, by AL Kennedy - winner of the Costa Book Award 2008
Kennedy makes you work to fathom what is going on, intentionally leaving you at times as confused as Alfred is himself.

Paul Thomas

A diamond in the rough The Bridge of the Golden Horn, by Emine Sevgi Özdamar
This is novel at pains to take a viewpoint that, while not aloof or dispassionate, avoids being either unpalatably saccharine or being so emotionally heavy-handed as to constitute the literary equivalent of being hit in the face with a chapati pan.

Andrew Wheelhouse

The Nymphet and the Granny Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov / The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, translated and edited by David Cairns
Indispensible as both books are, they have quite another effect when read in parallel, the resonances from each forming interesting interference patterns inside the reader’s head. In their obsessive overlap, unavailing devotion appears almost lubricious, while greedy carnality is validated as a kind of love.
Robert Latona

From Anarchy to Grace Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon
Though the characters may lose sight of their own purposes, there is always something happening, or about to happen, that keeps the pages turning. In fact, the inchoate dread that gradually spreads through the book after the clean optimism of the World Fair adds a suspense that never quite goes away.

Timandra Harkness

Jewish Book Week 2008 a selection of featured novels
Adam Thirlwell argues that, rather writing than for the reader, great writers always write against the reader, meaning that expectations based on identity or ethnicity are bound to be confounded, except perhaps in mediocre literature. Might it even be said that Jewish writing is an attempt to escape Jewishness?
Various authors

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
Veronica is an accomplished work of nostalgia, harking back to the moment the partying turned sour and offering glimpses of the tragedy that befell those seduced enough to submit to 1970s/80s New York hedonism, but it feels it could easily have been written ten or fifteen years ago.

Sam Haddow

My Mother's Lovers by Christopher Hope
Hope is preoccupied with the notion of identity, as it exists in the context of a colonised land. His skill as a novelist lies in his ability to play around with archetypes and exploit some fairly overt symbolism whilst also allowing his story, or stories, and the colourful characters that inhabit them, credibility.

Maria Borland

The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks
Very good indeed. Until page 264. My frank advice to you is – read this book until the top of page 264, then stop. Go away and imagine for yourself what the answer is to Alban’s riddle, the dark secret the family hides. You won’t be wrong: it’s been flagged up pretty well.

Timandra Harkness

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The overlapping of Toru’s dreams and reality and the other characters’ frequent forays into the past add to Murakami’s portrayal of the world as fragmented and chaotic, yet the transitions between them are seamless and it is a testament to the author’s wonderful storytelling that he pulls it off so well.

Kiranjeet Kaur Gill

Animal's People by Indra Sinha
For an author who professes to want to avoid making pitiful victims of his subjects, and whose protagonist’s often crude and disinterested outlook is designed to unsettle the reader, Sinha displays unfortunate sentimentalist tendencies.

Maria Borland

Darkmans by Linda Barker
Barker’s paranoia is revealed as history itself, and her fluid perspective is temporal, skittering up and down the centuries, making arbitrary connections between characters separated by aeons, and generating baffling laws of series to which the narrative continually cross refers.

Sam Haddow

The Gathering by Anne Enright - WINNER
Popular newspapers and ITV dramas are rightly challenged when they use this emotive issue in an exploitative way, to sell papers or a story – and perhaps the chattering classes should look at themselves and their literature and do the same.

James Topham

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid redeems a plot that could be a political documentary synopsis, taking it compassionately and beautifully into the realm of literature, affording us a richer, wiser and more permanent view of one of our decade’s quintessential stories.

Anna Leach

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
So, let’s run through the checklist. The story is set on a Pacific Island largely untouched by Western civilisation (they don’t even know what a car is!). It is a narrated by a child on the cusp of puberty. It contains a white man who is neither wholly good or wholly bad but human (how post-mo-co!)...

David Bowden

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
The master of ‘first chapters’ trips himself up at his own smart literary game. For once, he has managed to extend a first chapter into an entire novel, without much loss of momentum. Yet, there is something quite superficial in the way this pace is maintained.

Ion Martea

The Singer by Cathi Unsworth
Most rock-based cultural commentary is produced by writers who seem never to have experienced the hedonistic pleasure of dressing up, hitting the dance floor or going with the flow. With a possible rise in popularity of noir crime writing, however, the rock novel may provide some backstage passes that give access to all areas.

Nicky Charlish

Over by Margaret Forster
Forster is unable to sustain interest in this nuclear family fallout through the whole novel. Once the details of Miranda’s death are revealed, the momentum evaporates. Forster’s writing throughout is clean and crisp, resisting melodramatic perorations, but the lack of narrative strand does lead to dry, often lifeless text.
Dean Nicholas

The Blue Door by André Brink
Just 122 generously spaced pages, with a luscious matt laminate cover of alternating panels of cadmium yellow and ultramarine, abutting just over the edge of the flaps to give a pleasing juxtaposition of tones, which represent the author’s fantasies of a blue-doored followed by a yellow-doored secret world...
Brenda Stones

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
While long time readers will find that the character development of the young wizards draws to its logical conclusion, the author also forces a rapid re-evaluation of Professors Dumbledore and Snape, injecting a dose of moral relativism, and hence reality, into the proceedings.
Andrew Wheelhouse

On Harry Potter the advent of post-Potterdom
Harry Potter shows what stories can mean to people when they grip the popular imagination. His popularity shows that, no, stories aren't dead; they can inspire, motivate and comfort, they can say something about contemporary society - however obvious - they mean things to people.
Sarah Boyes

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
The style is pure read-me-standing-up-on-the-tube, don’t-want-to-put-me-down fun. The content is altogether more metaphysical. Phillips asks herself, what if all religions are not equally valid, and wonders what would happen if the one that was literally true turned out to be ancient Greek.
Timandra Harkness

The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories by Michael Faber
I cannot savage a collection which contains a story entitled ‘A Mighty Horde of Women in Very Big Hats, Advancing’. This concluding tale is also the most successful – perhaps because it moves away most successfully from the novel to which these stories are a sort of sequel.
David Bowden

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The characters tend to be absolute goodies and baddies, as in childhood stories, but they still rouse our sympathy or antipathy when they re-enter the stage. You also feel flashes of recognition across the procession of characters – an unsettling edge of déjà vu, at the double-take of coincidence over time.
Brenda Stones

'Just' a good storyteller On Daphne Du Maurier's centenary
In her own time, Du Maurier was often dismissed as a romantic novelist, an author who wrote mainly for a female, popular audience, with her mix of mystery, romance and suspense. In fact there is little to be compared to the pure pleasure and escapism that comes from reading a really good novel.
Tara McCormack

The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007 (last updated 25 April)
The criteria for entry are only two: one must only be a member of the fairer sex and write in English. But despite this elegance, the Orange manages to raise some provocative – and messy - issues.
Various authors

Restless by William Boyd
Boyd’s attention to historic detail, his easy prose, wry humour and excellent structure are all employed to superb advantage and its not a surprise that – and this is a sort of back-handed compliment – the Richard and Judy book club and the Costa Novel Award both recognised Restless with their prizes and praise.
Barb Jungr

Jakarta Shadows by Alan Brayne
Brayne mines just about every murder mystery thriller there is to put his protagonist through a truly cathartic experience, forcing him to confront his selfish amorality and emerge a changed man. Aside from the pager turner narrative are Brayne’s efforts to explore and explain the practical and moral dilemmas of the ‘free’ Indonesia.
John L Rosewarne

Dirty Work by Julia Bell
Oksana is a Russian teenager who was lured to Europe under the promise of a better life, and Hope is a spoilt English girl. The alternating narrative voice is fine when the two characters are racing to their inevitable collision, but when they’re sharing a bed in a room with two freebasing Estonian prostitutes?

Sam Haddow

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death and, for the Western World, the Holocaust in particular, is a negation of words: silent and indescribable. So for Zusak to give a voice, especially such a distinctive and whimsical voice, to the quintessential concept of nothingness, is essentially a nice surprise.
Anna Leach

The Dictator and the Hammock by Daniel Pennac
Drunks have the advantage over ideologues because, periodically, the drunk sobers up. There is more than a hint of ambiguity from Pennac on this one. After all, 'The people pretend to believe what we want them to believe, to the point where they sometimes talk themselves into believing that they believe it'.
JL Rosewarne

Going Under by Ray French
One by one the elements that make up Aidan are being shut down - so he decides to shut himself down. What he opts for is nothing as grand and Continental as a suicide. No - Aidan decides to bury himself alive in his own garden. The British are, after all, a nation of gardeners.
Iona Firouzabadi

Incidences by Daniil Kharms
The satire is rich and thick, and often written in coarse, colloquial language, which makes it all the funnier. Nonsense, amusing literalism and striking or surreal visual evocations find the citizens of St Petersburg constantly subjected to bizarre happenings, and yet hardly flinching.

Anna Goodall

Greed by Elfriede Jelinek
Jelinek, a Nobel Prize winner, certainly has a darkly comic view of human nature, and the skill with which to render it vividly. It just seems that sometimes in detaching her voice from herself, she forgets the clarity that structures and drives the most compelling literature.
George Hoare

The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs by Irvine Welsh
Despite the sense of familiarity, Welsh is a technically better writer than a lot of his critics give him credit for. Although it may often have felt that he was trying to relive past glories, he can still provide vivid and interesting insights into addiction and self-destruction.
David Bowden

Mortality by Nicholas Royle
It is telling that the stories keep returning to empty spaces and hollowed-out shells. They appear to hold a fascination for Royle. Here, I think, lies the problem with the collection: Royle's writing itself is strangely hollow and substance-less and unsatisfying to read.
Anna Leach

National Short Story Competition 2006 various authors
All five stories display a dissatisfaction with contemporary life and all its trappings that is hard to articulate, and it is this elusive extra that these stories are striving to find; stretching out and brushing against salvation with eager finger tips, only to find it just out of reach.
Lily Einhorn

 

 
All articles on this site � Culture Wars.