Culture Wars reviews contemporary fiction along with regular feature coverage of fiction festivals such as Jewish Book Week and prizes like the Orange Prize and Man Booker.

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Tuesday 25 May 2010

Booze, porn, sex and debt

Everyone is Henry Miller, by Jason Dunne

In a deconstructed, homogenised world the notion of uniqueness seems absurd, and Dunne implies that this terrible contradiction will wreak more havoc in a future faced with material and moral scarcity.

Thursday 8 April 2010

A troublesome memory

And This Is True, by Emily Mackie (Sceptre, 2010)

Offering a master-class in the construction of a narrative arc, Mackie at times dares to weave in the necessary building blocks of structure explicitly, as when she writes that a ‘character has to develop’ and when Nevis explains that ‘I wanted to know what was real and what was not…the twist, the revelation, the change. The truth. What an excellent dénouement.’

Thursday 1 April 2010

Earthly angel

Angel Time: The Songs Of The Seraphim by Anne Rice (Chatto & Windus)

A dark gothic novel of suspense about assassins and Angels, set in worlds past and present.

Thursday 25 March 2010

The possibility of love

The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis (Jonathan Cape)

The voice is not the high-octane, clever, boyish excess of his early ‘testosterone novels’; it has matured, his ‘compulsive vividness of style’ has relaxed into an easy-going wisdom. There is still the high laugh-per-page ratio. There is still the finger-clicking rhythm. Still the mode is tragicomic. But there is something different, something significantly different about the author of The Pregnant Widow from that of the lunatic Yellow Dog.

Monday 15 March 2010

The dark Clerkenwell mist

Avant! Noir, Toynbee Theatre, London

Avant! Noir happily managed a smooth equilibrium of media and styles, music and words and images all melting into each other, suggesting further shapes and colours, stretching the genre without straining it.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Shades of light and dark

Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips (Jonathan Cape)

Phillips is able to deliver a powerful and evocative message through four central characters whose close familial bond is described between shifting narrative perspectives of past and present, to illustrate the endurance of close, personal relationships which permeate and surpass the boundaries of place and time.

Friday 11 December 2009


Chalcot Crescent, by Fay Weldon (Corvus)

Just imagine; people simply get bored of consumerism, vandalism, of all isms in general. The good times when we bought all manner of unnecessary things with borrowed money were merely a blip on our otherwise toilsome shared existence; the recession was a return to the norm, rather than a rough patch. 

Stripping the Establishment

Bad Penny Blues, by Cathi Unsworth (Serpent's Tail)

It would be easy to regard this novel as simply a walk down memory lane - albeit a scary one – with no contemporary relevance. This would be wrong. Unsworth has given us a template for writing about today’s political underbelly.

Friday 27 November 2009

Fanfare for the common man

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell looks like a murderer, and doesn’t mind too much that people speculate in whispers about his violent past. But in Mantel’s telling, Cromwell is no cynical bully. He get things done because he believes in them, or at least, as in the case of the king’s divorce and remarriage, because he believes they serve a greater purpose.

Lurking in the corners

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (Virago)

What makes Waters’ historical novels unusual is the way in which progress and modernity are the unspoken assumptions which lie at their heart. As a female novelist benefitting from the historical gains of feminism and gay liberation, she is apparently under little illusion that the contemporary world is the preferred one to inhabit.

Friday 13 November 2009

Navel-gazing in India

A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta, by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton)

Theroux fills his novel with inexplicably apoplectic hotel managers, moustachioed police chiefs and clandestine meetings in overgrown cemeteries. Rife with cliché in just the right way, A Dead Hand will please fans of the detective thriller. Its characters are two-dimensional, but with a rollicking story to follow, who cares?

Jo Caird in • Fiction
Friday 6 November 2009

Ordinary village folk

The Heretic's Daughter, by Kathleen Kent (Pan)

The striking clarity with which Sarah explains her story also provides a balanced and unromanticised version of the early American justice system and sheds light over its true situation amidst fear and unjustified mass superstitious panic under the pretence of religious ideology.

Ghosts at the kitchen table

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger (Jonathan Cape)

It’s all rather a macabre jumble of plot lines; for even the apparently sane characters are grossly exaggerated, like Martin who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, so tapes up his windows to keep out the light, and yet implausibly leaves his flat door open.

Friday 23 October 2009

Modern man made flesh

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Or The Murder at Road Hill House, by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)

Secrets are something the characters both make for themselves and construct themselves around, they form the fulcrum for their engagement with the world, allowing them to have both private and public parts. The content of these secrets frequently goes unrecorded and untold.

Friday 25 September 2009

Respect and respectability

The Scandal of the Season, by Sophie Gee (Vintage 2008)

Gee’s novel certainly recreates the atmospheric conditions of the historical period, including the insecurity of women and their dependence on the male instigated moral constraints brought about by marriage. Their very respectability, in fact, rests on the acquisition of an eligible bachelor to secure their status as respectable individuals in a male dominated society.

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