Saturday, 31 January 2015

Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes

My review of Jonathan Barnes' twisty-turny literary thriller, Cannonbridge, is in the February issue of Literary Review, out next week.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

January, 1795 by Mary Robinson

I don't often post entire poems: but in an idle moment I stumbled across this one, and, it being the end of January, I thought it more than particularly apt for January 2015. Mary Robinson seems to have been an interesting person: she was known as the English Sappho, and apparently was the mistress of the Prince of Wales.

January, 1795

By Mary Robinson
Pavement slipp’ry, people sneezing,
Lords in ermine, beggars freezing;
Titled gluttons dainties carving,
Genius in a garret starving.

Lofty mansions, warm and spacious;
Courtiers cringing and voracious;
Misers scarce the wretched heeding;
Gallant soldiers fighting, bleeding.

Wives who laugh at passive spouses;
Theatres, and meeting-houses;
Balls, where simp’ring misses languish;
Hospitals, and groans of anguish.

Arts and sciences bewailing;
Commerce drooping, credit failing;
Placemen mocking subjects loyal;
Separations, weddings royal.

Authors who can’t earn a dinner;
Many a subtle rogue a winner;
Fugitives for shelter seeking;
Misers hoarding, tradesmen breaking.

Taste and talents quite deserted;
All the laws of truth perverted;
Arrogance o’er merit soaring;
Merit silently deploring.

Ladies gambling night and morning;
Fools the works of genius scorning;
Ancient dames for girls mistaken,
Youthful damsels quite forsaken.

Some in luxury delighting;
More in talking than in fighting;
Lovers old, and beaux decrepid;
Lordlings empty and insipid.

Poets, painters, and musicians;
Lawyers, doctors, politicians:
Pamphlets, newspapers, and odes,
Seeking fame by diff’rent roads.

Gallant souls with empty purses;
Gen’rals only fit for nurses;
School-boys, smit with martial spirit,
Taking place of vet’ran merit.

Honest men who can’t get places,
Knaves who shew unblushing faces;
Ruin hasten’d, peace retarded;
Candor spurn’d, and art rewarded.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Books of the Year for 2014

A Happy New Year to One and All! And herewith are my books of the year, for 2014.


Hermione Eyre's first novel, Viper Wine, was a dazzling exploration of time travel and beauty, set in the Carolingian court; whilst Constantine Phipps' What You Want brought didactic epic poetry into the twenty-first century with all guns blazing. I also very much enjoyed Nick Harkaway's Tigerman, a techno-fantasy about a dying colony; and Mal Peet's The Murdstone Trilogy is a clever and hilarious exploration of the book world and the fantasy genre. Whilst I have been steadily catching up on Hilary Mantel's backlist, I found her short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, sinisterly gripping. And, though I haven't yet finished it, Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake, written in an approximation of Anglo-Saxon, is brutal, bold and satisfying.


I haven't read much poetry this year, but Lavinia Greenlaw's A Double Sorrow, which is a retelling of Troilus and Cressida, was moving and intelligent; and Simon Armitage's play, The Last Days of Troy, has many witty touches whilst keeping the grandeur and terror of the original story.

Children's Books

There were two stand out books (for me) this year: Sonya Hartnett's The Children of the King, a wise, beautiful novel about ghosts and family; and David Almond's A Song for Ella Grey, in which the singer Orpheus returns to the world - this time, to the north of England. A special mention should go to Kate Saunders' Five Children on the Western Front, which poignantly follows on from E Nesbit's classic; and finally, Diana Wynne Jones' last book, The Islands of Chaldea, which displays her distinctive wisdom and emotive power. 


I finished Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End, with The Last Post, a gentle yet dazzling coda; I also continued my Henry Green obsession, with Nothing and Doting, both of which have the uneasy pull of Green at his best. Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer I revisited, and was once more shocked by its final image, of an ancient, practically immortal Earl who has reverted into monkey form. Pendennis by William Thackeray is a sharp, precise satire about a young man seeking his fortune in literary London, which still remains vivid and on the point today; and T H White's The Goshawk, a bleak and powerful book about the author's relationship with his bird of prey.