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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

    The Genius and the Pedant

    Johnny Lyons
    Isaiah Berlin had not only a great gift for political philosophy but an unusual talent for verbal expression: his wartime diplomatic despatches from the US were greatly prized by Churchill. A new book by his editor surprisingly reveals that he was very reluctant to have his work published.
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    Not at Rest

    Magdalena Kay
    Not at Rest
    The mind of Derek Mahon is not, he assures us, one that can be ‘set at rest’. But would we wish it to be? Would we want him free of tension and contradiction and impossible desire? One might as well wish for a placid elder Yeats or a young Auden free of guilt and fear.
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    Talismans

    Graham Good
    The essayist Chris Arthur grew up in Northern Ireland, where his father considered himself to be of British nationality. Physical absence from the island may have helped him create an Irish identity beyond the Catholic/Protestant duopoly. It is an identity based not on tribe but on landscape, place and memory.
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    The Biggest Question

    Scott Beauchamp
    William Vollmann is fond of tackling large subjects and writing very big books, both fiction and non-fiction. In a two-volume work on climate change he addresses himself to the future inheritors of the earth and tries to explain to them why we did so little to prevent its destruction.
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    Alternative Facts

    Linda Anderson
    Tracey Iceton, author of a projected trilogy of ‘Troubles’ novels, claims her work, and in particular her portrayal of a woman IRA volunteer, avoids the stereotypes which disfigured previous examples of the genre. These claims of originality and an ethical approach cannot, however, stand much scrutiny.
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    Development Arrested

    Dan A O’Brien
    The Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga’s first novel was a major success, although she was accused by reviewers at home of ‘fouling her own nest’. Her latest novel uses the broken female body as a metaphor to explore the collapse of her country’s body politic.
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    Something To Declare

    Wendy Graham
    Something To Declare
    Gilbert and Sullivan producer Richard D’Oyly Carte offered to sponsor Oscar Wilde’s American tour, hoping to drum up publicity for the comic opera Patience. The representative stock aesthete left London an understudy for the leaders of the aesthetic movement, returning a celebrity in his own right.
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    Freedom From the Bind

    Megan DeMatteo
    Domenico Starnone’s novel ‘Ties’ explores the break-up of a marriage from multiple perspectives, casting some doubt on the notion that self-realisation can easily be found in a new relationship. It is also particularly interesting because of its relationship to the work of Elena Ferrante.
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    Get Down from There

    Alice Lyons
    In her native Poland Olga Tokarczuk has the enviable position of being an author of books seriously engaged with ideas, politics and history who enjoys a wide readership, now steadily and deservedly growing internationally.
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    Gazing Heavenwards

    Gerard Smyth
    The challenge in our secular age for a poet engaging with the spiritual and religious is how to sound the authentic note. To this end James Harpur fetches images from the religious art and symbolism of the past, renewing and refreshing them in his language of ‘pure clear words’.
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    A Fire in the Brain

    Declan O’Driscoll
    James Joyce never wanted to believe that his daughter could not be cured of her mental illness, saying ‘whatever spark or gift I possess has been transmitted to Lucia and has kindled a fire in her brain’. The problem was, however, that the fire could not be extinguished.
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    I Would Prefer Not To

    Catherine Kelly
    In Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel a young woman attempts to whittle her life back to an extreme stillness. Orphaned, disillusioned with the art world and insulated from the need to work by a large inheritance, she can find no particular reason to participate at all.
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    Where The Wild Things Live

    Patricia Craig
    Where The Wild Things Live
    Many books for the young, whether about animals and their habitats or children on a ‘wilderness’ adventure, contain a message which an attentive child may grasp, laying the ground for a future respect for nature, kindness to animals and aversion to environmental destruction.
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    No Way Out

    Síofra Pierse
    No Way Out
    Denis Diderot’s novel The Nun, posthumously published in 1796, is an indictment of the practice of locking up young women against their will in convents. It strikes an uncanny echo in Ireland, where the last punishment facility of the type known as the Magdalene laundry closed 200 years later.
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    An Idea Madder than Usual

    Martin Greene
    It is well-known that Joyce drew on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs when writing the sadomasochistic scenes in Ulysses. Masoch’s name today may be chiefly linked to ‘SM’ porn, but there is more to Venus in Furs than that, and indeed more to Masoch than one book.
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    Home As Hell

    Carlo Gébler
    Tara Westover’s childhood was dominated by her father’s apocalyptic beliefs. She was born at home, and never had a birth certificate. She never went to hospital, or to a dentist, or school. Eventually she escaped, but realised that she knew nothing – or nothing that is true – about the world.
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    Beyond the Laws

    Robert Looby
    Beyond the Laws
    Lovers of the plain, the spare, the rational should perhaps avoid Bruno Schulz, an apparently ‘modest teacher’ from a Polish provincial town in whose stories matter has infinite fecundity and we are invited to feel for a table hammered together from ‘alien races of wood that hate one another’.
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    A Reading from the Book of Drones

    Kevin Hargaden
    Marilynne Robinson is a great admirer of former president Barack Obama, and he of her. The gentle humanism they share, however, can only be accepted at face value at the cost of ignoring the civilian victims of America’s war on terror, poor people in faraway places, who it seems don’t count.
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    Nose Stuck in a Book

    Siobhán Parkinson
    Nose Stuck in a Book
    A certain kind of child can be sceptical of the benefits of fresh air, sturdy play or hand-me-down versions of femininity or masculinity, especially when a vast and various world is within reach simply through knowing how 26 letters variously combine and which way up to hold a book.
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    Not At Home

    Dan A O’Brien
    Not At Home
    In Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston’s documentary narrative from 1931 which has only now been published, the former slave Cudjo gives his children names for the old world they have left behind and the new one in which they now live. But like him, they are at home in neither.
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    Greed and Good

    Tom Hennigan
    That Mario Vargas Llosa should champion liberal principles is scarcely surprising, given the damage wrought by rival doctrines in South America. His new study might have benefited, however, from considering the ways in which liberal politics seems to have come unstuck elsewhere.
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    The Ascent of Women

    Ann Kennedy Smith

    ‘The average standard of mental power in man must be above that of women,’ Charles Darwin asserted. The opinion was perhaps surprising given the number of talented and active women he knew personally, as well as the wide-ranging social disadvantages they faced as a sex. Women working in the fields of botany, entomology and education often corresponded with the great scientist. 


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    Not So Simple

    Declan O’Driscoll
    When a narrator declares her boredom and indifference, the danger is that this will be met with a responding yawn from an equally uninvolved reader. What maintains interest in Joanna Walsh’s work is the quality of the writing and the honesty of the insights.
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    A Time In Between

    Éadaoín Lynch
    Éadaoín Lynch writes on the British literature of the Second World War. Writers such as Roald Dahl wrote directly about the experience of killing in combat, and the godlike power of mechanised warfare. The dominant mode of writing death and killing lay in understatement, detachment and voyeurism.
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    Puttin’ On the Ritz

    Patricia Craig
    Zadie Smith is an opponent of dullness, mediocrity, pusillanimity and taking yourself too seriously; she is a champion, and in her work an embodiment, of position, attitude, rhythm and style, like her favourite dancers, Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson. Her essays afford not just pleasure but joy.
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    Channelling God

    Kevin Power
    Channelling God
    In 1954 Norman Mailer discovered marijuana. It gave him an insight into the mind of the Almighty, which it turned out was quite a lot like his own. He began to formulate the ideas that would shape his literary work over the next decade. Unfortunately they were not very good ideas.
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    Manderley, Again

    Lia Mills
    Manderley, Again
    Daphne du Maurier’s classic story ‘Rebecca’ is more an anti-romantic than a romantic novel. It is also a study of jealousy, a portrait of the imbalance of power in a marriage, a psychological thriller, and a crime drama with its conventions turned inside out.
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    Their Own Medicine

    Pauline Hall
    Matthew Pearl’s 2003 bestseller ‘The Dante Club’ is set at the close of the American Civil War when Boston is shaken by a series of gruesome murders which seem to replicate the ‘contrapasso’ punishments of Dante’s ‘Inferno’. A group of eminent scholars must track down the killer.
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    From Europe’s Borderlands

    Victoria Melkovska
    An exciting new bilingual anthology of Ukrainian poetry might remind us of  a row of Soviet-era apartment blocks, with multiple kitchen windows open at the same time and different voices coming from inside. Put together, it is a melting pot of voices and cultures.
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    Connoisseur of Foolishness

    Kevin Stevens
    Connoisseur of Foolishness
    Today’s bulbous literary novels are remarkably tolerant of longueurs, asides and arbitrary disquisitions, says Thomas McGuane. That can be their virtue. Not so short stories. Short stories share some of the traits of poetry, which could scarcely tolerate the liberties of novels.
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    The Quixote of Cant

    Martin Tyrrell
    George Orwell set himself the mission of uncovering and ‘calling out’ all forms of political lying and evasion, particularly those of the people he called ‘the boiled rabbits of the Left’. He often chose his targets well, though he was far from being without foibles or prejudices himself.
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    Sons and Mothers

    Ann Kennedy Smith
    Samuel Beckett largely attempted to escape the maternal embrace, insisting that his future would be decided by him rather than her. Philip Larkin’s relationship with his mother seems to have been much warmer, based at least partially on a shared pessimistic attitude to life.
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    Exit from Metroland

    Giles Newington
    The plain-speaking, undeceived tone of Julian Barnes’s narrators, together with his suburban settings, can make him seem a quintessentially English writer. Normally, however, the gradually revealed unreliability of these narrators serves to subvert the assumptions of the middle class world.
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    The Other Side of the Sky

    Luke Gibbons
    For some it is only a matter of time before the digital world catches up with its human creators, but for Wittgenstein it was a matter of principle that computer codes could never acquire the nuances and complexity of ordinary language, let alone the resonances of literature.
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    Becoming the Stranger

    Julia O’Mahony
    As an editor, Toni Morrison resisted the dictum that one cannot “sell books on both sides of the street”. As a novelist, she attempts to write non-colourist literature about black people, to resist the dehumanising effect of the fetishisation of race.
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    Life As It Flees

    Gerard Dawe
    A sense of pleasure and ‘revels’ plays through much of Thom Gunn’s poetry, from the famous image of the motorcyclist in ‘On the Move’ to Elvis Presley’s sexuality. While sex, drugs and rock and roll all feature in Selected Poems, there really isn’t a sense of excess.
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    Rediscovered Territory

    Tim Groenland
    Rediscovered Territory
    In a reimagined continuation of the Huckleberry Finn story, Huck is a reluctant witness to the march of ‘sivilization’ as it rampages across America. His relentlessly unheroic perspective and humanitarian pragmatism offer a partial antidote to the warlike machinations of his compatriots.
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    A Gift of Cleverness

    Michael Hinds
    In 1931 William Empson arrived to teach at the Imperial University of Tokyo. Unable to speak Japanese and undoubtedly intimidated by officialdom, he turned inward instead, remarking all sorts of new energies in language, life and art and finding things to live by and live for.
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    Let Them Have It

    Patrick Claffey
    You’ve either got or you haven’t got style. AA Gill had it in spades, but he also had substance, convictions, passion and a devil-may-care attitude to the proprieties that often got him into trouble with the many people he offended.
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    From the Battlefield

    Ronan Sheehan
    Robert Lowell’s ‘For the Union Dead’ is first and foremost an American poem. It is about a nation born in courage and descending into slack and rust. It is about valour and the corruption of valour. It asks which noble acts, which right things done, enter and stay in memory.
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    Judging Fintan Judging Shaw

    Anthony Roche
    Judging Fintan Judging Shaw
    Most Shavians steer clear of discussing Shaw’s final decades. It is then that he starts cuddling up to dictators, of whom there was no shortage at the time. Beatrice Webb blamed his admiration for Mussolini on 'his intellectual isolation and weakness for flattery'.
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    No Hope of an End

    Kevin Stevens
    No Hope of an End
    Nicole Krauss has made her mark with fiction that is technically daring, emotionally vibrant, and unafraid of the largest subjects. She is fresh and individual but knows from where she comes. Her most recent novel has Philip Roth’s influence all over it, while Kafka’s shade hovers in the background.
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    The Philosopher as Private Collector

    Catalin Partenie
    The Romanian philosopher Alexandru Dragomir was a pupil of Heidegger in Germany until 1943, when he was conscripted into the Romanian army. In the communist period, he had to hide this background. He never published, but after his death, almost a hundred notebooks were found among his belongings.
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    Thinking ’bout the Things

    Afric McGlinchey
    The strongest impression in Eva HD’s new collection of poems is of her casual register (she often uses words like ‘dunno’ and ‘uh’) and her focus on what Heidegger refers to as the thingness of things.
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    People of No Account

    David Langwallner
    Arundhati Roy’s new novel, her first for twenty years, has many passages of fine writing but overall is something of an aesthetic mess. The key to understanding it and the passionate political impulses that lie behind it are perhaps to be found in Roy’s political writing about her native India.
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    Reclaiming the Lyric

    Justin Quinn
    Modernism, for many decades from the mid-twentieth century, dominated how we understood the visual arts, music, architecture, and design. If you wrote poems in rhyme about landscape and the seasons at the beginning of the twentieth century, you were out.
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    The Resident and the Stranger

    Frank Freeman
    Tolstoy oscillated between the profligate life and stable family life. Tolstoy the Resident wanted to live on his estate, write great works of art and love his family. Tolstoy the Stranger, alienated from family and society, wanted solitude, to serve pleasure when he was young and God when older.
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    Team Amis

    Kevin Power
    To be accepted into Martin Amis’s canon of greats you must be a writer, not necessarily of brilliant novels, or even of brilliant chapters, but of brilliant sentences and paragraphs. Plot, form, structure, psychological insight: all of these are secondary matters.
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    With Karl and Groucho

    Billy Mills
    Augustus Young’s imagined conversations between Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin, taking the form of a Socratic dialogue, range across the role of ideas in art, public versus private, the role of the audience, love, happiness, knowledge, Marx (Karl and Groucho) and racism.
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    Joe’s Golden Years

    Giles Newington
    Salman Rushdie’s new novel is set in an America switching from Obama to Trump. While it may not be entirely clear what he is telling us about the ‘post-truth’ world, Rushdie’s primary gift as a storyteller seems to have survived in a story full of verve and invention.
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    Alone in Luanda

    Patrick Gillan
    An exceptional novel from an Angolan writer details the brutality, cynicism and tragedy of war. Comedy, love and a touch of magic realism also contribute to a riveting narrative. It is a worthy winner of this year’s International Dublin Literary Award
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    So Many Haters

    Michael Hinds
    Plato did not hate poetry, though he wished to ban poets from the ideal Republic. In such a state you would not want to let it hold sway, even if in a real one it has its critical power and function. In an ideal Republic of course, you would not feel like a drink after a day’s work ...
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    Deep Work at Dollarton

    Shane Barry
    Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano was greeted on its publication as a ‘magnificent, tragic, compassionate, and beautiful book’. Yet its author was a far from beautiful person. How did a chronic alcoholic with a chaotic, violent lifestyle manage to write such a work?
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    Wandering in the Desert

    Ruth Gilligan
    Joyce is just one Irish writer who is alert to the Exodus story and its specific resonance within a national context. Hence the parallel between Moses and Parnell, each of whom ‘led a turbulent and unstable people from the house of shame to the verge of the Promised Land’.
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    At Home in Exile

    Scott Beauchamp
    At Home in Exile
    Czesław Miłosz may perhaps be understood as the saint of paradox. He was a man who documented his century by standing apart from it, a poet who wrote in Polish while living in France and America, a sensualist who embraced the spiritual, a man who reached home by running away.
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    A Life of Noticing

    Gerald Dawe
    The mastery of American English which we associate with Richard Ford’s fiction – the subtle not-saying, the deflection of painful emotional realities into half-said or half-seen things – is abundantly present in a memoir in which he recalls and recreates the lives of his parents.
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    The Trap

    Clare O'Dea
    A compelling and thoroughly researched novel focuses on the experiences of the refugees and the clients of people traffickers as they are ‘processed’ through the British asylum system, often towards a bleak conclusion, while struggling to maintain some dignity and hope.
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    Quick! What Would You Read?

    Matthew Parkinson Bennett
    Writing is tough, but Annie Dillard doesn’t put on a performance of her struggle to transmute experience into literature. She is a writer who believes – how old-fashioned! – in the possibility of truly powerful literature and its urgent importance, in reaching towards an imagined reader, and touching a real one.
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    Reading the Revolution

    Sean Sheehan
    A plethora of new books has appeared this year, accompanied by a number of exhibitions, in response to the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the remarkable political energies it released worldwide throughout the twentieth century and its still contested historical legacy.
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    Sonic Reinventions

    Jonathan C Creasy
    In the collection Alive, Elizabeth Willis proves herself a lyric poet, a pastoral poet, a prose poet, an historical poet, a political poet, a ‘language’ poet, a post-modern sonneteer, a list-maker, an ironic prankster, a confessionalist, and a minimalist, at least.
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    It’s Only Me

    Enda O’Doherty
    Michel de Montaigne lived through the French wars of religion and was involved in many attempts on behalf of his king to broker a peace. On the whole, however, he preferred to be occupied with his books, which he insisted he read not to improve but to amuse himself.
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    Genesis to Apocalypse

    Alan Crilly
    In a new short collection, the young Bolivian writer Liliana Colanzi touches on themes of domestic oppression and the cultural extinction of indigenous peoples in stories that offer an extraordinary density of ideas, transmitted in shape-shifting and affecting prose.
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    Love and Other Questions

    Deirdre Serjeantson
    Francesco Petrarcha bequeathed to the Renaissance a particular way of writing about love. Shakespeare’s Romeo is just one of his disciples. But love was not the only string to Petrarch’s bow; he was also an archaeologist, classical scholar and respected moral philosopher. (This essay from the drb archive was originally published in April 2016.)
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    Telling Tales

    Julia O’Mahony
    Telling Tales
    Beryl Bainbridge tended to treat the truth around her own beginnings as no less malleable than her art, and though she may have sometimes served as an unreliable narrator within her prose for literary effect, she was equally untrustworthy in telling the tale of her own life.
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    The God in the I

    Manus Charleton
    The Estonian aristocrat Hermann Keyserling was recognised as a leading intellectual in Europe and America in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1911, aged thirty-one, he travelled around the world to develop his spirituality. The Travel Diary of a Philosopher was the result.
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    Magical Migrations

    Giles Newington
    Short but packed with ideas, Mohsin Hamid’s fourth novel shares with his previous work a compelling engagement with the present political moment. In its unambiguous faith in pluralism and tolerance, it is also a surprisingly optimistic message from a possible future.
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    The Evil That Men Do

    Frank Armstrong
    Dostoyevsky’s idea of collective responsibility for human error is as important now as it ever was, while his message of compassion for all life on Earth remains a challenge. He was also a visionary, who intuited the terrible cruelties that would soon reign ascendant in his country.
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    A Necessary Restitution

    Billy Mills
    The English poets of the 1940s, sandwiched between Auden, Spender, MacNeice and the main poets of the 1930s and the later development of ‘the Movement’, tend to be overlooked today. The publication of  a collected poems of one important figure, Terence Tiller, is very welcome.
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    Sign Language

    John Fleming
    In his celebrated 1959 work ‘Mythologies’, Roland Barthes handed the reader a torch with which to illuminate for himself the semantic corners of his personal world. Peter Conrad, in his ‘tales for our times’, walks in the steps of the master and proves himself an entirely worthy successor.
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    Birds of a Feather

    Bryce Evans
    Birds of a Feather
    At one formal dinner Ezra Pound became so bored he ate the floral decoration. At a restaurant meal with Robert Frost, he decided to show his fellow poet ju-jitsu, grabbing his wrist and throwing him over his head. No wonder he was starting to get on Yeats’s nerves.
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    Fictions of Otherness

    Peter Sirr
    Poets are of course free to do what they want. But a translation which requires the disappearance of the original poet, where we can never be sure which bits are invented, starts to feel like the kind of colonial gesture only a dominant language could sanction.
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    Glorious Luminary

    James Ward
    Glorious Luminary
    A new study provides impressively wide-ranging commentary on William Blake’s sources, influences, and working methods, as well as his cultural afterlives. Blake was not just an eccentric but a genius and visionary who was repeatedly debilitated by paranoia and depression.
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    Sins of the Advocate

    Frank Callanan
    The Irish-American lawyer John Quinn defended Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap of the ‘Little Review’ from prosecution for publishing extracts from ‘Ulysses’. The prosecution led to the effective banning of the book in 1921. Quinn’s defence strategy left a lot to be desired.
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    Angry Old Man

    Brian Davey
    Friends of Evelyn Waugh often wondered how he could reconcile his beastly behaviour with his deep faith. Waugh was not exactly apologetic: ‘You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid, I would hardly be a human being.’
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    Militant Agnostic

    Matthew Parkinson-Bennett
    A short book from a veteran British philosopher and populariser of philosophy can be seen as a sustained argument against not religion nor science but the mistaken belief that defending the Enlightenment value of Reason necessitates insisting that all darkness can be explained away.
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    Through the Looking Glass

    Mark S Burrows
    The surprises inherent in poetry serve the important function of unsettling us, of luring us into what Rilke spoke of as ‘the open’. They might even succeed in confounding our certainties, and thus widening our capacities of perception and experience.
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    Travels with William

    Karl Whitney
    The writer William Burroughs, an experimentalist in life as well as fiction, assumes a heroic position in a new book by British neurosurgeon Andrew Lees, representing the intersection of art and science, of empiricism and experimentalism.
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    Thanks but No Thanks

    Mary Rose Doorly
    Jenny Diski was a disturbed teenager abandoned by her parents when Doris Lessing took her into her home. She was told there was no need to feel grateful and offered freedom, space and intellectual stimulation. Love, affection and reassurance, however, were not part of the deal.
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    Free Long Looking

    Thomas Berenato
    Free Long Looking
    As a Jesuit novice, Gerard Manley Hopkins once enclosed a feather in a letter to his mother, noting that ‘no one is ever so poor that he is not … owner of the skies and stars and everything wild that is to be found on the earth’. A look costs nothing, even a long look.
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    The Usual Terror

    Kevin Stevens
    Don De Lillo seems to suggest in his new novel that literature has failed us, failed to correct the inadequacy of language or interrupt the downward curve of history. Yet that implication is denied by the work, not just by the consolation of philosophy but by the joy of his near faultless craft.
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    An Obstinate People

    Enda O’Doherty
    The greatest Jewish crime, for early modern Christians, was the rejection and killing of Christ. But they also had a long list of other faults they found, from physical marks, ugliness and proneness to illness to moral failings such as greed, clannishness and lack of manly courage.
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    What Is To Be Done?

    Paul O’Mahoney
    The philosopher Slavoj Žižek challenges what he sees as a facile left-liberal consensus, asking how many immigrants from Islamic countries really want to be integrated into the norms and practices of Western societies. What if the obstacle to integration is not Western racism?
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    Here I Stand

    Patrick Claffey
    Martin Luther believed the papacy to be one of the great human agencies through which Satan operated on earth. This goes a long way to explaining the virulence of his polemic against the Catholic church, which still has the power to cause some offence.
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    In Two Minds

    David Kenny and Rosemary Hennigan
    In Two Minds
    The publication of Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set A Watchman’ upset many fans of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Nevertheless it may well present a more accurate picture of what is actually involved in practising law and of the conflict between purely procedural law and justice.
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    Love and Other Matters

    Deirdre Serjeantson
    Love and Other Matters
    Francesco Petrarcha bequeathed to the Renaissance a particular way of writing about love. Shakespeare’s Romeo is just one of his disciples. But love was not the only string to Petrarch’s bow; he was also an archaeologist, classical scholar and respected moral philosopher.
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    The First and Last Word

    Aiden O’Reilly
    The absence of a plot will no doubt annoy some readers of Tom McCarthy’s new novel, but others will barely notice in their search for a thematic unity to its various obsessions and recurring imagery.
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    The High-Wire Man

    Enda O’Doherty
    The High-Wire Man
    Joseph Roth took stylistic risks in his journalism, but they almost always paid off. He became one of the most highly respected contributors to the German press – until 1933, when, as an anti-Nazi and a Jew, he suddenly found himself unemployable. He died in exile in France in 1939.
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    Art And Power

    Carol Taaffe
    Dmitri Shostakovich achieved success and fame as a composer early in life, and that may have made him particularly vulnerable. He had been one of the most prominent artists in Russia all through the worst years of Stalin’s rule. The consequence was a life lived in fear.
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    He’s Not There

    David Scott
    A new biography of Marcel Proust which appears as part of a series called ‘Jewish Lives’ fails to tell us very much about its subject and does not seem to be on safe ground either with the linguistic, historical or cultural background.
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    The King’s Man

    Graham Price
    During the reign of Elizabeth, Shakespeare had concentrated on English political history, but following the accession of the Scottish King James and the Gunpowder Plot, the strife and politics of Britain as a whole would become the focus of Shakespearian drama.
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    The Thing Itself

    Peter Sirr
    Harvard told Helen Vendler they didn’t want her – or any woman – teaching there. Later, having established a foothold in academia, she settled on two guiding principles: first that her subject was to be poetry and second that she wanted to be a critic rather than a scholar.
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    Rebellious Spirit

    Mary Rose Doorly
    When Charlotte Brontë looked into the mirror she saw nothing but flaws. But this sense of not being attractive was to goad her into a fierce assertion of independence and eventually to the creation of a heroine ‘as small and plain as myself’ whose name remains with us today.
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    England Unfree

    Ed Simon
    A novel written entirely in an archaic version of English and without the benefit of punctuation evokes the world of the Saxons overwhelmed by the sudden and brutal invasion of the Normans in the late eleventh century. It has been a surprise bestseller.
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    Lord of the Flies

    Seamus O’Mahony
    Jerry Coyne’s shouty polemic against religion, and against the possibility of any accommodation between science and religious belief, is largely an attack on creationism and ‘ìntelligent design’. It is hard to see it being taken seriously anywhere but in the US.
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    Down the Rabbit Hole

    Alex Bramwell
    A new collection of two works by the Russian-Irish novelist, poet and translator Anatoly Kudryavitsky features a writer who explores contemporary political themes but whose practice is grounded in the magical realist tradition which produced Mikhail Bulgakov.
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    Wee Book, Big Muscles

    Michael Hinds
    Don Paterson should be recognised as a poet who offers us strenuousness and sweetness in a way that nobody has since John Donne; he kills his enemies and loves his friends, making us vibrantly aware of poetry’s capabilities as an affectionate medium.
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    Love Is All You Need

    Matthew Parkinson-Bennett
    ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ The writings of Julian of Norwich communicate an urgent message of hope and love and stand among the finest literary achievements of the later Middle Ages. But to translate them into modern English is to diminish their power.
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    Old Europe, Aging America

    Joe Cleary
    Two recent works of literary theory sketch a robust structural account of the literary world system centred on London and Paris. But one might ask if this system can be better historicised and whether there are ways to conceive of its operational logics less rigidly.
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    Struggling for Sanctity

    Frank Freeman
    A biographer of Ernest Hemingway has argued that his life can be read in terms of a quest for sainthood, a struggle to be not just a good writer but also a good man. A blow by blow account of the life, however, reveals to what degree his ego got in the way, causing him to fall short.
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    A Leap Into Darkness

    Matt Bucher
    Literary quality, Robert Bolaño said, was not just about writing well, because anybody can do that, or even writing marvellously well: anybody can do that too. It was about knowing how to thrust your head into the darkness and understanding that literature is a dangerous calling.
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    Strangely (un)Christian

    Emily Holman
    The central characters in Michael Faber’s new novel seem to be made of Christian ingredients, yet to speak and think in ways incompatible with who they profess to be. And though the novel improves, this tonal blip tends to make for an erratic reading experience.
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    An Unknown Kingdom

    Joe Woods
    The Burmese poet Ko Ko Thett, now living in Belgium, has garnered high praise for his work, particularly from the high priest of American experimentalist poetry John Ashberry, who has characterised his verse as ‘brilliantly off-kilter’.
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    The Romantic Englishman

    Enda O’Doherty
    The Romantic Englishman
    George Orwell is celebrated as the man who made political writing an art. But if he was a brilliantly gifted, and often funny, polemical writer, politically he was frequently off the mark, right about one big thing but hopelessly wrong about many small ones.
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    Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

    Pauline Hall
    The first of a series of essays on fictions inspired by the 1916 Easter Rising looks at a work by Raymond Queneau, a French disciple of Joyce whose total experience of Ireland, he has admitted was a short stopover at Shannon Airport on the way to the United States.
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    World Without End

    Lia Mills
    Marilynne Robinson’s three Gilead novels amount to a masterclass in perspective and in the use of telling detail to construct character and story. Part of their extraordinary power is their ability to return to the same events with a fresh point of view, without ever feeling repetitive.
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    I am an automobile

    Calista McRae
    A new study argues that John Berryman’s poetry is far more than id, psychosis, and despair, bringing out Berryman’s intelligence and his careful thinking about the modern world, which has often been ignored in favour of accounts that portray a wild, whisky-inspired genius
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    Laughing Matters

    James Moran
    The outstanding English comic novelist of his generation, David Lodge has managed to extract humour in book after book from two main subjects: the competitiveness and egoism of academic life and the follies of the Catholic Church’s attempts to instruct its flock on how to conduct their sex lives.
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    The Persuaders

    John Fanning
    There seems to be a dearth of evidence that political ad campaigns actually work. Nevertheless, politicians are always open to the advice of advertising professionals on how to simplify their message and get it across to the public in a way they will find palatable.
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    Not all Beef and Ale

    John McCourt
    Anthony Trollope has the reputation of being a conventional and comfortable writer, valued by various Tory prime ministers as a purveyor of enjoyable light political intrigue but in his Irish novels he emerges as a somewhat more complex and double-sided figure.
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    Wrong Train, Right Station

    Sean Sheehan
    William Blake placed Dante alongside the prophets of the Old Testament, Homer and Shakespeare as an embodiment of poetic genius and he worked studiously on a series of drawings illustrating episodes from the Divine Comedy in the last years of life.
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    Invitation to the Dance

    Kevin Stevens
    Over twenty-four years, starting in 1951, Anthony Powell wrote a remarkable series of a dozen novels exploring English upper class and bohemian life from soon after the First World War to the 1970s through the themes of war, love, art, class, family, politics and death.
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    The Green Fuse

    Billy Mills
    The Green Fuse
    Dylan Thomas read and learned from Auden, as they both read and learned from Eliot. However, where Auden saw the neo-Augustan classicist in the older poet, Thomas could see ‘the skull beneath the skin’ and shared Eliot’s fascination with the irrational and grotesque.
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    Pay Attention

    Lia Mills
    Ali Smith has written a daring and brilliantly successful novel about art and language, the making and understanding of art, and of life. It’s about attention and engagement and how to stay awake in the world and in life, which will be over sooner than we think.
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    Radio Ga Ga

    Seán Fox
    The critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin’s broadcasts for children blur the lines between seriousness and playfulness. For Benjamin, canonically complex and highbrow thinking can and should be regarded in certain instances as child’s play.
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    The Astonishment of Insight

    Gerard Smyth
    A major new anthology of war poetry covers a range of conflicts including the First World War, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the Vietnam War and Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, in both their twentieth century phases.
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    The Doubter

    Antony Tatlow
    Previous biographies have called almost everything about Bertolt Brecht, including his authorship of the works attributed to him, into doubt, while political changes have seemed to diminish his importance. But a new life, revealing a new Brecht, reasserts his importance.
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    The Uses of Art

    John Fanning
    Alain de Botton has been the recipient of much sniffy condescension, being characterised as a chiropractor of the soul. But this is somewhat unfair: he is not trying to make us happy but to help us to understand ourselves better, and he sees art and philosophy as allies in this pursuit.
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    Mister Perfect

    Michael Hinds
    The frequently quoted descriptions of Michael Donaghy as a modern metaphysical may make prospective readers nervous; yet in the main there is nothing ostentatiously intellectual about his work. Rather, the abiding impression is that a poem is a minor fuss worth making.
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    Less Thought, More Action

    Antony Tatlow
    Less Thought, More Action
    The German theatre company Schaubühne has toured its surtitled version of Hamlet in a translation which would more be accurately described as a transformation. The interpretation may be daring but the interweaving of meaning and “music” which makes Shakespeare’s language so memorable is lost.
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    The Scruple of Detail

    Michael Cronin
    Shifted whole from one language to another, philosophical terms leave behind a rich history of usage, interpretation, and interaction with other terms. To understand them properly we must recover some of that past, working against the grain of  the monologic of the monoglot.
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    In the Rubber Kingdom

    Andrew Lees
    In 1908,1,675 vessels docked in the harbour of Manaus on the Amazon, the steamships stashed with a cornucopia of extravagances including Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits, tinned Danish butter, White Label whisky, Maples cedarwood tables and Victor gramophones.
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    Saved by Rock ’n’ Roll

    Desmond Traynor
    In the 1950s, when Susan Sontag was a young woman, high culture, middlebrow culture and pop culture existed in hermetically sealed spheres. In her writings on pop and as a pioneer of film studies in the English language cultural sphere, she was decisively to change all that.
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    The Long Slide

    Magda Kay
    The Long Slide
    Philip Larkin’s restless spirit could not commit to any one course: he wrote serious poems and comical ones, had serious friends and comical ones, a religious and ‘proper’ lover and a sceptical, flamboyant one; he coveted fame and luxury - bathing and booze and birds - yet was known as a hermit.
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    A Serious Business

    Brian Davey
    Edward St Aubyn has undoubted comic gifts, as he has proven in his previous work, but his satire on the Booker Prize judging process tacks a little too closely to burlesque. Perhaps he was having so much fun he ‘let himself go’. But satire, when it is successful, is a serious business.
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    The Dead Assemble

    Nathan Hugh O’Donnell
    The title piece in Brendan Cleary’s new collection is an elegy on the death of his brother. Overall, his poetry conveys an experience of real privation, of alcoholism and loneliness, which speaks to a wider and more long-standing reality about which we in Ireland perhaps don’t want to hear.
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    The Snug Opaque Quotidian

    Kevin Stevens
    Some critics thought John Updike ‘a minor novelist with a major style’, a misjudgement which may be based on a doctrinaire rejection of the suburban middle class life which was his material and which he represented in all its fullness and lushness, ‘giving the mundane its beautiful due’.
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    Erdoğan Passes the Symplegades

    Joseph Burke
    Turkish writers remain vitally engaged with politics as the nation is reshaped and the population divided by the polarising President Erdoğan. Their analyses go deeper than Western interpretations of Erdoğan as simply another Islamist demagogue, and they protest in the hope of reconciliation and the restoration of secularism.
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    But I Live in Dublin

    Sean Sheehan
    The Dublin Notebook, appearing as the seventh volume in OUP’s collected Hopkins, is an exemplary work of scholarship and from now any serious piece of writing about the last phase of Hopkins’s life will rely on and be grateful for the painstaking work of its two editors.
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    Hanging Out With The Molecules

    Andrew Lees
    The early 1950s voyages of William S Burroughs to Peru led to his discovery of the hallucinogenic vine yagé and issued in a book of notes and letters to his friend Allen Ginsberg in which he presented himself not only as a mystic and spiritual quester but also as a whistleblower on the activities of the Cold War superpowers.
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    The word from the trenches

    Derek Scally
    The word from the trenches
    On its publication in book form in Germany in 1929, this great anti-war novel met with both critical and popular success. But in 1933 it was to receive the ultimate accolade when it was tossed onto the bonfires by Nazi students from Berlin’s Humboldt University, along with the works of Heine, Marx, Einstein and the Mann brothers.
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    Casting a Spell

    David Blake Knox
    The older I get, John Burnside remarks, the happier my childhood gets. In a third volume of memoirs he goes further towards an understanding of his father, a threatening alcoholic for whom, he had said in an earlier book, cruelty came close to being an ideology.
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    The Shining River

    Kevin Stevens
    A chapter-length extract from Kevin Stevens’s new novel, an urban crime drama about money, race, and class set in Kansas City in the 1930s.
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    About Time

    Lia Mills
    About Time
    If the mystery could be taught, poetry would die, argues one contributor to a new study of creative writing teaching in Ireland. But what workshops and courses can do is save time – condensing years of toil and experimentation and leaving writers equipped to do the real work on their own.
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    Lovely Visitors

    Kevin Stevens
    Lovely Visitors
    Lorrie Moore, like Beckett, can find comedy in utter darkness and uses the richness of language as a way of finding, if not solace, at least a way of framing and confronting tragedy.
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    I made a posy, while the day ran by

    Florence Impens
    A new biography of seventeenth century English poet George Herbert reads his life through his work and his work through his life, and suggests that Herbert is more than just a religious poet, and that his influence on modern poetry should not be overlooked.
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    Apples at World’s End

    Enda O’Doherty
    Czesław Miłosz lived through a century in which many thought they could take History by the scruff of the neck, for the aggrandisement of their own nation or the betterment of mankind. The notion at one stage half-appealed to Miłosz too, but he was to learn to be less ambitious.
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    Joy for the Disillusioned

    Sean Sheehan
    At a time when the Bible’s importance is no longer at the centre of secular cultures, it is timely to consider the contribution of the Norton Critical Edition of the King James Bible. Detailed, yet accessible annotations demonstrate its continuing literary and artistic significance.
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    American Berserk

    George O’Brien
    American Berserk
    Philip Roth’s American Pastoral can be seen as the start of his most prolific period, when he turned to focus more on questions of assimilation and social mobility in a country John F Kennedy called “a nation of immigrants”.
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    Demonic Ideologist

    Robert Sullivan
    The popular historian James Anthony Froude believed that superior strength was as a rule a sign of superior merit, held Irishmen in particularly low esteem and offered Oliver Cromwell as the model for how a superior race should govern a race that was unfit for self-government.
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    The Grace of Accuracy

    Kevin Stevens
    Jason Sommer’s fourth poetry collection exhibits a master’s command of language, rhythm, and image, a formidable narrative gift and an unflinching willingness to take on themes that are both intensely personal and expansively historical.
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    A Cold Literature

    Antony Tatlow
    The writer, Chinese Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian insists, is not a prophet. He must tell the truth and articulate difference. The only criteria are aesthetic quality and truth to the emotions. “Cold literature” does not seek to change the world.
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    THE BIG ONE

    Kevin Stevens
    THE BIG ONE
    Though he fell out with the temper of the times in the later 1960s, in the light of history Bellow will be a judged a great American novelist, and Herzog, cerebral and earthy, imbued with two thousand years of learning yet crackling with wiseass Chicago wit, will be accounted his masterpiece.
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    A Time In Between

    Éadaoín Lynch
    A Time In Between
    The writers of the 1940s were paralysed by the sense that those who had gone before them and experienced the Great War had said everything there was to say about war and the pity of war.
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    Down Under

    George O’Brien
    Down Under
    Peter Carey’s Ned Kelly is Irish not in a straightforward or obvious way but is rather a metonymy for the citizen-outlier, the alternative history, the exemplary failure, the heroic victim, the road that is not just not travelled but is not on the map.
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    In Other Men’s Homes

    John Swift
    For all the mystique and mystification, imperialism, as Orwell recognised, is essentially a money-making racket, while the kernel of racism resides in the pretence that the exploited are not real human beings.
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    Lost in the Funhouse

    Tim Groenland
    Lost in the Funhouse
    Nabokov’s masterpiece still occasionally has to be defended against the charge that it uses a high-art modernist veneer to excuse pornographic pleasures. In fact it is a complex, convoluted literary puzzle, a hall of mirrors where moral viewpoint is elusive, an intellectual and aesthetic provocation set to challenge readers in a similar way to that in which a grandmaster sets a chess puzzle.
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    The Ends of the Earth

    George O’Brien
    In 1936, James Agee and photographer Walker Evans travelled on assignment to Hale County in Alabama, a place inhabited by poor tenant farmers, where the world seemed ironclad, immutable, one year discernible from another only by another death or marriage, the unsurprising and largely joyless round of a life without exits.
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    Birds in Words

    John Feehan
    British writer, radio producer and birdwatcher Tim Dee is the laureate of the feathered world, from the capercaillie, in Jacobean doublet, ink black with pearl drops, puffing his wobbling throat and singing like a drunk, to Ukraine bustards, calandra larks, swallows, black grouse, nightjars and demoiselle cranes.
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    Measure-taking

    Philip Coleman
    Anne Carson’s work is marked by a sense of the strange and a belief in the value of difficult art in forcing us to test known limits and forms of understanding.
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    Almost a Hoot

    Susan McCallum-Smith
    Charlotte Mendelson has abundant imagination and considerable comic gifts, but she would be well advised to pay more serious attention to the detail of her execution.
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    Words and Glances

    Shane Barry
    Words and Glances
    Henry James’s great novel, with its melding of the social and psychological aspects of character, represented a broad bridge connecting the societal narratives mastered by Austen, Dickens and Eliot and the Modernist canon of the twentieth century.
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    Side Views of the Self

    Denis Sampson
    Side Views of the Self
    Like another smart New Jersey Jewish boy, Philip Roth, Paul Auster has rendered the texture of American life through reportage, but he is somewhat set apart from the Jewish-American literary milieu by the influence of Beckett and the French poetic and philosophical traditions that gripped him as a young man.
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    The Joke’s the Thing

    David McKechnie
    The Joke’s the Thing
    Joseph Heller’s great novel is indeed a satire, not just on war but on McCarthyism and bureaucracy. But above all it is absurd –a sugar-coated pill to cope with the joke of war and the joke of life and a literary enterprise in which laughter is an end it itself.
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    A Place in the Sun

    James Moran
    Catherine O’Flynn’s new novel, which focuses on two generations of a Birmingham-Irish family and their distinct and contrasting experiences of dislocation, manages to be consistently comic yet also sad and moving.
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    Beyond Belief

    Tom Hennigan
    Beyond Belief
    Gabriel García Márquez emerged explosively as a new international name in the 1960s with a novel stuffed with the baroque and the fantastic, which sought to translate the scope of America.
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    All the Known World

    Kevin Stevens
    All the Known World
    Many critics focus on James Salter’s stylistic precision and love of detail as if he is all surface. In fact, his art ushers us towards a larger view, an understanding of American character that is rooted in history.
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    Astonished at Everything

    Peter Sirr
    Generosity and largeness of vision seem to meet happily in the poems of Uruguayan-French writer Jules Supervielle, which seem to cover great distances in short spaces.
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    A Single Volume Bound by Love

    Deirdre Serjeantson
    A Single Volume Bound by Love
    Clive James’s new Dante is the highly effective work of a poet who has absorbed tradition, who is aware of the demands of form, whose translations are imaginative and whose scholarship is immaculate.
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    Staring Down the Barrel

    Susan McCallum-Smith
    Some critics have found the protagonist of Claire Messud’s new novel unlikeable, which is not just absurd but ironic, given that the novel’s premise is society’s expectations of women’s behaviour.
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    Birds, beasts and flowers

    Gerald Dawe
    DH Lawrence’s poetry offers a record of the powerful current of physical pleasure, the elusive joy of witnessing that which is different, and the kind of opinionated prickliness when things are not what they seem to be or should be.
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    Brave Answers

    John McAuliffe
    A new collection casts further light on the clergyman-poet RS Thomas and his two great subjects, God and Wales
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    One Book, Two Cities

    Tom Wall
    James Plunkett’s classic novel reminds us of a society in which the poorest lived in the most appalling and hopeless conditions and the middle and upper classes were barely conscious of their existence.
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    Hopkins’s Wound

    Sean Sheehan
    Gerard Manley Hopkins was careless of the fate of his poems, treated his muse like a slut and her children as an unwanted and vaguely sinful burden.
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    The Hunger Angel

    Siobhán Parkinson
    Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller looked with the eyes of the victim on the political masters of terror and called it by its name.
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    And Another Thing

    Enda O’Doherty
    The most recent translation of WG Sebald’s work offers the expected pleasure of his engaging prose style and an introduction to the world of some intriguing German writers.
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    Sacred Egoist

    Michael McDonald
    The Italian critic and editor Roberto Calasso enjoys a considerable reputation among the literary-critical elite, but how much substance or originality is there in his anti-rational musings?
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    The Big D

    Seamus O’Mahony
    Christopher Hitchens was famously sceptical of the claims of religious thinkers, yet faced with dying he exhibited a defiant faith in the capacities of medical science to block the course of nature, a faith not sustained by much evidence.
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    Neither Here Nor There

    Amy Wilson Sheldon
    Sherman Alexie writes of the lives of Washington state’s native Americans, who frequently do not feel quite at home either in Seattle or in the Indian reservations where many of them have roots.
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    Made in China

    Luna Dolezal
    Dave Eggers’s beautifully written new novel offers a melancholy and dreamlike portrait of America in decline.
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    Weimar Stories

    Rob Sternberg

    The German-Dutch writer Hans Keilson reached a new English-speaking audience when his novels from the 1930s were reissued. This rediscovery came when Keilson was 100.
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    Dispatches from the Island

    Luna Dolezal

    Jonathan Franzen inextricably links writing to survival, to that which sustains life and keeps boredom and demise at bay.
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    Madwomen in the Attic

    Lauren Hadden
    A novelistic exploration of Miss Havisham before Dickens got hold of her irresistibly recalls Jean Rhys’s brilliant work in the classic prequel genre.

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    THE END OF DAYS

    Brenna Katz Clarke

    Barbara Kingsolver presents a story of American rural life in which ecological concern is balanced with a fine feeling for the texture of actual lives.
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    Island Sickness

    Tom Hennigan
    Long divided, Argentines finally found national unity under the leadership of the continent’s most murderous regime and its campaign to retake the Malvinas.
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    NAUGHTY BUT NICE

    Enda O'Doherty

    Jane Austen inherited a tradition in which the novel was expected to teach good behaviour. But that was not what interested her. Her fictions are less moral examples than celebrations of wit and intelligence.

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    The Inside Man

    Stephen Wilson
    An unorthodox, non-doctrinaire leftist, Gore Vidal tended to make would-be political allies uncomfortable and was not an easy individual with whom to make common cause.
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    THE MAGIC'S GONE

    Brenna Katz Clarke
    JK Rowling's new adult novel has more characters than are good for it. It's also a little difficult to care too much about them.
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    ADDLED BY BOOKS

    Morten Høi Jensen
    Enrique Vila-Matas plays some complex games with literature and characters yet any threat of heaviness is redeemed by his assured comic touch and fine sense of the ridiculous.
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    THE HOUSE OF CARDS

    Aengus Woods

    László Krasznahorkai's novels are balanced between a precarious inertia and total collapse. The animating tension of his work resides not, as is the case in more conventional novels, in questions of who did what or what happens next, but in the question of what such a total collapse might look like, given the pervading sense of its inevitability.
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    Belonging And Becoming

    Denis Sampson
    It would seem that it was in Beckett that he found the literary model for a kind of narrative based on a deconstruction of received knowledge, on doubt as an instrument of style that could be inserted into an historical reconstruction, and, indeed, for a defence of the individual person and an openness to a visionary spirituality.
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    All Things Considered

    Enda O’Doherty
    As a child, Czesław Miłosz wrote, 'I was primarily a discoverer of the world, not as pain but as beauty ... Happiness experienced in boyhood does not disappear without a trace.'
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    Not Pulling Punches

    David Askew
    As Swift knew, his complex irony can be challenging. He was aware that he had often been misunderstood, to his own detriment. Looking back on his own life, he concluded that “Had he but spar’d his Tongue and Pen, / He might have rose like other Men”. His irony, Hammond observes, “sometimes seems to saw through the branch of religious orthodoxy upon which he tried to perch”.
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    The Need to Disguise

    Kevin Stevens
    Central to Alice Munroe’s aesthetic is the device, though it is really much more than a device, of jumping back and forward in time, enabling readers to hold multiple strands of the narrative in their consciousness, creating cross-sections of event and feeling that allow for rich expression of pathos and irony.
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    Increments of Uncertainty

    Kevin Stevens
    As Updike’s word count mounted, so did the rancour. The New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani, considered by many the most powerful literary critic in America, regularly savaged his work. Over the last decade she accused successive novels of being “bogus in every respect”, “shopworn”, “cringe-making” and “claustrophobic”. Indeed the regularity of her vitriol was such that that when she gave the posthumously published My Father’s Tears a favourable notice, literary blogger Shane Barry commented: “We now know what Updike had to do to get a good review out of Kakutani.”
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    The School of Cool

    George O’Brien
    Tin Pan Alley’s imaginative impoverishment, its slack tempi and banal lyrics, were nothing but expressions of limits and control, as ersatz as they were dispassionate. This kind of thing might be Big Brother’s idea of a good time, but it was pretty obviously just another of the many mind games he practised back in the good old days, when he wasn’t the family member he’s since become. One thing about progressive music was that it came across as self-consciously averse to being commercial. This greatly helped its sales.
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    The Modernist Volcano

    Stephen Wilson
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    To Aran or Isfahan

    Paul O'Brien
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    Never Say Die

    Tom Cooney
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    Man of Constant Sorrow

    Ben McGuire
    Brian Lynch’s subtle first novel, The Winner of Sorrow, is based on the life of William Cowper, a hugely acclaimed poet in late eighteenth century England whose work has gone into neglect in the last hundred years.
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