Tom Stoppard. A Life, by Hermione Lee, Faber & Faber, 977 pp, £30, ISBN: 978-057131443
Whether a biography is exciting or tedious seems to depend on the nature of the life being told as well as on the manner of its telling. Hermione Lee’s exhaustive tome, written with Stoppard’s consent and help, derives its power and interest mainly from what it reveals (and sometimes suggests) about the writer’s life, character and work rather than from the way it tells the story.
The English playwright and scriptwriter was born in 1937, as Tomáš Sträussler, into a Czech Jewish family living in the country then called Czechoslovakia. He only became the Englishman Tom Stoppard by way of a series of incredible events following the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. His family managed to escape Nazi-occupied Moravia at the last minute, in April 1939, by way of Singapore where his father, Eugen, was posted as a medical doctor by his employer, the Czechoslovak shoemaker Baťa (or Bata, as it is known internationally). That escape was followed three years later, shortly before the Japanese took Singapore, by the last-minute evacuation of Marta Sträusslerová with her two boys, Petr and Tomáš, by boat to India. This was also when Eugen went missing, supposedly having boarded one of the departing ships later attacked and sunk on their voyage. With her husband dead, Marta did her best, still with Baťa’s help, to survive on her own in India, and after some travels settled as a shoe shop manager in Darjeeling – until her second marriage, soon after the war, to a British officer serving in New Delhi called Kenneth Stoppard. This meant that in February 1946 she and her boys finally found a safe haven in postwar England. Marta became Bobbi, Petr turned into Peter and eight-year-old Tomáš into Tom. Both boys adopted their stepfather’s surname and were raised as English boys through and through – fly fishing, boarding school, cricket – while their anxious mother, fearful of their being singled out as foreign, or even Jewish, determined to keep their family history (and most of the tragedy) from them.
Stoppard left school at seventeen, first working his way up as a reporter and reviewer for local papers in Bristol and later moving on to London, gradually leaving journalism behind and devoting more and more of his time to writing for theatre, radio and television. From before his first notable theatrical success in 1967 – thanks to the play that has by now become a classic of twentieth-century English drama, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – to his most recent, Leopoldstadt (which had its first preview in January 2020, less than two months before London theatres had to shut due to the coronavirus pandemic) Stoppard, largely an autodidact and a genuine self-made man, has led a long, eventful and incredibly productive life, becoming friends with such writers as Harold Pinter and Václav Havel (to name just two), and earning both success and critical respect as an artist in his own right.
To track such an exceptional life from its beginnings in pre-war Central Europe to present day Britain means to open a window, many different windows in fact, on a number of different worlds: not just on postwar English-speaking drama and Anglo-American theatre and film but also on such events of twentieth-century European history as the Holocaust and the rise and fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. Lee’s portrait of Stoppard can be described as a series of bold strokes that form the outlines of his figure and are painstakingly filled out with a remarkable amount of detail concerning both his writing career (where the detail is illuminating and will be appreciated by anyone interested in how drama becomes theatre) and his private life. The latter struck me as a far more problematic part of the biography, both in what is revealed – even a bill for dental implants gets a mention – and in what is carefully stage-managed or even occluded, on which more later.
The main lines of Lee’s re-telling can be summed up as follows. Above all, there is the “charmed” trajectory of Stoppard’s life from obscurely tragic beginnings to early success and growing fame in middle age, all the way to the ageing author’s more reflective and backward-looking take on the nature of his supposed luck in life (and the collateral damage arising out of his dogged pursuit of it). An important part of this narrative arc is Stoppard’s gradual coming to terms not just with his own supposed Czechness but above all with his Jewishness, a more serious matter. We move here from his almost complete ignorance of his origins (and youthful denials that these two categories – Czechness and Jewishness – had any special meaning for him) to his tentative discoveries of some real affinities (be it with the then Czech dramatist Havel and other Czech dissidents in the late 1970s and 1980s communist Czechoslovakia, or with the Soviet Jews trying to emigrate to Israel in the 1980s) all the way to his rather late attempts at reclaiming, at least symbolically, his family heritage: not just in life – by finding out more about the troubled history of his Jewish parents and relatives, and by visiting his native town of Zlín (now in the Czech Republic) – but also imaginatively, in late plays such as Rock ’n’ Roll (2006) and Leopoldstadt (2020).
Another of Lee’s narrative lines concerns the story of Stoppard’s growing “politicization”. As many have seen it, Stoppard has undergone a gradual shift away from his initial conservatism – in reality amounting to little more than a lasting “temperamental sympathy for the Monarchy” together with an equally instinctive recoiling from the British Marxist left and the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, combined with a more considered refusal to see art primarily as a vehicle for politics – toward a much more substantial active engagement. In his life this became manifest in his laudable willingness (from the late 1970s and 1980s onwards) to speak on behalf of, and offer assistance to, oppressed groups denied their human rights – be they dissidents in communist Czechoslovakia, Jewish would-be emigrants in the Soviet Union, theatre people in Lukashenko’s Belarus or refugees camping near Calais. Politics also grew to be a concern in his drama, marginally in Travesties (1974), with its character of Lenin in Zurich, more explicitly in early plays such as Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and Professional Foul (first televised in 1977) and significantly in The Coast of Utopia (2002) and some later plays.
Last but not least, Lee’s portrait includes Stoppard as a writer and speaker with distinct views on the relation between art and politics, art and truth, art and life. In tracing the reception of his plays from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Leopoldstadt, Lee describes but also disputes the accepted wisdom on Stoppard’s artistic development, taken at least partly to reflect those views. According to the conventional story, Stoppard started out as little more than a witty, albeit hugely inventive, show-off, with his “frivolous plays about trivial subjects” featuring a playful, politically disengaged intellect and sparkling repartee but lacking any real emotional depth or deeper significance. The first real signs of his having a heart and knowing what it is to experience loss were to be found in The Real Thing (1982) – his original take on the drawing-room comedy – after which he went on to achieve a kind of perfect balance between mind and the heart in Arcadia (1993), coming of age, politically speaking, only with The Coast of Utopia (2002). Finally, he could be said to have arrived at emotional and/or political maturity (or old-age mellowness?) in his last three plays – Rock ’n’ Roll (2006), The Hard Problem (2015) and Leopoldstadt (2020) – where he treats the heart rather than the intellect as the real thing.
Lee attempts to revise this story in two ways: first by showing, quite convincingly, that from early on Stoppard’s plays possess a deep undercurrent of grief or sadness while in later plays, even the most intellectual exchanges tend to be animated by emotion or some existential predicament. Second, she argues that he has indirectly tackled serious questions of morality, ethics and politics from early on, starting at the latest with Jumpers (1972). Stoppard’s attitude to politics in art is shown to have undergone some change, certainly becoming much more considered and explicit in later works, yet his core insight is said to have remained the same. For him, the political has from early on resolved into the personal and the moral, with political preferences seen as reflections in the public sphere of one’s personal temperament and private moral choices – rather than products of an objective system of belief, an ideological analysis or a theoretical argument.
The main strength of Lee’s biography lies in its detailed descriptions of how Stoppard’s plays came to be written and staged, and how their texts, as well as reception, changed in the process. She provides a fascinating picture of the industries that he has written for, including British radio and television, English and American theatre or film. In describing how individual plays were staged, by whom and where, in what manner the author chose to participate in the rehearsals and what it meant for the texts of his plays (a lot of revisions and rewrites), she creates a holistic picture of what such efforts to stage a play by Stoppard have entailed at different times against the wider background of British and American theatre. In the process she in effect sketches out an outline of the history of postwar English-speaking theatre since the late 1950s/early 1960s. She is also very informative on how key performances were received in Britain and the States (less so in mainland Europe). For any theatre buff, therefore, her biography is bound to be a treasure trove of anecdote and observation concerning the creative process in theatre by which a text turns into a performance, an event. Full weight is given to theatre as a collective effort in which the authorial intention has to contend with the director’s as well as the actors’ (mis)interpretations and (mis)understandings, not to mention all sorts of contingencies, from precarious finances to theatre closures, whether due to political interference, a strike by underpaid stage hands or a pandemic.
In discussing the plays themselves, Lee tends to be guided by the intentions of the author rather than venturing out on her own original interpretations. Occasionally she also suggests, treading lightly, parallels between the central concerns of the plays and their author’s life at the time of writing. On the whole, however, she tends to defer to Stoppard’s own understanding of his creations against supposed misunderstandings by others. This can be a weakness. If she had been more willing to consider, for example, why the Germans or the Russians have somehow failed to appreciate aspects of Stoppard’s drama (as she implies), she might have been better able to see what it is that makes Stoppard’s plays so English – and why their Englishness may be both a strength and a weakness, depending on context. A lot of the deeper enjoyment in Stoppard seems to depend on one’s previous acquaintance with various aspects of English culture, history and literature, beginning with Shakespeare. If you fail to get the in-jokes, the plays’ many witty exchanges can seem unbearably wordy and long-winded. This has little to do (pace Lee) with the difficulty of translating the texts, however rich they are in allusion and wordplay – all the Czech translations I’ve read are very good, some excellent. Rather, it is a function of the range of references required for sufficient understanding, often anchored in a world or in a past that are deeply and specifically English or parsed from an English perspective.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead would probably be dead on arrival in any culture lacking the cult of Shakespeare and unfamiliar with Hamlet. You may think Shakespeare unlikely to be forgotten any time soon in most places in the world, making Stoppard’s play safe from oblivion for an eternity (relatively speaking). I wouldn’t be so sure. Already, the in-jokes in the once popular film Shakespeare in Love (1998) – for which Stoppard co-wrote the Oscar-winning script – have become incomprehensible and hence boring for many youngsters, including teenagers sentenced to studying Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in school (as I discovered the hard way with my children). An older world is being replaced by a newer one, governed by different frames of reference stemming from different concerns and preferences. I do hope Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern remain alive forever, as they inhabit such an inventive as well as deeply funny and touching play. But it seems to me that other plays of Stoppard’s may be in significant danger of ageing and falling out of favour because they often presume too much that is culture- and age-specific.
When it comes to Stoppard’s use of philosophical arguments and scientific ideas in his plays, something else seems to be the problem. The deeper your understanding of the arguments and ideas in question (perhaps because you are a scientist, or a philosopher), the less satisfactory their treatment will seem – the more superficial Stoppard’s dazzling but occasionally facile use of them as dramatic metaphors. If Lee is right and the intellectual arguments in Stoppard’s plays are there mostly as a way of getting, in a roundabout way, at some key human emotion or existential predicament, then they are a legitimate dramatic stratagem – the cunning presentation of indirections to find directions by, to paraphrase Polonius. But how much of such dramatic imitation of thinking and knowing (rather than the real thing) should one have to bear in plays that are in the end about something much closer to home than the problems of fractal geometry, chaos theory or mind-brain dualism? Namely about the courage to love, jealousy, time passing, curiosity, not knowing until it’s too late but still hoping for the best, death, loss, a boy growing up without a father? Can you blame the Germans for choosing to stage Arcadia as light entertainment in which the science is just something else to crack jokes about? Isn’t that infinitely better than one of the Czech performances that left the reviewer feeling the actors were valiantly going through their lines without any idea of what there were actually saying? For these reasons, one often feels with Stoppard that less would have been more (in a way one never does with Beckett or Pinter – or for that matter Chekhov, whose Ivanov, The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard Stoppard adapted for English performances and was in turn influenced by).
The two main weaknesses of Lee’s biography are its relentlessly chronological form and its inability (or refusal) to reflect on its own biases when dealing with some aspects of Stoppard’s life. Consider the former. To say that the overall structure of this biography is conservative is something of an understatement. We move from ancestors to birth to youth to middle age to old age; from first wife to second wife to third wife (with two significant long-term love relationships, with the actresses Felicity Kendal and Sinead Cusack, in between); from the first play to the next play and all the way to the latest play (with many film scripts interspersed); from various small houses to a bigger house to an even bigger house to a flat and a penthouse in London to another lovely house in the countryside – a few of the places are described with the kind of detail reminiscent of luxury real estate brochures, with Lee unsparingly laying out the wonders of a house furnished with a dedicated breakfast room with a permanently laid out breakfast set from Harrods, not to mention such ornamental monstrosities as a Victorian glass case with stuffed birds. In sum, we are taken from Stoppard as a boy who, in spite of everything, has hardly a care in the world to Stoppard as an increasingly charming nobody, to a charming somebody who has written a great play, all the way to the never less than charming Sir Tom (with some trouble on the way, to be sure, but somehow it never really makes a dent). And while Lee does gesture toward alternative life scenarios that might have but didn’t happen – with perhaps the most interesting being what if Stoppard had got stuck in postwar communist Czechoslovakia like Václav Havel? – one almost never gets a sense of these alternatives as sufficiently real, properly thought through or fully fleshed out.
Which brings me to the question of Stoppard’s Czechness and his imagined alternative life under Czechoslovak communism. Lee’s way of tackling it struck me as superficial, especially given how much space she is willing to devote to the question, as well as to Stoppard’s relationship and friendship with Havel. A lot is made, for example, of Stoppard’s temperamental similarity to Havel. But Lee’s portrait would have been much more illuminating if she had chosen to compare him not just with Havel but also with Milan Kundera. Her young Stoppard seems to me to share with Kundera, first, a good deal of political naivety and, second, an un-Havel-like unwillingness to sacrifice one’s life as a successful writer to “mere” politics. In the case of both Stoppard and Kundera, their writerly love of the word combined with a fondness for the finer things in life and a belief in one’s exceptionality wins hands down over politics with its commonality as well as its currency of deadly clichés and “futile” symbolic gestures. It seems to me very likely that Stoppard would have sooner or later ended up in exile just like Kundera, temperamentally unsuited to Havel’s principled political engagement and its inevitable corollary, a life of considerable sacrifice.
But the differences between Stoppard and Kundera would have been equally telling. According to Lee, Stoppard defended his idea of England against the British left (with its pro-Soviet leanings) partly by emphasising English freedoms, especially artistic freedom and absence of censorship. But Kundera, who had a lot of experience wheeling and dealing with communist censors, perceived the “accommodations” required by his British and American publishers – supposedly necessary in order to make his novels a commercial success in the capitalist market – as being as bad as the Czech communist censorship and in some respects even worse (as revealed in the controversy that surrounded the first English edition of The Joke in 1969). Furthermore, rather than allow theatre and film directors (and producers) to mangle his texts for the sake of commercially successful adaptations, Kundera decided (post-1988, after a few TV and film adaptations he viewed as failures) to prohibit all future adaptations of his works. A comparison with Kundera, whose early success was as much due to his three plays as to his volumes of poetry and short stories, would have thrown much light on Stoppard’s perception of his own scripts as much more provisional. And it would have made much clearer to what degree Stoppard’s success in theatre (and film) might have been due to his willingness to accommodate the demands of others, be they theatre directors or film producers.
There are other ironies associated with the question of Stoppard’s Czechness (and with his ignorance of his family’s history until he was in his fifties) that Lee does not dwell on – even though they could be quite revealing as regards his politics. There is the irony of his support for Thatcher, even though his parents managed to escape from the Nazis (and his mother was later able to survive in India) overwhelmingly thanks to the fact that Eugen Sträussler worked for an employer who, while being passionately anti-communist, nevertheless practised in his factory towns a kind of aggressively paternalistic communalism (based on a kind of intrusive social control of his employees to be later paralleled only by the Communists). As Jan Antonín Baťa himself put it in the 1930s: “Zlín is more than Moscow. Zlín will remain an example for Moscow.” Baťa viewed his employees almost as social or family dependants for whom his company was to a great extent responsible (as long as they toed the line). Comparing Lee’s description of the Singapore episode to a recently published Czech account dealing more comprehensively with the Singapore experience of Baťa’s employees (Jan Beránek’s Pátrání po Silvestrovi or The Search for Silvester – the eponymous Silvester, Beránek’s great grandfather, went missing in Singapore at the same time as Stoppard’s father), one realises that Lee fails to capture fully the extent to which the Sträusslers’ survival, such as it was, was due to the highly organised, communal nature of Baťa’s enterprise rather than simply individual luck.
The irony of Stoppard as a Thatcher supporter goes further in relation to his later and undoubtedly genuine friendship with Havel. It was the Czech Thatcherites led by Václav Klaus (the most important post-revolution Czech prime minister and Havel’s successor as president) who did their best to undermine Havel’s politics after 1989 and to destroy Havel’s legacy of civic engagement and emphasis on human rights after his death in 2011 (in a manner strangely reminiscent of Trump’s reaction to Obama). Thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll (2006, first performed in the Prague National Theatre to great acclaim in 2007) seems to have been, politically speaking, a premature, if not naive celebration of a supposed victory of (artistic) freedom over politics that was to prove woefully fragile. One can measure the extent of this irony by using a motif from the play: instead of those socks with little hammers and sickles despised so much by one of the characters, the disgruntled ex-communist Max, consider the T-shirt with the signature of Václav Havel you can buy (with the proceeds going to charity); but you’ll be sporting this in a country ruled by an oligarchic prime minister with a corruption problem (and a record of collaborating with the communist secret police) and a Havel-hating president who prefers to do business with Putin and Xi Jinping.
There are other gaps that open up in the biography between Stoppard’s very real Englishness and his supposed Czechness that mark out the latter as a conceit rather than reality (no gate-keeping intended here: all theatre-loving Czechs are only too eager to claim Stoppard as one of their own). One does not need to be either a rabid republican or a Thomas Bernhard fan to find something very English (and slightly funny) about Lee’s emphasis on Stoppard’s gradual social elevation. I may be wrong but I don’t think most Czechs would see an invitation to dine with a duke or even royalty as proof of anything much beyond a certain celebrity status and alignment with establishment values – certainly not any kind of validation of one’s genius or character or anything else that matters. And yet these honours must have mattered to Stoppard – and Lee seems to agree implicitly by devoting quite a lot of space to them.
Yet when Stoppard accepts the CBE in spite of his supposed inability to attach any value to such “honours”, Lee takes his self-assessment at face value. If she were willing to cast a slightly more sceptical eye over his self-evaluations, she might have noted what strikes one as obvious from the outside. Stoppard’s punishing work ethic and dedication to his art, his relentless drive as well as his evident (and well-deserved) pride in his own successes (including dinners with dukes and various honours) suggest someone very much in need of external, socially accepted validation – someone for whom the need “to make it in the eyes of the world” goes very deep. But this would also suggest that Stoppard’s belief in his own “luck” is much more tenuous than he seems to let on. Which brings one to his relationship with his parents: keeping his mother, with whom he clearly had a very special, deeply loving relationship, apprised of all his successes seems to suggest a need to compensate her as much as possible for the earlier tragedies in her life and to validate her later uneasy choices and sacrifices; while in his relationship with his increasingly antisemitic, or at least xenophobic, stepfather, the same successes may have been welcome as a kind of elegant revenge.
In a biography that foregrounds the idea of Stoppard’s Czechness, it is disappointing that some of the Czech names and words are printed without correct diacritics. The failure to get this right is significant because for most Czechs the idea of Czechness is tightly linked to one’s ability to master the language. Stoppard lost what Czech he had as a child and later never felt the need to relearn it. To which one hastens to add: and why should he? A great part of his luck, at least from the Czech perspective, is precisely that he inherited the language not just of Shakespeare (and Pinter and Beckett) but of global culture and power with the audiences and financial returns that can go with it. There is something rather comical about Stoppard writing in his journal of 1977, while contemplating Havel’s arrest, “I sit here in this beautiful room surrounded by the commonplace luxuries of a successful writer” – for the simple reason that hardly any successful Czech writer beside Havel (helped out by his inherited wealth) and possibly Kundera has come anywhere close to being able to afford the kind of “commonplace luxuries” that Stoppard had in mind (judging by Lee’s descriptions of them). Having direct access to English audiences worldwide, in English, is likely to have a good deal to do with the lucrativeness or otherwise of one’s writing career.
Lee does use the chronological approach to draw some interesting parallels between the life and the work, and to draw out what it is about Stoppard that endures or recurs in spite of time passing. But one repeatedly wishes she could take a more synoptic and analytic view of at least some aspects of Stoppard’s life – and use the freed-up space to imagine what his life might look like from genuinely different, even conflicting perspectives. Her refusal to speculate and to imagine freely is the more remarkable given Stoppard’s own radical views on biography and on what constitutes the truth of someone’s character and life. These tend to err on the wild (Wildean) side –judging by his play The Invention of Love (1997) and other pronouncements – favouring the use of one’s imagination rather than reliance on mere fact. As Lee never tackles this discrepancy head on, does she expect us to read between the lines? Does she think that Stoppard would not want his own dicta applied to his own life? That he would be distinctly unamused if she treated him in her biography the way he treated Henry Carr in Travesties, or Wilde and Housman in The Invention of Love?
The problem with Lee’s writing goes further than that. Hers is the kind of authorised biography that prefers anecdote to analysis, eschews formal experiment and undue speculation, and largely avoids genuinely personal, unashamedly critical engagement with one’s subject in favour of self-effacing acceptance and the appearance of distanced objectivity, factual solidity and neutral, non-judgemental fairness – while all the same subtly siding with the hero. When it comes to conflict, whether personal or professional, but also when it comes to Stoppard expressing views that merit at least a raised eyebrow, Lee tends to give him the benefit of the doubt. This happens, for example, when she has to deal with his occasional un-PC laddishness, a feature that not many women would find all that charming now or even then (Lee does her best to whitewash these misdemeanours with the phrase “of its time”). Similarly, in the passages dealing with the disintegration of Stoppard’s first and second marriages, one feels a lot has been left unsaid – albeit presumably with the best of intentions ‑ in order to protect feelings and reputations all around. Especially in the case of Stoppard’s first wife Jose, one is reminded of other exceptionally talented, creative men of the era whose marriages to mentally fragile women ended up badly (mostly for the women and sometimes for the children involved), at least partly because the men “of the time” just did not do self-sacrifice. Such an approach, however, where truth is carefully managed by implication and information rationed, creates doubts about the nature and purpose of this kind of biography, especially when one of the parties can no longer have any say in what is being revealed. Lee, moreover, describes Stoppard as a private man – but wanting both privacy and a biography smacks of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too, if not of a desire to “take charge of one’s own myth” (to quote Wilde in The Invention of Love again): biography as an exercise in myth-making and damage limitation?
Lee ultimately does try to qualify her portrait of Stoppard as a charming man, mostly at the end of her book. She certainly does imply enough throughout to give us a sense of him as the kind of man who could be charming and yet very forceful in his self-centredness, and often emotionally unavailable to his spouses and children. But with all her elisions in mind, one can’t help feeling she should have led with the qualifications. Paraphrasing a line from The Hard Problem, Stoppard strikes one as a force of nature type who has realised that he can act charming to get what he wants. Once again, the artist is in danger here, this time as a man of a certain age, of seeming to belong to an old world well past its prime and on its way out. I have a feeling that a lot of millennials (and younger people) might not be all that impressed by what Lee sees as impressive about Stoppard (even setting aside his laddish jokes about women, however innocently meant). Consider his hectic work schedule with frequent long-haul flights across the Atlantic – given the climate emergency, how much carbon emissions should one be wasting on mere theatre entertainment? Or his epicurean lifestyle, with its grouse-shooting sessions and a glass case full of dead birds – why do humans who seem to have it all need to deal with their frustrations and bolster their sense of power by gratuitously killing living creatures? Not to mention the environmental impact of all that accumulated “stuff”, the material mark of Stoppard’s success. Such readers might be even less impressed, I think, by Lee’s own inability to glimpse this kind of reorienting of values.
Stoppard’s life has been so unusual, rich in experience and productive that it would probably shine through even the most pedestrian kind of biography and Lee’s is not that. But one still feels that a less cautious, less admiring biographer might have written a better book – where the life of the great writer is tackled head on, warts and all; where his character and life choices are thrown into relief through juxtaposition with other lives, not just genuinely different but imaginatively fleshed out; where the views of the person portrayed are not just relayed but also questioned and where to understand means that in the absence of facts one sometimes cannot but speculate, occasionally wildly. The new, highly controversial Kundera biography by the novelist Jan Novák, published earlier this year in Prague (and so far in Czech only), is a proof that such an openly subjective, formally inventive, speculative approach is not only possible but can do wonders for the genre. But perhaps to an English biographer such a daringly unauthorised life just wouldn’t be cricket?
Alena Dvořáková is a translator, editor and literary critic from Prague, now based in Dublin. She has translated a number of acclaimed works of literary fiction from English into Czech, including Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree, Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane and Beatlebone, and most recently The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. She regularly contributes reviews and essays to the Czech literary review Souvislosti (www.souvislosti.cz).