Classics

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant

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The Tenants of Moonbloom

A bizarre epiphany in bygone New York

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant is an unjustly neglected American gem. A deliciously peculiar novel, comic and melancholic in equal parts, it takes us to a down-at-heel New York at the turn of the 1950’s and the dreary life of daydreamer and rent collector, Norman Moonbloom. Norman’s days are spent chasing rent from hapless tenants, whilst attempting to dodge their numerous demands, complaints, and often riotous domestic dramas. Too sensitive for the world of the mercenary slumlord, he will undergo a quiet epiphany against a disintegrating backdrop of leaking taps and treacherous wiring.

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Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald

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Human Voices

Wartime goings on at the Beeb

On a mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ the nation since 1922, this year marks the centenary of the BBC, a British institution both beloved and beleaguered. In the wonderful 1980 novel, Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald, we join the corporation during the intense years of the Second World War, where nightly bombing requires the staff to bed down in the concert hall and the canteen possesses only one communal teaspoon, tied to the till with string. Despite the Blitz-induced discombobulation, when the nation gathers round the radio at 9pm each evening, the Beeb is there for them.

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Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali

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Beer in the Snooker Club

A lighthearted look into a confused young mind

With the most English sounding of titles, Egyptian 1964 classic Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali portrays Ram, a penniless and charming Egyptian Copt who lives well off his wealthy aunts, his own father having lost a fortune on the ‘bourse’. Seduced by the sophistication of Europe, Ram and his friend Font travel to London to immerse themselves in the political and cultural ideas of the time. Meanwhile, Egypt is going through its own political upheaval with the end of British imperialism, Nasser’s revolution and a burgeoning Communist movement. Which side, if any, will Ram come down on?

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The Passion According to G.H by Clarice Lispector

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The Passion According to G.H.

Mesmerising avant-garde Brazilian classic

If your experience of transformative insect fiction is limited to the Kafkaesque, then it’s high time you met the ‘heralding quiver’ of cockroach antennae in The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector. A novel that demands the utmost concentration, this Brazilian modern classic tells the story of a somewhat intense sculptress, who discovers a large cockroach in her home. Her initial attempt at extermination leaves the creature slowly dying in front of her eyes, a protracted process that sparks a full-blown existential crisis. Enlightenment, madness, or possibly both, await.

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Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich

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Last Summer in the City

Cinematic novel captures the essence of Rome’s glamour years

Leo Gazzara is hovering on the brink of both turning thirty and plunging into an existential crisis. Keen to avoid respectability, his days are spent avoiding hard work, his nights indulging in the hedonistic thrills of city life. Originally published in 1970, Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich is an Italian cult classic. Here translated into English for the first time, it captures those heady days when Rome was the capital of glamour. A boozy, smoky and  intoxicating novel, it tells the story of the year Leo’s dolce vita turned sour.

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Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane

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Effi Briest

Classic German novel of adulterous downfall

Considering its description by Thomas Mann as one of the six most significant novels ever written, and rumoured to have moved Samuel Beckett to tears on even his fourth reading, Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane remains a remarkably little known novel outside of its native Germany.  Set in 1880’s Prussia, Effi treads the well-worn path of the nineteenth century literary heroine. As an unworldly young woman in a status obsessed male-dominated world, her story tells of a stifling marriage of convenience. Prepare for adulterous downfall and a classic interpretation of the expression ‘pistols at dawn.’

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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

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The Blind Assassin

A gripping twist and turn love story

I must admit, I am severely partial to a narrated life-story, which includes twists and turns in the forms of death and romance, transforming the readers into the detectives. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood fulfils this criteria in the most evocative and powerful way. Carefully balanced, the author ensures the novel’s pendulum never swings too far into the excessively-narrative, nor the aloof. With Iris Chase as our narrator, we are invited to re-live the loss of her sister, Laura. This tumultuous story line is interrupted by a novel within a novel: here we are presented with a nostalgic and illusive glimpse into a perilous romance which sings of alacrity.

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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

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Ethan Frome

An intense and unforgettable read

Mr Ethan Frome still cuts an imposing figure in Starkfield, despite being left ‘but the ruin of a man,’ by a terrible accident some years previously. As mute and melancholy as the wintry New England landscape he inhabits, Ethan stoically shoulders the burden of a cruel past. In Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, we uncover the story of his joyless existence and his one shot at blazing, beautiful love. An intense and compelling addition to our Classics archive, this certainly isn’t a tale for lightweights.

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The Easter Parade

Enduring American classic

After reading a few contemporary duds, I’ve taken refuge in the haven of mid-20th century American literature and read The Easter Parade by Richard Yates.  I adore literature from this era for it’s well-edited, unpretentious yet profound writing and I haven’t been disappointed this time either. We’re in 1930’s New York. Sarah and Emily are sisters and the children of divorced parents Pookie and Walter Grimes. The opening sentence sets the stage: ‘Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce.’ Expect no happy ending.

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Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald

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Innocence

Wry humour and clumsy innocence

There’s something seductive about Fitzgerald’s writing, it’s so gentle and light that it almost seems effortless. It’s not, of course, and that’s the genius of it. No wonder Fitzgerald has become a writer’s writer, with hoards of author fans. If you enjoy a well-written book, I suspect you will like her novels too. Be warned, though, Innocence, like her other books, is not action packed, but rather a funny, contemplative story where a lot more goes on than meets the eye.

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