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Imposture by Benjamin Markovits

Review by Susanna Hislop

This is a novel about living in someone’s shadow. About frustrated ambitions, failure and mediocracy, in the face of success, fame and blazing talent. “The force of impossible comparisons”, as Polidori’s father puts it damningly. [more]

Virgin of the Flames by Chris Abani

Review by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

In Black, Abani has created a character more troubled than Kurt Cobain, more conflicted than Prince and as quirky as Andy Warhol, and it is the protagonist’s destructive trajectory of self-discovery, and his pursuit of transsexual stripper Sweet Girl, that drives this novel. [subscribe]


Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

Review by Michael Hamburger

The title of Grass’s book, a metaphor, points to the main difficulty of all autobiographical writing, not least for writers of fiction – no wonder that in parts his account reads more like a picaresque novel than a chronicle of ‘real’ events. [subscribe]

Messages to the World: Statements of Osama bin Laden edited and introduced by Bruce Lawrence

Review by Simon Kovar

Lawrence believes that bin Laden’s terrorism is essentially a response to the West’s “much greater” terrorism. He quotes approvingly from Michael Mann: “Despite the religious rhetoric and the bloody means, bin Laden is a rational man. There is a simple reason why he attacked the US: American imperialism”. For Lawrence et al., the equation is simple: remove this reason and bin Laden’s war will cease. [more]

The Good European: Essays and Arguments by Iain Bamforth

Review by Hugh Tancred

How can a workable mode of living for a person, let alone a continent, be procured by a fusion of Rousseau and Nietzsche? Europe is irredeemably contrary, elusive, problematic, a hydra standing guard over an oubliette. A good European is something that you can be but cannot be taught to be. [subscribe]

Savage Kingdom: Virginia and the Founding of English America by Benjamin Woolley

Review by Ronald Wright

Benjamin Woolley’s Savage Kingdom confines itself to the first decade and a half in Virginia. Taken on the terms of its subtitle – as a frankly English view of modern America’s founding – the book is a delight, a rattling good read packed with dreamers, schemers, rogues and desperadoes. Well versed in the late Tudor and early Stuart periods, Woolley steers confidently through the religious, political and personal storms that buffeted the flimsy English foothold. [more]

Beyond Liberty: Is the future of liberalism progressive? edited by Julia Margo

Review by Simon Kovar

Beyond Liberty sets one foot firmly outside the liberal tradition – and it is not too sure what it wants to do with the other. Above all, it is not clear whether a liberalism that no longer stands primarily for liberty stands for anything very much at all, or for that matter can or should be described as liberalism. [more]

Being Shelley: The Poet’s Search for Himself by Ann Wroe

Review by Ross Wilson

Immanuel Kant described his philosophy as the attempt to answer three questions: What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? Late in his career, Kant added a fourth, under which these three questions were to be comprehended: What is man? Shelley was obsessed with a similar set of concerns: “whence I came, and where I am, and why”. As for Kant, Shelley saw these challenges as compellingly pointing to another, more fundamental problem: What is a poet? [subscribe]


Talking to the Dead by Elaine Feinstein

Review by Fiona Sampson

The cover of this collection tells us that it “is Elaine Feinstein’s most passionate book of poetry”, and there is nothing careful about these elegies, or the memories and memorials which surround them. Yet to read Talking to the Dead is to be taken through its dark matter by an absolutely sure-footed guide, a mistress of the most difficult literary and human subjects. [more]

Beasts of Nalunga by Jack Mapanje

Review by Niccoló Milanese

What is most unexpected about this work is the humour of it. One might be tempted to call it a sense of farce, but these situations are too real for that. There is a violence stared-out by laughter – not overcome, but neutered – and the result is that sometimes the poetry seems peculiarly domestic. [subscribe]