Jonathan Cape

James Ley reviews 'The Ghost Writer' by John Harwood

James Ley
Friday, 07 February 2020

There is a species of Victorian mystery story that is as pure an expression of nineteenth-century rationalism as you are likely to find. A strange event occurs which, at first glance, appears to admit no rational explanation; by the end of the story, it is revealed to have a logical explanation after all. Thus foolish superstition is banished by the pure light of reason. But there is another side to late-Victorian fiction of the unexpected, represented by Henry James’s ghost tale The Turn of the Screw (1898): a darker, slipperier, and far more unsettling narrative in which the supernatural elements are never satisfactorily explained and are charged with menacing psychological overtones.

... (read more)

Laurie Clancy reviews 'Brilliant Creatures' by Clive James

Laurie Clancy
Friday, 06 December 2019

Brilliant Creatures is not so much a novel – a first novel, as the title page coyly points out – as it is a presentation pack. The text itself is bookended by an introduction at the front, and a set of extensive, very boring notes and index at the back. A set of notes and an index for a novel, a first novel? Yep. Clive James has heard of Nabokov and Pale Fire. He has also, as the four-page introduction makes clear, heard of his ‘illustrious ancestor Henry’: of Gide, Montaigne, Sterne, Peacock, Firbank, Trollope, Joyce, Shakespeare, and Nietzsche.

... (read more)

John McLaren reviews 'The Twyborn Affair' by Patrick White

John McLaren
Monday, 28 October 2019

Like every one of his previous novels, Patrick White’s latest work is both utterly characteristic and completely unpredictable. With the third line, we know we are in for another of White’s dissections of human behavior. ‘“Bit rough, isn’t it?” her chauffeur ventured.’ The verb almost parodies White’s careful placing of human acts any other writer would – perhaps rightly – consider insignificant. It is also characteristic of his more recent novels that the first people we meet are peripheral, people who serve both to comment on the action and to offer a commentary just by their presence. They are the reverse of the chorus of a Greek tragedy in that they are the problem to which the central characters address themselves rather than the passive victims of this address.

... (read more)

Richard Holbrooke was a United States diplomat whose career began during the Vietnam War and ended during the one in Afghanistan, and whose life, according to George Packer, spanned the ‘American century’. He was an Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter and Clinton administrations, and President Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan until his sudden death in 2010. For his role in brokering the Dayton Accords in 1995, he was thought by some (not least himself) to have earned the Nobel Peace Prize. He wasn’t awarded it, nor did he achieve his aim of becoming Secretary of State; his was a life that his biographer describes as ‘almost great’.

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the end of the American century is told through a distinctive narrative voice, not Packer exactly, but a witness to Holbrooke’s story who editorialises freely in the first person. Alternately confiding and grandiloquent, Packer speaks in arresting sentences of a kind one doesn’t usually encounter in biographies of statesmen and diplomats. I happened to read this one on the Fourth of July: ‘We prefer our wars quick and decisive, concluding with a surrender ceremony, and we like firepower more than we want to admit.’ As the Afghanistan War lurched towards its eighteenth year and tanks took up their positions in Washington, D.C., for President Trump’s military parade, I thought, have Americans ever been shy about liking firepower?

... (read more)

What distinguishes man from machines? What is artificial life, death, progress? These are just some of the questions Jeanette Winterson explores in her brilliant new novel, Frankissstein, a modern take on Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein. Two warnings: first, the structure is complex, as the narrative segues ...

... (read more)

Paul Giles reviews 'Machines Like Me' by Ian McEwan

Paul Giles
Sunday, 21 April 2019

Ian McEwan’s new novel imagines an alternative history of England in the 1980s, one in which Argentina won the Falklands War and Margaret Thatcher was subsequently trounced at the polls. It also projects an alternative narrative of scientific progress, one in which the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing did not die in 1954 ...

... (read more)

'If you think you know what this collection will be like, you’re wrong,’ Carmen Maria Machado (author of the brilliant Her Body and Other Parties, 2017) states on the back cover of Kristen Roupenian’s provocatively titled début, You Know You Want This. It is an unusual description of a short story collection from an emerging author, but Roupenian is not your average débutante ...

... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Upstate' by James Wood

Brenda Niall
Thursday, 25 October 2018

Forget the author – it’s the book that matters. That’s sound advice, but there are times when it is hard to follow. James Wood’s Upstate is a testing case. A quietly reflective little novel, elegantly written, with four main characters and a minimal plot, Upstate doesn’t look like a literary time bomb ...

... (read more)

Murray Waldren reviews 'Nemesis' by Philip Roth

Murray Waldren
Tuesday, 15 November 2011

With book thirty-one arriving as its author approaches his seventy-eighth birthday, the numbers are stacking up for Philip Roth ...

... (read more)