Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

The City and the City, by China Miéville

Through Tyador Borlu, a police Inspector conducting a murder investigation in decaying Beszel and wealthy Ul Qoma, two Eastern European cities inhabiting the same space, Miéville explores the extent to which borders determine the lives of ordinary people. The best scenes describe Borlu experiencing the architecture, culture and people he has always lived with but that he has learned to ‘unsee’ since birth; scenes during which the reader shares in the sense of unease and shock. This is a gripping crime novel that develops pace and intrigue although in terms of narrative and analysis, the concluding pages are slightly disappointing. MM

Pan; 2010, 373 pages

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Red Riding Quartet, by David Peace

Through four novels, innumerable ruined characters, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and more than a few scenes of utterly shocking intensity, Peace’s Red Riding quartet interrogates a core of disturbing themes with hypnotic single-mindedness. Returning constantly to sadistic police brutality, unconquerable sexual obsessions and the torture of children, Red Riding succeeds overwhelmingly because the horrifying cruelty depicted is borne not of abstract evil nor incomprehensible psychology, but simple greed (the motive which is, of course, indispensable to all free-market economic theory). Wealth buys immunity from democratic control; Peace’s exposition of this process is as cogent as it is viscerally, terrifyingly powerful. AB

Serpent’s Tail; 1999-2002

Absolute Friends, by John le Carré

Despite being a Cold War author who successfully reconfigured his writing for the post-Soviet era, John le Carré doesn’t always remain as sharp in his contemporary storytelling. Such is the case in Absolute Friends, a book whose shifts in time and place sharply juxtapose the le Carré of old with his modern approach. The best of this book is the tension built around our protagonist’s adventures among Cold War double agents but the narrative is far weaker in other places, especially the finale – intended as an indictment of “war on terror” politics and subterfuge – which is bewildering and unconvincing. SS

Coronet Books; 2004; 338 pages

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman

This novel is centred on Stalingrad during the second world war. Soviet and Nazi troops fight street by street. In house 6/1 normal military discipline has broken down amongst the Russian troops, and yet they repel every attack. The taste of freedom has emboldened them. The cast of characters takes us beyond Stalingrad, to Nazi death camps and villages deep in the Russian hinterland. Grossman’s first hand experiences of the war give this book a raw descriptive power and a deep humanism. It is about human beings struggling for freedom even when “life is full to the brim with need”. JM

Vintage; 2006; 864 pages

Sacred Games, by Vikram Chandra

This spellbinding novel paints a vivid and enthralling picture of contemporary Mumbai, ranging from the utterly chronic corruption of the Indian state to the desperation of millions shut out of the ‘economic miracle’. But Chandra is no dour realist: his prose is a delight and carries the densely epic plot with an elegance that offers moments of uproarious hilarity inseparably mixed with heartbreak. Police, gangsters, far-right Hindu nationalists and secret service operatives engage in a kaleidoscopic power struggle with minimal democratic interference. The analytical perspective is liberal rather than left-wing, but reading Sacred Games is a thrilling and fantastic experience. AB

Faber and Faber; 2007; 960 pages


Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers. George Orwell

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