Literature & Criticism

Black and white photograph of Patricia Highsmith.

Highsmith in My Head

Terry Castle

4 March 2021

Patricia High­smith was able to dramatise the loss of con­trol so shockingly because she knew how it felt. Though not herself a homicidal maniac (as far as one knows), she could imagine what it was like to be one. Her brain had been arranged for it: she had blown out her own frontal lobes early on.

Read More

A Polyphonic ‘Aeneid’

Rebecca Armstrong

4 March 2021

Published​ after Virgil’s death in 19 BCE, the Aeneid is a poem of paradox: a foundation epic which never directly describes the foundation of Rome; a divinely inspired song in the mould of . . .

‘Mr Wilder and Me’

Michael Wood

4 March 2021

One​ of the inhabitants of Middle England, the title and the setting of Jonathan Coe’s last novel, part of a location that is also called ‘merrie’, ‘deep’ and ‘old’ . . .

Four-Dimensional Hinton

Adam Mars-Jones

4 March 2021

Charles Howard Hinton​ was a Victorian mathematician and theorist of the fourth dimension, the scandal of whose conviction for bigamy led him to lose his job as a schoolmaster and to exile himself . . .

Bette Howland’s Stories

Tessa Hadley

4 March 2021

Every​ so often literary history convulses, then settles down into a different shape. New tastes and new politics cast a lurid light on the judgments of forty, fifty, sixty years ago: some established . . .

Malfunctioning Sex Robot: Updike Redux

Patricia Lockwood, 10 October 2019

When he is in flight you are glad to be alive. When he comes down wrong – which is often – you feel the sickening turn of an ankle, a real nausea. All the flaws that will become fatal later are present at the beginning. He has a three-panel cartoonist’s sense of plot. The dialogue is a weakness: in terms of pitch, it’s half a step sharp, too nervily and jumpily tuned to the tics and italics and slang of the era. And yes, there are his women.

Read More

Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

I should state up front that I am not a fan of programme fiction. Basically, I feel about it as towards new fiction from a developing nation with no literary tradition: I recognise that it has anthropological interest, and is compelling to those whose experience it describes, but I probably wouldn’t read it for fun.

Read More

Vermicular Dither

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

Stefan Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing.

Read More

Le pauvre Sokal: the Social Text Hoax

John Sturrock, 16 July 1998

Way back in the pre-theoretical Fifties, a journalist called Ivor Brown used to have elementary fun at the expense of a serial intruder on our insular peace of mind, a bacillus known as the LFF,...

Read More

The Fatness of Falstaff

Barbara Everett, 16 August 1990

One day early in the 1590s a clown came onto a London stage, holding a piece of string. At the end of the piece of string was a dog. The dog, possibly the first on the Elizabethan stage, I want to...

Read More

Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

Read More

Diary: On the Booker

Julian Barnes, 12 November 1987

The only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo. It is El Gordo, the Fat One, the sudden jackpot that enriches some plodding Andalusian muleteer.

Read More

Sounding Auden

Seamus Heaney, 4 June 1987

Hard-bitten, aggressively up-to-date in the way it took cognisance of the fallen contemporary landscape, yet susceptible also to the pristine scenery of an imaginary Anglo-Saxon England, Auden’s original voice could not have been predicted and was utterly timely.

Read More

Fairy Flight in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

William Empson, 25 October 1979

So the working fairy does at least half a mile a second, probably two-thirds, and the cruising royalties can in effect go as fast as her, if they need to. Puck claims to go at five miles a second, perhaps seven times what the working fairy does. This seems a working social arrangement.

Read More

Ready to Go Off

Jenny Turner, 18 February 2021

Kindred is an act of generosity, an embodiment of the hope that one day, it will be nothing to write home about when a Black woman sits in her new house with her white husband, happily surrounded by piles...

Read More

Extreme Jogging: The ‘Nocilla’ Project

Kevin Breathnach, 18 February 2021

Agustín​ Fernández Mallo, then a Spanish physicist with one book of poetry to his name, was on holiday from his laboratory in 2004 when he was hit by a motorbike in Thailand....

Read More

Lila and Lenù. She and I. These friendships – these first, these formative friendships – are in part about adapting ourselves to our place in adult society. There is always one child...

Read More

Stone’s dozen days in Saigon were all passed in the shadow of the war. Everybody was in it, somehow, and talked about it non-stop, but the talk never went anywhere. It ran into the war and came to...

Read More

Me? Soft?

Namara Smith, 4 February 2021

It’s never easy to sort out what’s yours and what’s your mother’s – harder still, Yaa Gyasi’s book suggests, when the fear of enmeshment is shared. Armed with diagnostic...

Read More

Corporate Imposter

Alex Harvey, 4 February 2021

The narrator of Denis Johnson’s The Largesse of the Sea Maiden concludes his account of dead or dying friends with a careless aside: ‘It doesn’t matter. The world keeps turning....

Read More

In​ 1993, frustrated and unfulfilled, Emmanuel Carrère was waiting on two replies – one from Satan, the other from God. He was 35, with four novels behind him but not enough fame for...

Read More

Slashed, Red and Dead: Rilke, To Me

Michael Hofmann, 21 January 2021

Rilke set himself subjects the way a shoemaker might, or a sculptor. Laocoön. The burghers of Calais. The thinker. The lovers. The tiny figurines and vast hands.

Read More

If we had a real choice: Sophie Mackintosh

Madeleine Schwartz, 21 January 2021

Sophie Mackintosh’s two novels could be classified as dystopias but they are more like hermetically sealed thought experiments. The worlds they describe are different from the one we wake up in,...

Read More

Ursula Le Guin was able to direct a whole array of ‘what if?’ questions against the conventions of children’s fantasy. What if you don’t need heroic quests? What if keeping...

Read More

Surely, Shirley: Ottessa Moshfegh

J. Robert Lennon, 21 January 2021

Death in Her Hands, like all Ottessa Moshfegh’s novels, is a mystery, as well as a portrait of a broken mind. But it’s also a hall of mirrors in which every image or event might be real, or...

Read More

Dentists? No Way

Naoise Dolan, 7 January 2021

O’Brien’s Country Girls courses through Elaine Feeney’s women, though As You Were is set seventy years or so later, just before Ireland legalised abortion in 2018. One character...

Read More

Wire him up to a toaster: Ordinary Carey

Seamus Perry, 7 January 2021

John Carey has always been alive to what he once called ‘the strengths of the unliterary’, the salutary effect that a principled suspicion of the aesthetic may have on the actual practice of...

Read More

A ‘true ghost story’, except to a believer, moves between the worlds of fact and fiction, but Alma Fielding’s poltergeist is more disturbing. It inhabits a place of constant dissolution...

Read More

Into a Blazing Oven: Virginie Despentes

Lili Owen Rowlands, 17 December 2020

Reviewers like to say that Despentes’s trilogy ‘holds a mirror up’ to French society and call it things like ‘the Comédie humaine 2.0’. But Balzac wrote about modern...

Read More

Head in an Iron Safe: Dickens’s Tricks

David Trotter, 17 December 2020

Dickens fought long and hard against the human tendency to focus exclusively on what is of immediate pressing concern in any given situation. His often anodyne protagonists have to compete for our attention...

Read More

Coughing Out Slogans: DeLillo tunes out

Andrew O’Hagan, 3 December 2020

His great instinct, all along, has been to give shape to dread­ful events before they happen, before the people who might carry them out are even born, and to seem to know their source in our public...

Read More

Saint Agnes’s Lament: ‘Shuggie Bain’

Christian Lorentzen, 3 December 2020

Amid the tearing of hair and the rending of garments, the busted teeth and the vomit, a picture of a gutted Glasgow emerges. It’s the dark side of Thatcher’s Britain, another reason for the...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences