Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

‘Only connect…’ Those two words are the point from which all flows in E.M. Forster’s masterly Howard’s End but they apply equally to Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain, the first novel by an annoyingly talented pup and playwright called Barney Norris. Set (rather refreshingly, way away from the usual boundaries of literary land)…

Ammonites & Leaping Fish by Penelope Lively

Subtitled ‘A Life in Time’, Penelope Lively’s Ammonites & Leaping Fish was published in 2013, when she was 80. She looks back on what she has done and seen over the decades, from her earliest days in wartime Alexandria to her old age in Islington, examining personal experiences (motherhood, friendships) and wider trends and events…

Why The Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates

When Englishman Ben Coates moved to Holland* he began making a list of ‘Crazy Dutch Liberal Policies’. He soon gave up because there were just too many of them to count: ready availability of cannabis and euthanasia, prostitutes given sick pay, moped riders without helmets, lots of nudist beaches, and so on…Why The Dutch Are…

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Twentysomething River Cartwright has a promising career in MI5 until a catastrophic error allows a terrorist attack to take place at King’s Cross. He is sent to Slough House (‘slow horse’), a nondescript office in east London where spy rejects end up. There it is made clear to them that they are out of the…

Conclave by Robert Harris

Robert Harris just can’t help himself. After 282 pages of taut thriller about a lot of very old men sitting in a darkened room and putting names in a (papal) hat, he goes and throws in an unnecessary complication. I won’t name the silliness that creeps in right at the death, but believe me it is ludicrous.…

A Social History of England by Asa Briggs

‘Don’t you find this book a little bit boring?’ ‘Umm…to be honest, yes I do a bit.’ My daughter put her finger on the problem. A Social History of England by Asa Briggs is indeed a touch dull in parts but till then I had not admitted this to myself. Much as I am fascinated by history,…

The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach

A classic example of what we might usefully term the First World Problem novel, The Art of Fielding allows the casual reader to spend more time in the company of amateur baseball players than is perhaps strictly healthy. I went away and looked up what ‘he also had to turn double plays’ really means –…