The Diary of a Good Neighbour by Jane Somers

Jane Somers is a pseudonym. Doris Lessing had evidently tired of being Doris Lessing by the early 1980s so decided to tackle this bit of kitchen sink drama under a nom de plume. Pretty much everyone, apart from her original publisher, was taken in. Doris obviously enjoyed it. Clever literary folk were perhaps less amused.…

Headlong by Michael Frayn

Michael Frayn’s The Trick Of It, an unbelievably tiresome tale of academics with personal problems, is one of the few novels I have read and then given away. But you should always be willing to give a fellow another chance, especially when his author photo on the back cover shows such a winning smile, and…

Restless by William Boyd

Mrs Sally Gilmartin is not in fact a chocolate box Cotswolds village pensioner in the 1970s, she is beautiful and resourceful WWII British spy Eva Delectorskaya. Well, she is both, of course, at different times of her life, as a split narrative written from the point of view of Sally’s twentysomething daughter in the ‘70s…

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

  Expellium! The spectre of Harry Potter disappears early: page 15 of The Casual Vacancy sees the book’s first use of the word cunt – something it is hard to imagine Professor Snape saying, even under duress. The story begins with a sudden death leaving a space on a small West Country town’s parish council, opening…

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Some opening paragraphs are just too good: ‘To start with, look at all the books…’ it begins, going on to describe what Madeleine hopes (and fears) her bookshelves full of Austen, Eliot and Bronte say about her. It’s a lovely start and pretty much downhill from there. We are in the early 1980s, Madeleine’s an attractive, intelligent student…