Us by David Nicholls

 Douglas and Connie, two fiftysomethings from Berkshire, are going on a modern version of the Grand Tour with their 18-year old son, Albie, after which he will go away to college. On a route which takes in Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Venice and Florence they will see improving works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Raphael, Titian, da Vinci and so forth.…

The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

 Heaven knows how you ever come up with something this good, let alone at your first attempt. The Impressionist begins and ends with a lone man riding through a hostile landscape, and what happens in between is spectacularly ambitious and well-written. Pran Nath is born into luxury in India in the early 20th century, finds his circumstances suddenly changed,…

Golden Boy by Christian Ryan

 Kim Hughes is remembered by cricket fans as the Australian captain who cried when he resigned. If WG Grace had been under this sort of pressure, he might have blubbed too. Hughes was around in an era (the late 1970s and 1980s) of fearsome facial hair and macho attitudes, and his own sunny, naïve, curly-headed, infuriating, trusting,…

First Light by Peter Ackroyd

 It is scarcely credible that the same hand wrote both this and The Plato Papers. But then Peter Ackroyd publishes too much, and quality control is an ongoing problem these days. It wasn’t back in 1989 when this great piece of thought-provoking English whimsy was published and he was in the midst of a hot streak that brought…

Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode

The late Frank Kermode was a literary critic who didn’t opt for the easy. In Shakespeare’s Language, he does something that surprisingly few serious but mainstream studies had done before: he looks at the poet’s words and explains what they mean and how Shakespeare’s use of them developed over his career. It seems like an obvious approach.…