literature

Ian McEwan’s ‘Sweet Tooth’ Delves into the World of Spies and Anti-Communism

Lee Polevoi

As a storyteller, McEwan has few equals. From the novel’s opening lines—“My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service”—he draws us into the dreary world of Cold War England, circa 1974,  time of internal social and political upheaval. The story purrs along like a well-oiled machine, as Serena falls in love with Tony Canning, a married professor and much older man. The affair ends badly, though not before Canning has set her on an eventful career path with MI5. 

A Toast to Cocktails in Literature

Benjamin Wright

Throughout the works of Russian writers, like Tolstoy and Chekhov, the characters drink vodka like there is no tomorrow, and also wine, as in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Mead, the delicious honey wine first created by the ancients, played a significant role in Beowulf, with Beowulf, the hero, defending the king’s mead hall against the terrifying beast, Grendel. In works like Steinbeck’s classic moral tale, The Pearl, the featured drink of choice is pulque, a beverage made from the maguey plant’s fermented sap. 

Zadie Smith Lays Claim to a Patch of London in ‘NW’

Lee Polevoi

Throughout NW, Smith demonstrates a deep understanding of the constant ebb and flow of human relationships—between mothers and daughters, between best friends, between a reformed addict determined to stay clean and his flamboyant, drug-using ex-girlfriend.  Even forewarned of an impending tragedy, the reader becomes so absorbed in these characters’ lives that when  calamity does strike, it comes as a breathtaking surprise and with a penetrating sense of loss.

Martin Amis Amongst the Thugs: The World of ‘Lionel Asbo’

Lee Polevoi

What living novelist brings more baggage to the publication of a new book than Martin Amis? Each occasion triggers a recounting of wildly irrelevant details from his past (no need to repeat them here), generating a media frenzy to which Amis often contributes with outspoken views on culture, politics and history. By now (Lionel Asbo is his 13th novel), this frenzy serves not to enlighten but to distract from the work itself. In that respect, Amis remains one of the most consistently interesting and—on a purely sentence-by-sentence level—one of the best writers we have.

The Life and Death of David Foster Wallace

Lee Polevoi

In Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, a sympathetic and engrossing biography of David Foster Wallace, literary journalist D.T. Max deftly outlines the early years of the writer’s life, from his birth in Ithaca, New York, growing up in Champaign, Illinois, where he became a promising junior tennis player, to his education (with a double major in English and philosophy) at Amherst College. The novel he wrote for his senior thesis, The Broom of the System, was published when Wallace was 25 years old, launching a career that went on to see creation of a range of exceptional works of fiction and nonfiction.

All About Me: How Memoirs Became the Literature of Choice

Veronica Giannotta

Memoirs are the great equalizer of writing. In a genre utterly non-denominational, there is room for any story in any pattern of prose. The Christian Science Monitor reports that memoirs have seen sales increase from $170 million to $270 million since 1999. Most nonfiction MFA writing programs are geared substantially towards the genre; Hunter College even requires prospective students to submit a memoir proposal as part of their application. 

John Lanchester Explores Money, Character and Destiny in ‘Capital’

Lee Polevoi

British author John Lanchester displays an impressive range of skills in his books—from a gourmand/serial killer’s disturbing confessions in his first novel, The Debt to Pleasure, to a beguiling memoir Family Romance and an incisive examination of the global economic crisis in IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One can Pay! Lanchester’s interest in the global economy bears full fruit in Capital, the finest novel yet from this hugely talented writer.

Jonathan Raban, American

Lee Polevoi

Throughout a long career of travel writing and literary journalism, the British writer Jonathan Raban has expertly blended the personal with the public in a tone that’s never vain or self-aggrandizing. From the relative exuberance of young adulthood in Coasting—about a solo sailboat trip around the coast of England—to the mature, battered-by-life expatriate in Passage to Juneau—another sea journey through the Inside Passage and up to Alaska—we gladly follow his spiritual journeys through whatever territory he chooses to take us. In Driving Home, a bountiful new collection of essays, Raban can also lay claim to being an astute observer of the American scene.

 

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