Canongate Books

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Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch: Roll up, roll up…

I suspect Carol Birch has something of a fascination with the world of circuses and freak shows. Set in the nineteenth century, her last novel, Jamrach’s Menagerie, followed Jaffy who is sent to the Dutch East Indies to capture a ‘dragon’ for the eponymous menagerie but finds himself shipwrecked. Orphans of the Carnival ventures far …

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The Lonely City by Olivia Laing: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

I was attracted to Olivia Laing’s new book partly because of its setting – that old New York lure – partly because I’d enjoyed her exploration of the relationship between writers and drink, The Trip to Echo Spring. In The Lonely City she explores loneliness through the work of four artists – Edward Hopper, David …

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The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas: Bursting with ideas

The Seed Collectors is Scarlett Thomas’s first novel for quite some time. Her idiosyncratic books, several of which flirt with science fiction, seem to attract a passionate following. I’d read only two before this one: The End of Mr Y, about a PhD student’s encounter with a rare edition of a nineteenth-century writer’s book, wandered …

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Academy Street by Mary Costello: ‘A life fitting on one page’

Irish – and Irish-American – writers seem to specialise in a particular style of pared-back, elegant prose from which shines out the occasional lyrical gem: William Trevor, John McGahern, Colm Tóibin, Sebastian Barry, Jennifer Johnston, Elizabeth Bowen, Deirdre Madden, Alice McDermott… I could go on. Mary Costello joins that (very long) list with her debut …

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber: SF, Jim, but not as we know it

Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White is a favourite of mine. A playful, sprawling, vibrant novel that takes you from the rancid, stinking alleys and raucous bawdy-houses of nineteenth-century London into the heart of its supposedly respectable upper echelons guided by seventeen-year-old Sugar, one of the smartest narrators you could possibly hope for. …

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez: A sad story filled with warmth as well as sorrow

The immigrant experience is a rich theme for fiction, one which offers many of us a glimpse into a world that we will never know and, I would like to think, fosters a level of empathy and tolerance apparently unknown to many tabloid editors with their pernicious headlines. Cristina Henríquez’s brilliantly named The Book of …

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The Edible Atlas by Mina Holland: A tasty little post which involves Jaffa cakes

This may seem an unusual post from me but I enjoy eating almost as much as I enjoy reading and would do a lot more of it were I not in fear of an exploding waistline. Travel comes a close third which makes Mina Holland’s culinary atlas an attractive prospect, all the more so thanks …

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The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti: Cheese and Castilian charisma

The Telling Room’s subtitle is ‘A Tale of Passion, Revenge and the World’s Finest Cheese’ which as a connoisseur of quirkiness I found hard to resist. Michael Paterniti fell in love with the idea of Ambrosio Molinos de las Heras’ Páramo de Guzmán cheese, packed in its swanky gold and white liveried tin and selling …

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