Castle creeping

It’s taken me at least a year to re-read ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’. Of course I’ve read a lot of other things in the meantime, but Ann Radcliffe’s 1794 gothic whopper is an easy book to put down, and I don’t mean that as an insult. It was hugely popular and influential in its day, […]

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Victorian Vamps

My chat with Joanne Harris (Oxford Lit Fest, last entry) prompted me to dig out an early of hers that I’d never read – ‘Sleep, Pale Sister’ (Transworld), a slice of Victorian gothic that preceded ‘Chocolat’, the novel that made her famous. ‘SPS’ takes for its background the world of the Pre-Raphaelites, and more generally […]

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Being Kind in Bhutan

I have a particular fondness for yoga transformation stories so a quick look at Emma Slade’s Set Free: A life-changing journey from banking to Buddhism in Bhutan (Summersdale £9.99) immediately appealed. Slade worked in banking as an analyst, living in Hong Kong, flying around the Far East attending high-powered meetings and offering her expertise. (I […]

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My Literary Valentine

In the past for my annual evening of Valentine-inspired readings, I’ve featured Anti-Valentines (enjoyably bilious) and Legendary Lovers (Abelard and Heloise, Ovid, Elizabeth and Leicester). But if I was pushed to explain the theme this year, perhaps I’d have to call it ‘It’s complicated…’ All the speakers showcased work expressing the pains, paradoxes, problems and precarious joys […]

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Dirty, Pretty Girls

Emma Cline’s debut The Girls has created a stir this year, having gained a huge advance, a film option and high-level praise. The reviews, while appreciative, were somewhat muted and having read the book (no, devoured it) I can understand why. ‘She’s a better writer than Donna Tartt,’ a publishing friend said, adding that the […]

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Dread in Venice

I love occult-themed novels and novels set in Venice, so it’s amazing I’ve had Amanda Prantera’s The Cabalist (Bloomsbury) kicking about for so long. Prantera is due a renaissance – it happened to the wonderful Deborah Levy so why not her? Prantera’s writing has a flavour all its own: intellectual, playful and distinctively creepy with its investigations […]

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