Read on for the latest reviews, news, events and prizes on the Omnivore Digest. Review roundups for books by Helen Dunmore, Donal Ryan, George RR Martin, Mark Bostridge, Ben Highmore and Samantha Ellis. Will Self, Germaine Greer, Rachel Cooke, Jonathan Dimbleby and Alan Johnson on the Literary Calendar. An Author Pitch on Sherlock's search for Einstein's illegitimate daughter. All this and Zoe Williams in Hatchet Job of the Week.
The Omnivore's Award for Jolly Nice Book Reviews


The announcement of the nominees for the most prestigious award of the season is always going to be controversial. Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident on the Dog in the Night-Time, tweeted "Unsure which depresses me most, the hatchet job of the year or the bad sex award. they're just posh versions of a fight outside the pub."

So for the benefit of all those literary pacifists out there, and to show that book reviewers aren't all bad, here's the shortlist for The Omnivore's Award for Jolly Nice Book Reviews. Just don't complain we've snubbed Idris Elba.

David Sexton on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, London's Evening Standard
"A novel of the highest literary ambition and dedication. Not to be missed. Eligible for the Man Booker next year, too."

Sam Leith on Worst. Person. Ever by Douglas Coupland, The Financial Times
"Worst. Person. Ever. succeeds by virtue of its verbal energy, the brio of its invention, the snappiness with which successive gags and ever more appalling atrocities are piled on."

Allan Massie on A Delicate Truth by John le Carré, The Scotsman
“The best novel le Carré has written for some time. The title, too, is ambiguous … John le Carré makes the conventional distinction between genre and literary fiction seem absurd. He is far more serious in his themes than the majority of those who write so-called literary fiction; happily he is also more entertaining."  

COMPETITION: Win a fish supper worth £100 courtesy of The Fish Society 

Lovers of literature and sponsors of Hatchet Job of the Year, the wonderfully generous Fish Society, are giving away a hundred pound voucher to one lucky newsletter reader.

For your chance to win an extravagant fish supper, tell us exactly which kind of prawn Samuel Pepys is referring to on the 26th January 1660: "Home from my office to my Lord's lodgings where my wife had got ready a very fine dinner—viz. a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat's tongue, a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns and cheese."

A clue can be found on the Fish Society's website. Email by Friday 31 January.
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
Reviews Buy | Comment |
"A profound work of fiction ... Christos Tsiolkas has written another novel that deserves to make a big splash" Mark Lawson, Guardian VS "He has previously declared that “if I can make middle-class readers angry, that is a good thing to do”, yet there’s a difference between bravely confronting ugly truths and simply pummelling your reader with ugly emotions." Jessica Lambert, Evening Standard
The Fateful Year: England 1914 by Mark Bostridge
Reviews | Buy Comment |
"Bostridge has written a truly gripping chronicle of the mood of a nation moving unwittingly towards catastrophe" Lucy Lethbridge, Financial Times VS "It left me with the uneasy feeling that its primary engine was a desire to honour an important anniversary rather than the careful unpicking of a knotty new idea" Rachel Cooke, The Observer


French Women Don't Get Facelifts, Mireille's Guiliano's guide to ageing, Gallic style, certainly managed to raise Zoe Williams' eyebrows:

"Much of the prose reads like it's been piped backwards through Google Translate (of her friend, tragically afflicted with an excess 35 pounds in weight, she writes: "one would say sloughing toward obesity as the limit of overweight in spite of her tall figure") ... I do not wish, lightly, to use the word "drivel", but couple these factless factettes with advice that is audaciously banal (to choose well-fitting shoes, you should try on both the left shoe and the right) and you have a work that is less self-help book and more a campaign of nonsense, some elaborate prank." 

Read the whole review on the Guardian website



Pick of the paperbacks: Fiction
The Engagement
 by Chloe Hooper, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan


Pick of the paperbacks: Non-fiction
Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki, The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz, Fanny & Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England by Neil McKenna


The Thing About December by Donal Ryan
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"Ryan’s control is terrific. He underplays the ironic distance and pulls our sympathies tight. And he tells a great story. His paragraphs are unnoticeably beautiful, his heart always on show, and he writes with a social accuracy that is devastating." Anne Enright, The Observer
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
“The experience of producing a short novel with a supernatural remit has liberated Dunmore’s imagination" Alfred Hickling, The Guardian VS "Aficionados of Great War fiction may feel that Dunmore adds little to a genre that she has enriched." Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
& Sons by David Gilbert
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"A sophisticated, compassionate novel, very much more than a clever take on the vicissitudes of the writing life" Erica Wagner, Financial Times VS "The reclusive, inscrutable artist is a dreary cliché that even a splendid writer like Gilbert can’t quite transcend" Blake Bailey, The New York Times
Best of the rest
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne BerneThe People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Dangerous Women ed. by George RR Martin
The Great Indoors: The First Tudor Queen by Ben Highmore
Reviews | Buy Comment |
"The book does what it should: it helps us to wonder anew at the environments in which we live and to see what is utterly familiar as odd and only temporarily stable." Alain de Botton, The Times VS "Underwhelming...  as an experienced cultural theorist, the author of well-respected books on cities and feelings and food, he might have made the walls talk in revelatory ways." Alexandra Harris, The Guardian
How to be a Heroine… Or What I Have Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis
Reviews | Buy | Comment |

"Ellis is charming, witty and self-effacing as she leads us through her experiments with trying on literary personalities for size … A fantastically inspirational memoir that makes you want to reread far too many books." Viv Groskop, The Observer
The Building of England by Simon Thurley
Reviews | Buy | Comment |

"An instant classic ... here is a man who combines the imaginative flair of Betjeman with the learning of Pevsner" A.N. Wilson, Evening Standard VS "The closer he draws to the present, the more cursory becomes his functionary’s prose. We are treated to gauche clots of unrelieved research, facts and figures reminiscent of the audio commentaries that one can anaesthetise oneself with in heritage properties." Jonathan Meades, Literary Review
Best of the rest
Roth Unbound by Claudia Roth Pierpont, Acts of Union and Disunion by Linda Colley, Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare

What's next on your reading list?

I’ve got a copy of David Foster Wallace stories that I’m yet to pick up and a Patrick McCabe book called The Dead School that I bought over a year ago. I also must make time to finish Do It or Ditch It and Why Men Love Bitches, both work-related. Self help manuals are a secret pleasure, but I turn their spines to the wall.

Nana, 28, East London

If you would like to ask out one of The Omnivore Pin-ups, or become a Pin-up yourself, email


Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter by Tim Symonds

Your novel is a fictional attempt to get to the bottom of a real-life mystery. When did you first become aware of the story of Lieserl, and what made you doubt existing explanations? 
Three years ago I came across a book by an American, Michele Zackheim, Einstein’s Daughter, the Search For Lieserl. It’s an amazing true story. Einstein sired an illegitimate daughter with a Serbian woman called Mileva Marić, a fellow physics student at the Zurich Polytechnikum, who later became his first wife. When the child was 21 months she disappeared from all records. Researchers have given various explanations, eg scarlet fever, adoption, etc. The more I read, the more I looked into it, the more I felt none of them was right. In Einstein’s Daughter Sherlock Holmes comes up with a much more sinister explanation which I believe fits the facts far better.

If you would like to be featured in Author Pitch email

Copyright © The Omnivore