Read on for review roundups of the latest books from John Banville AKA Benjamin Black AKA Raymond Chandler, John Burnside, Kate Colquhoun and Rebecca Mead. On the Literary Calendar, Deborah Levy, Maggie O'Farrell, Susie Boyt and Eleanor Catton. Kirsty Wark narrowly avoids the Hatchet Job of the Year Award but may be in line for another prize. And on Author Pitch, we feature a latter-day passage to India.
Win The Unexpected Professor by John Carey
"I write to stimulate and involve the general reader. To write
exclusively for a learned or academic readership seems to me hostile to the spread of knowledge, and a bad thing for the survival of reading. The vital thing a critic should do, I think, is to get across how enjoyable reading is."

This sentence, from his blog, explains why John Carey, longstanding Sunday Times reviewer, emeritus professor of Merton College Oxford and keen beekeeper, is The Omnivore's ultimate pin-up. His plain-speaking reviews may once have led aggrieved authors to set up an anti-Carey club, but his provocative and consistently entertaining criticism is powered by a missionary's zeal to steer readers towards the best books.

In his memoirs, The Unexpected Professor, he talks readers through his childhood in the Blitz, the challenges of being a grammar school boy in snobbish 1950s Oxford and his academic and journalistic career, during which he ruffled feathers with books such as The Intellectuals and the Masses and What Good are the Arts
Warm and funny, with fascinating pen portraits of writers and poets, this is above all a book about the joys of reading.

Thanks to Faber we have five copies to give away. Just tell us which Brontë sister novel John Carey found "unexpectedly tiresome"? (Clue here.) Entries to by Friday 29 March. 
Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"Knausgaard employs his own literary artfulness to release a presentation of his young evolving self with an immediacy as astonishing as that of its two predecessors" Paul Binding, The Spectator VS Where the first two books offered long, monotonous sections as a foil to the more gorily riveting episodes the new novel offers little else." Theo Tait, The Sunday Times 
Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic by Kate Colquhoun
Reviews | Buy Comment |
"Dramatic and moving... This is a fascinating, meticulously researched book, full of period detail." Katie Waldegrave, The Spectator VS "Kate Colquhoun has a complicated and fascinating story to tell... It is a pity, therefore, that she is an awkward writer" Catherine Peters, Literary Review

The reviews for BBC Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark's debut novel The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle were too forgiving to be likely contenders for the Hatchet Job of the Year award. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent, however, thought the novel might be eligible for another prize, the Literary Review's Bad Sex Award:

"Wark loses restraint and control, and you get gushing Mills and Boon prose and torrid (and really bad) sex scenes. Dams of passion burst, kisses rain, couples are often “suffused with more and more pleasure, exploring and devouring every inch of each other”, and there is much gasping and panting, trembling, devouring and swooning.  The descriptions of gardening are, in truth, far more erotic than these bedroom antics."

Read all reviews

The Black-eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"What Banville, through Black, brings to Chandler is perhaps an enhanced literary sensibility. His Marlowe is alert to nuances of language" Mark Lawson, The Guardian VS " The failure of this novel is that it never pierces its own surfaces to evoke the city underneath" David L. Ulin, The L.A. Times
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
Reviews Buy | Comment |
"Among the "documents" that make up the text are Harriet's own diaries, which supply a more conventional narrative stream ... but while they undoubtedly make The Blazing World more accessible, to an extent they blunt the novel's edge by confusing a visual politics with a verbal one. The authority of woman in language is worlds away from her dispossession in art." Rachel Cusk, The Guardian
All One Breath by John Burnside
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
“You might have expected that after Black Cat Bone, which won the TS Eliot and the Forward prizes, John Burnside would produce no more than an afterthought of a collection. But All One Breath, his 13th, is a fully realised marvel, one of the most charged collections I have read in a long time. His writing is earthed and ethereal – there is a rare equilibrium to it.” Kate Kellaway, The Observer
Best of the rest
Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus, The Lemon Grove by Damon Galgut, Black Venus by James MacManus, Cat Out Of Hell by Lynne Truss
Pick of the paperbacks
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Brewster by Mark Slouka, The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna, Schroder by Amity Gaige
The French Intifada by Andrew Hussey
Reviews | Buy Comment |
"Fascinating and hugely readable…The key insight, perhaps, is how anti-semitism is inextricably linked with the colonial experience in Algeria" Matthew Campbell, The Sunday Times VS "Inflammatory... He repeatedly makes large, highly questionable generalisations without anything resembling evidence." David A Bell, The Guardian
The Road to Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
Reviews | Buy | Comment |
"Elegant, thoughtful and readable, written with clarity and a gentle sympathy that seems a reflection of Eliot’s own generous wisdom" Sarah Churchwell, The Guardian VS "It wears its earnestness like Sunday best, only rarely cracking a smile, and thanks to this, it feels brutal to criticise it, particularly if you’re also, as I am, a lover of Middlemarch. But I’d be lying if I said it spoke to me." Rachel Cooke, The Observer
A Sense of Direction by Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Reviews | Buy | Comment |

"A brave, honest work of self-reckoning" Rebecca Abrams, Financial Times VS "This pilgrimage memoir sets off with a spring in its step, but the journey turns into a bit of a slog… I rather wish he’d stayed in Berlin." Arthur House, Daily Telegraph
Pick of the paperbacks
Disraeli by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young, Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins, When the Money Runs Out by Stephen D King


What are you reading at the moment?

At ze moment I’m reading (or perhaps tucking into, selecting at random, it really is such a lucky dip) Dear Lumpy – a new collection of letters from Roger Mortimer to his daughter, following his other posthumous anthology a few years back Dear Lupin. Incredibly entertaining, sharp, incisive with a mordant wit, reminds me so much of so many senior male figures in my family – my late paternal grandfather in particular who played a mean game of Strip Jack Naked (when one collected the winning cards he used to scream ‘Take It and Break It and Mind You Don’t Burn Yourself’, a saying I’m never found the root of despite consulting Brewer’s and Nigel Rees). These wonderful letters are in the same vein.

Will, 29, Pimlico

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What Else is there for a Boy Like Me? by Patrick Moon

Why did you decide this story needed to be told?
Nothing in my life has touched me more deeply than the events recounted in this book. So, although there’s plenty of comedy and warm affection for India in the book, it’s a very different read from my earlier ‘feel good’ books about wine and food in the Languedoc, Virgile’s Vineyard and Arrazat’s Aubergines. Mohamd himself once urged me to write a book about the problems that he and his kind were facing and, over the years, whenever I’ve told people his story — how the unfortunate, unsuitable marriage ruined everything — so many people have said to me, ‘But surely he could always have said no’. I felt I owed it to Mohamd to explain to a world that had never heard of him why he couldn’t and didn’t. And why that led to disaster.

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