Art Kavanagh

Talk about books: a fortnightly publication about things I’ve read

Books I had read, intended to read or was reading on 21 August 2023

I think I’m about to delete the templates on which this page is based. I don’t really like the idea of tracking my reading: it seems too inflexible, and also somewhat pointless. I set up this page shortly after I stopped using, more because to do so posed a bit of a technical challenge than because I thought I’d find it useful.

When I deleted my bookshelf templates before, the page remained in existence, though of course it wasn’t updated as I made changes to’s Bookshelves or the Epilogue app. Assuming that the same thing is going to happen this time — and if it doesn’t there won’t be anybody reading this page, because there’ll be no page to read! — what you’ll find below is a snapshot of my reading as at 21 August 2023.

This page was generated from data in’s Bookshelves feature.

Books I’ve finished reading (the most recent 35)

Sugar and other stories cover A S Byatt, Sugar and other stories
This was Byatt’s first short story collection. Like the other one I read, it’s very uneven. One story, about a 63-year-old woman living in permanent terror of the potential violence that surrounds her, is devastating; and one or two others are powerful but several I’ve forgotten already.

The Moor's Last Sigh cover Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh

The Irish Story cover R F Foster, The Irish Story
I started to read this for the essays on W B Yeats — I’ve found that Roy Foster, a historian rather than a literary critic, writes some of the most sensible commentary I’ve seen about that poet — but ended up reading the whole thing. It’s enlightening on Hubert Butler and Elizabeth Bowen, scathing about Malachy McCourt.

Scenes of a Graphic Nature cover Caroline O'Donoghue, Scenes of a Graphic Nature
I’m definitely going to reread this soon. I enjoyed it a lot, though there were places where it seemed misjudged, e.g. an Irish newspaper reporting temperatures in Celsius in 1963. Good on female friendship and the relationship of an only daughter with her mismatched but (within reason) loving parents.

Boy Parts cover Eliza Clark, Boy Parts
I liked this much more than I was afraid I might, going by the reviews and comments I’d seen online. And I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand that it has been huge on TikTok, or I probably wouldn’t have read it at all! It has a very unsympathetic, yet mesmerizing, narrator.

Walk the Blue Fields cover Claire Keegan, Walk the Blue Fields
In jazz, I tend to like the pianists in whom Paul Bley’s influence is strongest — like Marcin Wasilewski — much more than I like Bley himself. Something similar may be true of the short story. Here’s an author strongly influenced by McGahern whose work I much prefer to his.

Identical cover Scott Turow, Identical

A Stranger with a Bag cover Sylvia Townsend Warner, A Stranger with a Bag
A collection of 13 short stories, all but two of which originally appeared in The New Yorker. On first reading I’m very impressed but I need to go back and reread (something I’m looking forward to).

Reversible Errors cover Scott Turow, Reversible Errors

Personal Injuries cover Scott Turow, Personal Injuries

The Gathering cover Anne Enright, The Gathering
Interpersonal dynamics in a large Irish family — twelve siblings born alive, though not all of them stay that way for long. Enjoyable enough but a bit dull compared to some other Irish fiction I’ve been reading (Kevin Barry and Claire Kilroy).

Cherries in the Snow cover Emma Forrest, Cherries in the Snow
Emma Forrest is writing a short series in The Guardian about the icons who have shaped her life. Her column on Eve Babitz prompted me to read something more substantial by her. There are 2 vols of memoir but I prefer fiction and this is the first novel by her that I found.

All Names Have Been Changed cover Claire Kilroy, All Names Have Been Changed
A group of creative writing students gradually and painfully free themselves from the (anxiety-inducing) influence of their loved and admired teacher, the heavy drinking, washed-up Glynn. The problem is that Glynn is both a cliché and a caricature.

The Devil I Know cover Claire Kilroy, The Devil I Know
An enraged satire written in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. I’d forgotten how bleak and hopeless things were then. Funnier in retrospect but still infuriating. Quite different from the other book of hers that I read (Tenderwire)

Amsterdam cover Ian McEwan, Amsterdam

Suspect cover Scott Turow, Suspect
I’m going to need to read this again but my first impressions are favourable. It’s not one of Turow’s best but that’s still very good. Idiosyncratic — and very funny in places.

The Murder Rule cover Dervla McTiernan, The Murder Rule
The last third — once the protagonist starts to recognize that her beliefs are wrong and wouldn’t anyway have justified her reprehensible behaviour — is very good, but overall the book is a disappointment compared with McTiernan’s earlier series, which I liked.

Back to Bologna cover Michael Dibdin, Back to Bologna

Medusa cover Michael Dibdin, Medusa

Persons Unknown cover Susie Steiner, Persons Unknown
Well written with credible and appealing characters, but the ending’s a bit of a downer and I didn’t find it as enjoyable as the first book in the series. It looks as if a minor character that I liked won’t appear in the third (final) book.

Project Avalon cover Trevor Hoyle, Project Avalon
A novelization of 4½ episodes from the first season of Blakes 7. Though Hoyle also wrote original fiction — some of it published by John Calder — the writing here is perfunctory, piling on the adjectives to create a quick visual impression. He apparantly worked from the tv scripts, before the episodes were finished.

Eager to Please cover Julie Parsons, Eager to Please
Like her first novel, Mary, Mary (1998), this is almost good. I like the plotting apart from the resolution of the Judith storyline but the writing is irritatingly flabby in places.

Fresh Complaint cover Jeffrey Eugenides, Fresh Complaint
A very mixed bag; several of these pieces (“Early Music”, “Timeshare”) seem more like character studies than full stories. In general, the most recent stories are better. Eugenides is probably a better novelist than a short story writer — though I haven’t yet read any of his novels.

The Girl Before cover JP Delaney, The Girl Before
This is a reread: I originally wrote a review in August 2018. I found I had forgotten a lot of detail. Despite a preposterously contrived setup the book is a lot of fun, with a meticulously constructed plot, and a variety of characters who are obsessive and/or narcissistic yet curiously appealing.

My Lovely Wife cover Samantha Downing, My Lovely Wife
I disliked this on first reading 3½ years ago: young women being tortured and murdered yet again. It struck me last week that I might have been missing something. I was, but not what I had been expecting; I still find it horrible, though well plotted.

Blank Pages and Other Stories cover Bernard MacLaverty, Blank Pages and Other Stories
The tv dramatization of Bernard MacLaverty’s story “My Dear Palestrina” was the first thing I ever saw Liam Neeson in, and I was impressed by the acting and story alike. Somehow I never got around to reading more than a couple of MacLaverty’s stories in the intervening years, though I knew they’d be worth my time. I’ve finally read a collection of them, and it’s superb.

Don't Look Now cover Daphne du Maurier, Don't Look Now
Five longish stories, all quite different — one spooky, one SF-spooky, one naturalistic adventure, one moralistic satire and one mysterious. All compelling, two absolute knockouts. She certainly could write short stories as well as novels.

Little Black Book of Stories cover A S Byatt, Little Black Book of Stories
Five stories, three of which have supernatural or paranormal elements. In my least favourite a grieving woman gradually metamorphoses into stone of various kinds, which Byatt lists. The one I like best, “Body Art” is more naturalistic. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.

Black Dogs cover Ian McEwan, Black Dogs
A couple, both of whom have worked for the government during the war, join the Communist Party in 1946 and marry shortly afterwards. An encounter on their honeymoon begins their estrangement. They both move away from communism, but not in parallel: he remains rationalist, she becomes spiritual and is convinced of the reality of evil.

The Satanic Verses cover Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

Because They Wanted To cover Mary Gaitskill, Because They Wanted To
I got to like these stories more as I progressed through the book. Maybe I was getting used to the author’s voice. The title story, the second in order, features young children, including a baby, who seem to be abandoned. I almost gave up then.

William Empson, Volume 1: Among the Mandarins cover John Haffenden, William Empson, Volume 1: Among the Mandarins
Empson was a brilliant eccentric who led an eventful life, which included teaching in a Chinese university while the country was partly occupied by Japanese in the late 1930s. The biographical details are interspersed with useful critical discussion of his major works, including Poems (1935).

The Wild Laughter cover Caoilinn Hughes, The Wild Laughter

Summer Will Show cover Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show

Dear George and Other Stories cover Helen Simpson, Dear George and Other Stories
This collection contains several stories about motherhood, childbirth, pregnancy and related themes, which are generally well handled, though there are some stories that I might come to dislike strongly on rereading. I don’t yet know whether I want to write about Simpson’s stories, but I might.

To read

Amongst Women cover John McGahern, Amongst Women

All Summer cover Claire Kilroy, All Summer

Disobedience cover Naomi Alderman, Disobedience

Super-Infinite cover Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite

Lying in Wait cover Liz Nugent, Lying in Wait

Love & Friendship cover Whit Stillman, Love & Friendship

The Wych Elm cover Tana French, The Wych Elm

Keats's Odes cover Anahid Nersessian, Keats's Odes

Debatable Land cover Candia McWilliam, Debatable Land

The Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie cover Abdulrazak Gurnah, The Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie

Archipelago cover Saif Rahman, Archipelago

What I’m reading right now

William Empson, Volume 2: Against the Christians cover John Haffenden, William Empson, Volume 2: Against the Christians