Reviewer: AF

By this author

Books July 21, 2018

Beautiful Revolutionary

The greatest deliberate loss of American civilian life in modern times before the fall of the Twin Towers took place in Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. On that day, 918 people, including 304 children, were ordered to drink grape-flavoured cordial …

Books June 23, 2018

Saint Antony in His Desert

A critic once wrote of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that a close reading of the novel would yield, if nothing else, a recipe for raspberry jam. A similarly intimate engagement with Anthony Uhlmann’s ambitious fictional debut offers the potential …

Books May 19, 2018


Axiomatic is the fourth work of nonfiction by Maria Tumarkin, one of Australia’s most urgent and necessary writers, but it is the first to keep her accent – the first to fully register the impolitic intensity of her prose and breadth of her …

Books March 03, 2018

The Lebs

The education of the artist, especially if that artist is a young male, is the perennial grass of the literary field: a yearly recurrence, reassuring if often a little dull. Must we really hear again of the sensitive soul who finds himself in a homosocial …

Books December 23, 2017

Best Books of 2017 #2

Bernard MacLaverty is an author who refuses to reserve the glories of his prose only for dramatic subjects or events. A trip to the toilet, a sip of whisky, airport departure lounges: everything is noticed, respected, attended to. The local result is …

Books December 24, 2016

Books 2016 #1

Reviewers' picks from the year in print.

Books April 23, 2016

Zero K

It is the fate of Don DeLillo to have written long enough and well enough for his style to become a template. Like Hemingway, or Cormac McCarthy, his voice elicits more than mere admiration but has become the stuff of parody. Calibrated neutrality of …

Books March 19, 2016

The Painted Ocean

Shruti is 11 years old when her father walks out on the family, never to return. She is left behind with a mother who speaks no English, in a town where she is the only South Asian girl at school. Her mother works from home, making girls’ dresses …

Books February 06, 2016

The Noise of Time

Originally The Noise of Time was the title of a series of autobiographical sketches by Russian-Jewish poet Osip Mandelstam – and Mandelstam, who came of age in the early days of the revolution, stands high in the martyrology of the Stalin …

Books January 23, 2016

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

James Baldwin’s essay collection Notes of a Native Son slaughters a number of sacred cows, but none so sacrosanct as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In a 1949 piece entitled “Everybody’s protest novel”, the writer sinks his teeth into …

Books December 19, 2015

Books 2015 #1

Reviewers' picks from the year in print. Best New Talent, Guilty Pleasure, Most Overrated, Most Disappointing.

Books December 12, 2015

The Little Red Chairs

Critic V. S. Pritchett once described Dostoevsky’s incorrigibly voluble characters as having souls that loll from their mouths like tongues. Edna O’Brien’s new novel – the 17th in a career that spans half a century and more – displays a …

Books October 31, 2015

Avenue of Mysteries

It may as well be said at the outset: John Irving, the earnest, charming and energetic neo-Dickensian author of a fistful of engagingly intelligent bestsellers starting with 1978’s The World According to Garp, has not written a decent book …

Books September 12, 2015

Where My Heart Used to Beat

The number of contemporary English writers who seem at home in France can be counted on your fingers: Julian Barnes, John Berger, Adam Thorpe, perhaps William Boyd. None of them have parlayed that cultural intimacy into popular success as Sebastian …

Books September 05, 2015


“Once upon a time, it had sufficed to write The Sound and the Fury or The Sun Also Rises,” Jonathan Franzen writes in Purity (576 pages). “But now bigness was essential. Thickness, length.” Even minds undamaged by …

Books August 29, 2015

Beauty Is a Wound

So sorrowful, so savage, so freaking weird is Beauty Is a Wound that I found myself backtracking paragraphs, just to ensure I’d correctly understood their lunatic import. Eventually I accepted the fact that here was a work of the kind that …

Books July 18, 2015

Last Day in the Dynamite Factory

In a brief essay on Franz Kafka published in 1951, the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges mounted a characteristically perverse argument. He wrote that “each new writer creates his precursors”. But what sounds insane at first reading is eminently …

Books July 04, 2015

Archipelago of Souls

When Evelyn Waugh’s unit steamed into Crete’s Souda Bay in May of 1941, they found a rough approximation of hell. The English writer saw a harbour choked with the masts and funnels of sunken vessels, some of them still smoking. The quay, all but …

Books June 13, 2015

Forever Young

Forever Young is a suitably ironic title for a book about growing inexorably away from our earlier selves. Its cover image of an old tree, gnarled and blasted sideways by prevailing winds, suggests as much: actually we are forever ageing, leaning …

Books May 30, 2015

Girl at War

In the second part of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a character famously observes that there is no book so bad that some good may not be found in it. That notion is tested by Girl at War. Sara Nović’s debut arrives flanked by the kind …

Books May 02, 2015

All Involved

On the night of March 3, 1991, George Holliday, woken by police sirens, looked down from his Lake View Terrace, Los Angeles, apartment to see a group of LAPD officers attempting to subdue the driver of a car following a high-speed chase. Holliday grabbed …

Books April 25, 2015


It is hard not to love a novel that depicts its teenaged anti-hero perched atop a toilet block roof in the small hours of a “stormwater blue” Sydney night, holding a Chiko Roll up to the moon’s glow as though it once belonged to a court jester …

Books February 28, 2015

The Anchoress

Incorrigibly plural in its attentions, inherently secular in its scepticism, the novel is a form unamenable to exploring the closed systems of religious belief. As Milan Kundera once put it, religion “can cope with the novel only by translating its …

Books January 31, 2015

The Illuminations

Just as a careful reading of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina will (among other things, admittedly) yield the recipe for raspberry cognac jam, Andrew O’Hagan’s fifth novel – and, along with the exquisitely melancholic Be Near Me of …

Books December 20, 2014

Books 2014 #1

Selections from a year in print. Best New Talent, Guilty Pleasure, Most Overrated, Most Unwelcome.

Books November 22, 2014

The Book of Strange New Things

Michel Faber’s new novel (his sixth and, according to the author, his last) is a work of science fiction in the same way that Philip Larkin’s “Church Going” is a religious poem. In each instance, generic conventions are respected – whether …

Books October 18, 2014

Merciless Gods

How can it be that in an era when literature’s power to shock has been tested to the point of exhaustion, Christos Tsiolkas retains the ability to do just that? Think back to the most determinedly decadent writers in recent Anglosphere literature. …

Books October 18, 2014

Stone Mattress

Scientists have recently proved that separate particles may exist in a uniquely coupled state. Actions affecting one photon, for example, immediately cause change in another, even though the two may be situated at a great distance. Einstein derided …