Matthew Shardlake, the narrator and ‘hero’ of Lamentation by C J Sansom [London: Mantle, 2014] acquits himself well and emerges alive at the end; unlike some. The sixth of Sansom’s Tudor detective-adventure-historical novels is as exciting and as bloody as the previous five; and just as satisfying. In a way, I would love to see him go on but poor Matthew deserves a break after six years of life-threatening escapades including two short spells in the Tower.
A novel from Antonia Byatt is not just a book; it is a whole literary experience: and this is certainly true of Babel Tower [London: Chatto & Windus, 1996]. If one has read her earlier novels, The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life, one picks up straightaway that this is the continuing story of the talented Frederica, with a depth and breadth of literary knowledge, empathy and understanding that is probably only matched by that of the author herself.
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson [London: Hamish Hamilton, 2006] is a clever contemporary fable. Robertson constructs the story such that a freelance journalist has got hold of a manuscript written by the late Reverend Gideon Mack, who, apart from being found dead on Ben Alder had previously fallen into a deep gorge, been swept away on the torrent but, very mysteriously, survived to be discovered three days later. The journalist offers the manuscript to the publisher who introduces the story, recounting how he debated long and earnestly whether or not to publish. The essence of Gideon Mack’s testament is that he was rescued by the Devil but, of course, no one believes him although his survival is clearly miraculous. Of course, the publisher, as publishers tend to do though not, for me, often enough, publishes and it makes fascinating reading.
A new novel by multi-talented Zadie Smith is a literary event and deserves to be marked. Swing Time [London: Hamish Hamilton, 2016] is a major event but does it match earlier novels in quality and originality? Broadly yes it does but this is not Smith’s greatest novel.