Written for all lovers of fiction, Lives of the Novelists succeeds both as introduction and re-introduction, as Sutherland presents favorite and familiar novelists in new ways and transforms the less favored and less familiar through his relentlessly fascinating readings.
His taste is impressively eclectic. An appreciation of Apuleius’s The Golden Ass – arguably the first-ever novel – is followed by a consideration of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger. The Handmaid’s Tale is followed by Hangover Square, Jane Eyre by Jaws. There are imposing Victorian novels, entertaining contemporary thrillers and everything in between, from dystopian works to romance.
The flavour of each is brilliantly evoked and its relative merits or demerits assessed. At the same time, John Sutherland shows how the work fits into a broader context – whether that of the author’s life or of other books from the same genre or period. And he offers endless snippets of intriguing information: did you know, for example, that the Nazis banned Bambi or that William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying on an upturned wheelbarrow; that Voltaire completed Candide in three days, or that Anna Sewell was paid £20 for Black Beauty?
Encyclopedic and entertaining by turns, this is a wonderful dip-in book, whose opinions will inform and on occasion, no doubt, infuriate. It is also effectively a history of the novel in 500 or so bite-sized pieces.
We live with the idea of sin every day – from the greatest transgressions to the tiniest misdemeanours. But surely the concept was invented for an age where divine retribution and eternal punishment dominated the collective consciousness?
In this lively collection of new writing, Nicola Barker, Dylan Evans, David Flusfeder, Todd McEwen, Martin Rowson, John Sutherland and Ali Smith go head to head with the capital vices to explore what we really mean when we talk about sin. The resulting mixture of erudite and playful essays and startling new fiction might not make you a better person, but it will certainly give you pause for thought when you’re next laying the law down or – heaven forfend – about to do something beyond the pale yourself.
In the post-Brexit world, intergenerational conflict has become a visible phenomenon. There is an overwhelming sense of blame from younger generations: it was 'the wrinklies', the grey-haired plutocracy, who voted Leave; who are overburdening hospitals, shutting the youth out of the housing market and hoarding accumulated wealth.
By 2020, we are told, one in five Britons will be pensioners, and living a longer retirement than ever before. 'A good thing', politicians add, through gritted teeth. The truth is that for them, 'the old' are a social, economic and political inconvenience.
John Sutherland (age 78, and feeling keenly what he writes about) examines this intergenerational combat as a new kind of war in which institutional neglect and universal indifference to the old has reached aggressive, and routinely lethal, levels. This is a book which sets out to provoke but in the process tells some deep and inconvenient truths, revealing something British society would rather not think about.
Organised alphabetically, the information provided will be a boon to students, researchers and all lovers of reading. The entries, though concise, meet the high standards demanded by modern scholarship. The writing - marked by Sutherland's characteristic combination of flair, clarity and erudition - is of such a high standard that the book is a joy to read, as well as a definitive work of reference.
Sutherland airs out the odors, fetors, stenches, and reeks trapped in the pages of Orwell’s books. From Winston Smith’s apartment in Nineteen Eighty-Four, which “smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats,” to the tantalizing aromas of concubine Ma Hla May’s hair in Burmese Days, with its “mingled scent of sandalwood, garlic, coconut oil, and jasmine,” Sutherland explores the scent narratives that abound in Orwell’s literary world. Along the way, he elucidates questions that have remained unanswered in previous biographies, addressing gaps that have kept the writer elusively from us. In doing so, Sutherland offers an entertaining but enriching look at one of the most important writers of the twentieth century and, moreover, an entirely new and sensuous way to approach literature: nose first.
On one level this is a book about novels: how they work, what they're about, what makes them good or bad, and how to talk about them. At a deeper level, this is a book in which one of the most intimate tête-à-têtes is described—one in which a reader meets a novel. Will a great love affair begin? Will the rendezvous end in disappointment? Who can say? In order for the relationship to take its appropriate course all the details must be clearly acknowledged and understood for their complexities: plot, point of view, character, style, pace, first and last sentences, and even beauty.
Still, Sutherland knows a true understanding of fiction is more than a flirtation with text and style—it is a business. Taking his readers on a trip to the bookshop, he helps them judge a book by its cover based on design and color, wondering aloud what genre might be best, even going so far as to analyze one of the latest American bestsellers to further help the buying reader choose the novel that is right for him or her.
In a book that is as wry and humorous as it is learned and opinionated, John Sutherland tells you everything you always wanted to know about how to read fiction better than you do now (but, were afraid to ask).