Review #31: The House of Doors

Five years or so ago, I decided to read all of Somerset Maugham’s novels and short stories. It started with a chance encounter – I was attracted to a discounted copy of Of Human Bondage in the Waterloo Foyles after reading something (a Twitter thread perhaps?) about the film adaptation. The little I knew ofContinue reading “Review #31: The House of Doors”

Review #29-30: The Amur River / Black Dragon River

Readers of Chinese history are used to the idea of it as a civilisation shaped by water – not least thanks to Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom – and dominated by two great rivers in particular. But there is a third to the far north which – currently – forms part of the border withContinue reading “Review #29-30: The Amur River / Black Dragon River”

Review #28: China After Mao

This review appeared in the November 2022 edition of the Critic magazine Dutch historian Frank Dikötter’s works on Mao, the “People’s Trilogy”, have rightly garnered superlative praise. Through painstaking work in increasingly inaccessible provincial archives, he has documented the horrors of Mao’s rule, made only more chilling through Dikötter’s calm, clear prose and methodical process.  Readers needContinue reading “Review #28: China After Mao”

Review #27: The Emperor’s Feast

I am not a particularly zealous foodie. The meals my mind reaches back to for solace seem to be more about quantity than quality (I have my own issues there), or memorable for some other reason: the disastrous, Pinter-worthy birthday dinner party; the time we were being boisterously rude about James Corden at the IvyContinue reading “Review #27: The Emperor’s Feast”

Review #26: Hard Like Water

This is a book I’ve been sitting on for some time. I’m not sure why. I’ve enjoyed Yan Lianke’s previous books – those that I’ve read (Serve the People!, The Explosion Chronicles) have been smart, readable and memorable satires on the Revolutionary period. I loved the cover art and design for Hard Like Water (堅硬如水)Continue reading “Review #26: Hard Like Water”

Reviews #19-25: Bumper Spring Historical Fiction Special!

It’s funny how easy it is to break a habit and how hard it is to get it back. I’ve been a regular, consistent reader for years, but I had not opened a book for several months until earlier this week after an upsetting personal period. I had the idea to do a bumper ‘round-up’Continue reading “Reviews #19-25: Bumper Spring Historical Fiction Special!”

Review #17: Monkey King

Look who’s back! Occasionally I reflect just what an elegant and complementary group the Big Four Classic Novels are. I generally don’t like anything so reductive and it always feels a bit rough on those great works that don’t make the cut, but aren’t they just a perfect little group, covering the breadth of (proto-)genres?Continue reading “Review #17: Monkey King”

Review #15: Becoming Inspector Chen

We meet again, Inspector Chen, you frustrating enigma. When Qiu Xiaolong’s first Inspector Chen book was released I was beside myself with excitement. It promised everything that a young man fascinated by China, prone to pretentiousness, and steeped in British TV crime dramas could possibly want! Crime mystery, set in China, loaded with Chinese poetryContinue reading “Review #15: Becoming Inspector Chen”