Clair Wills teaches at Cambridge. Her latest book is Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain. (January 2020)


Love in Plague Time

‘Joy’; from the Lombardy edition of the Taqwim as-Sihha, an eleventh-century medical treatise by Ibn Butlan of Baghdad, circa 1390

To Calais, in Ordinary Time

by James Meek

The Corner That Held Them

by Sylvia Townsend Warner
It is 1348. Berna has stolen a book from her father’s library, and now she is getting the gardener to cut her a rose from the grounds of their manor house in Gloucestershire. These crimes, she explains to her cousin Pogge, are nothing compared to the one she had been planning, which was to take her own life by throwing herself into the moat. “Your moat’s not profound enough for drownage,” her cousin points out drily.

The Truth Alone

Coventry: Essays

by Rachel Cusk
Rachel Cusk is fascinated by silence. About five years ago she announced that she had given up on fiction. A prolific writer, she had by then published seven much-praised novels and three memoirs but, she explained, she was done with both genres. The immediate cause of her writing malaise—what she …

The Unnameable

Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1965; photograph by Philip Jones Griffiths


by Anna Burns

Little Constructions

by Anna Burns
Early on in Milkman, the Man Booker Prize–winning novel by Anna Burns, the narrator (called only “middle sister”) recalls watching Rear Window for the first time. Most of the novel sticks to events that occurred when middle sister was eighteen, as she takes us back to sometime in the late …

Prodigal Fathers

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce

by Colm Tóibín
In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce, Colm Tóibín sketches the lives of three men who talked their memories into their sons’ memories, and so helped father twentieth-century Irish literature.

Family Secrets

Giovanni Bellini: Madonna Adoring the Sleeping Child, early 1460s
My baby’s headstone stands taller than everyone else’s. I mean this literally—it is a great, solid slab of Hornton stone that dwarfs the surrounding memorials in the graveyard in an almost embarrassing way, given his tiny dates: June 19th–20th, 1996. There is a practical reason for this mismatch. When my …