James Walton is a writer and broadcaster. He is the editor of The Faber Book of Smoking and the author of the literary quiz books Who Killed Iago? and The Penguin Book Quiz: From the Very Hungry Caterpillar to Ulysses, which will be published in the US in January. (November 2019)


Who’s Laughing Now?

Howard Jacobson, London, October 2010

Live a Little

by Howard Jacobson
It’s a truth ruefully acknowledged in England that the adjective “English” has rather less grandeur than “American.” An English Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser; English Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis; “English Pie” by Don McLean—in all three cases, it seems fair to say, a certain sense of scale and ambition would …

All That Shite

Roddy Doyle


by Roddy Doyle
On St. Patrick’s Day, 1943, Éamon de Valera, Ireland’s prime minister and founding father, gave what his biographer Diarmaid Ferriter has uncontroversially called “the most famous broadcast of any Irish politician of the twentieth century.” “The ideal Ireland,” de Valera began, would be…a land whose countryside would be bright with …

Myths, Tribes & Troubles

Nick Laird, New York City, fall 2013

Modern Gods

by Nick Laird
“Moving is easy,” begins Nick Laird’s first novel, Utterly Monkey (2005). “But actually leaving somewhere is difficult.” It’s a lesson that the main character, Danny Williams, soon learns. When the book opens, he seems to have long escaped his background in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, where he grew up Protestant …

Shake Those Dice Again

A Gambler’s Anatomy

by Jonathan Lethem
One of the main characters in Jonathan Lethem’s 2009 novel, Chronic City, is a cultural critic called Perkus Tooth, who carries out his critic’s duties largely by sitting in his apartment smoking a lot of pot and sharing his theories on, among many other things, Semina Culture, J. Edgar Hoover, …

Noble, Embattled Souls

David Mitchell, New York City, 2010

The Bone Clocks

by David Mitchell

Slade House

by David Mitchell
“As an experienced editor,” says the pompous publisher Timothy Cavendish in David Mitchell’s third novel, Cloud Atlas, “I disapprove of flashbacks, foreshadowings, and tricksy devices; they belong in the 1980s with MAs in postmodernism.” But this declaration is, of course, a tricksy device—and not just because Mitchell’s own MA was …

Star Fiction

Eleanor Catton, Paris, June 2011

The Luminaries

by Eleanor Catton
“I do not come out of a literary tradition,” said the Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan in his acceptance speech after winning this year’s Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. “I come from a tiny mining town in the rainforest in an island at the end …


Sean Connery, his wife, Diane Cilento (left), and Queen Elizabeth II at the premiere of You Only Live Twice, London, 1967

Solo: A James Bond Novel

by William Boyd
If, at the end of 1953, you’d asked almost anybody in Britain what had been the year’s most significant national events, it wouldn’t have been hard to predict their replies: the Queen’s coronation and a British team conquering Everest. (Never mind that the two men who made it to the …

‘Fascinating, Fearless, and Distinctly Odd’

Tim Parks, Milan, 2011

Sex Is Forbidden

by Tim Parks
Tim Parks has never been a man to take any received wisdoms for granted, however blameless they might appear. Perhaps his best-known novel, the Booker-shortlisted Europa (1997), had the regular refrain “every man is an island,” as the academic narrator Jerry Marlow gave everything from the environmental movement to the …