Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

umberto-eco-numero-zeroNumero Zero, by Umberto Eco. My review for Shiny New Books.

For a short novel, Numero Zero is amazingly leisurely and discursive. It’s like an Arabian Nights for conspiracy theorists, historians of the late 20th century and political sceptics, with stories within stories, asides, facts, speculation, satire and nods to the past and future. If that sounds like a bit of a mess and possibly hard going, in fact it’s jolly and generally entertaining, if slightly uneven.

Read the full review at Shiny New Books


“The point is, everything we heard was false or distorted … we’ve been living a lie. I’ve always said: never believe what they tell you …”

“And your story ends there…”

“Eh, no, this is the beginning of another one, and perhaps I only became interested through what happened next…”

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov (translated Bryan Karetnyk)

The Spectre of Alexander WolfThe Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov (translated Bryan Karetnyk). My review for Nudge. When is someone you killed dead? Mystery, guilt, love, philosophy, and death in a very Russian thriller. Read the full review on Nudge


The opening is an almost conventional attention-grabbing shocker: ‘Of all my memories, of all my life’s innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of the single murder I had committed.’ From then on it’s quite different. Not immediately, urgently, collar-shakingly different, but different from the opening, and different from other books.

The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov

gardener-wpcf_216x216The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov (translated by Amanda Love Darragh). ‘We live in an interesting country, these are interesting times … we can’t help being interesting ourselves’. A Russo-Ukrainian novel. My review for Nudge.


The first of Kurkov’s novels to be translated into English was Death and the Penguin, in 2001; the Russian-language original, Smert’postoronnego, had been published in Ukraine five years earlier. It was an oblique, unpredictable success. A hard-boiled portrait of post-Soviet Ukraine, with its gangsters and corrupt politicians and its moral and physical uncertainty, could easily have attracted some earnest critical interest, but this was different. It seemed plausible and even matter of fact, offering an insight into its time and place, but with this came a protagonist with a pet penguin and a job straight from a sinister version of GK Chesterton’s Club of Queer Trades, where eccentrically employed members must have invented the means by which they earn their living.

Read the full review on Nudge

The Difficulty of Being a Dog by Roger Grenier

difficulty-dog-wpcf_179x216The Difficulty of Being a Dog by Roger Grenier (translated Alice Kaplan). An upmarket jumble sale of a book, mostly about dogs. My Nudge review.


The difficulty of reviewing this book: there is some. Just what is it, exactly? Who and what is it for? It’s mostly about dogs, but isn’t really a dog book. It’s something of an anthology and something of a memoir, but you wouldn’t call it either. There’s some philosophy and opinion, but the author doesn’t have a point to make. He’s what the novelist Robertson Davies called ‘an advocate of ornamental knowledge’…

Read the full review on Nudge