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Graven With Diamonds Nicola Shulman (Short)

Poets have it easy these days, their greatest fear being that they might trip over an abasing critic on the way to collect one of the many prizes now on offer. In Thomas Wyatt's era the pen and the sword were often interchangeable. Nicola Shulman investigates how Wyatt's poems were an essential part of the secret life of early Tudor Britain. Villains and villainelles, so to speak.

No Direction Home Robert Shelton (Da Capo)

As Bob Dylan approaches 70, a slew of 'definitive' biographies have hit the stands but Shelton's could claim to be first among equals, not least because it goes directly to the source. But then Dylan was always a kidder so, caveat emptor, and enjoy the photographs.

Daughter-In-Law Joanna Trollope (Transworld)

Unlike a lot of mainstream novelists whose take on family tends to be traditional or impossibly aspirational, Trollope has always found room for outsiders, from lesbians in A Village Affair to this intelligent take on modern family which betrays its darker purpose early on by beginning with, what else, a wedding.

The Ring And The Crown Alison Weir, Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood, Tracy Borman (Hutchinson)

You would think, what with all the fuss, that there had never been a Royal wedding before. So along comes Alison Weir et al with this entertaining and accessible history of regal splicing from 1066 to the present day. Wills and Kate be warned, not all ended happily ever after. Kate might wish to look at Henry VIII, for instance, and plan a discreet escape route ...

November Sean O'Brien (Picador)

Yet another excellent collection of poetry dips its delicate toe into the mainstream. O'Brien's latest echoes the elegiac themes in collections by the likes of Heaney and Longley, focusing on loss and absence, and, despite the poet's connection to the North Of England, France is never far away from his imagination.

Thomas Covenant - Lord Foul's Bane Stephen Donaldson (Orion)

What with Game Of Thrones reinvigorating fantasy with its Belfast-shot locations, time to revisit my own skirmish with the genre. With the character of Thomas Covenant, Donaldson added a dash of late 20th century neurosis into his Tolkeinesque brew beginning with Lord Fouls Bane. If ever filmed, suggest Glenshane Pass might be useful setting for epic battle scenes.

The Sea, The Sea Iris Murdoch (Vintage)

A discussion with a customer about Iris Murdoch got me thinking about this curious work, perhaps one of the strangest ever to win a Booker. Focusing on a lifelong obsession of plainly catastrophic delusion, Murdoch makes her hero, Charles Arrowby, perhaps one of the most unreliable narrators in all fiction, while underlying all is an addictive strain of dark humour.

Michael Conaghan


From Belfast Telegraph