Jonathan Gibbs

Jonathan Gibbs reviews books for The Independent and elsewhere. His novel Randall, about the contemporary art world and the fate of the YBAs, is published by Galley Beggar Press. He blogs on this aspect of his writing at tinycamels.wordpress.com

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Iza's Ballad by Magda Szabo, trans. George Szirtes, book review: A Hungarian history of silence

Madga Szabó was one of Hungary's pre-eminent novelists, suppressed during the Stalinist years, but hugely popular once the stranglehold of Socialist Realism had been relaxed in the late 1950s. Szabó is best known in translation for her 1987 novel The Door, which has now been followed with this, originally published in 1963 under the title Pilátus, which for the life of me I can't parse. Is it something to do with Pontius Pilate: washing your hands of guilt? Corrupt authority?

Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones, trans Clarissa Botsford: A struggle to reclaim womanhood after life in the male role

This book by Elvira Dones grabs the attention with its subject matter even before you turn the first page. The "sworn virgin" of the title is a traditional designation given to women in northern Albania who take on the male role in households that lack a man at the helm – absolutely necessary in this patriarchal society. They dress as a man, smoke and drink as a man, carry a gun and take part in village politics as a man – all with the proviso that they remain a virgin for the rest of their life.

Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Anne McLean - book review: 'A struggle between nostalgia and irony in a fake memoir'

Enrique Vila-Matas's newly translated novel begins quite badly, but by the end of it I was fully seduced by its self-portrait of the artist as a young writer undergoing an exemplary apprenticeship in Paris. Vila-Matas is a much-garlanded Spanish novelist, and his books are some of the most bookish around. They feature scribblers and publishers as characters, and abound in references to writers both well- and lesser-known.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, by Amara Lakhous, trans. Ann Goldstein - book review: 'State-of-the-nation satire that brings home the bacon'

The piglet of the title, a "pure Piedmontese" called Gino, belongs to Joseph, the Nigerian neighbour of Enzo Laganà, a southern Italian journalist living up north in Turin. And the reason it's so very Italian is because it is causing a crisis in the neighbourhood, having been filmed running around inside the local mosque.

The Death of the Poet by N Quentin Woolf, book review: War story only adds dead weight to a daring debut

Themes of violence, despair and the limits of human responsibility churn through N Quentin Woolf's debut novel, the sizeable The Death of the Poet, right from the start. We've barely met the protagonist, a no-bullshit California talk-radio DJ called John Knox, before he's getting royally punched by one of his guests, the spiky historian Rachel McAllistair. Shortly after that he's falling irrecoverably in love with her, though like any self-respecting femme fatale she makes sure to warn him off – "I'm damaged goods," she says – before letting down her guard.

Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips, book review: A clever twist on the true-crime genre puts the child victims at the heart of the story

True crime is one of the most resolutely unlikeable of genres: lurid and garish where it could be analytic and sympathetic, and usually more interested in the psychology of the killer than the life of the victim. No surprise when its originating model is Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which detailed the murder of a family of Kansas farmers by a pair of paroled ex-convicts, but couldn't escape the author's fascination with the killers.

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