What to read

🏘️ Caledonian Road | 💎 The Moonstone

5 April 2024

Fiction

Caledonian Road station, Islington. Alamy

Caledonian Road by Andrew O’Hagan

Andrew O’Hagan’s Caledonian Road is unabashedly a “state-of-the-nation” novel, says Nikhil Krishnan in The Daily Telegraph. The book comes in at more than 600 pages, with a two-page cast list; its “Victorian-sized” canvas, centred on the eponymous north London street in the year from May 2021, drags us through “the offices of angry tabloids, the chambers of campaigning human-rights barristers and the nightclubs where Russian oligarchs drink with models”. At the centre of it all is Campbell Flynn, an “enviably urbane” celebrity academic who is teetering on a fall from grace. O’Hagan treats his sprawling subject matter with “confidence and assurance”, and a distinct satirical bent, the main target of which is “the cowardice and hypocrisy of the liberal middle-classes”. With its “up-to-the-minute contemporaneity”, Caledonian Road makes for “a welcome update to a genre that Martin Amis once made his own”.

The novel “takes a while to warm up”, says India Lewis in The Arts Desk, and the many characters can occasionally feel caricatured or just plain unpleasant: among their number are Flynn’s brother-in-law, a duke who uses the “new but handy” excuse that footage of him making a racist remark is a “deepfake”; Flynn’s best friend, “a particularly execrable Phillip Green-character”; a “truly nasty” Russian oligarch; and a “shrewish and prudish” academic who declares war on waste paper baskets “in the name of climate justice”. But overall, this is a “deeply powerful and engaging book”, which “shows us the rot at the heart of our own society” while retaining “a sense of optimism” that there might be a chance to change things.

Caledonian Road is available to buy here.

Vintage fiction

Greg Wise and Keeley Hawes in the 1996 ITV adaptation of The Moonstone

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins’s 1868 book The Moonstone is widely considered “the classic country house crime novel”, says Elly Griffiths in The Times. Dorothy Sayers described it as “probably the best detective story ever written”; TS Eliot called it “the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels”. Right from the prologue, where a British colonel steals the titular jewel from an Indian palace, Collins “establishes the Moonstone as a character: beautiful, troubled and cursed”. Sergeant Cuff, the detective brought in to investigate its disappearance, is the “first incarnation” of the cliched “brilliant sleuth” to appear in literature. And the big reveal, when it comes, is “audacious and psychologically astute”. The Moonstone was Collins’s only detective story. “We are lucky that it’s so brilliant.”

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is available here.

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