In brief: Constable: A Portrait; Wivenhoe; The Enemy Within – reviews | Books


James Hamilton
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25, pp472

This well researched and illuminating biography of the artist John Constable reclaims him from the chocolate-box conservatism to which he has been consigned. James Hamilton’s Constable is, admittedly, no trailblazing radical, but nor is he the grumpy reactionary that he has sometimes seemed when placed alongside Gainsborough and Turner. Instead, Hamilton manages to reshape Constable’s quintessential Englishness (he never left the country) not as the failing of provincialism that others have called it, but as the force behind his art. Not for nothing is Dedham Vale known as Constable country.

Samuel Fisher
Corsair, £12.99, pp151

In the small Essex village of Wivenhoe, a man is found murdered. The identity of his killer does not seem in doubt; another man is standing over his body, axe in hand. But with a world on the brink of ecological disaster, does one death still matter? Samuel Fisher’s second novel builds on his promising debut, The Chameleon, with an elegantly terrifying narrative that is reminiscent of Graham Swift’s Waterland in its focus on an insular, secretive community in the east of England, but stays entirely contemporary in its environmental concerns.

Adam Macqueen
Lightning Books, £9.99, pp415 (paperback)

Beneath the Streets, Adam Macqueen’s first Tommy Wildeblood novel, was a thrilling counterfactual page-turner that imagined what might have happened if Jeremy Thorpe had succeeded in killing Norman Scott. Its sequel cannot match its predecessor for boldness or originality, but it’s still an accomplished and gripping continuation of Wildeblood’s adventures. Macqueen drives the story through a grim 1980s bedevilled by Aids, Thatcherism and IRA bombings, as Tommy tries to discover the truth about his missing lover. Cameos by everyone from Jeremy Corbyn to Derek Jarman add texture and wit.

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