The Vision of Elena Silves, 1989 (Somerset Maugham Award, Betty Trask Award)
In the Amazon city of Belén, in the heart of the Peruvian jungle, three old men sit on a bench. They sit in the square every day under the hot sun, remembering the women they loved and the world when it was a better place. One day a woman hurries past their bench whom all have reason to remember – Elena Silves, the girl with eyes as blue as the sky who once saw a vision and has been incarcerated by the Church authorities in a convent high in the Andes ever since. But the old men remember something else. They remember that Elena had been in love at the time with Gabriel, a student revolutionary who became the most wanted man in Belén.
I cannot think of any other foreign writer who has entered into the labyrinth of the politics of my country and acquitted himself so well
Written with precision, clarity and rare beauty… Alongside Salman Rushdie and the late Bruce Chatwin, Shakespeare now joins the ranks of the New Exotics school
A remarkable debut… A story of love and insurrection brilliantly told…One of the best books about the continent written by an outsider
An Englishman’s novel of magic realism, flavoured with the more traditional English spices such as thriller and tourchsong, and a touch of Anglo-Saxon irony… A fine literary novel, combining several traditions and genres of fiction
A novel of action in the best tradition of Conrad and Greene… Love, violence, revolution and death – a denouement that is unexpected, shocking and brilliantly conceived… I closed the novel with both satisfaction and regret
The Vision of Elena Silves is a terrific novel
The High Flyer, 1993 (Longlisted for Booker Prize; selected for Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, 1993)
Thomas Wavery is the new Consul General at Abyla on the tip of North Africa. A career diplomat, Wavery was once a high flyer, but an affair with a younger woman has dashed his dreams of ambassadorship. He arrives in Abyla with his wife suing for divorce, his passport stolen by a Gibraltarian ape and precious little enthusiasm for the task ahead. His one hope of redemption is a visit from his new love.
He tells a story like an angel… Wonderful
A deeply satisfying book. I feel quite exceptionally inclined to read it all over again
Shakespeare has completed a richly detailed, remarkably complete imaginary world
His lyricism is all his own and he raises his lovers to a plateau of passion where Greene never ventured
Wavery’s story has a lyric simplicity and an emotional subtlety that are moving, involving and beautifully observed
The Vision of Elena Silves was almost too precociously good. The High Flyer rolls back the doors of the Shakespearian bunker to reveal the arsenal within. It’s a very good novel
The Dancer Upstairs, 1995 (Chosen by the American Libraries Association as the Best Novel of 1997)
This novel explores one of the most astonishing stories in the whole history of twentieth century terrorism. Colonel Rejas was the policeman charged with the task of capturing the Peruvian guerrilla leader Ezequiel, but having been dismissed he finds the burden of silence and secrecy too heavy. On meeting Dyer, a foreign correspondent, he is moved to relate the tortuous progress of the manhunt for the first time. The Dancer Upstairs is a story reminiscent of Graham Greene and John le Carré – tense, intricate and heartbreaking.
A completely overwhelming novel, and I suspect that it will become a classic… one of those perfect novels
Nicholas Shakespeare’s stunning new book proclaims him the undisputed master of the Latin American scene
Shakespeare is interested in grand themes: love, vocation, politics and the corrupting power of moral and ideological absolutes… The Dancer Upstairs will be enjoyed by any kind of reader… It is enviably good, a genuinely fine novel from a writer who possesses real heart and flair
Almost steams with the author’s understanding of South America and yet is somehow poetic and tender
Will count among the best work being produced by the present generation of British writers
As cracking a story as any yarn, as informed as any journalism, and delivered with firmness and urgency
Astoundingly good…This dramatic, moving story demands you put your life on hold until it is finished
In addition to being a satisfyingly rich tale or romance this is a highly intelligent examination of Peruvian – and South American – reality… Funny and devastating… I was riveted by this superb novel
A crackling good yarn – Graham Greene meets Gabriel García Marquez
Riveting… An intriguing, well-crafted and powerful novel
A beautifully crafted tale of love, obsession, and terror
A gripping literary thriller… An unusually powerful examination of what animates thesouls of those who choose—or are forced—to play upon the stage of history
Shakespeare explores an explosive situation in Latin America, deftly mingling love and suspense in a powerful, persuasive narrative… Precisely, beautifully detailed, a tale both faithful to its time and utterly timeles
Nicholas Shakespeare, using only black marks on white paper, has set in 1990s South America a story quite as evilly enchanting as the one about The Third Man Graham Greene set in Vienna… Shakespeare’s unadorned prose is as clean and precise as the coroner’s scalpel. The Dancer Upstairs is an extraordinary story; no grown-up reader should neglect it
Snowleg, 2004 (Longlisted for Booker Prize)
A young Englishman visits Cold War Leipzig with a group of students and falls for an East German girl who is only just beginning to wake up to the way her society is governed. Her situation touches him, but he is too frightened to help. He spends decades convincing himself that he is not in love until one day, with Germany now reunited, he decides to go back and look for her. But who was she, how will his actions have affected her, and how will her find her? All he knows of her identity is the nickname he gave her – Snowleg. Snowleg is a powerful love story that explores the close, fraught relationship between England and Germany, between a man who grows up believing himself to be a chivalrous English public schoolboy and a woman who tries to live loyally under a repressive regime.
Superb… Beautifully written, rich in character, it displays all the courage for which its hero so desperately wants to be recognized
Superbly evoked… a morality tale which keeps the reader spellbound till the last sentence
This novel is one of the finest attempts in English to convey something of two very strange places which no longer appear on the map of Europe… Shakespeare has told a very skillful story
Haunting… Compelling… Shakespeare deftly captures both the paranoia and the material and cultural poverty of East Germany
A brooding, introspective, deftly crafted novel… A moving story that speaks volumes about an era and a political system that is rapidly slipping into the recesses of our memory
Like Michael Ondaatje in The English Patient and Shirley Hazzard in The Great Fire, Shakespeare weds a formal, detached prose style to a deeply romantic theme; the result is a powerful, ethereal love story set against the twisted politics of East Germany under communism…. A beautifully written, utterly compelling story of love and politics
A volatile cocktail of passion and politics
A richly imagined tale of thwarted romance, between characters whose lives have been warped by East German treachery under Communism
Elegant, romantic, forceful
Already my bet for this year’s Booker Prize. A superbly achieved and moving novel
Secrets of the Sea, 2008 (Shortlisted for Commonwealth Writer’s Prize; longlisted for Miles Franklin Award)
Following the death of his parents in a car crash, eleven-year-old Alex Dove is torn from his life on a remote farm in Tasmania and sent to school in England. When he returns to Australia twelve years later, the timeless beauty of the land and his encounter with a young woman whose own life has been marked by tragedy, persuade him to stay. They marry, and he finds himself drawn into the eccentric, often hilarious dynamics of island life. Longing for children, the couple open their home to a disquieting guest, a teenage castaway, whose presence in their home begins to unravel their tenuously forged happiness.
If he has not previously earned the right to be considered a world writer, this novel should confirm it… A resonant fiction, affirmative and very human
A remarkable novel. It is brilliantly successful in portraying the forlorn, claustrophobic, gossipy, defiant little society in which it is set…This latest work shows Shakespeare to be one of our dozen or so best
I read it with complete absorption, wholly immersed in its world. It has a palpability and veracity which is quite mesmerising. A tremendous piece of work.
Masterful…Secrets of the Sea is the delicate account of [two lovers’] coming together and drifting apart… Shakespeare has produced a work of rare beauty
Gripping…subtle but arresting
Engagement with the sea… its significance in the unplumbed depths of human psyche, is the real, undoubted strength of this novel
Carefully measured storytelling in this enveloping tale of life’s small treasures lost and found
An impressive, poignant piece of work
An astute portrayal of thoughtful characters…Elegant and enjoyable
It reads absolutely true… A very good novel indeed
Inheritance, 2010 (Longlisted Dublin IMPAC Award)
What would you do if you suddenly and unexpectedly inherited £17 million? This is what happens to Andy Larkham, recently jilted lover, and resentfully underpaid publishing minion. Arriving late to the funeral of his favourite schoolteacher, he ends up in the wrong chapel with one other mourner, too embarrassed to leave. Pressured to sign the register, little does he realise what effect that signature will have upon his life. The extraordinary story that follows tells of one man’s failed love, the temptations of unanticipated wealth, the secrets of damaged families and the price of being true to oneself. It is a romance for our times.
Unambiguous fictional mastery… the voice of a great novelist… a book that haunts the mind like an enchantment
Thoughtful and beautifully observed… Never predictable, this novel combines a remarkable narrative force with the lightest of touches. A book to savour and pass on
Shakespeare has taken great risks with this novel, intertwining different stories, writing in different registers, mixing fantasy life with cruel reality. He brings it off; different passages in different veins contrive to ring true. It’s an utterly absorbing and enjoyable novel, one so engaging that you find yourself willing it to end happily. It is a Romance which moves with assurance from wild improbability to a reconciliation with things as they may truly be
Completely riveting and very funny indeed. Shakespeare at his empathetic best, as he mines the fragile seam of our desire to be loved for who we are
Compelling – and consistently surprising
A very funny book indeed, beautifully plotted, and it tells a nice morality tale about the nature of avarice, and the absurdity of our times
Brilliant… heart-stopping… it feels as though you’ve dozed off during an episode of The Office and woken up in The Brothers Karamazov
A novel of scintillating brilliance… The flipside of Inheritance takes us into near-Dostoyevskian territory but somehow it’s a seamless segue and in its impassioned sense of injustice this tale grips with such relentless force that some readers may be too absorbed to fully note Shakespeare’s double-virtuosity
Stories From Other Places
Nicholas Shakespeare’s collected stories take us across oceans and continents into the intimate lives of his characters and the dilemmas and temptations they face. The opening novella, Oddfellows, tells the little-known history of horrifying events that occurred on 1st January 1915 in the Australian outback town of Broken Hill, where, on the citizens’ annual picnic outing, the only enemy attack to happen on Australian soil during World War I took them by surprise.
The other stories range through India, Africa, Argentina, and Canada, and include a magnificent tale of civic folly which sees an unreliable young councillor from the Bolivian mining town of Oruro lose himself in the seductions of Paris while trying to commission a bronze statue of his local hero. All of them demonstrate Shakespeare’s talent for insight and drama, and his fascination with connection and disconnection and cultural misunderstanding.
One of Britain’s finest writers… I do not expect to read a more formidable piece of short fiction this year.
Eight nuggets of pure, bold storytelling.
In each story Shakespeare brilliantly transports us to other places, times, cultures and communities, but for all their differentness and exotic heat and dust, in essence they are places we know only too well.
Shakespeare has mined, shaped and polished one of the most superb literary gems I have read in recent times. Only John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas comes close. Facts and fiction merge in this riveting and relevant work. In a word … brilliant!
A spare, brilliantly evocative tale of the outback jihadis and the attack most of us have never heard of. A slight but powerful book and Shakespeare immersedhimself in the time and place to write the story. Recent terrorist attacks have, sadly, accentuated the fact Shakespeare’s story is a timely one.
Nicholas Shakespeare has created a slim, sensitive and simply beautiful novella. He writes with exquisite restraint of the yearning, ignorance, hope and hopelesness of life in the wartime mining town. It is history it seems we’ve been doomed to repeat.
Shakespeare captures this historical moment beautifully and in elegant prose creates a complex inner life for Rosalind, who is a wonderfully drawn character. It’s a fascinating story, however, and skilfully told. It is also timely. Because the story Shakespeare tells resonates so deeply with current tensions, it is weightier than its length might suggest.
What a strange and enticing story, told with a great sense of escalating tension but also in a somewhat detached manner. Here is an account of the only enemy attack on Australian soil during World War I. It happens in Broken Hill during the annual picnic day in 1915. Its short and yet very meaty. Love this.