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A Flaw in the Design: read the opening

A nephew. An uncle.

A psychopath – but which of them is it?

Gil knows his nephew Matthew is dangerous. The signs were there early – on a family holiday Gil’s daughter was discovered nearly drowning at the bottom of a swimming pool, while Matthew looked on from the deck.

Now seventeen, Matthew is orphaned when his parents die in a car crash. He must leave his Upper East Side Manhattan life behind, to live with Gil, his wife and daughters in rural Vermont. He is insolent, bored, disconnected. At least that’s Gil’s take. To the women in the family he is charming, intelligent, wry.

But when he disdainfully joins Gil’s writing classes at the local university, Matthew’s fiction shows a vivid and macabre imagination spilling onto the page. Matthew is clearly announcing his intentions to Gil, taunting him before he does something awful to his family. But why is Gil the only one who can see this? As Gil begins to follow Matthew around, his own behaviour becomes increasingly unstable. Is he losing his mind? Which of the two of them is likely to kill someone?

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There was still time to turn and walk out, pretend he’d never come. The screen, perched on a pillar near baggage claim, listed the New York flight as arrived. Gate 3. Any minute, passengers would come down the escalator in front of him. But right now, he could leave. Escape before his nephew spotted him. Concoct some excuse to tell Molly: The flight was canceled; no, he wasn’t answering his phone. Weird, right? Well, maybe tomorrow. Except no, not really. After all, he was the boy’s guardian, and they’d track him down. Or the boy would find his own way to their house and that’d be worse, because then he’d know how much Gil feared him. Hated him. Which was the wrong way to think. He should stop. He couldn’t stop.

A loosely strung crowd came down the escalator, hurrying through the nearly empty terminal to claim spots at the baggage carousel. Already it was too late. There he was: Matthew, in a short black down coat that was too light for the Vermont winter, a bright white shirt beneath; hair styled in a swoosh; on his face a smirk, the slightest turn of his lips, familiar enough to bring loathing into Gil’s throat.

He’d known that the boy would look different after all this time, but he wasn’t prepared for this. Once a lanky kid, he was now over six feet, a couple of inches taller than Gil. Matthew stepped around an old man who fumbled with a coat and a rolling bag, bored annoyance moving over his face, as if this was routine, as if he was a young businessman sent from the city to check on some far-flung investment.

Gil waved, and in the acknowledging tilt of Matthew’s head he caught a glimpse of his sister. Sharon. Who was dead. Who’d left him this. Her son.

“Well, hello, welcome,” Gil said, opening his arms, but the boy stepped back, as if he didn’t recognize this gesture, or the man behind it. “How was the flight?”

“The flight?” Matthew said, frowning at the darkened check-in kiosks, the empty car rental desks, the snow blowing in streaks across the asphalt outside, his dopey uncle in his black parka and clumpy winter boots. “I guess it was like most flights. Fine, in that I don’t remember anything about it.”

“That’s great,” Gil said. “Do you have any bags?” He pointed at the crowd staring forlornly at the unmoving gray belt.

“Nope. All set,” Matthew said, tugging at his shoulder strap.

Should Gil offer to carry it? But the bag was small and easily managed, as if the boy was only here for a weekend. Matthew gave him an indifferent squint, knowing he must wait to be led, though the dynamics that subordinated him to this person were clearly a miscarriage of justice, given their true stations in life. Or Gil was just being a dickhead. Maybe Matthew was standoffish because he felt awkward: coming to live with his uncle he hadn’t seen in years. That might explain the constricted approximation of a smile. He expected Gil, the adult, to take the lead.

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Blue Water is Waterstones Thriller of the Month

We’re are thrilled that Leonora Nattrass’ brilliantly page-turning, sea-faring mystery Blue Water has been chosen as Waterstones Thriller of the Month for February! A tale of murder, espionage and treason, this is the perfect book for thriller lovers and historical fiction fans alike.

New Year 1795, and Laurence Jago is aboard the Tankerville mail ship, en route to Philadelphia. Laurence is travelling undercover, supposedly as a journalist’s assistant. But his real mission is to protect a civil servant, travelling to Congress with a vital treaty that will stop the Americans from joining the French in their war against Britain.

When the civil servant meets an unfortunate – and apparently accidental – end, the treaty disappears, and Laurence realises that only he can keep the Americans out of the war. Trapped on the ship with a strange assortment of travellers including two penniless French aristocrats, an Irish actress and a dancing bear, Laurence must hunt down both the lost treaty and the murderer, before he has a tragic ‘accident’ himself…

Hurry to Waterstones to get their exclusive paperback edition, featuring bonus material from Leonora’s next book. Get your copy here!


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László Krasznahorkai’s new book: read an extract

A Mountain to the North, A Lake to the South, Paths to the West, A River to the East

The grandson of Prince Genji lives outside of space and time and wanders the grounds of an old monastery in Kyoto. The monastery, too, is timeless, with barely a trace of any human presence. The wanderer is searching for a garden that has long captivated him.

This novel by International Booker Prize winner László Krasznahorkai – perhaps his most serene and poetic work – describes a search for the unobtainable and the riches to be discovered along the way. Despite difficulties in finding the garden, the reader is closely introduced to the construction processes of the monastery as well as the geological and biological processes of the surrounding area, making this an unforgettable meditation on nature, life, history, and being.

László Krasznahorkai was born in Gyula, Hungary, in 1954. He has written five novels and won numerous prizes, including the 2013 Best Translated Book Award in Fiction for Satantango, the same prize the following year for Seiobo There Below, and the 1993 Best Book of the Year Award in Germany for The Melancholy of Resistance. He won the Man Booker International Prize in 2015 rewarding an outstanding body of work. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in the hills of Pilisszentlászló in Hungary.

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The train did not run along tracks, but along a single terrifying blade edge, so that the balanced order of the city traffic with its ominous frenzy and trembling inner panic that announced the arrival of the Keihan train was the beginning — to get out at Shichijō Street, on the side where the Rashōmon, now vanished without a trace, had once stood in the Fukuine district, and suddenly the buildings were different, the streets were different, as if at once the colors and forms had been lost, he sensed he was already outside the city limits, altogether with a single stop he was outside of Kyoto, although of course the city’s deepest secrets were not lost here, and especially so quickly; and so there he was, to the south, the southeast of Kyoto, and he started off from there along the narrow and labyrinthine streets, turning to the left or continuing straight ahead, then turning to the left again, and in the end he should have been beset by the greatest of doubts, and as a matter of fact he was, and yet he didn’t stop, he made no inquiries and asked no directions, precisely the opposite: he went on asking nothing, he did not reflect, he did not hesitate at this or that corner, wondering: which way now, because something suggested to him that he would still find what he was looking for; the streets were empty, the shops were closed, now it seemed as if there weren’t even anyone to ask for directions because somehow everything was deserted as if there were a holiday somewhere, or some kind of problem — but somewhere else far away from here, and from the viewpoint of that faraway place this tiny district was of no interest, whoever had been here had left, everyone, to the last man, gone, not even a stray child or a noodle seller remained, no head suddenly pulled back from motionless watching behind a window grating, as one might have expected around here on a sunny, peaceful late afternoon, he established that he was alone; and he turned to the left, then he went straight on again, then he suddenly noticed that for a while the ground had been rising, the streets on which he walked, whether heading to the left or straight, had, for a while, been unequivocally leading upward, he could not establish anything more certain than that, could not say whether the incline had begun in this or that specific spot, instead there was a kind of realization, a determined overall sense: the entirety, along with him, had been ascending for a while — he reached a long enclosure wall running to the left of him, unornamented and constructed from mud bricks assembled into bamboo framework, it was painted white, its upper edge laid with crosswise, slightly battered turquoise-blue roof tiles; the footpath ran along it for some length, and nothing happened, he couldn’t see anything above the wall as it had been built too high for someone to glimpse what was on the other side, there was no window, tiny door, or even a crack-sized opening; when he reached the corner, he turned to the left and from there, for a bit longer, the path followed the wall closely until finally it came to an end, its direction cumulating in a refined bridge of light wooden construction that appeared to be floating, precisely because of its refined and light character; it was covered by a roof constructed of cypress bark, its columns made of cypress wood, burnished to perfection and supporting the soft, rain-battered flooring that swayed gently when stepped upon, and on either side: there were depths, and everything was green.

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The Homes is Waterstones Scottish Book of the Month

We’re starting 2023 off with a bang: The Homes by J. B. Mylet has been picked as Waterstones’ Scottish Book of the Month for January!

Based on the true story of a childhood growing up in a home for abandoned and unwanted children, The Homes is a haunting thriller with an unforgettable voice perfect for fans of Val McDermid and Chris Whitaker.

A thousand unwanted children live in The Homes, a village of orphans in the Scottish Lowlands on the outskirts of Glasgow. Lesley was six before she learned that most children live with their parents. Now Lesley is twelve, and she and her best friend Jonesy live in Cottage 5, Jonesy the irrepressible spirit to Lesley’s quiet thoughtfulness.

Life is often cruel at The Homes, and suddenly it becomes much crueller. A child is found murdered. Then another. With the police unable to catch the killer, Lesley decides to take the matter into her own hands. But unwanted children are easy victims, and Lesley is in terrible danger…

Adored by readers in hardback for its moving plot and the heart-warming relationship between best friends Lesley and Jonesy, The Homes is a thriller not to be missed! Buy the paperback from Waterstones at discount now!

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The Serpent’s Tail Book Club – DECEMBER 2022


We’ve got an absolute treat in store for you for our Serpent’s Tail December Book Club pick: Chris Kraus’ iconic novel I Love Dick. A cult classic, this fiery feminist read continues to entertain readers 25 years down the line with its funny and relevant exploration of love, relationships and our own personal philosophy. We can’t wait for you to discover the gem that is I Love Dick…!

Find more about the Serpent’s Tail Book Club and FAQs here.


When Chris Kraus, an unsuccessful artist pushing 40, spends an evening with a rogue academic named Dick, she falls madly and inexplicably in love, enlisting her husband in her haunted pursuit. Dick proposes a kind of game between them, but when he fails to answer their letters Chris continues alone, transforming an adolescent infatuation into a new form of philosophy.

Blurring the lines of fiction, essay and memoir, Chris Kraus’s novel was a literary sensation when it was first published in 1997. Widely considered to be the most important feminist novel of the past two decades, I Love Dick is still essential reading; as relevant, fierce and funny as ever.


Chris Kraus is the author of the novels Aliens and AnorexiaI Love Dick, and Summer of Hate as well as Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness and Where Art Belongs. A Professor of Writing at the European Graduate School, she writes for various magazines and lives in Los Angeles.


  1. Why does Chris start writing to Dick? Why does she keep writing to him?
  2. How do you see Chris and Sylvere’s relationship change throughout the novel?
  3. In a letter to Dick, Sylvere asks ‘Would Chris have fallen in love with you if I hadn’t been there to make it so embarrassing?’ What do you think?
  4. Do you think Dick owes Chris more than he gives? Why/why not?
  5. All three characters often equate infatuation with adolescence. Do you think this allows Chris to feel less responsible of her feelings?
  6. Throughout Chris and Sylvere’s infatuation with Dick, he isn’t a willing participant. Would you classify their actions as harassment or an extreme of performance art?
  7. Chris says, ‘Art, like God or The People, is fine for as long as you can believe in it.’ How does this system of belief manifest itself in the novel?
  8. Did any of Chris’ many cultural criticisms in her letters speak to you?
  9. Some might say Sylvere is brave in his acceptance of Chris’ crush on Dick, some might call him cowardly and dependent – do you agree with either judgment?
  10. I Love Dick has been a highly divisive novel since publication, yet has grown a rather large cult following. Why do you think that is?
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Queen K: Read the opening

On a balmy evening in late March, an oligarch’s wife hosts a party on a superyacht moored in the Maldives. Tables cover the massive deck, adorned with orchids, champagne bottles, name cards of celebrities. Uniformed staff flank a red carpet on the landing dock. This is what Kata has wanted for a long time: acceptance into the glittering world of high society. But there are those who aim to come between Kata and her goal, and they are closer to home than she could have imagined.

Witness to the corruption and violence underneath the shiny surfaces is Mel, a young English woman employed to tutor Kata’s precocious daughter and navigate her through the class codes of English privilege. Now the closest Mel gets to such privilege is as hired help to the wealthy, and she is deeply resentful.

Exquisitely written and deliciously unreliable, Queen K takes the reader to some of the most luxurious places in the world. But a dark refrain sounds from the very beginning of the story and grows towards its operatic finale: a novel about insatiable material desire can only ever be a tragedy.

Coming February 2023.

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Request on NetGalley


I went to dinner with some old school friends the other night and before I’d been there ten minutes they were asking me about that family I used to work for, the billionaires. Everyone does that. Everyone’s heard the story and knows I was there that night. ‘Something crazy happened, didn’t it,’ they say, ‘with that oligarch’s wife; didn’t she just disappear or something?’ They look at me and depending on the mood I’m in I brush them off with an arch quip or I try quite seriously to explain it all: how it came to that, how Kata got it so badly wrong.

On this particular night, I was looking at those girls from school arrayed around the dinner table, in their merino knits, comfortable in their professions: lawyer; TV producer; book editor. I caught the whiff of glibness, that I was being patronised. ‘So exotic!’ said Charlotte. ‘Being a tutor. Makes office life seem very boring!’

Charlotte had seen I was in the country from one of my Instagram stories. I’d been packing up the last of Mum’s stuff and found a big book of photographs, all these pictures from Mum’s youth, on the seafront at Dartmouth with the sailing yachts behind her, hair blown about by that south-coast wind.

‘Wow, you look like her!’ Charlotte said. ‘Come to dinner on your way back through London. I’ll invite some of the others.’

When Charlotte led me down the hall to her kitchen it all came back to me: the lust I used to have for houses like this, the sounds of the street dying away as we passed a sitting room with heavy curtains, a faded sofa full of cushions, a fireplace and, on either side of the fireplace, blue and white china urns. Charlotte had seemed so helpless to me when we first met aged thirteen, both new at a girls’ boarding school in the West Country. There was some incident in the library, a mouse ran over her books and she screamed, then people followed her round chanting: ‘Library Mouse, Library Mouse.’ It irritated me, and one night in the dinner queue I told everyone how lame they were being. ‘Teasing Charlotte is mean and lazy, it also happens to be totally risk free. Now, how about her,’ I said, pointing to this girl a few years above us, someone beautiful and fascinating and tyrannical, known to be vicious in her punishments.

Push up, not down, I suppose is what I meant. Back then, I saw Charlotte as someone in need of my protection. It’s relentless, isn’t it, our need to order ourselves, to form hierarchies? When we were kids together at that school we were ordered by our wits, it was cruel and merciless. In the end of course we are ordered by our capital: it is cruel, it is merciless.

I think I was always aware Mum was heading towards an act of mortal stupidity, but I never saw it coming with Kata. Two such weak women. I grew up wishing my mother could have tried to hide her weaknesses from me, that she could at least have pretended to be some kind of a safe haven. So I could understand very well Alex’s feelings towards Kata, and I could even understand the role she played in the whole sad thing. She clung on to love for her mother for a long time, before that love turned to disgust. She was so sweet and so gentle, my little pupil. I could never quite work it out: was she someone I needed to protect or was she undeserving of my protection, simply because she was so rich?

The email notification was on my phone: my return flight to Vienna the very next day, my apartment, my new life. It really was there, waiting for me. I brought it all up before me in my mind: drinking a cup of coffee in my kitchen, dressing and getting on the underground to the kindergarten where I worked, late afternoons in the cafés, evenings with Jakob and friends. I called it to myself and felt its warmth fill me, then expand outwards. It radiated through Charlotte and the others, and Charlotte’s million- pound house in Clapham that her parents had bought her. I separated Charlotte from my envy, for just a moment: I looked at her across the table, at her face as she lifted the bottle of wine brought it towards my glass, the light freckles over her nose and the top of her cheeks, and for a moment I thought, Maybe we are all helpless, maybe we are all hostage. I think Kata was helpless and hostage from the beginning to the end of her life, and she was the richest of us all.

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The Serpent’s Tail Book Club – NOVEMBER 2022


This month, we’ve chosen Torrey Peters’ Women’s Prize for Fiction longlisted Detransition, Baby for our Serpent’s Tail Book Club pick. 13th–19th November is Trans Awareness Week, so now is the perfect opportunity to read this bestselling novel and explore its uniquely trans take on love, motherhood, and those exes you just can’t quit. 

Find more about the Serpent’s Tail Book Club and FAQs here.



Shortlisted for the 2022 National Book Critics’ Circle John Leonard Prize for best first book

As heard on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row

‘A voraciously knowing, compulsively readable novel’ – Chris Kraus
‘Tremendously funny and sexy as hell’ – Juliet Jacques
‘I loved this very smart book from start to finish, with its beautifully drawn, complicated, and winning characters’ – Madeleine Miller

Reese nearly had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York, a job she didn’t hate. She’d scraped together a life previous generations of trans women could only dream of; the only thing missing was a child. Then everything fell apart and three years on Reese is still in self-destruct mode, avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.

When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?



Torrey Peters lives in Brooklyn and holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and a Masters in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth. She is the author of two novellas, Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones and The Masker. 

Discover Torrey’s top reads for Trans Awareness Month over at her shelf:


  1. Detransition, Baby explores motherhood through several lenses. How do Reese, Katrina and Ames’s feelings on motherhood differ and how do they converge?
  2. What does the novel reveal to you about the taboos of sex and gender? What roles do class and race play?
  3. How does Katrina’s grief from her divorce and miscarriage inform her thoughts about pregnancy? Do you see a parallel between divorce narratives and transition narratives?
  4. Discuss Reese ’s relationship with the cowboy. What does their relationship fulfil for one another?
  5. Discuss Ames’s decision to detransition. What factors played into this choice? Do you believe Ames is still a woman, even after detransition?
  6. Discuss the question of dissociation as described in the novel. How do the kinds of ‘bad feelings’ that trans women cope with by dissociating from their bodies and emotions relate to the kinds of ‘bad feelings’ that other women experience about their bodies or in uncomfortable sexual situations?
  7. How does Ames’s relationship with Katrina differ from her relationship with Reese? How are the dynamics different, and how are they similar?
  8. What was your perspective on the ending? What future do you envision for Reese, Katrina and Ames?
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Out of the Sun: Essays at the Crossroads of Race – Read an Extract

A blue square with the hardback cover of "Out of the Sun" by Esi Edugyan in the centre.

Two-time Booker Shortlistee and internationally bestselling author Esi Edugyan delivers a searing analysis of the relationship between race and art.

‘A remarkable set of essays unlike anything else’ – Kadish Morris, Guardian

As in her fiction, the essays in Out of the Sun demonstrate Esi Edugyan’s commitment to seeking out the stories of Black lives that history has failed to record. Written with the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the background, in five wide-ranging essays Edugyan reflects on her own identity and experiences as the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants.

She delves into the history of Western Art and the truths about Black lives that it fails to reveal, and the ways contemporary Black artists are reclaiming and reimagining those lives. She explores and celebrates the legacy of Afrofuturism, the complex and problematic practice of racial passing, the place of ghosts and haunting in the imagination, and the fascinating relationship between Africa and Asia dating back to the 6th Century.

With calm, piercing intelligence, and a refusal to think on anyone’s terms but her own, Edugyan asks difficult questions about how we reckon with the past and imagine the future, and invites the reader to think alongside her in working out what the answers to these may be.

Buy your copy here.

Europe and the Art of Seeing


Many years ago, I found myself in the overstuffed halls of Scone Palace in Scotland. I’d been living some hours away, in a castle perched above the great Midlothian fields to the south, a guest at a writers’ residency. I wanted to see more of the country before I had to leave it. The castle I’d been living at had had an air both calm and frantic. The days were lazy, open, shaped only by a sprawling evening meal shared between the residents. During the afternoons, no one was allowed to speak, to avoid disturbing others. I would walk the grounds with a fellow Canadian, a lovely writer from an island on our East coast who, as a connoisseur of human absurdity, told outrageous stories as we crossed fields as pristine and uninhabited as some imagine the outer planets to be. I adored it there but it was frustrating too – the silence was broken by the phone ringing at every hour, the castle’s Dame calling to check up on the residency’s steward, a thin, hassled man with an explosion of tawny curls who ran about in a state of panic and subservience, terrified that at any moment she might, like a figure of nightmare, leap from a closed cupboard. There were the little skirmishes between the writers, the little jealousies and romances. It is churlish, I know, to complain about staying in a castle. But it was with some relief – and some sadness as well – that I set out north.

Scone Palace was another world. One approached it in much the same way one creeps towards a mirage, with a sense it is possibly fraudulent. Built in the Georgian Gothic style, it was a dark, hulking mass high above the River Tay. At the heart of its gardens lay an exquisite maze; I have always had a terror and an attraction to mazes, drawn by their complications but knowing that to enter them with my sense of direction is to risk having the search party called out. The interiors of the Palace were as lavish as its exterior walls were stark, the rooms filled with lush velvet chairs, blue-and-gold silk rugs, draperies and mantles and chandeliers that spoke of aristocratic Georgian excess. Passing through the Gothic library into the Ambassador’s room, I was surprised by a portrait of two very elegant young women. It was for many reasons unusual, not the least because one of the sitters was a Black, or bi-racial, woman.

The piece, painted in 1778, was until the 1990s referred to as simply the portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray. The presence of her darker companion, though central, was completely overlooked. Variously attributed to the German neoclassical painter Johan Zoffany and the British artist Joshua Reynolds, the painting is now been believed to be the work of Scottish artist David Martin, based on the style, the clothing, and the sitters’ gestures. In the portrait, which has an air of arresting strangeness to it, Lady Elizabeth is dressed in a muted pink and white gown, her porcelain skin rouged, her expression full of warmth and mischief, her pale hand holding a book as a sign of her intellect. To her left, as if captured mid-stride, is Dido Elizabeth Belle, the young woman of colour. She was in fact Lady Elizabeth’s cousin, the two motherless girls raised together. She too looks mischievous and happy, but her movement marks her as physically irrepressible against Elizabeth’s restraint. Her station is further marked by the platter of fruit she is carrying for her mistress, and by the soft outstretched grip of Lady Elizabeth’s hand on her wrist – a gesture of affection, yes, but also seemingly one of possession. On Belle’s head she wears a white turban with a feather, a stand-in for the “Oriental,” the exotic. These signal her unbreakable link to the world of the “Other.”

The renowned scholar Edward Said described the Orient as “the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other.” For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the idea of the Orient was set up in opposition to European ideals of rationality, civilization and modernity. Because much of what was then considered “the Orient” was partly located in Northern Africa, a transference got made: any African or person of African descent could be linked to notions of Orientalism. From this transference emerged the figure of the Moor. The Moor was not at first an actual Black person, but a watery, elusive, generalized North African figure without a fixed racial identity. By the 19th century, however, she became more deeply grounded in her Blackness, though still carrying faint strains of the far-East.



Slavery had long been a feature of European expansionism, from the Barbarian invasions of the Roman empire to enslavement in the eastern Mediterranean and Russia. Most of these slaves were white. This changed with the shift towards Africa in the mid-1400s. More than twelve million people left sub-Saharan Africa, some passing through the Middle East and North Africa before being shipped to the colonies. The Atlantic trade continued for nearly four hundred years, changing the character of every place it touched. This included the physical makeup of many nations’ populations. From the 15th century onward, the Black presence became more pronounced throughout Europe, particularly in port cities. As a result of this increased visibility, Blacks began to appear more frequently in art. Due to their condition as slaves, their representation was usually in some way linked to this reality. This is not to say that the people depicted are always images of living breathing figures; they only rarely derive from actual sitters, or public figures. Rather, they are visual manifestations of an idea of Blackness, an idea informed by slavery.

The European relationship to slavery was very different from its American counterpart. In England, for example, where riches poured in from the colonies to build great cities and underwrite upper-class lives, few Englishmen had any real contact with slavery beyond the knowledge of its existence as something going on “over there.” Very few Englishmen settled in the colonies to run plantations; instead planters employed proxies, “overseers,” to run things, living distant, comfortable lives across the waters.

And so portraiture of Blacks was tied to an imagined idea of Black people, and of all that Blackness could suggest. The African became a stand-in for the expression a multitude of conflicting beliefs and ideas. A Black face could be used to symbolize the darkness of the non-Christian world, or conversely, to signify the spread of Christianity throughout the continents. It could be one thing, or its opposite, or both at the same time, the conflicting meanings left to coexist.

It is slaves living in grand houses rather than those living on plantations who are most present in portraiture from the 16th to the late 18th centuries. They appear in so-called “grand-manner” paintings, in which the wealthy are pictured in idealized settings, meant to emphasize and capture that status for all eternity. To have a portrait painted was, whatever other impulses informed it, an expression of power. And in these portraits, Black servants are often shown staring adoringly up at their masters, their heads wound in colourful turbans and robes whose brightness make an obvious contrast against the more sober and elegant clothes of their betters. In the Academy, colour was believed to appeal to the senses and was measured against drawing, which was thought to appeal to the intellect. This dichotomy between wildness and reason was seen to govern the races, too, according to Enlightenment era theory. And so passionate colours were tied to passionate people, while a lack of colour expressed civility and intelligence.

In his extravagant dress, a Black pageboy became the literal embodiment of his master’s riches, his servitude sometimes made clear by a silver ring in his ear or a silver collar around his neck. Black musicians and court performers also served to express this wealth. They are fantasias of slave life, implying a satisfaction with one’s lowly role, and the implicit superiority of the master or mistress, whose dignified bearing cannot help but instill deference. The images glorified a world so far divorced from the penury of plantation labour, from the brutalities of the transatlantic voyage, that the gulf is astonishing.


There also lived in Europe many people of African descent who were not slaves. Many children from mixed-race relationships been taken to England, and this is the group to which Dido Elizabeth Belle belonged. Belle was the illegitimate daughter of Maria Belle, a probable African slave, who was captured from a Spanish ship in the West Indies by her father, Rear Admiral Sir John Lindsay, nephew of the most powerful judge in the country, Lord Mansfield. After the death of her mother when she was six years old, Belle’s father took her to England to be raised in Lord Mansfield’s home in a manner befitting their rank. Lady Elizabeth had also been sent to live at Kenwood after the loss of her own mother, so that the two girls must have shared what I imagine was a sense of blind-siding devastation mixed with shocking good luck, a feeling of forced renunciation that was a both a relief and something to resent. And yet, though the details remain somewhat obscure, it’s said that the positions they occupied in the household were very different. Lady Elizabeth – pale-skinned, light-eyed – was in all respects treated as the vulnerable family member she was. Belle’s lot was murkier. She was not quite sister, not quite servant, asked only sometimes to dine with guests; only when the plates were scraped and the coffees drained was she invited to sit with the ladies and take a turn about the gardens with them. An American expatriate in London, Francis Hutchison, described with surprise the sight of Belle walking arm in arm with her cousin. He seemed uneasy at the affection with which the great judge himself treated “the Black,” and he was not the only one.

Some felt that Lord Mansfield had allowed his love for Belle to cloud his judgment. In 1772, he made a landmark ruling in the case of the runaway slave James Somerset; in it, he decreed that a master could not take a slave out of Britain by force. This ruling was largely viewed as a key piece of legislation in the eventual abolishment of the slave trade. A recent biographer of Lord Mansfield has suggested that the great judge was less anti-slavery crusader than someone who disliked slavery but was reluctant to annoy slave owners or appear to threaten their financial interests, and that he hoped things could carry on as they’d been. And yet Mansfield made the ruling as he did, in full awareness of the shockwaves it would send through English society. We will never know how much his love for Dido played into this decision that would reshape the modern world.

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The Serpent’s Tail Book Club – OCTOBER 2022


This Black History Month, we’ve chosen Kaitlyn Greenidge’s Libertie for our Serpent’s Tail Book Club pick which was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize 2022. From the critically acclaimed and Whiting Award-winning author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman, this is an epic and refreshing historical novel about what freedom really means – and where to find it. 


Find more about the Serpent’s Tail Book Club and FAQs here.


Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction 2022
Times Book of the Month
One of Roxane Gay’s Audacious Book Club Picks

‘A feat of monumental thematic imagination’ – The New York Times Book Review
‘An elegantly layered, beautifully rendered tour de force that is not to be missed’ – Roxane Gay

Libertie Sampson was named by her father as he lay dying, in honour of the bright, shining future he was sure was coming. The only daughter of a prosperous Black woman physician, she was born free in a country still blighted by slavery. But she has never felt free. Shrinking from her mother’s ambitions for her future, Libertie ventures beyond her insulated community, hoping that somehow, somewhere, she will create a life that feels like her own.

Immersive, lyrical and deeply moving, Libertie is a novel about legacy and longing, the story of a young woman struggling to discover what freedom truly means – for herself, and for generations to come.


Kaitlyn Greenidge‘s debut novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, was one of The New York Times Critics’ Top 10 Books of 2016 and a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. She is a contributing writer for The New York Times, and her writing has also appeared in VogueGlamourWall Street Journal and elsewhere. Libertie is her second novel.


  1. How do you think skin colour impacts the lives of the main characters, particularly Libertie and Dr Sampson?
  2. Discuss the concept of ‘passing’ and its role in the novel. What role does skin colour play in the characters’ freedom?
  3. The idea of freedom is central to Libertie. How does the quote ‘Their bodies are here with us in emancipation, but their minds are not free’ apply to two very different characters, Mr. Ben Daisy and Libertie?
  4. What role does religion play in the novel? How does religion influence Libertie?
  5. Compare Libertie’s views on America and her views of Haiti as they pertain to freedom — for Black people and for herself. Discuss why you think Libertie left America, and why she decided to return.
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The Serpent’s Tail Book Club – SEPTEMBER 2022



This month, we’ve chosen Yun Ko-eun’s The Disaster Tourist for our Serpent’s Tail Book Club pick. Winner of the 2021 Crime Writers’ Association Crime in Translation Dagger, this is a satirical eco-thriller that deftly navigates the #MeToo movement and our climate crisis, and is perfect for fans of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. 


Find more about the Serpent’s Tail Book Club and FAQs here.



Yona has been stuck behind a desk for years working as a programming coordinator for Jungle, a travel company specialising in package holidays to destinations ravaged by disaster. When a senior colleague touches her inappropriately she tries to complain, and in an attempt to bury her allegations, the company make her an attractive proposition: a free ticket for one of their most sought-after trips, to the desert island of Mui.

She accepts the offer and travels to the remote island, where the major attraction is a supposedly-dramatic sinkhole. When the customers who’ve paid a premium for the trip begin to get frustrated, Yona realises that the company has dangerous plans to fabricate an environmental catastrophe to make the trip more interesting, but when she tries to raise the alarm, she discovers she has put her own life in danger.


Yun Ko-eun was born in Seoul in 1980. Her short story ‘Piercing’ won the Daesan Literary Award for College Students the year she graduated from university. She received the 2008 Hankyorek Literature Award for her novel The Zero G Syndrome and in 2015 her short story collection Aloha won the Kim Yong Ik Novel Prize.


  1. The original Korean title of this novel was Travellers of the Night. How much of the tone in The Disaster Tourist do you think might have changed during translation?
  2. Did the relationship between Covid, travel and tourism impact your reading of this novel?
  3.  An individual’s success is mostly perceived as a result of merit. How do encounters between rich and poor countries, through excursions such as disaster or volunteer tourism challenge this belief?
  4.  Discuss your own experiences with disaster tourism and volunteer tourism.
  5.  In Ecology without Culture, Professor Christine Marran discusses cultures defining themselves through biological elements, and introduces the concept of biotropes: invoking material elements of nature (such as Japan’s cherry blossoms) as symbols of hope or cultural support. Do you see examples of biotropes in The Disaster Tourist, and how are they used to defend Mui’s culture?
  6.  In a conversation with Yona, the resort manager says that ‘if disaster disappears from Mui, life disappears, too’. Discuss the exploitative qualities of disaster tourism, and the dangers they pose to a country’s development when such tourism is the main source of revenue.
  7.  Yona and her fellow tourists seem to believe that ‘it’s too scary to visit disaster destinations close to home’ because the distance allows them to see situations more objectively. How important do you think distance is to objectivity, and objectivity to progress?
  8.  Do you think performing natural disasters in a safe environment encourages or inhibits empathy?
  9.  Recent years have shown a rise in anti-capitalist Korean narratives that highlight growing wealth disparity and poverty. Did you see links between this novel and Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite?
  10.  The tsunami at the end of the novel can be seen as divine intervention; nature’s response to Paul’s hubris around creating disaster on the island of Mui. Would you agree, or do you think this reading is the same human-centric narrative that Yun Ko-eun is satirising?
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The Serpent’s Tail Book Club – AUGUST 2022



This month, we’ve chosen Beatrice Hitchman’s All Of You Every Single One for our Serpent’s Tail Book Club pick. This is an exhilarating queer love story set in early twentieth-century Vienna and has recently been longlisted for the Polair Prize for LGBTQ+ literature. Scroll down for more about this gripping novel, reading questions and to apply for a set of books for your book group.

Find more about the Serpent’s Tail Book Club and FAQs here.



An exhilarating queer love story set in early twentieth-century Vienna

‘The exquisite story of two women trying to make a life together in wartime Austria, and all the love, friendship and danger that implies’ – Sophie Ward

All of You Every Single One is an epic novel about family, freedom and how true love might survive impossible odds.

When Julia flees her unhappy marriage for the handsome tailor Eve Perret, she expects her life from now on will be a challenge, not least because the year is 1911. They leave everything behind to settle in Vienna, but their happiness is increasingly diminished by Julia’s longing for a child.

Ada Bauer’s wealthy industrialist family have sent her to Dr Freud in the hope that he can fix her mutism and do so without a scandal. But help will soon come for Ada from an unexpected quarter and change many lives irrevocably.


Beatrice Hitchman is an author and academic. Her first novel Petite Mort was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Polari Prize, the HWA Debut Prize and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Prize. She currently works as a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Brighton.


  1. If you could spend one day and one night in Julia and Eve’s Vienna, what would you do in that time?
  2. Dora (A Case Study) by Sigmund Freud bears a loose relation to the character of Ada. What do you think about the ways that the true nature of Ada’s suffering is rendered in the book and how it compares to that of the historical individual?
  3. Eve and Julia weather a number of storms over the course of their relationship but remain loyal to one another. What becomes the focus of their story when the possibility of lasting romantic love is no longer in question?
  4. If you could run away and start over again, where would you go? How have things changed between 1911 and today for people who need a fresh start?
  5. Frau Berndt points out that the group’s plan to rescue Elsa plays into some peoples’ worst stereotypes about queer and Jewish people, but with a benevolent aim in mind. How do the characters use their identities (perceived or real) to subvert people’s expectations of them?
  6. Do you believe that Isabella ever really felt anything for Ada? How much do you think she knew about Emil’s behaviour?
  7. How do the events of the first half of the novel prepare the reader for the second half, after the time jump?
  8. Was it fair for Eve and Julia to keep the identity of Elsa’s biological parents a secret from her into her adulthood?
  9. What do you think the metronome signifies for Max and Elsa?
  10. Frau Berndt thinks of the friends as all being her children. How do the characters expand and challenge the definition of a family over the course of the novel?


Beatrice Hitchman is an author and academic. Her first novel Petite Mort was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Polari Prize, the HWA Debut Prize and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Prize. She currently works as a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Brighton.


  1. If you could spend one day and one night in Julia and Eve’s Vienna, what would you do in that time?
  2. Dora (A Case Study) by Sigmund Freud bears a loose relation to the character of Ada. What do you think about the ways that the true nature of Ada’s suffering is rendered in the book and how it compares to that of the historical individual?
  3. Eve and Julia weather a number of storms over the course of their relationship but remain loyal to one another. What becomes the focus of their story when the possibility of lasting romantic love is no longer in question?
  4. If you could run away and start over again, where would you go? How have things changed between 1911 and today for people who need a fresh start?
  5. Frau Berndt points out that the group’s plan to rescue Elsa plays into some peoples’ worst stereotypes about queer and Jewish people, but with a benevolent aim in mind. How do the characters use their identities (perceived or real) to subvert people’s expectations of them?
  6. Do you believe that Isabella ever really felt anything for Ada? How much do you think she knew about Emil’s behaviour?
  7. How do the events of the first half of the novel prepare the reader for the second half, after the time jump?
  8. Was it fair for Eve and Julia to keep the identity of Elsa’s biological parents a secret from her into her adulthood?
  9. What do you think the metronome signifies for Max and Elsa?
  10. Frau Berndt thinks of the friends as all being her children. How do the characters expand and challenge the definition of a family over the course of the novel?


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BOOTH longlisted for the Booker Prize 2022

We are delighted with the news that Booth, Karen Joy Fowler’s epic historical novel, has been longlisted for the Booker Prize 2022!

About the book

From the Booker-shortlisted, million-copy bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves comes an epic novel about the infamous, ill-fated Booth family.Junius is the patriarch, a celebrated Shakespearean actor who fled bigamy charges in England, both a mesmerising talent and a man of terrifying instability. As his children grow up in a remote farmstead in 1830s rural Baltimore, the country draws ever closer to the boiling point of secession and civil war. Of the six Booth siblings who survive to adulthood, each has their own dreams they must fight to realise – but it is Johnny who makes the terrible decision that will change the course of history – the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.Booth is a riveting novel focused on the very things that bind, and break, a family.

Discover the full longlist


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The Appeal Wins at the CWA

We are proud to announce that The Appeal by Janice Hallett won the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award for the best debut novel. The Appeal is a Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year which was praised by judges as a “dazzlingly clever cosy crime novel”.  The CWA Daggers is the premier crime-writing awards in the UK, so we could not be more thrilled to see Janice’s fantastic cosy crime novel take home this crown.

Learn more about The Appeal below:


‘This dazzlingly clever cosy crime novel completely trumps Richard Osman’ – SUNDAY TIMES
‘Witty, clever and completely addictive’ – MAIL ON SUNDAY
‘Agatha Christie for the 21st century’ – THE TIMES


There is a mystery to solve in the sleepy town of Lower Lockwood. It starts with the arrival of two secretive newcomers, and ends with a tragic death. Roderick Tanner QC has assigned law students Charlotte and Femi to the case. Someone has already been sent to prison for murder, but he suspects that they are innocent. And that far darker secrets have yet to be revealed…

Throughout the amateur dramatics society’s disastrous staging of All My Sons and the shady charity appeal for a little girl’s medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. The evidence is all there, waiting to be found. But will Charlotte and Femi solve the case? Will you?

The standout debut thriller of 2021 that delivers multiple brilliant twists, and will change the way you think about the modern crime novel.

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Serpent’s Tail Book Club: JULY 2022



This month, we’ve chosen Victoria Gosling’s suspenseful debut novel Before the Ruins for our Serpent’s Tail Book Club pick. This is a poignant and insightful book about lost love, the power of friendship and whether missed chances are really gone forever. Scroll down for more about this gripping novel, a Q&A from Victoria and to apply for a set of books for your book group. 

Find more about the Serpent’s Tail Book Club and FAQs here.



One long, hot summer Andy and her friends begin a game that will take their whole lives to play out.

‘Engrossing, beguiling, and with an undertow of menace, Before the Ruins is a masterly debut from a richly talented author.’ Sarah Waters

‘Jaw-droppingly brilliant writing’ Marian Keyes

Andy believes that she has left her past far behind her. But when she gets a call from Peter’s mother to say he’s gone missing, she finds herself pulled into a search for answers.

Bored and restless after their final school exams, Andy, Peter, Em and Marcus broke into a ruined manor house nearby and quickly became friends with the boy living there. Blond, charming and on the run, David’s presence was as dangerous as it was exciting. The story of a diamond necklace, stolen from the house fifty years earlier and perhaps still lost somewhere in the grounds inspired the group to buy a replica and play at hiding it, hoping to turn up the real thing along the way. But the game grew to encompass decades of resentment, lies and a terrible betrayal.

Now, Andy’s search for Peter will unearth unimaginable secrets – and take her back to the people who still keep them.


Victoria Gosling grew up in Wiltshire and studied at Manchester University and the University of Amsterdam. She has lived in London, Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic and Berlin. Victoria is the founder of The Reader Berlin and organises The Berlin Writing Prize. @victoriagosling


Listen to Victoria’s Before the Ruins playlist below:


1. Your book is a coming-of-age story, a mystery and a thriller, with a touch of romance. Tell us about the process of writing across genres.

Initially, I was working on two separate ideas, or rather investigating two separate seams of material. One related to a group of teenagers playing a game at an abandoned manor house. The other seam was much more introspective. I had a sense of an older character, isolated, devoting herself to work and screens… then it became apparent that this character was an older version of Andy, one of the teenagers. I don’t plan novels so much as allow ideas to coalesce in my head and then try to make sense of the material. 

I was passionate about reading as a child and I think I’m always trying to satisfy both that reader—who wants missing diamonds, unsolved mysteries, murders—and a reader who is more literary-minded, who wants a response to the world in which we find ourselves, to the business of living. Only later did I realise that as a result the novel wasn’t clearly one genre or another. I hoped publishers would find it fresh but worried it’d be turned down as difficult to market. Fortunately, Serpent’s Tail saw something in it. I love their list and couldn’t be happier that Before the Ruins found a home on it.

2. Is there anything readers have picked up on that you weren’t expecting? 

I’ve had a couple of readers write to me saying they know where the diamonds are! Whether they were right or not, I cannot say…

3. Your writing has been compared to Agatha Christie, Tana French and Alan Hollinghurst. Who do you see as your writing influences?

As a child I did love Agatha Christie, particularly Crooked House. I also love Graham Greene for the compelling simplicity of his novels, and I read a lot of Joseph Conrad as a teenager. 

Discover more of Victoria’s literary influences over at her shelf:


  1. What were your first impressions of Andy and how do they compare to your impressions of her at the end of the book?
  2. Do you believe that the friends ever came into contact with the original diamonds?
  3. How does the title relate to the events of the novel? Does it have more than one possible meaning?
  4. Games and gameplaying are a recurring theme – can you describe some of the games that Andy and her friends play with each other apart from hiding the necklace?
  5. What did you initially think had happened to Peter and why?
  6. What is the importance of social media and surveillance technology in the novel? Is it different from the friends spying on one another in the Manor House?
  7. Andy hope desperately for what she calls ‘magic’ at various points in her life. Do you think she encounters it?
  8. During her meeting with Andy, Alice says ‘None of you seemed prone to telling the truth’. What is the biggest truth revealed in the novel? How does it change things?
  9. What role does social class or the friends’ perceptions of it play in Before the Ruins?
  10. How do you see Andy and David’s relationship evolving beyond the final pages?


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Independent Bookshop Week

Independent Bookshop Week is just around the corner! Launched in 2006 as part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, this special week is a celebration of independent bookshops nationwide and the role independents play in their communities.

We asked Serpent’s Tail authors to take us on a journey through their favourite independent bookshops, from London, to Ludlow, to Vermont and beyond!

Join the conversation and let us know your favourite indie bookshop by tweeting us @SerpentsTail.

Sarai Walker – author of The Cherry Robbers

Northshire Bookstore, Vermont USA

“I love so many independent bookshops. One of my favourites is Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. In the early 2000s, I did my master’s degree in creative writing at Bennington College, which is nearby.

I would often visit Northshire Bookstore and spend hours there browsing their amazing selection. It was such a cozy environment in which to discover new books and authors, and I always found not only books there but inspiration. A couple years ago I returned to Vermont for the first time in about 15 years. Of course I went back to Northshire and there I saw my first novel on the shelf. It was such a thrill for me to see my work available there.”

Alix Nathan – author of Sea Change

Poetry Pharmacy, Bishop’s Castle and The Montgomery Bookshop, Ludlow UK

“Living in the Marches means my two nearest independent bookshops are in England and in Wales: the famous and fascinating Poetry Pharmacy, Bishop’s Castle and The Montgomery Bookshop, cosy, book- and flower-filled in lovely Montgomery.  Not far away is Burway Books, small in size, big of heart.  In a 25-mile radius bookshops are only independent! Yet a little further, Castle Bookshop in historic Ludlow and the amazing, ever lively Booka’.  Better scrub the 25-mile radius bit as Booka is 29 miles away.  I suppose if I stretch the distance between me and Shrewsbury Waterstones to 30 miles the assertion about radius could be retained …”

Lizzy Stewart – author of Alison

The Bookseller Crow, Crystal Palace, London UK

“The experience of trying to choose a favourite bookshop is not similar to the desperate brain-rifling I have to do to choose a favourite book. It is impossible, for every mood there is a different bookshop! So I’ll have to go for the one that has been my longest serving local! Though I’ve moved away now, the Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace served me well for six years. The selection of books is well curated and unusual, which really gives the shop an identity. The graphic novel selection is great, the kids book section is good and they have, on occasion, let me draw all over their windows!”

Jami Attenberg – author of I Came All This Way to Meet You

“It’s impossible for me to choose a favourite independent bookstore because in a way they’re all my favourites. I love how each indie bookstore I step into has its own identity and point of view. I love reading the little shelf-talker notes booksellers write for their favourite reads. I love chit-chatting with the staff, seeing how their day is going, having them point me in the right direction of something new I haven’t heard of before. I love the soundtrack playing in the background. I love the dinging of a bell on a front door whenever a new customer shows up. I love the way little communities form out of them. I love how they make a neighbourhood complete.”