John Harvey’s first novel, The Plate Shop, described shop floor life in a heavy engineering works: it won the David Higham Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Hawthornden Prize and the Yorkshire Post Fiction Prize. Coup d’Etat depicted life under the Greek military dictatorship of the Colonels, and the dictators themselves: it was described in The Observer as ‘Tolstoyan’ and was selected by Chris Patten, in The Sunday Telegraph, as ‘the novel which shows the best grasp of political life’. The Legend of Captain Space considered how strange and frightening the experience of motherhood may be: A. S Byatt said in The Independent that it created ‘perfected instances of some terrible mystery of human existence’. Maureen Freely, in The Independent on Sunday, found its picture of parenthood ‘eerie, convincing, and, in a perverse way, beautiful’.
His latest novel, The Subject of a Portrait (Polar Books, 2014), records the trip to Scotland, in 1853, when John Ruskin’s protégé, the young painter John Everett Millais, fell in love with Ruskin’s wife Effie while painting a famous portrait of Ruskin himself. The novel was described in The Independent as ‘a discerning and rather sumptuous study of one of history’s most infamous love triangles.’ The PRS Review called it ‘A true page-turner . . . it becomes impossible to put down’ and Christopher Ricks found it ‘excellent; I was taken by every page; more, every sentence . . . It is beautifully and startlingly written . . . a very fine love story’.
His non-fiction books include an acclaimed history of the colour black in men’s dress, Men in Black, which was shortlisted for the Grand Prix du Livre de Mode (Paris, 1995), and has been translated into seven languages. The Literary Review called it ‘a brilliantly sustained, illuminating and subtle disquisition on the malaise of nineteenth and twentieth-century English society’. His new book on the colour, The Story of Black (2013) is described in the Journal of Visual Studies as a ‘a pacey tour de force . . . composed and elegant . . . an excellent, readable and even joyful general introduction to a complex topic.’
John Harvey is a Life Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He is married to novelist Julietta Harvey.