Britain's best loved literary magazine, now in its 34th year
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"In Literary Review you find something that has almost vanished from the book pages: its contributors are actually interested in Literature."
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Selected highlights from the September 2014 issue:
Tim Blanning on a bold new life of Beethoven
After a successful concert in 1814, Beethoven was out for a walk on the Kahlenberg above Vienna when he met two young girls who gave him some cherries. His offer to pay was declined by one of them with the rejoinder: 'I'll take nothing from you. We saw you in the Redoutensaal when we heard your beautiful music.' This is just one of the many illuminating episodes in this long but generally enthralling and stimulating book. The anecdote has the advantage of being both genuine and one of Beethoven's favourites, as well it might have been. Today, when the gulf between contemporary classical music and the great majority of the population has never been greater, it is salutary to be reminded of just how popular Beethoven was. When the Seventh Symphony was premiered in 1813, for example, the audience insisted that the slow movement be encored in its entirety, a demand repeated at many subsequent performances. Some of the later works, notably the string quartets, may have been met with incomprehension but he was undoubtedly a hero in his lifetime. Read more.
Donald Rayfield on Vladimir Nabokov's letters to his wife Véra
HIS BETTER HALF
Letters from Vladimir Nabokov could be as welcome to their recipients as an enquiry from the taxman or a reproach from an ex-spouse. His most helpful American supporter, Edmund Wilson, was berated for a 'hopeless infatuation with the Russian language' and 'incomprehensible incomprehension of ... Eugene Onegin'. Nabokov's much-abused first biographer, Andrew Field, who tried too hard to probe his subject's friends, relatives and ancestors, was not only dismissed as a 'rat' writing 'tripe', but also told, 'The style and tone of your work are beyond redemption.' Yet within the tiny inner circle formed by his wife, Véra, and son, Dmitri, Nabokov was unfailingly affectionate and attentive, and in all the surviving correspondence there are few scorpion stings. Perhaps the only chilling aspect is that such love for his wife and son left Nabokov with relatively little sympathy for his widowed mother and struggling siblings. Read more.
John Gray on Francis Fukuyama's faith in democracy
'A liberal democracy,' according to Francis Fukuyama, 'cannot be said to be humanly universal, since such regimes have existed for only the last two centuries in the history of a species that goes back tens of thousands of years. But development is a coherent process that produces general as well as specific evolution - that is, the convergence of institutions across culturally disparate societies over time.' Fukuyama intends this declaration as a statement of the idea that underlies this book - the bulky second instalment of what his publisher describes as 'the most important work of political thought in at least a generation'. Read more.
Miranda Seymour on the horticultural inspiration for great writers
SEEDS OF THOUGHT
When plotting out the structure of an essay, a chapter or even a book, nothing banishes distractions from the writer's mind so effectively as some form of rhythmic exercise. Walking through London did the trick for Dickens, and England's beaches, rivers, lanes and landscapes have seeded a veritable kingdom of poems, plays and novels, but there's always the temptation for us lesser souls to look about and start thinking of something closer to home. Gardening, perhaps... Read more.
Simon Barnes on nature's ideas of home
Many years ago my mother sent me a postcard, its text beginning: 'We're going to Bali tomorrow and it's all absolutely ghastly.' It would be hard to nail one of the central contradictions of human and animal life more succinctly: the visceral tug of home that coexists with the eternal lust for wandering and adventure. Both are essential survival instincts. Read more.
Paul Mason tracks the Greek crisis
CLEANING THE STABLES
On the day after the Greek election of 2012, British journalists threw a party in Athens that spilled out into most of a side street and was in full swing at 3am. On arriving I was surprised to see many of the Greek MPs who'd been appearing for us on the Western news outlets. Educated in US business schools, fluent English speakers, these technocrats had almost no roots in the Greek political system. Given the choice, they would rather have spent quality time with hacks from ITN and the Wall Street Journal than attend a Greek political gathering. Such events, one told me, tend to resemble the party Michael Corleone hosts at Lake Tahoe in The Godfather Part II. Read more.
Mark Lawson on The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
RETURN TO KAT ZET
Beryl Bainbridge claimed that she began to write biographical novels because she had exhausted the store of autobiography that had inspired earlier fiction. David Lodge has admitted to following Bainbridge's example when he turned from campus stories to literary bio-novels. And now there's further - possibly surprising - evidence to support the theory that a novelist who seeks longevity is likely to find his or her second wind in a different subject matter. Read more.
Sam Leith on The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is a stranger writer than he sometimes looks. Texturally (well, except maybe in the semi-farcical Solar) he's a fastidious realist; and yet - as most obviously in Sweet Tooth, Atonement and Saturday - he has a badger-stripe of postmodernism: texts within texts, writerly self-consciousness, reflexive nods to the civilising power of art and all that jazz. Read more.
Simon Hammond on Shark by Will Self
In an autobiographical essay composed on the eve of the publication of his last novel, Umbrella, in 2012, Will Self, in the course of delineating the fraught relationship between 'modernism and me' that has animated his literary output of late, described his growing dissatisfaction with writing novels 'that merely strain against the conventions'. Recounting how he has spent his career in turn miffed, resigned, ambivalent and, most recently, agitated by a literary culture that treats modernism as a museum piece, Self explained that he was now determined to bring the exhibit back to life. He was resolved, he wrote, for his works to break out of the 'corsetry' of the conventional novel, for them to be 'the fictive equivalent of ripping the damn corset off altogether and chucking it on the fire'. Read more.