Britain's best loved literary magazine, now in its 30th year
Reviews of new books in history, politics, travel, biography and fiction
Contributors who are irreverent, accomplished and amusing
"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 April 2013 issue:
Seamus Perry on ballooning in the Romantic age and beyond
UP, UP AND AWAY
Balloonophiles must nurse a particular affection for Wolverhampton, for it was from there that, on 5 September 1862, one of the most celebrated ascents began. The pilots were James Glaisher, secretary to the Royal Meteorological Society, and Henry Coxwell, whose claim to scientific knowledge derived from his former career as a dentist, but who was a seasoned balloonist and, as it transpired, a good man to have in a tight spot. The balloon left the ground at one o'clock in the afternoon, filled with buoyant coal gas from the Wolverhampton gasworks. It was a beautiful day and they climbed quickly: forty minutes later they were past 20,000 feet; just before an hour was done they were at 29,000 feet. Then they hit a snag. Read more.
Joanna Kavenna on childhood in the wilderness
BABES IN THE WOOD
Albert Camus wrote that 'the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as is silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds'. This seems completely sensible and yet many books have a veiled quality to them, as if there is something the author would like to say, but won't or can't. We live in an ostensibly free society, in which people are not imprisoned or persecuted for speaking their minds. Nonetheless there are reams of authors suppressing or adjusting their opinions because they must earn a living, because their editors won't publish what they want to write, or because they fear they'll be savaged by critics or the trolls of Twitter. Though this is not the worst oppression ever endured, it is a shame and a waste if people are not writing the books they want to write. You think of all those sincere tracts that have been lost forever, replaced by careful, anaemic versions that swoon in the reader's arms and fade into oblivion. Read more.
Kevin Jackson on Picasso's monstrous art
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT PABLO
Philip Larkin, who hated artistic modernism with a passion that bordered on (or sometimes crossed the border into) rage, blamed the whole ghastly mess on the three Ps: Ezra Pound, Charlie Parker and Pablo Picasso. Between them, these rotters had taken things that used to be nice - poetry, jazz and painting - and made them thoroughly nasty. 'I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it.' Worse still, he went on, the three Ps had bred a new class of academic shysters and trendy fools who made cushy lives for themselves by peddling the nonsense that these P-artists were in fact the greatest talents of the age. Read more.
Elif Shafak on sex in the Arab world
LIFTING THE VEIL
On a Turkish Airlines flight from London to Istanbul my five-year-old son demands to go to the toilet - 'Now!' Recognising the urgency in his tone, I spring to my feet and grab him, not realising in my haste that I have left the book I have been reading on an empty seat, face up. There are two Turkish ladies in my row: middle class, middle-aged, similarly attired. Upon returning to our seats I catch them peeking at the cover, whispering and giggling like schoolgirls. When they see me coming, they blush with guilt but then turn and eye me curiously. Their expressions seem to ask, 'Are you reading a book on sex? And next to your children? What has this world come to?' Such is the effect of carrying around Shereen El Feki's Sex and the Citadel. Read more.
Kenneth Minogue on Edmund Burke
LIFE & SOUL OF THE PARTY
It is perhaps one of the oddities of the British political tradition that it is often best revealed by foreigners. Voltaire and Montesquieu in the 18th century had a large part in England's reputation as a notably free society, but it could be argued that the Irishman Edmund Burke should be recognised as the major 'foreign' contributor to our political self-understanding. He could express what the English were about better than any native. In doing so, Burke made a lasting contribution to the development of modern democracy. Read more.
Jeremy Clarke on the most important meal of the day
RISE AND DINE
There is a once lovely square at the back of Paddington Station now comprised entirely of budget hotels. I missed the last train home last week and after drawing a few blanks secured a single room in one of these for £60. I didn't expect much at that price, not in London. Nor was it. My room number was shakily inscribed on the door in black biro, for example. But what did surprise me was that my £60 also entitled me to all the pomp and circumstance of a full English breakfast. Read more.
Andrew Hussey considers Albert Camus's troubled position on Algeria
STRANGER IN HIS OWN LAND
For a long time, the accepted wisdom on Albert Camus's response to the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) has been that he was a coward. This was the view first promulgated by his former friend and rival Jean-Paul Sartre, who accused Camus of having the 'morality of a boy scout' for refusing to praise the terrorist actions of the Algerian nationalists, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1957, Camus famously stated: 'People are now planting bombs on the tramway of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.' Since then this impassioned statement has been held up by generations of anti-colonialists and academic post-colonialist theorists - including the likes of Edward Said - as proof of Camus's weak-mindedness and vacillating nature and, by extension, colonial arrogance towards Algeria, the land where he was born and grew up in the poorest kind of pied-noir family (pied-noir, 'blackfoot', was the term used to describe French settlers in Algeria on the grounds that they wore 'black shoes'). Read more.
John Banville on A Delicate Truth by John le Carré
AN ORDINARY RENDITION
Joseph Heller was once asked by an interviewer, an impudent fellow, surely, how it was that after Catch-22 he had never managed to write anything on a par with that first book. Heller in his reply displayed the chutzpah and sense of timing of an old-style Jewish comedian: 'Who has?' he shot back. It was a good answer, and neatly dodged addressing the dilemma of any writer who at the start of his career produces a masterpiece. Early success is sweet, no doubt, but as the years go on it frequently turns sour. There is the burden of trying to match up to the strengths of one's younger, more exuberant self, but also to be contended with are the public's fickleness and tendency to rancour. Goethe ruefully observed that when the world grants you a triumph such as he had enjoyed with Young Werther, its next step is to ensure that you never have another like it. Read more.
James Kidd on Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley
Clever Girl, Tessa Hadley's seventh book, has its share of sensational aspects. There are no fewer than two murders, a heroine with a rich romantic life (marriage, affairs both straight and lesbian), a foundling child (and two other sons by different partners) and a supposedly dead father back from the grave. But, as in Hadley's previous fiction, what holds the attention is not a dramatic, twisting tale providing sudden revelations but an intimate narrative voice that renders people, places and experiences in vivid detail. Read more.
Jonathan Beckman on All That Is and Collected Stories by James Salter
IN SEARCH OF THE GOOD LIFE
It has been eight years since James Salter released Last Night, a collection of short stories barely 130 pages long; one has to look back to the appearance in 1975 of Light Years, his mid-career masterpiece, for an original novel (Solo Faces, his 1979 novel about mountain-climbing, started out as a screenplay for Robert Redford; and Cassada, published in 2000, was a third-person rewrite of an early autobiographical novel, The Arm of Flesh, which dealt with life in the US Air Force). Such parsimony explains in part why James Wolcott has described him as the 'most underrated underrated writer', though recently he has been rated highly by most relevant prize committees, including the judges of the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award and the handsomely endowed Windham-Campbell Prize. Read more.