Slaves to Fortune

Posted on by

On a cold night in 1767, thanks to an uncommon piece of luck, a convict destined for the gallows walks free from Newgate Prison. Almost immediately, in a second stroke of good fortune, he finds a drunken man, prostrate on the road, his purse heavy with coins. The scene that follows, as the convict takes […]

Posted in 392 | Comments Off on Slaves to Fortune

From Hollywood to Bollywood

Posted on by

In an interview in The Observer three years after her 1975 Booker Prize win with Heat and Dust (now reissued by Abacus), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, then in her fifties, said: ‘I sometimes wonder what I’ll be doing at 80.’ The answer is this: delivering a masterclass in storytelling and writing beautiful, luminous prose. The stories […]

Posted in 392 | Comments Off on From Hollywood to Bollywood

Death of the Author

Posted on by

One of the most important facts about Michel Houellebecq – usually overlooked in favour of his nihilism, alleged racism and other attention-seeking provocations – is that he is a first-rate prose stylist. This is not quite enough, however, to make him a good novelist. Even some of his best novels (Atomised and Platform, for example) have clunky and unconvincing dialogue, and are packed with amateurish plot devices. His last novel, The Possibility of an Island (2005), was quite simply a mess: an artificial and histrionic tale the only redeeming feature of which was a kind of high-pitched sarcasm that quickly began to grate and was certainly never sufficient to sustain a book. The film, directed by Houellebecq himself, was even worse.

Perhaps chastened by the critical ridicule meted out to his recent works, or having simply decided to raise his game, The Map and the Territory finds Houellebecq almost back at his best.

Posted in 392 | Comments Off on Death of the Author

The Drone Delusion

Posted on by

Christopher Coker’s Warrior Geeks examines the impact of 21st-century technology and how it is ‘changing the way we fight and think about war’. At its core is Coker’s exploration of the impact of robotics on war. Thucydides and the ancient Greeks thought of war as the ‘human thing’, and it is indeed a state of […]

Among the Daiperologists

Posted on by

Like many foreigners who observed the Blitz, my father spent much of the Second World War struggling to understand the English. The result of his efforts, in his 1944 book Los ingleses en su isla (‘The English on Their Island’), was disappointingly conventional: the English to him, as to everybody else, were reserved, repressed people, […]

Decent Exposures

Posted on by

A spoon on a plate in a laboratory leaves a shadow of itself. The fleeting image of a leaf is chemically preserved. A man stands still, leg bent as his shoe is polished, on one of the outer boulevards of Paris, and so becomes the first tiny figure ever caught on camera. These three events, all happening within a short space of time in the 1830s, are famous in the history of photography, well documented and reproduced

Immoral Science?

Posted on by

The relationship between the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany and the broader European intellectual culture within which it took place has generated much passionate debate. George Steiner, for example, has famously suggested that the Nazi era may have been made possible by political, moral and religious ideas and attitudes – both traditional and distinctively […]

The Evolution of a Theory

Posted on by

What if a young Charles Darwin, stricken with seasickness, had been washed over the side of HMS Beagle on a dark and stormy night in 1832? Peter Bowler’s dramatic opening paragraph, complete with a nod and wink to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, sets a scene that would have averted the far higher drama that ensued from the […]

Louder than Words

Posted on by

In the tenth century BC, the priests of India devised the Brahmodya competition, which would become a model of authentic theological discourse. The object was to find a verbal formula to define the Brahman, the ultimate and inexpressible reality beyond human understanding. The idea was to push language as far as it would go, until participants […]

Retrospective Glances

Posted on by

The late Nora Ephron suggested the title for Emma Brockes’s She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me (Faber & Faber 340pp £16.99). Ephron – probably known best for When Harry Met Sally – was as smart as they come in Hollywood and you only need to read the opening chapters to understand […]

A Fine Bromance

Posted on by Advertising Manager

Every December Private Eye’s book pages feature the Frederic Raphael Memorial Prize, an award given to the writer who makes the most obscure or pretentious selection as their Book of the Year. In 2012 the honours went to Raphael himself. The book he had chosen was Richard Seaford’s Cosmology and the Polis: The Social Construction […]

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Posted on by

As a rule, unsolicited letters to authors are literature’s wastepaper. Almost all are burned; almost all are, at best, barely scanned by the recipient. Mark Twain was an exception. He read, annotated and scrapbooked his letters including many thousands from unknown correspondents. R Kent Rasmussen offers us a sifting from them. The representative examples he […]

Dances with Swords

Posted on by

Possessing no teeth or scales, but armed with a sharp rostrum up to four feet long, Xiphias gladius is arguably the most aggressive fish in the sea. The huge ones are always female, can weigh more than a thousand pounds and produce some thirty million eggs. A solitary pelagic speedster, the queen of the ocean […]

The Ways of All Flesh

Posted on by

Hugh Aldersey-Williams previously wrote the highly acclaimed Periodic Table: The Curious Lives of the Elements, and here he proves himself just as fascinating and witty a guide around the geography of the human body. We spend our entire lives inside it yet know so little about it. The author himself confesses, at the start of his journey, ‘I have no idea how my bladder works.’ Some kind of expandable sack, no? ‘Some sort of watertight balloon’ of no particular shape? Actually

Invisible Ink

Posted on by

‘Ars longa, vita brevis’: true enough, of course. The sitter for the Mona Lisa long ago crumbled to dust, but the painting itself, and numerous copies of it, may still be viewed. All the same, that too disappeared once, stolen from the Louvre in 1911. Picasso was among the suspects, not unreasonably: he had two […]

After Pugin

Posted on by

In 1981 J Mordaunt Crook published the definitive book on William Burges. It had an unusual history. The collector and art historian Charles Handley-Read had become obsessed, from the early 1960s onwards, with the work of William Burges; along with his wife Lavinia, a specialist on Victorian sculpture, he began to amass a treasure house […]

Cameo Appearances

Posted on by

Writing in her 12th-century book Records on Metal and Stone, the Chinese poet Li Ch’ing-Chao reflected, ‘Where there is possession, there must be loss of possession; where there is gathering together, there must be a scattering – this is a constant principle of things.’ It is a wonderfully fitting conclusion to Marina Belozerskaya’s delightful little book on […]

What a Carve Up!

Posted on by

On Easter Monday 1986, a fire broke out in one of the grace and favour apartments at Hampton Court Palace. Its progress into the main state rooms of the Wren Wing was slow – Wren had soundproofed his building by filling the spaces between floor joists with tens of thousands of seashells, which acted as […]

Larger than Life

Posted on by

At 20 metres high and 54 metres wide, Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North is the contemporary equivalent of the 32-metre-high Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the sun god Helios that became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Both preside over heavy traffic – the former flanks the A1 on the […]

Jekyll & Clyde

Posted on by

In so many ways Edinburgh and Glasgow express the duality of Scotland. Their intense rivalry, dating back to the 17th century, has been likened to that between New York and Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Moscow and St Petersburg, and Sydney and Melbourne. An original slant on this pairing was provided by the interwar travel writer H V Morton

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,
    • 'It is a scent of animal wrath, of instinctive need, of brutal life which affects the cultured nostrils of our civi… ,