Drawing A Blank

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

An old man sits alone in a room. He does not know how long he has been there, or how he got there in the first place; he does not know whether he is a prisoner or a guest; he doesn’t even know his own name (he is only Mr Blank); but when he closes […]

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African Queen

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Someone remarks of Kathleen, dominant presence and mother of this novel’s narrator, Alexander, that ‘she takes lovers the way other people take hot showers’. Indeed, she takes so many lovers, often simultaneously, in the course of a life of reckless adventure in Africa that Alexander can only suspect, and never be sure, that the man […]

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SS Highbrow Manhattan

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The jacket copy of Claire Messud’s new novel, as self-consciously and sentimentally attached to the city of New York as a copy of the New Yorker, mentions Edith Wharton, Dawn Powell, Truman Capote and Jay McInerney. Readers on this side of the Atlantic will probably be more enthused by the quote from Anthony Powell’s Books […]

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A Spaghetti-Tangle

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

My mother used to say (and I wish I’d listened harder) that a girl should never marry a man who doesn’t like his mother. How right she was. When that pure, fathomless well of maternal passion is poisoned, the effects will seep into a man’s relationship with every other female in his life. ‘He’ll always […]

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A Wintry Tale

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This novella is the best thing Martin Amis has done in fiction for years: very complex, very forceful, startling in the amount of ground it covers, and densely and intelligently put together. Though there are, as I’ll discuss later, problems with it, you’d have to be dumb not to read it with admiration. House of […]

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Resurrection

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Not long ago Patrick Hamilton was practically forgotten.  In his introduction to the 1974 edition of Hangover Square, J B Priestley remarked, ‘there must be a whole generation of readers who know nothing about him and his fiction’. By the start of the current century Hamilton, who enjoyed international success from the mid-1920s until his […]

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From Zeroes to Heroes

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It must have sounded such a good idea for a book – tracking down all the total losers in the Eurovision Song Contest from the very year of its inception, fifty years ago, and interviewing the lot of them. Huge gay market. Potential European-wide sales. After all, the Contest is a show that attracts a […]

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Singing & Silence

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Bernard Williams was once introduced to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as ‘a great lover of opera’. The famous baritone gave one of his characteristic little smiles, and replied ‘Ah, I am not’. As a philosopher Williams could take this in his stride, and an essay he might have written would have concerned the interpretive artist’s frustration with […]

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Art From the Edge

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Simon Schama’s Power of Art accompanies a television series of the same name to be shown this autumn, and sets out to capture ‘moments of high-wire tension in the drama of creativity … masterpieces made under acute stress’. The masterpieces are by Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso and Rothko, and the (somewhat […]

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‘VVSITPQ’

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the 1960s, much against my inclinations, I found myself on the fringes of what still passed as ‘the debutante Season’ and formed a jaundiced view of the whole tawdry business. In my priggish way, I couldn’t fathom why my boss Peter Townend, a Northern card then editing Burke’s publications, elected to exercise his encyclopaedic […]

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Beatrix Who?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is one of the joys of life to watch Jeremy Paxman grill some hapless politician on Newsnight, though others may feel sympathy for the contestants on University Challenge as he forces them into a wild guess at some unanswerable question. In the midst of this energetic and full-time career, he has written a number […]

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A Fundamentalist Not Bothered By God

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Richard Dawkins is Britain’s leading intellectual celeb. He is to be seen constantly on the telly and at fashionable dinner parties. He is the author of the famous determinist tract The Selfish Gene, which, I learn, was the favourite book of the head of Enron. He holds a specially created Oxford chair to expound science […]

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Private Devotion

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Books of Hours are amongst the most exquisite of all medieval manuscripts. Small enough to be carried inside a sleeve or attached to a belt and illustrated with brightly coloured, painstakingly executed miniature paintings and marginal illuminations, they are much sought after as works of art. Imagine, then, the bafflement of librarians and curators when […]

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Glittering Quirks

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Have you ever been into one of those shops which sell high-class tat to well-heeled women? English cities are full of them now, strewn with embroidered cushions, dainty furniture and china. The message of such bijouterie is obvious: that you too can share in the luxury it represents, and at a very reasonable price. Alas, […]

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Dutch Disintegration

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Assimilation, integration, tolerance and intolerance have become challenging terrain and writing about them illuminatingly requires insight, intellectual rigour, a willingness to confront tough questions and the sensitivity, humility and humanity to address them from more than one angle. This is no place for bigots or bores, be they radical Muslim preachers or old-fashioned racists. Ian […]

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Top Dog to Kitchen Bitch

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Armageddon doesn’t come hotter than this. Hard on the heels of Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential – remember the bit when the fish chef gives the bride a quickie over the trash-bin?) comes Bill Buford, literary lion turned kitchen skivvy in one of Manhattan’s big-name restaurants, author of this compulsively readable addition to the literature of […]

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Loser Lit

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

For several years now, Toby Young has been engaged in an experiment of indeterminate social value. He has been charting his efforts to make a success out of being a loser. His first book, a memoir like this one, told of his failure to break into the world of celebrity journalism at the New York […]

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The Artist as Geek

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Franzen, the much-admired author of The Corrections, has already shown himself equally at ease in non-fiction in How To Be Alone, which encompassed such topics as the US postal service, sex advice books, and the future of the novel. Although this collection included some autobiographical offerings (notably one on the experience of being first promoted […]

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American Grotesque

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1997, passing through Louisville, Kentucky, the artist Ralph Steadman paid a visit to the mother of his friend Hunter Thompson. Steadman and Thompson had been collaborators and sparring partners for more than twenty-five years but it was the first time that Steadman had met Virginia Thompson. Mrs Thompson was then in her nineties and […]

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Scorn and Scandal

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Perhaps it is because his father told the most famous lie in modern British history that David Profumo has chosen to be so searingly honest about his parents in this book. His father, Jack, had a successful career as a politician before resigning from the House of Commons, and from his job as Secretary of […]

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