Political Pornography

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Charles Théveneau de Morande was not a man who kept friends for long. Throughout his sordid and occasionally bizarre life within London’s émigré community during the 1770s and 1780s, he would repeatedly charm his fellow Frenchmen with his wit, energy and saucy jokes, only to turn on them shortly afterwards by libelling them in newsprint, […]

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Uniting The Diaspora

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Once a year, apparently, there are strange rustlings in Ramsgate. Members of the Haredi sect descend on the town to honour a man who was from a very different Jewish tradition. Quite simply, Sir Moses Montefiore was a man of such formidable reputation that all strands of Jewry would be happy to claim him as […]

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A Model For All Men

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Remarkable polymath though he was, Pavel Florensky should not, perhaps, be compared to Leonardo da Vinci. For one thing, he had no patron: Stalin, unlike Cesare Borgia or King Francis I, preferred to annihilate any polymath who threatened his own monopoly on genius. For another, however skilled he was in his laboratory with his hands, […]

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A Different Cloth

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘I have nothing of a saint about me, as everyone knows.’ I could warm to a man who says that about himself, as long as I thought he meant it. Evidently Pope Benedict XVI disagrees with Newman, given the plans for beatifying this most celebrated English Roman Catholic and ex-Anglican of the nineteenth century. The […]

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Libel Reform

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Last year, during a visit to the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, I was interviewed by Nick Miller, health correspondent at the Melbourne Age newspaper. I had recently co-authored a book about alternative medicine entitled Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial, so we spoke for an hour, after which Nick set about writing up our […]

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Mehmet Güler Ragip Zarakolu

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Like others before him, Mehmet Güler is on trial in Turkey for the remarks of his fictional characters. He is charged under article 7/2 of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law, accused of ‘spreading propaganda’ for the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). In his novel, More Difficult Decisions than Death, three characters, Siti, Sabri and Siyar, are engaged […]

Dejima Days

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

David Mitchell’s hugely enjoyable new novel begins on the tiny fan-shaped island of Dejima, the farthest-flung outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company, just outside Nagasaki. It’s 1799 and the island, no bigger than a football pitch, is home to a handful of Dutchmen, the only Westerners permitted to trade in Japan. Only the highest […]

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Hanging On A Star

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This novel is set in a very particular American past that many Americans will find familiar, but which may seem more exotic to English readers. After a prologue extracted from the book’s finale, promising that high drama lies ahead, we are introduced to an altogether different type of story, set in 1880s small-town Missouri, where […]

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Girl Power

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Here come the girls, as the adverts say, and they are still quite a handful. The last time we saw Manda, Kay, Kylah, Chell and Finn – in Alan Warner’s The Sopranos (1998) – they were running wild in Glasgow, on day release from their Catholic girls’ school in a Highland port town. That book […]

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Mixed Mailbag

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Anyone familiar with Nicola Barker’s work will know to expect something different, not just from her own previous books but from everyone else’s. The very title of her latest novel suggests a wilful anachronism – I mean, in these days of email and texting and online banking, who in their right mind would steal a […]

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Blarney & Baloney

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Dead Republic concludes The Last Roundup, a trilogy of novels about the fictional Irish Republican Henry Smart, which began with A Star Called Henry (1999) and continued with Oh, Play That Thing (2004). In the excellent first book, Henry grows up alone, barefoot and half-starved in the damp Dublin slums. He becomes a hero […]

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Les Hommes Bleus

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The choice of J M G Le Clézio as the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature proved to be surprisingly controversial among French intellectuals in Paris. Why? Surely a writer who has written over forty volumes, including novels, tales, essays and stories, and received many major French literary prizes, would be acclaimed for […]

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What The Dog Saw

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Mafia Honey was the dog that accompanied Marilyn Monroe for the last two years of her life. He was a present from Frank Sinatra, who stalks sharp-suitedly through Andrew O’Hagan’s generous and clever comic novel scattering indiscriminate largesse and threats. This book, Maf’s so-called memoirs, is a spirited picaresque that digs deep into the myths […]

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Using The Arlesey Bomb

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The shelves in my office sag and groan under the weight of my fishing books. There are hundreds of them, and I am fond of them all – even the bad ones, of which there are many. It is a comfort just to scan the titles. Some incline to the poetic – Where the Bright […]

Caught and Released

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘To capture the fish is not all of the fishing,’ insisted that dentist-turned-bestseller Zane Grey; and, whilst that may be true enough, I feel my spirits sink whenever I see an angling book promoted as being essentially ‘about’ something more profound. There’s only so much room for stuff about inner rivers, rites of passage or […]

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Going Viral

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This is a book about what Robert McCrum calls ‘the global power and influence of Anglo-American language and culture’. It is about English as we know it, and as we don’t. He calls it ‘a Jackson Pollock of language’, and describes its continual mutations. It has become the lingua franca. Like Latin in pre-modern times, […]

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Superdad

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Being a dad is not what it used to be. Sometime between the era when my father raised children and my own ongoing efforts, parenting became self-conscious. What had been a seat-of-the-pants operation in the days of Kennedy and Nixon turned into a thoroughly analysed undertaking by the time of Clinton and the Bushes. Although […]

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Coming Into Bloom

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

We are, as a nation, partial to gardens. The garden visitors (as opposed to the house visitors) are those I remember best from the years when my parents used to open their Jacobean home to any and all, every weekend – and hope for custom. Bad weather often kept house tourers away; downpours never defeated […]

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All For Love

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

That Shakespeare’s works are preoccupied with love and sex, the relationship between the two and their often tragic consequences, is not a revelation. This is not to say, however, that the sexual content of the plays and poems has lost its power to shock or engage. It is a cliché, but it does seem reasonable […]

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