Kidnapped

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1990 a brown-paper parcel came to light in the strongroom of the solicitors firm Linklaters and Paines in London. It had been deposited there in 1947 and had been addressed to Parr’s Bank, Regent Street even longer ago, in May 1914. The label made it clear that the parcel was to be held until […]

Exit, Pursued by the Law

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As an elderly and unwell man in the 1630s, Ben Jonson was given comfort by a pet fox, ‘which creature, by handling, I endeavoured to make tame’. The sprightly Reynard was a thoughtful gift from a friend with a rather Jonsonian name himself, Sir Thomas Badger. The cub was both a pleasant companion and a […]

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The Adman Cometh

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Not long after J G Ballard’s death, I was exchanging emails with Mike Moorcock, one of Ballard’s oldest and best friends. The avuncular old gent at whose feet Will Self and Iain Sinclair sat, Mike warned, was a carefully managed fiction. Well, John Baxter’s book firmly sees off that avuncular old gent – and how. […]

A Tale of Two Dickens

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There have been around ninety full-length lives of Dickens. As the 2012 bicentennial approaches the discriminating purchaser will be able to choose between three current frontrunners. Michael Slater’s 2009 biography, still going strong in paperback, is one. A ‘radically revised’ reissue of Peter Ackroyd’s 1990 biography is another. And, coming up fast on the outside […]

A Dyer Order

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A long open-topped motorcar slides its way through the bazaar, preceded by an armoured vehicle and followed by a company of Gurkhas and Baluchi soldiers, trotting along holding Lee-Enfield rifles. The car stops. Brigadier Rex Dyer, crustily played by Edward Fox, gets out and strides to a broad but enclosed space known as the Jallianwala […]

Forbidden City

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The city of Cheliabinsk, deep in the Russian Urals, was one of the closed cities of the Soviet Union to which all foreigners were denied entry. In the 1930s it housed a giant tractor factory, the heart of the modernisation of the backward Russian countryside; during the Second World War the factory was turned over […]

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Free Radicals

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One of the major works of the later Enlightenment was the Histoire philosophique des Deux Indes, edited by Guillaume-Thomas Raynal. First published in six volumes in 1770, it had gone through over forty French editions by 1788, ranking high on the chart of forbidden bestsellers. There were also over twenty English editions (including several in […]

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Dynasty

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is hard to understand why the reign of Henry VII has for so long had the reputation of being one of the most boring periods of English history. Perhaps it is because successive generations of A-level students have been made to wrestle with the technical aspects of bonds and recognisances, and to memorise the […]

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Man in the Know

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Throughout his long career Francis Walsingham dedicated himself to identifying and eradicating his country’s internal and external enemies. This grim ideologue is hardly the most sympathetic character of the Elizabethan age, but even those who most strongly disapprove of him cannot deny his energy and efficiency. For nearly twenty years Walsingham served Elizabeth I as […]

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Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan and Lal Wickrematunge

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Channel 4’s harrowing film Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, broadcast on 14 June, raised serious questions about the Sri Lankan government’s violations of international law in the closing months of its long civil war. The authorities’ attitude towards the media was also heavily criticised by a UN Panel of Experts set up to advise the Secretary-General […]

Poetic Licence

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Benjamin Markovits began Imposture, the first novel in his trilogy loosely based around the life of Lord Byron, with a preface declaring the work to be that of Peter Sullivan, an English teacher he once worked with briefly in New York. The conceit was a clever one, as Imposture traced the life of John Polidori, […]

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Croker’s Lament

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

At the midpoint of Christopher Hope’s new novel, narrator Charlie Croker takes a photograph that represents an idealised moment between him and three friends, one which comes to signify the turning point between happiness and despondency. It’s a powerful moment in the book, one of many hidden memories at the heart of Shooting Angels that […]

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Hell Hath No Fury

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Like many people I know, I stopped reading Chuck Palahniuk’s books with any real enthusiasm around the time of 2002’s Lullaby. Until then my friends and I had awaited his new books eagerly, discussed the complex politics of Fight Club, argued over the merits of Invisible Monsters, and shared our favourite jokes from Choke. And […]

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Cabinet of Curiosities

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Magnus Mills’s latest novel is set in a fantasy world, the Empire of Greater Fallowfields, where a ruling cabinet of eight men, who barely know each other, anxiously await the return of their absent emperor. Mills opens his story with a cabinet meeting, and one immediately notices that each character is named after a bird, […]

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Miracles of Life

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ This verse from St Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews serves as the epigraph for Francesca Kay’s second novel. The story, set in a contemporary south London Catholic community, takes shape around a miracle. I can imagine the tabloid headlines: FAT […]

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Jonathan Barnes on Five First Novels

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This year’s longlist for the Man Booker prize is an unusually intriguing one. Alongside commendations for such established writers as Alan Hollinghurst and Julian Barnes is a surprisingly healthy amount of what publishers might designate as ‘genre fiction’ (D J Taylor’s Derby Day; A D Miller’s Snowdrops) as well as an encouraging number of first […]

The Adventure of the Concealed Manuscript

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I cannot deny I was grateful when a pleasing thud on the doorstep of our comfortable suite of rooms in Baker Street caused my friend Sherlock Holmes to look up from his melancholy scrapings on the violin.  Our landlady Mrs Hudson descended the seventeen steps to the hall and returned clutching a brown paper package […]

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Romanian Holiday

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Patrick McGuinness has written an unusual, and unusually interesting, first novel. Its title refers to the last hundred days of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s malign regime in Romania – the sole country in the Eastern bloc that seemed indifferent to, and unaffected by, the atmosphere that preceded the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The revolution that took […]

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O Brother

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This year’s Man Booker Prize longlist has thrown up some eccentric choices; but The Sisters Brothers, an eccentric novel in both structure and tone, thoroughly deserves its nomination.

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