Gay Scenes

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

  IN THESE WITHERINGLY funny, painfully acute stories about gay life, Michael Arditti shows himself to be of a different generation from writers such as Alan Hollinghurst and Philip Hensher: someone who was, from the evidence of these stories, too agonised to enjoy the hedonism of the pre-Aids gay scene in the 1980s, and whose […]

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Quivering on the Verge of Adulthood

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE NAMING OF a heroine may not always be attended by fairies (as Sleeping Beauty’s was), but it is a fateful event. Cinderella wilts under her derisive nickname; Jane Eyre clings to her plain, stubborn badge of identity; and in each case something important is asserted. Naming is also significant in the destiny of Plectrude, […]

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Jungle Gothic

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE PATHS OF destiny stretch out ahead of the protagonists at the start of Patrick McGrath’s new novel. Jack Rathbone, an aspiring painter, is marked out for a lifetime of stormy romance and the anguish and ecstasy of pursuing his art; Vera Savage, the bohemian artist who deserts her husband for Jack, is fated to […]

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Drama Behind The Lines

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

INEVITABLY THIS NOVEL, based on the life of Katherine Mansfield, invites comparison with Colm Toibin’s recently published The Master, based on the far longer and far less tumultuous life of Henry James. Toibin selects isolated events, many of which at first appear to be of no lasting significance but are soon revealed to have been […]

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Writer Off His Block

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IAIN SINCLAIR’S WORK generally proceeds by digression, repetition and gradual accumulation. In his latest novel – telling the story of Norton, a once mildly successful, now faded writer who moves from Hackney to Hastings in a desperate search for inspiration and ‘new territory’ – Sinclair feels compelled to reprise favourite riffs fiom his earlier books. […]

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Drinking in the USA

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

AT EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY, from the 1960s until 1988, there was a publishing house run by students, unique in Britain. Polygon – which is no longer in amateur hands – was responsible for discovering some of the great names of Scottish literature – Liz Lochhead, Janice Galloway and A L Kennedy among them. At our Wednesday […]

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Brief Encounters

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘I HAVE BEEN re-reading now the short stories of Somerset Maugham,’ remarks a character in this new collection. ‘Superior to his novels I believe.’ Is the same true of the works of William Trevor? Although a fine novelist, Trevor is a superior short-story writer, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest living exponents […]

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The Solace of Solitude

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

  LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING IS AN intensely Wintersonian artefact. It has the usual had physical dimensions, being, in fact, not much more than a 40,000-word novella bulked out to routine length by judicious use of blank pages and double-spaced type. It contains the customary and, to this reviewer at least, somewhat obvious reflections on the nature of […]

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Nanny Knows Best

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE USE OF the word ‘toff’ to deride anyone of a certain peculiar breeding seems to have gained an unopposed currency. Popular newspapers positively encourage it. One day it might be fun to go through a week’s editions of The Guardian replacing every instance of the word with ‘yid’, ‘towel-head’ or ‘prole’ just to see […]

Oak of the Realm

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

TO THOSE NOT of a historical mind, a peerage (and I mean a reference book describing and detailing the titled families of these islands, not the now degraded means by which friends of Mr Blair’s sit in an emasculated House of Lords) is a redundant, and even an offensive, object. Why ever, they ask, should […]

Herbal History

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One of the stars of Jenny Uglow’s previous book, The Lunar Men, was Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus, author of a remarkably fanciful and elaborate scientific poem, ‘The Botanic Garden’, and of a hefty tome on the science of gardening and agriculture. Dr Danvin was also a keen promoter of hothouses: his own was eighty-two feet long […]

The Cretan Paradox

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THERE IS A classic logical paradox which is cited in St Paul’s Epistle to Titus and in older Greek texts and which may be summarised as, ‘All Cretans are liars. I am a Cretan.’ A proud and ancient people should not be libelled as liars; it might be more diplomatic to say that, in Rory […]

Stiff Competition

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The cultural history of sex has had a good run in recent years. We’ve had Rachel Maines’s scholarly, startling, and hilarious history of the vibrator, The Technology of Orgasm, after which most male readers will have needed a period of fasting and prayer before rejoining the ladies. Michael Mason’s The Making of Victorian Sexuality positively glittered with […]

Mucus And Marmite

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

ALEXANDER FLEMING FIRST made his name by treating syphilis. The most effective method of the day involved injecting the patient with 600cc (over half a litre) of solution through a hypodermic needle the size of whcih would, nowadays, preclude it from use in anything other than veterinary medicine. The quantity of liquid injected was so […]

The Strange Charisma of Stardom

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IF JOHN GIELGUD had not made his career as an actor J and director, he might have been a writer, for his eye and ear took in everything so clearly that when he describes plays, people and events the reader is immediately there with him. The earliest letter here is a note to his mother […]

Barrow Boys

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THERE’S A FASCINATION that is frantic / In a ruin that’s romantic’, went a Thirties song. There is something both fascinating and romantic in the lives of the lonely, eccentric scholars who during the eighteenth century created a taste for the remains of Britain’s past. In an age of turnpikes and steam, antiquaries explored abbeys […]

Christopher Ondaatje Goes in Search of Leonard Woolf

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘IT WAS A strange world, a world of bare and brutal facts, of superstition, of grotesque imagination; a world of trees and the perpetual twilight of their shade; a world of hunger and fear and devils, where a man was helpless before the unseen and unintelligible powers surrounding him.’ (Leonard Woolf, The Village in the […]

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