I Remember

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Elihu Hoopes and Margot Sharpe meet for the first time on 17 October 1965 at the University Neurological Institute at Darven Park, Pennsylvania. Margot is twenty-four years old, a first-year graduate student working under Professor Milton Ferris at the university’s neuropsychology laboratory. She is assigned to work on ‘Project E H’. Elihu (known as Eli), […]

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After Gwangju

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Following the assassination of the South Korean military dictator Park Chung-hee in 1979, his protégé Chun Doo-hwan extended military law, banning political protest and closing universities. This resulted in the now infamous Gwangju Uprising in May 1980, in which students and factory workers joined forces to protest against government violence and censorship. The army responded […]

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Out for the Count

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The main character of China Miéville’s short new novel is an unnamed nine-year-old boy who lives with his mother and father on the upper slopes of a hill. The time and place are unspecified; midway through there is a glancing mention of several previous wars and of people from some other, more developed place who […]

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Someone to Watch Over Me

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Spy novels have a tendency to include the same ingredients: a miserable childhood, an Oxbridge education, an unhappy love affair, alcoholism, perhaps a touch of obsession. Francesca Kay’s The Long Room and Helen Dunmore’s Exposure both conform to type, and are none the worse for that. Yet while Kay demonstrates that convention is no bar […]

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High Water Mark

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Fictional post-apocalyptic scenarios usually feature a return to wholesale barbarity and monosyllabic heroes struggling for survival. Clare Morrall’s first foray into futuristic fiction is more sinister and unsettling than brutal. The Polanski family live in isolation in a tower block outside the walled-off and deserted city centre of Birmingham. Occasionally they glimpse fleeing figures. Years […]

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Paying It back

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Only a fool would think he has anything to add to Shakespeare,’ Howard Jacobson writes. This remark was bravely cited in a press release from Hogarth, announcing a new series of prose ‘retellings’ of plays by Shakespeare. The first to emerge was Jeanette Winterson’s A Gap of Time, a witty retelling of The Winter’s Tale. […]

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Not for Sissies

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Arlene Heyman’s first book is a collection of seven continuously alarming short stories. The author, who is in her seventies, is a practising psychiatrist in New York City. The elderly men and women she writes about with sometimes disconcerting tenderness in Scary Old Sex have never even considered celibacy as an option. Like Marianne and […]

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A Life Less Extraordinary

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Thomas and Mary Paige, the main characters of this, Tim Parks’s seventeenth novel, first stumble upon each other at the University of Durham in 1978, plight their troth under the supervision of Tom’s clerical father and subsequently settle down into what looks like the most unruffled of bourgeois existences. There are two children, Sally and […]

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Instrument of the State?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the years after the Second World War, during Dmitri Shostakovich’s second period of disfavour with the Soviet authorities, he wasn’t just humiliatingly wheeled out at the Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace in New York, a fellow travellers’ jamboree that just about snuck in under the McCarthyist wire. He was also packed off to Leipzig to judge a piano competition inaugurated to commemorate J S Bach on the bicentenary of his death

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Pride of Inverness

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Her real name was Elizabeth MacKintosh and she was known to her family and neighbours as Beth, the unmarried daughter who stayed at home in Inverness to care for her widowed father. Only in the south could she be who she wanted – the playwright Gordon Daviot or the crime novelist Josephine Tey. Having reinvented […]

Ashraf Fayadh

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record is once more in the international spotlight after the execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. According to Amnesty International’s latest global death penalty report, Saudi Arabia is among the top three executioners worldwide, surpassed only by China and Iran. Another prominent example of Saudi Arabia’s lack of […]

Lodging in the Memory

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Life Embitters is a happy mix of stories, memoir, essays and travel pieces, ‘narrative literature’ in Josep Pla’s words. The basis of his writing is observation of detail. As he wrote in The Gray Notebook, published in English last year, ‘The drama of literature never changes. It is much more difficult to describe than to […]

Fancy Flight

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The spring of 1969 saw the maiden flights of two remarkable, pioneering aircraft. They could not have been more different in their appearance. One was the American Boeing 747, which soon acquired the nickname ‘Jumbo Jet’ because of its colossal size and rounded shape. The other was the much thinner, sleeker and more beautiful Concorde, […]

Lions & Tigers & Bears

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Exotic animals have always fascinated humankind. The Roman Empire, notoriously, had an insatiable appetite for any reliably dangerous creature that could be put in a ring with a human antagonist. Christopher Plumb and Caroline Grigson both give compelling and sometimes astonishing accounts of England’s involvement in this activity. Animals were imported by kings, noblemen, showmen, […]

Between West & East

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Although larger than France and as populous as Spain, Ukraine has long been something of an empty space on the Western mental map. Living in the newly independent country in the early 1990s, I often had to explain to friends where it was. Even foreign secretaries were prone to calling it ‘the Ukraine’, as though […]

Mindfulness over Matter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Mindfulness’ is due a backlash, surely. And it starts here. Sort of. The authors, both psychologists, and one an experienced meditator with a lifelong interest in spiritual matters, originally set out to write an account of the astonishing transformative power of meditation and yoga. But their research for the book complicated the story they had […]

Stitches in Time

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1919, Lady’s Pictorial published an occasional column called ‘Woman on the Wing’, which offered advice for the would-be aviatrix. Probably very few of its readers would ever do more than take a ‘joy ride’ at a holiday resort (usual fee one guinea), but many more dreamed of the freedom, independence and adventure pilots enjoyed […]

Tyrannosaurus, Ex

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This book comes garlanded with tributes, headed by the claim, ‘Only Lisa Randall can take us on such a thrilling scientific journey’. I beg to differ. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen science writers who could do a better job of describing this particular story (and some of […]

The First Efflorescence

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This book tries to answer an admirably ambitious question: what caused the efflorescence of the ancient Greek city-states? By ‘efflorescence’ is meant a specific and comparatively rare phenomenon, characterised not only by ‘more people (demographic growth) living at higher levels of welfare (per capita growth)’ but also by cultural production at a higher level. One […]

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