Author as Father Bear

Posted on by David Gelber

Ancestors do turn quear, as Daisy Ashford says, and when you begin the third novel of a trilogy without knowledge of its forerunners, your fear is not so much that you won’t know who the characters are, for any competent author can introduce you to them; it is that the novelist may have embarked earlier […]

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What the Hell is Going on?

Posted on by David Gelber

In his long and distinguished career as a novelist Graham Greene has often flirted with the simple adventure story (‘There is a great deal of Boys’ Own Paper in Greene,’ V S Pritchett once told me). But he has shied away from explicit outward bounding and he has always chosen to thicken his plots with […]

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A Small World

Posted on by David Gelber

In his introduction to this salad of contemporaries and friends, Alan Watkins claims that its disparate politicians, polemicists and academics have a kind of unity. He then goes on: There is also, I think, a unity of place. My entire working life has been spent in the quadrilateral enclosed by the Euston Road to the […]

Novel Rumours

Posted on by David Gelber

Sir Michael Levey and Shirley Conran have very little in common, except that they have both just published first novels, and that each was better known before for literary work of a non-fictional nature. Tempting Fate, it would be tempting to say, is a novel of adolescence, a sort of British, Eighties Catcher in the […]

‘Dad’s Renaissance’

Posted on by David Gelber

Be warned: this does not make cheerful reading. Entertaining, yes, and funny enough at times to make you laugh aloud; but the general tone is depressing. Regrettably Noel Coward kept no diaries of the Twenties and Thirties – ‘the merry years’, as he calls them; his autobiography, Present Indicative, only reaches 1931 and he was […]

Werner Herzog: Spectacle and Extremity

Posted on by David Gelber

Herzog first uses the image of a ship stranded in the branches of a tree, high above the waters, in Aguirre, Wrath of God. It reappears in Nosferatu when a ship brings the vampire from Transylvania to wreak vengeance on the civilised burghers of Western Europe and infest their town with plague. In Fitzcarraldo this […]

Name Dropping

Posted on by David Gelber

It could never, praise be to Allah, happen here. The communist witch-hunt instigated by Senator McCarthy and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee was a particularly American episode in many ways, blurring distinctions between patriotism and jingoism, private conscience and public responsibility, dissent and treason. In the United States of the 1950s, an Anthony Blunt need […]

The Elusive Charles Dickens

Posted on by David Gelber

The notion of Macmillan’s Interviews and Recollections series (there have been previous volumes on Wells, Synge, Wilde, Yeats and Lawrence) is to collect first-hand accounts of their subjects, from contemporary sources, which may not have found a place in existing biographies. All well and good, since this will presumably save future biographers the trouble of […]

Change of Climate

Posted on by David Gelber

Harold Wilson, the begetter of so many of the Labour Party’s problems today, was at least right about one thing. A week is a long time in politics – and half a week at Bishops Stortford even longer. The Battle for the Labour Party, one of the many spin-offs of the SOP’s launch, was completed […]

Salman Rushdie: A Profile

Posted on by David Gelber

When your picture appears on the cover of both the London Review of Books and the New York Times Review of Books within a fortnight of each other, and burly customs officials hustle for your autograph on arrival at Kennedy airport, then you might be forgiven for ‘taking a policy decision’ to enjoy all the […]

Complete Writer

Posted on by David Gelber

These are wonderful letters – passionate, furious, funny, trenchant, informed and intelligent. Whether addressing the famous or the unknown, Chandler gave of his best on a range of subjects that included politics, religion, Hollywood, literature, sex, alcohol, food and himself. Sincere emotion is rarely absent. J B Priestley ‘likes my books, says he smiling politely […]

Real-life Americans

Posted on by David Gelber

The publisher’s come-on for Charles Bukowski’s Women cites Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Genet. Both apparently have acclaimed him as ‘the best poet in America’. Perhaps this says something about the efforts of every other poet in America, or indicates the perversity of existentialist taste, or maybe even it reflects the common understanding of American English […]

Expressing Ireland

Posted on by David Gelber

The excellent Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories begins with a legend of the Fianna told by Lady Gregory, and ends with Gillman Noonan’s ‘Dear Parents, I’m working for the EEC!’ Benedict Kiely’s editorial cunning thus encapsulates Irish progress; though the hero of the latter story feels that materialism and bureaucracy have made him ‘a […]

Post Homo Sapiens

Posted on by David Gelber

Burroughs has said recently that he’s interested in extending his vision outward, rather than inward. The two modes of perception of course go hand in hand, but coming from an experimental novelist, this statement is a great encouragement because modem fiction has grown solemn and rancid through self-regard, apparently forgetting in its condition of autohypnosis […]

Koestler, God, and the Right Brain

Posted on by David Gelber

In the third volume of her autobiography, Simone de Beauvoir describes her first meeting with Koestler in Paris, shortly after the war. ‘He accosted Sartre with pleasing simplicity: “Hello, I’m Koestler.” … In a peremptory tone, softened by an almost feminine smile, he told Sartre: ” You are a better novelist than I am, but […]

Sharpish

Posted on by David Gelber

Both of these lads have sharpened their pens. The ubiquitous maestro of the mucky chuckle is visible in each of these first novels, as witness this composite blurb: Meet a fiercely independent spirit caught in the relentless heat, the boring routine. What he has is problems, sexual and spiritual. He sees events as potential escape […]

A Most Honourable Cat

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I know of only one historical hypothesis that is instantly convincing. I read it in the Autumn 1985 number of The Ashmolean, a lively and scholarly quarterly with subjects as various as the collections in the museum that issues it. An article explored ancient Egyptian representations, including some piercingly beautiful statuettes, of cats: plumpish, sleek […]

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Lady Balquidder Wept

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Violet Trefusis died in Florence in February 1972. In Britain her English novels were out of print; her French ones had never been translated. The Vita scandal of 1920 had never been forgotten (there had been many more scandalous affairs since then) and the obituary that appeared in The Times was short. It commemorated her […]

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