In the Shadow of Fukushima

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The earthquake and tsunami in 2011, compounded by radiation contamination, were the most devastating catastrophes to strike Japan since the Second World War. Most cruelly, they hit Tōhoku, the northern part of the main island and the poorest part of the country, home to farmers, fishermen and day labourers. This is Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s home […]

The End of the Silk Road

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 2010, Philip Mansel published Levant, a wide-ranging history of three Mediterranean cities: Alexandria, Beirut and Izmir. In that book, he identified common factors that made these cities distinctly Levantine, in particular diverse ethnicities and cultures, wide trade links and loose Ottoman control. He might have added Aleppo to the trio. If he had written […]

The Great Globe Itself

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Visiting Luxor in Egypt, Edward Wilson-Lee was surprised to be hailed by a local man whose opening gambit was the first line of a soliloquy from Macbeth: ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’. Wilson-Lee responded with the next line from the play and the two strangers traded iambic pentameters from Shakespeare until they tailed off. Then, […]

Making a Scene

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Pray have you Rocks and Waterfalls?/For I am as fond of Landskip as ever,’ wrote Thomas Gainsborough from Bath in 1768 to a friend in Derbyshire. Anna Pavord takes his eccentric usage ‘landskip’ and makes a verb of it, coming up with the perfect title for a book that skips enjoyably across the British landscape, […]

Simply Hideous

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sometime in the 1930s, a wealthy Argentinian matron was strolling in the park of Palermo, in downtown Buenos Aires, when she suddenly noticed an old beggar woman. A notable feature of the park is its rose garden

Something for Everybody

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Something terrible seems to happen to David Cornwell (alias John Le Carré) every time he leaves England or, to be generous, every time he leaves northern or eastern Europe. Give him a drizzle-sodden English prep school, a gentleman’s club in London, a high table at Oxford, a windswept beach or a dripping forest ‘somewhere in […]

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Missed Opportunity

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The object of the Cambridge English Prose Texts is to provide students, primarily though not exclusively those of English Literature, with the opportunity of reading significant prose writers who … are rarely studied. What a wonderful idea to have an anthology of prose from the English Revolution of the 1640’s and 50’s! These were years […]

Impeccably Dressed

Posted on by Tom Fleming

There is something in the admirable work of John Fuller that makes one feel slightly uneasy. For there is no question but the work is admirable: ‘teasing, touching, mysterious, immaculate’ as the blurb to The Beautiful Inventions says, and it is perfectly true. John Fuller’s poems are a marvellous text book of all the graces […]

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Inexpressibly Important

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘With each new piece of work,’ said Max Frisch in a 1961 interview, ‘I have the naive feeling that now, thank heavens, I am getting to grips with a fundamentally new theme – only to discover sooner or later that everything which does not end in fundamental failure possesses fundamentally the same theme.’ The central […]

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Supermarket of the Mind

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘Always historicise!’ With this resounding imperative, Frederic Jameson opens his third major work of Marxist literary theory, of which the precursors were Marxism and Form (1971) and The Prison-House of Language (1972). No recommendation could be more scandalous to conventional criticism. For though literary studies are awash with ‘historical’ accounts, ‘background’ information and biographical jottings, […]

A Grand Theme

Posted on by Tom Fleming

People write about their childhoods for pleasure: not (if they are interesting writers) a simple ‘wasn’t it fun!’ pleasure, but the poignant one of catching and keeping something which otherwise would be gone for ever. It is a tactic for defying time. Someone interviewing Rosemary Sutcliff about this book remarked that she ‘might have been […]

Major or Minor?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Noted for a handful of hypnotically alluring piano pieces and a quizzical wit, the French composer Erik Satie nightly made a seven-mile walk from the centre of Paris to his flat in the suburb of Arcueil into a prolonged pub crawl. Before dying of cirrhosis in 1925 at the age of fifty-nine, Satie produced works […]

Dreams of Autocracy

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘If a man has no constant lover who shares his soul as well as his body he must have a diary – a poor substitute, but better than nothing. That is all there is to it in my case.’ Thus writes James Lees-Milne at the beginning of Caves of Ice, extracts from his diary for […]

Obsession of an Opium-Eater

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘This event of his life – his resort to opium – absorbed all the rest. There is little more to tell in the way of incident. His existence was thenceforth a series of dreams, undergone in different places.’ So the Daily News accounted for Thomas De Quincey, author and opium-eater, on his death in December 1859. Scanty ground for a biography, one might think. Yet De Quincey’s opium habit was a story that absorbed many readers at the time. Taken as a ‘blue pill’ or in alcohol as laudanum, opium was an effective panacea that hooked William Wilberforce and Dorothy Wordsworth, Sara Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens and

Eastern Promises

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Politics, commerce and drama mingle in this account of England’s relations with the Muslim world in the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth and her counsellors were chiefly concerned to find allies who might join England in its struggle against Catholic Spain, ruled by the Habsburgs. At first the Ottoman Turkish sultans, the Moroccan Sa‘did sharifs and […]

Killing Suspense

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In his introduction to Patricia Highsmith’s first collection of short stories, Eleven (published in 1970), Graham Greene vividly describes the particular quality of her writing. ‘She is,’ he says, ‘a writer who has created a world of her own – a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal […]

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Myopic Vision

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Poor Francis Wheen. He was undoubtedly given an impossible brief. Compiling a book to accompany a television series is rarely an exercise designed to stimulate creative thinking. When the series in question is fundamentally flawed the result is, unsurprisingly, mediocre. The Sixties looks and reads like a giant colour supplement, though mercifully without the ads. […]

Art on the Cheap

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The most important thing about this book is the label on the back which reads: ‘Price £7.50’. Admittedly it is a sticky label and that, I fear, means that next time I look it may be £8.50 – and eventually more. But in any case it is a splendid example of the phenomenon of ‘paper-backs […]

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