Is This the Greatest American Novel Ever?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Dividing lines cover the vast North American continent, writing meanings and demarcations onto its previously unplotted space. The most famous line of all was the Mason-Dixon, surveyed and drawn between 1763 and 1767, to separate Maryland from Pennsylvania, and halt a boundary dispute raging between Calverts and Penns, proprietors of the two colonies. In 1779 […]

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Her Philosophical Essays Changed Everything

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Iris Murdoch has said in the past that her philosophy is quite separate from her novels. This is perhaps because she has a suspicion of the ‘novel of ideas’, and believes that the novel should be grounded in contingency, in the ‘thinginess’ of which she believed Sartre had not enough. Her novels are nevertheless peopled […]

He Dared to Tell Them their History, Now Forgotten

Posted on by David Gelber

This is not a book about Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It is the book. Previous studies, above all the monumental and patient work of Michael Scammell, ‘will give you all the facts’ – as biographies do in Auden’s poem. D M Thomas presents us with a huge historical canvas – a history of twentieth-century Russia seen through […]

Still Elegantly Gloomy about America’s Future

Posted on by David Gelber

So called because it is a pendant to his recent collection, United States, Virgin Islands is hardly virgin territory for its author. As the toastmasters say, Gore Vidal needs no introduction, but, as the elderly and fuddled toastmaster sometimes whispers, who is Gore Vidal? Playwright, novelist, and two-time-losing candidate for public office (Senate and House […]

It Really is a Very Important Centenary

Posted on by David Gelber

In the ebb and flow of modern literary reputations, Ernest Hemingway’s is one that, over recent years, has markedly ebbed. This is no doubt partly because of the machismo of his narratives and literary character, which has taken many hard knocks in our politically corrective, gender-rebalancing age. But there was always more to it than […]

When the Time came to send for a Novelist

Posted on by David Gelber

In April 1996, a group called Dignity for Colombia abducted the brother of a former president and demanded that García Márquez be installed as head of state. The Nobel Laureate begged them to release the hostage, insisting he would be ‘the worst president ever’. The episode is as surreal as anything in his novels. Imagine […]

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Over the Hill

Posted on by David Gelber

Towards the end of of The Folks That Live On The Hill, Kingsley Amis describes an old devil’s difficulties with novels. Freddie finds it hard to concentrate. One immediately feels a certain sympathy. In an essay published recently, Amis suggested that books should always disclose the author’s date of birth ‘so you could avoid anyone […]

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Frottage in the Cottage

Posted on by David Gelber

His penis mightier than his sword, the seriously camp pseudo-homosexual Adrian Healey is not to be found on the school playing-fields. Healey, strangely attired, even for a 1970s English public schoolboy, in top hat, Astrakhan coat, lavender gloves and spats, appears in the changing rooms to tease the muddy, sweaty school XV.

Applause, Please

Posted on by David Gelber

Muriel Spark is the kind of novelist around whom myths and legends abound. My favourite is that Mrs Spark was convinced T S Eliot was communicating with her from beyond the grave, via the clues in the Times crossword puzzle. An alternative version of this, found in the memoirs of her former lover, Derek Stanford, […]

Heroine on Heroin

Posted on by David Gelber

This is a great sprawling mess of a book with all the exuberance and confusion of a Harlem gin mill. In the noise and crush of personalities, fascinating facts about the history of the African-American, the social, anthropological and geographical aspects of their lives – and encyclopedic details about the music – Billie Holiday is […]

Pure Heaven

Posted on by David Gelber

Were you to take a peek into A C Benson’s Commonplace Book, you would, after a bit, come across the following exhortation from Dr F J Foakes Jackson: ‘It’s no use trying to be clever – we are all clever here. Just try to be kind – a little kind.’ It was addressed, at the […]

The Search for Perfect Love

Posted on by David Gelber

Once upon a time sex was a shameful secret; now we know, or think we know, that sex is not the secret but the shroud, within which the most secret parts of the individual are hidden. Germaine Greer is no exception to our post-Freudian era – she has always seen destiny in terms of sexuality, […]

A Fearsome Dignity

Posted on by David Gelber

James Fullerton is a dirty-minded poet. Over the past eighteen years, he has worked in Oxford, Wales, Germany, America, Cambodia and the Philippines, publishing poetry and prose under the twin pseudonyms of James Fenton and John Fuller. But later this month a volume of his own will at last be published in all its murky […]

The Pound in your Pocket

Posted on by David Gelber

We have had the English Auden but not, so far, the Pound sterling. Xenophobic British critics have pounced with glee on Pound’s midwestern origins, as if parochiality constituted some kind of original sin. Cosmopolitan Americans like Hugh Kenner, on the other hand, have emphasised Pound’s own cosmopolitanism, as if a forged affiliation with medieval Provence, […]

Lampedusa on Joyce

Posted on by David Gelber

This is the first British publication of an essay first published in the Corriere della Sera in 1977. I have to thank Fintan O Connell for detecting the material and Elizabeth Potter for assisting with the translation. The article opens with an introduction by Sebastiano Grasso. Whenever necessary, Joyce quotations as they appear in the […]

Drinking and Rivalry and Sex

Posted on by David Gelber

Literary anecdotage has a claim to being the highest form of gossip, although it is more often a pretty low form. It is all the better for that, of course: at its worst, a literary anecdote portrays nobility in its subject; at its best it reveals something humorous or eccentric or slightly wicked. For example […]


Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

We think we know the Romantics. Their endlessly retold lives have become  familiar through shorthand vignettes: Blake and his wife sitting naked in their summer house; Coleridge scribbling poetry under the influence of class A drugs; Wordsworth jumping his own sister; Shelley committing suicide by sailboat; Keats born in a stable. What does any of […]

Notes from the Book Trade

Posted on by David Gelber

How many of us now remember the National Book League? There are not many ‘leagues’ left; the League of Nations went the way of the Band of Hope. The NBL emerged in 1944 out of the National Books Council, celebrating league status by acquiring the following year the former Grillon’s Hotel in Mayfair – 7 […]

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Andy Hall

Posted on by David Gelber

British human rights activist and blogger Andy Hall is currently on trial in Thailand. He is accused of criminal defamation and ‘computer crimes’ after contributing to a report about alleged abuses of migrant workers perpetrated by the Natural Fruit Company Limited, a Thai-owned fruit processing company that supplies European markets. Natural Fruit brought a complaint […]

After the Fall

Posted on by David Gelber

The Goldschmidts are an ordinary family pursuing a quaint, middle-class existence in the West Midlands. They live on a suburban road where the houses are small and gardenless but are goldmines in terms of transport links to London and rising prices. They read The Guardian and listen to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Adam, the novel’s […]

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