Should Carry a Health Warning

Posted on by David Gelber

Is the world too weary for another biography of Noel Coward? There was Sheridan Morley’s official tome during the old boy’s lifetime. And I seem to remember Morley titillating it up a bit after his death; but I could be wrong. Then there was Cole Lesley aka Leslie Cole’s pleasant, insider’s Life, an illustrated book […]

He Smoked Incessantly

Posted on by David Gelber

It used to be said that ‘the life and works of André Malraux suggest a man restricted to the heights of experience.’ It was also said, before the formulation became a cliché applied to pop stars, that ‘his life, not his writings, is his chef d’oeuvre’. Although Curtis Cate quotes neither of these opinions, he […]

Year of the Woman

Posted on by David Gelber

David Mamet’s description of Hollywood as a sinkhole of depraved veniality remains at odds with our hopeless hope that it can become ‘a protective monastery of aesthetic Truth’. Annually, droves of writers, actors, directors and producers go there to create, and if the place is decadent, it is because they are forbidden to do so […]

Clever People Smoke

Posted on by David Gelber

For all the familiar family reasons, I smoke outside, in the back garden; there is nothing much to see out there, particularly at night, so I frequently find myself staring up at the stars. These are some of the questions I ask myself during my smoking excursions: Why are we here? Is there really someone […]

He Could Make Love to his Wife Only in the Dark

Posted on by David Gelber

It always come as a surprise to recall that Luis Buñuel’s deserved fame as one of the great film-makers rests almost entirely on a handful of films he made in his sixties and seventies. Surely, by this time in an artist’s life, a body of work has been built up through which the eager young […]

Pressing Flesh

Posted on by David Gelber

‘Hospitality is a wonderful thing. If people really want you, they’ll have you, even if the cook has just died in the house of smallpox.’ Those words come from the Notebooks of F Scott Fitzgerald, creator of Jay Gatsby, just one of the hundreds of characters, real and imaginary, who appear in this anthology. In […]

Tales of Perjury

Posted on by David Gelber

When, in 1982, Cibella Borges protested against her suspension from the police force for posing nude for a magazine, she insisted that her action had constituted no crime. ‘She said she feared “the trial is just like the New England witch-hunt. They’ve made up their minds that I am a witch and they want to […]

In a Perpetual State of Amorous Engagement

Posted on by David Gelber

Readers wishing to improve their sex lives should immediately try the following from Stendhal’s journals: Take one tarantula, and reduce to ashes. Mix with olive oil, and rub the resulting paste on the big toe of the right foot. A permanent erection follows.


Posted on by David Gelber

Postwar prime-ministerial memoirs are a mixed bag. The news that David Cameron has signed a contract to write his and is already hard at work on them prompts me, presumptuously, to offer him some advice from a historian’s perspective. Churchill was explicit. ‘This is not history,’ he told Bill Deakin, the ghostwriter for his six-volume history of the Second World War. ‘This is my case.’ In his superb five-volume

Signature of the Times

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In July 2016 a collection of more than 550 modern first editions sold at auction in Dublin, the largest single sale of such books in Ireland. The reason for the auction’s success was simple. Most of the books had been signed by their authors. The collector of these first editions, Dr Philip Murray, had hit on […]

Behrouz Boochani

Posted on by David Gelber

Australia’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers has been widely condemned by international human rights groups and many of its citizens are vocal about the brutality of the system. Those seeking asylum in Australia are often traumatised people who have been tortured or have witnessed atrocities in their own countries and fear for their safety. They […]

Yuki Abroad

Posted on by David Gelber

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, whose mother is Japanese-Chinese-American and whose father is British, described in a recent Guardian interview how her own dual citizenship informed the rootlessness at the heart of her debut novel: ‘On the good days, I feel like I have many homes. On the bad days I feel I have no home.’ Harmless […]

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Posted on by David Gelber

One morning in New York in July 1965, in ‘a quiet neighbourhood, not the kind of place where kids went missing’, a 26-year-old cocktail waitress telephoned her estranged husband demanding to know if he’d taken the children, who’d disappeared from their bedroom overnight. He denied doing anything of the kind; eventually the children were found […]

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Escape from Zamana

Posted on by David Gelber

‘These struggles of Pakistanis were not just about Pakistan, they were about the survival of the entire human race. They were about the whole planet.’ So Nargis, the focal figure in Nadeem Aslam’s new novel, reflects after her husband is killed by a random shot, one of about a hundred, fired by an American who […]

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Reading Between the Lines

Posted on by David Gelber

Hariton Pushwagner’s Soft City, completed in 1975 (he began work on it in 1969), attracted a cult following then vanished entirely until 2002. After a lengthy lawsuit (Pushwagner, whose real name is Terje Brofos, had signed away the rights to all of his works while living rough), Soft City was finally republished in Norway in […]

‘Everything was bile’

Posted on by David Gelber

Christos Tsiolkas likes to write about sex. His sex scenes are uniformly grim. ‘He was murdering her, cutting her, fucking her, hurting her. He farted and the room smelt of his acrid shit. He jumped into her, a machine, and he came in a spasm: groans, the kicking back of his body, a tremor throughout. […]

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Blood on the Tracks

Posted on by David Gelber

‘The thing arrived in its hulking strangeness … The locomotive was black, an ungainly contraption led by the triangular snout of the cowcatcher, though there would be few animals where this engine was headed.’ It’s how you imagine it when you first hear of the underground railroad as a child: steam trains that ran on […]

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I Know What You Did This Summer

Posted on by David Gelber

James Lasdun’s memoir, Give Me Everything You Have, told of how he was stalked by a female ex-student whose lurid claims endangered his reputation. By his own account, a minor and benign consequence of this ordeal was the taste it gave him for Patricia Highsmith, whose ‘anxiety-saturated’ psychological thrillers eased his dread. To judge from […]

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