Why the French are so Superior

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Was It Henry James who said that when good Americans die they go to Paris? [No-Ed.] Thomas Carlson-Reddig is an American and he has written a book entitled An Architects’s Paris. He is not good enough to go to Paris dead or alive. The publisher’s blurb is understandably written in the language of hyperbole, but […]

Home and Away

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Nobody was ever less of a travel writer than Virginia Woolf,’ Jan Morris writes in her introduction to Travels with Virginia Woolf. ‘She was really unbreakably loyal to England’, she dreaded becoming ‘that perennially grim figure – the travel bore’ and her distaste for going about among ‘ordinary people’ at times amounted to an almost […]

Among the New Teutonic Knights in Gdansk

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Eva Hoffman’s Extraordinary Exit into History takes us from the Baltic to the Black Sea. From Poland, we travel through Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. But the authoress is no hardy traveller. She tours in comfort wherever possible and confines herself to large cities. What unfolds is an account of her conversations with leading intellectuals, […]

Blake’s Progress

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Lecturing in New York in 1968 the historian E P Thompson defined himself as a Muggletonian Marxist. In later years he was to admit that his allegiance to both Muggleton and Marx was less than wholehearted, but it is primarily as a Muggletonian that he has written this his final book – Thompson died in […]

A Severe Antidote for Francophilia

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Philia is a dangerous complaint, in whatever form. When Americans succumb to Anglophilia the condition is like a brain tumour: usually incurable and sometimes terminal. Among the English the most acute variety is Italophilia, though it is worth remembering that Germanophilia was even more virulent among our educated classes in the last half of the […]

Thine be the Glory Thine the Light

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Finally, someone has written a big, boisterous, well-documented, commercial book that tells women to shape up and stop feeling sorry for themselves. It is written by Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, a strident polemic portraying women as victims of the fashion and cosmetic industries. But what matters is that this young, talented author […]

He Was Disgusted by a Steak Tartare

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Everything about this book is endearing but most especially the jacket photograph of the author as an infant. Naked, girlish, shiny-haired, he poses on a rock like a water baby and contemplates his foot. It is a charming portrait – but one that any normal chap would have destroyed on sight. The fact that Perry […]

Things Got a Little Out of Hand

Posted on by Tom Fleming

On 16 October 1993 it will be two hundred years since the execution of the Queen of France and to mark this anniversary Sinclair-Stevenson have decided to publish yet another biography of her. Familiar as I am with the accounts of her life by Belloc and Zweig, to say nothing of Hearsey, Seward, Haslip et […]

Christie and Sayers

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The mystery of Agatha Christie’s extraordinary appeal is the subject for investigation in this engaging study by Robert Barnard, and by the end of the book you should be a lot clearer about the reasons for applauding the ingenious lady. It’s well-known, of course, that she played around with the original detective-story formula until she’d […]

Spiced and Curious

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In the introduction to his poems, George Chapman wrote: ‘it serves not a skilful painter’s turn, to draw the figure of a face only to make known who it represents; but he must limn it, give lustre, shadow and heightening; which though ignorants will esteem spiced, and too curious, yet such as have the judicial […]

Playing the Giddy Ox

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I suppose Literary World has always been a shade uncomfortable about the two or three writers of genius who exist at any given time. I do not mean that it ignores them – that happens rarely and I think usually for political reasons rather than literary ones – but it does tend not quite to […]

The Emigrés

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

George Weidenfeld and Peter Owen died last year, leaving the ever-sprightly Ernest Hecht, founder of Souvenir Press, as the sole survivor of that generation of German, Austrian and central European immigrants who revitalised London publishing in the postwar years. They included André Deutsch, Paul Hamlyn, Max Reinhardt, proprietor of the Bodley Head, Kurt Maschler (the […]

Ahmet Şık

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 29 December 2016, Aslı Erdoğan (LR, September 2016), a prominent Turkish novelist, columnist and human rights activist, was released from pre-trial detention in Istanbul. Erdoğan had been imprisoned since August, together with twenty other journalists and employees of Ozgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish opposition daily newspaper that was shut down following the declaration of a […]

February 2017 Crime Round-up

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It is exactly ten years since I started writing this column following the death of Literary Review’s previous crime fiction critic, Philip Oakes. Much has changed in that decade, from the increasing numbers of female authors and protagonists to the acceptability of self-publishing. Above all, there must be twice as many crime novels published. Of […]

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From Accra to Alabama

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, which was first published in the United States to great acclaim in June last year, is a work of extraordinary ambition. In only three hundred pages, Gyasi, who was born in Ghana and brought up in Hunstville, Alabama, aims to retell the history of African-American experience, from enslavement in 18th-century west […]

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Study of a Gyndagooster

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A biography is, in part, a work of fiction. Lacunae must be filled, inferences made, the scattered pieces of another’s life assembled in an attempt to make some kind of whole, however many bits of the jigsaw are missing. That is the central theme of Hame, Annalena McAfee’s richly textured, playful second novel for adults, which […]

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I Confess

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Michael Chabon’s last major novel, Telegraph Avenue, published in 2012 and set eight years earlier, one of the book’s characters encounters, at a political fundraiser, a figure who is at that time of still greater significance to the reader than to her – one Barack Obama. First spied grooving along to the hired band, […]

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Clocking On

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In his story ‘Young Titans’, first published in 1918, the great Dutch writer Nescio (1882–1961) depicts a group of young men who are torn between their dull lives as jobbing clerks and their fading artistic and literary aspirations. ‘No, we didn’t actually do anything,’ the narrator of the story recalls. ‘We did our work at […]

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Doubled Vision

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In a book full of curiosities, the first is the title: Jonathan Lethem’s new novel, published in the UK as The Blot, was named A Gambler’s Anatomy on US publication last year. This is unusual, as the title of a novel is central to its purpose and integrity: ‘it lives and breathes, or it tries, […]

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