Scene by Scene

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The African-American film-maker Kathleen Collins (1942–88) packed a lot into a life cut cruelly short by cancer. A civil rights activist in the 1960s, she turned to screenwriting in the 1970s, achieving critical success with her 1982 film Losing Ground and writing several plays, including In the Midnight Hour (1978) and The Brothers (1980). The […]

Small-Town Scheherazade

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘But part of it is, yes, it’s easy to get lost in America.’ Those words, from an interview with the radical American activist Bill Ayers, provide one of the epigraphs to John Burnside’s new novel, Ashland & Vine. Ayers was a founding member of the Weathermen, the group that conducted a bombing campaign against public […]

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Innocence Lost

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the title story of Tessa Hadley’s third collection, a nightmare prompts a nine-year-old’s revelation. The child loves Swallows and Amazons, but in her dream the book includes a chilling summary of how the lives of Roger, John, Titty and Susan play out. ‘Roger drowned at sea in his twenties … John suffered with a […]

Heading for Disaster?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Deep in a remote corner of the vast and sprawling Ottoman Empire, rebellion has broken out. Ali Tepelena, eighty-year-old vizier of much of Albania and known to his masters as ‘Black Ali’, has risen against the sultan. Unfortunately, the sultan’s reputation as a cruel despot deters the local population from rallying to Black Ali’s side. […]

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Drawn & Quartered

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Archibald Isaac Ferguson, Archie to his friends, is born in New Jersey in 1947. After that, things get complicated. His father dies horribly in a botched arson attack on his furniture store, or he lives to cash out on the insurance and move the family to stifling suburban affluence. His parents stay together, or they […]

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Reaching for the Heavens

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Make your way through Coventry’s postwar shopping precincts and suddenly you catch sight of the steeple of St Michael’s, soaring, as Ruskin put it, halfway to the sky, now standing defiantly above the nave and chancel bombed in 1940. Go on a church crawl in Somerset west of Yeovil and you will see steeples with […]

Off His Crocker

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

David Welky’s story starts with the ambiguous figure of Robert E Peary, the American obsessed with being the first man to reach the North Pole. In 1906 he made his initial attempt. He did not reach the Pole, though he did come closer than anyone had before, at 87º6’ North (or so he said). It […]

Bullfight Detector

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This fascinating book about Britons in Spain by Simon Courtauld, a British journalist and Hispanicist, is absolutely not about escapism among the bougainvillea. To qualify for inclusion, someone must have engaged with Spain at a meaningful level in ways that had a lasting influence, either for the person concerned or for Spain itself. Some surprising […]

Joined at the Hip

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

We have become aware that once Brexit is completed the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will also be one that separates the United Kingdom from the European Union. It’s an exceptionally winding border, sometimes along country lanes. On occasions the only sign that you have changed states may be the […]

Communist Poster Boy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are many memoirs by Chinese imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), but I’ve never read one, by a loyal Party member, like this. Xu Hongci’s ordeal began in 1957 and continued until his final escape, in 1972, from China’s gulag into Mongolia. Erling Hoh, whose translation makes this ghastly story riveting, rescued the manuscript […]

Ocean University

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, ethologist Jonathan Balcombe is someone I am unlikely to meet propping up the bar at the Flyfishers’ Club, leafing through a copy of Field & Stream. The subtitle to his latest book had me dreading a farrago of namby-Bambi, squirrel-kissing sentimentality, […]

Life on Mars?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1995, for the first time, a planet was discovered orbiting a bright star other than the Sun. Today several thousand ‘extrasolar’ planets are known, some of them rocky worlds not much bigger than the Earth, orbiting their parent stars at distances which mean that liquid water could possibly exist on their surfaces. The fact […]

Queens of the Night

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Looking back from the first decade of the 20th century, Herbert Hall Turner, Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, believed that ‘a revolution in almost all departments of Astronomy, theoretical and practical’ had recently taken place. He dated its beginning to about 1875, when the new techniques of photography and spectroscopy arrived at his then-workplace, […]

Body Language

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Kathryn Hughes specialises in oblique avenues of approach to Victorian England. In Victorians Undone she sets out to anatomise it – to know it, as her title bluntly proclaims, in the flesh, examining its body parts, organs and (pardon the word) holes. As Hughes ‘undoes’ it, Victoria’s kingdom is a place of ‘sneezes, bums, elbows, […]

We, the People?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On the political science shelves of my library, Margaret Canovan’s excellent Populism (1981) has for a long time been rather lonely next to the serried ranks of books on fascism, liberalism, conservatism and other isms. This has begun to change. The section has already been bulked out with new books by Cas Mudde and Jan-Werner […]

Priming the Pump

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The first time Stephen Westaby witnessed a heart operation, he was an eighteen-year-old medical student hiding in an abandoned observation gallery above the operating theatre. The patient, a young woman, died amid a torrent of blood. Despite, or because of, this traumatic introduction, Westaby went on to dedicate his life to open-heart surgery, performing daring […]

Meme Streak

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Daniel Dennett has decided that the mind is less like a computer than he had previously imagined. Instead, the Darwinian philosopher suspects that the brain may be even more Darwinian than he had supposed. The constituent elements of a computer have no individual interests and are not in competition. They encounter no risks or opportunities. […]

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