Hiding Your Arts

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Plato’s Apology of Socrates, the speech Plato put in Socrates’s mouth when he was on trial for his life in 399 BC, begins with Socrates professing ignorance (as usual) about the right way to make a defence speech (apologia means ‘defence’ in ancient Greek). He begins: ‘I don’t know what you felt, gentlemen of the […]

We Are All At Risk

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Congratulations, you’re alive. After a chapter or two of this microbe’s-eye-view of human history, it is tempting to wonder how our ancestors ever made it. Painful ends have been with us from the beginning, and it is a mystery how mauled, malnourished cavemen struggled on to become contagion-ridden city dwellers. Wherever there is life, Arno […]

American Policy Which is Cruel and Vile

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

On the cover of Out of the Night is a weeping face. Or is it a wax death mask? At its edges pink drops fall towards a shadowy pillow, above which they float as if in some exquisitely painful dream. It seems the perfect metaphor for the death-in-life state of the condemned prisoner, which in […]

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Watch Her Language

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Jeanette Winterson has come in for a lot of flak for being bumptious. Since she chose her own novel as her Book of the Year in a national newspaper, and announced on television that she considers herself the natural heir to Virginia Woolf, the media have enjoyed cocking a snook at her whenever possible. She […]

Could Be Useful at Cocktail Parties

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Not far from where I’m writing this (in Islington, North London), David Mamet, in some unspecified year, was walking along in search of a cup of tea. He found one in a café, opposite Islington library. At this point, reading his account and knowing the area, anxiety overtook me: which café? Was he well advised? […]

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Convivial Study

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Coleridge likened the reviewing of books to the ‘occupation of a cormorant’. The low passivity of waiting for a book to swim past and be, possibly, annihilated with a quick downward thrust of the beak, makes one chary of accepting the reviewer’s role. Peter Levi’s book swims with an articulation of its own, chatty in […]

The Reason Why Counts Became Earls

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I have a female friend whose scrupulous upbringing prevents her from telling her favourite joke. It is the one about the tramp who knocks at the window of a Rolls Royce to ask the driver for the loan of a pound. ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be – Shakespeare,’ replies the driver pompously, pressing […]

A Handsome Windsor

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This is not a novel. It is a heist, planned with the ruthless precision of a bank job. Celia Brayfield’s first blockbuster, Pearls, was a modestly conventional effort about people with loads of money and loads of class, who do quite a lot of (but never enough) screwing. Her second, The Prince, is also disappointingly […]

The Fraud of Freud

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Perhaps there once was a time when you could happily wet the bed, play with your faeces or your sister, barge into your parents bedroom without knocking and still grow up to be a relatively pulled-together human being unburdened by the weight of repressed guilt. Perhaps. But such a golden age was certainly dead by […]

Lewis Carroll: Friend of Children

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The curious story of what happened when a girl named Alice fell down a rabbit hole might never have been preserved for posterity had not one of the children who first heard it pestered the teller of the tale to write it down. The persistent young girl was Alice Pleasance Liddell, aged ten, daughter of […]

Truth and Triumph

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This is a very fine book and quite possibly a great one. But is it a novel? It is the story of a historical figure, Oskar Schindler, a Sudeten German, and it is the product of detailed research. The events it relates occurred in geographical locations and in historical time. Its characters all inhabited the […]

Make Lunch Not War

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

We all know how hung up the Victorians were about food. Eating was confined to the dining room and had to happen at certain times of day. There were repressive dietary rules which led to frustration and unhappiness. No eating between meals. Don’t eat banana before going to bed. Spinach is good for you. Luckily […]

Say It In Greek

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Rock music is like religion: it’s something you grow out of. And then later, wiser maybe, you grow back into it. Guys take it very seriously, like religion (think ‘Clapton is God’, scrawled on the walls of the London Underground). Ruth Padel grew into it late and takes it seriously. As a young woman she […]

She May Have Been Mad but Leonard Was Not to Blame

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The author of this major biography of Virginia Woolf is Professor of English at York University and a distinguished critic and broadcaster. She is also one of my best friends, so do not expect a dispassionate review, though actually I would not have written it differently even if I were unacquainted with her. 

Bang Bang Kiss Kiss

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In a message to his staff when he left the Sunday Times, Ian Fleming said, ‘In all these years we have had great fun working together’. He had been a great Foreign News Manager; perhaps only Sid Mason of Reuters attracted such devotion from foreign correspondents in the field. With a sense for detail, an […]

Corked Up

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The Blood Miracles, Lisa McInerney’s follow-up to her award-winning debut The Glorious Heresies (2015), begins as it means to go on: with quarrelling. Cork drug dealer and frustrated DJ Ryan Cusack is the subject of a tug-of-war between his boss, a fearsome local tough named Dan Kane, and his long-suffering girlfriend Karine, who would very […]

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And, Er, That’s It

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Who are you? Where do we come from? These, in the world of Jostein Gaarder at any rate, are the central philosophical questions. Being in thrall to these questions, succumbing to their charm and feeling the depth of their unanswerability, is what, in Gaarder’s opinion, distinguishes the philosopher from the herd; where the herd sleep […]

A Writer Who Needs to be Saved From His Admirers

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Borges was sixty-two and almost unknown outside Argentina when he won the Prix Formentor in 1962. This prize, – ‘hatched’, according to James Woodall, ‘by six international publishers’ (the British one being Weidenfeld and Nicolson, predictably enough) – was intended to honour ‘an author of any nationality whose existing body of work will, in the […]

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