He Discovered the True Philosopher’s Stone

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Ours is the Age of Scepticism. So many great men have proved to have clay feet that we have come to believe that anyone whose achievements have brought him to our attention must inevitably be a scoundrel. With intellectuals we are inclined not to accept their work as first-rate unless they display some knavery in […]

In Love And Politics

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The extraordinary slipperiness of memory is something Doris Lessing notes with what seems like respect. She sees it as being up to lots of ‘little tricks … it simplifies, tidies up’. Aware of this, most writers try to shape their memories into a seamless whole, making of them a smooth story, crafted so cunningly that […]

Found In Old Pots

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

You can learn a lot on a walk around Suffolk. For instance, consider the slender iron bridge that crosses the River Blyth between Walberswick and Southwold. It was constructed in 1875 for a narrow gauge rail link between Southwold and Halesworth, and the train that ran on it is said to have been built for […]

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They All Wanted Money

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This book is the product of two different kinds of legacy. The first was in 1698, when a young man named Elias Ball, son of poor tenant farmers in rural Devon, learned that he had inherited – from an aunt he never met – a part share in a plantation in South Carolina, together with […]

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Porn Again

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Now, Where were we? Oh yes, Trainspotting, in so far as one could decipher the Pictish dialect, ended with Renton’s drug-money scam: Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie and Second Chance left high and dry as our man took off with the cash (not that much cash, in reality) towards a new life played out a very […]

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Let Us Withdraw

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is often casually assumed that we have assimilated Charles Darwin. He established the mechanism of our relationship to the natural world and thereby completed the project that began with Copernicus – the displacement of humankind from its throne at the centre of creation. Darwin, Richard Dawkins has said, made it intellectually respectable to be […]

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As He Lay Dying, He Called for Cloudberries

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As a poet Pushkin is almost too good. By which I mean that, like Dante in Italy, and Goethe for the Germans, he brought a language and the essential or absolute nature of it poetry definitively together. Every literate Russian literally owns him. Not for nothing did a minor Russian poet of the early twentieth […]

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All You Need To Know

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Consciousness is, in one way, the easiest and most obvious thing in the world to understand, for anyone capable of thinking about it is intimately conscious of being conscious – we live with our noses pressed hard up against our own consciousness, which attends every moment of our aware experience and thought; and similarly, the […]

Has Been Greener

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Most years, the announcement of the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is greeted with surprise. Wislawa who? A Japanese novelist called what? The only surprise about the 1999 award was that Gunter Grass hadn’t won it already. Some imagined he had – perhaps thinking of his compatriot Heinrich Böll (1972) or his magical-realist […]

Why Does She Turn Him into a Mackerel?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In many respects, Norwegian Linn Ullmann’s Before You Sleep is standard-issue: three Generations of Strong Scandinavian Women. Two sisters emigrate to America in the 1930s, where they both vie for fellow Norwegian Rikard Blom, whose star-struck infatuation with New York City is painfully familiar. One sister marries Rikard, by whom she has two daughters. When […]

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Murky Tale of a Man who Lacked Decorum

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

M is a dazzling book which I imagine will spawn as many imitators as Longitude. It fits into no known genre: it is written with all the bravura of a novel but is not fiction; it is based on fact, but the facts are too sparse or too questionable to constitute a full biography. No […]

A Nice Little Earner

Posted on by David Gelber

Anyone who doubts that there is a thriving Holocaust industry should try taking a taxi in Krakow’s ancient Jewish quarter. ‘Schindler tourism?’ ask the drivers. ‘Schindler tourism’ is a pretty grisly affair, fusing Hollywood and Hitler. Step inside and the driver will immediately play a tape of Klezmer (Jewish folk music). Then the tour begins: […]

Scoundrel Manages to Keep his Secrets

Posted on by David Gelber

God help the hangers-on, the small fry who desperately dart and flash amidst the barracudas and the killer whales. Life is hard at that level, even if you look like a big fish to the crustaceans on the seabed, or, at times, to yourself. It is almost possible to pity poor Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, painter […]

The Hot-Water Bottle in Her Bed

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘You WILL BE alone. ER,’ read the invitation to tea from Buckingham Palace. Garbo refused. A shame, as two of the most skilful self-publicists of the century would have had much to talk about. Stars have fans, devoted ones. And they don’t come much more devoted than Barry Paris. No area of Garbo’s life fails […]


Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A few months ago, a clutch of unremarkable-looking pamphlets flopped onto my desk at Bernard Quaritch Ltd, an antiquarian bookshop in London. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, these unassuming publications would offer me a glimpse into a world of literary skulduggery worthy of a detective thriller. The pamphlets form part of the story […]

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Secrets & Despair

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The existence of capital punishment in the USA horrifies many people, both in that country and in the rest of the world. Large numbers of American law students have worked during their holidays for lawyers defending death row prisoners. One such is Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. While a student at Harvard, she went to work for Clive […]

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Medea on the Make

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

So we come to yet another retelling of the life of Medea, the most famous child of Aeëtes of Colchis: priestess, traitor, herbalist, wife, and the Bronze Age’s most heralded murderer – as opposed to all the kings and heroes around her who were, of course, just doing their jobs as the corpses stacked neck-deep. […]

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Portrait of a Family

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Francesca Segal’s new novel, a widowed music teacher, Julia, falls in love with a divorced obstetrician. Her daughter hates her new stepbrother with a passion, and her in-laws from her previous marriage have yet to approve her new partner. Can the two warring families be joined or will Julia’s love fall victim to circumstance?

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Vinyl Frontier

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Forensic Records Society stands out among Magnus Mills’s novels for its practically Aristotelian narrowness. Its dialogue-driven plot assembles in the back room of a pub (not, at that, a gastro). Reflective, preparatory interludes are sketched at the slightly depressing abodes of the novel’s two leading vinyl bores. Neither quite qualifies for the title of […]

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