Finally Relents

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Before I started Destiny, Tim Parks’s new novel set in Italy, I idly wondered if it might resemble Verdi’s opera La forza del destino, with its marvellous stormy music and its assurance that everything can be blamed on fate. But the narrator of this commanding novel turned out to be anything but operatic. Chris is […]

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True Story of How He Finally Captured Her

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This love story begins with two gerontic delinquents driving along the northern bypass of Oxford and enjoying the ‘hoots and shouts from passing cars who have had to brake at speed’. At this point, the oldies judder off on to the grassy verge, leave the car, worm their way through a gap in the hedge […]

Too Much to Do

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the case of Philip II of Spain, absolute power did not corrupt, but it was disastrous. From the age of sixteen, in 1543, until his death in 1598, he controlled the world’s first global empire (a phrase of the time), on which, it was thought, the sun need never set. Philip inherited Spain and […]

Miraculous Survival

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the year or so that I have been working on a history of Stalin’s concentration camps, I have cried three times. Once when I read Eugenia Ginsberg’s account of the months she spent working in the children’s section of a camp, where the barbed wire, gates and guards formed a terrible contrast with the […]

A Selfish Man Condemned to Live in Ireland

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Why do we always think of Swift as old? The image one has of him is that of a crusty old codger shuffling around the streets of Dublin or London, kicking urchins out of his way while he does his best to avoid the importunings of the various womenfolk with whom he has become entangled. […]

How Stalin Ruined the Spanish Republic

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I have long admired Gerald Howson for his dogged determination to get to the truth, whatever the cost in hard labour. No episode in recent history is covered with more acres of ignorance than that of arms deliveries to the Spanish Republic in its struggle with Franco and the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. […]

Was it an Accident?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Margaret Atwood is one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive. She is always putting her past behind her: her novels share no family likeness. It is strange to recall her early books, such as Surfacing and The Edible Woman. They were slender and graceful – and very much a young writer’s work. But […]

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Short, Fierce Life of a Homicidal Cupid

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The restless, driven, intensely idiosyncratic life of the poet Arthur Rimbaud reads like a biographer’s dream. After a brief and explosive career as the enfant sauvage of French literature, he gives up writing poetry at the age of twenty-one, becomes a drifter, gunrunner and African explorer, and expires painfully and deliriously in a Marseilles hospital […]

He Names the Guilty Men

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Peter Hitchens’s book is a plangent lament for the old Britain, the land of warm beer and lengthening shadows on the village cricket pitch; but it can also be read as an obituary for the old Daily Express. When Hitchens joined the paper, in 1977, it was still the voice of grumpy suburban reactionaries. Now […]

They Finished Their Drinks and Left

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Back in the early 1980s, in the depths of an Oxford winter, I remember trudging through the snow to attend something called the New College Fiction Symposium – a kind of brains trust featuring assorted luminaries of the form (notably Salman Rushdie and Michael Frayn) and chaired by Melvyn Bragg. These, younger readers may perhaps […]

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No One Saw Him Paint

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Jack Yeats lived his life in the shadow of his elder brother, the poet, the famous W B. Yeats, who was to become Ireland’s greatest painter, was born in London in 1871, at Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, the fifth of John and Susan Pollexfen Yeats’s six children. The family were dragged from Ireland to London […]

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