Making Sweet Assemblage

Posted on by David Gelber

With the advent of this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award, the time-honoured question of just what merits consideration by the judging panel has once more arisen. Is Monique Roffey’s The Tryst eligible for the award, for instance? It features a petite succubus and is brimful of such lines as ‘There I was, luminescent, naked, […]

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Mwah, Mwah

Posted on by David Gelber

Andy Scott’s book is a study of greetings throughout history, but it is not an etiquette guide. I don’t much care for Andy as a name, especially not when it belongs to someone who hangs around Heathrow Airport observing how people greet their friends and relations in the arrivals hall. How can this man have […]

A Time for Wassailing

Posted on by David Gelber

This light-hearted, scholarly book offers a multifaceted portrait of Christmas over two thousand years. Rich in facts and trivia, it takes us all the way from the birth of Jesus Christ – only mentioned in two of the gospels – up to the consumerist society of today, when Christmas is celebrated all over the globe […]

Jack the Cad

Posted on by David Gelber

David Thomson’s Warner Bros is part of Yale’s Jewish Lives series. The four Warner brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack, were born Jewish – their parents were Polish Jews who emigrated to North America in the late 1880s – and all except Jack remained more or less conventionally Jewish, and, indeed, dull. Jack, the protagonist […]

Bloomsbury and Beyond

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey, those modern secular equivalents to Heloise and Abelard, are famous for their complicated relationship, which ended tragically. And, yes, it did indeed involve the Bloomsbury habit of living, at least part of the time, in squares and loving in triangles; the subsidiary cast includes Ralph Partridge, Gerald Brenan and Frances […]

War Horse

Posted on by David Gelber

Horses provided Churchill with an escape during a neglected childhood and were his transport in the wars he virtually ‘collected’ in his youth. They proved his pathway to regimental popularity (he played polo into his fifties), gave him his favourite form of exercise and in later years brought him pleasure as a racehorse owner

Cold Comfort

Posted on by David Gelber

In The Seasons (1730), one of the best-known poems in the English language during the 18th and 19th centuries, James Thomson characterised autumn as ‘rich, silent, deep’, a time of gentle beauty, soft light and effortless abundance: In cheerful error, let us tread the maze Of Autumn, unconfin’d; and taste, reviv’d, The breath of orchard […]

Curator of Curiosities

Posted on by David Gelber

At a music festival this summer, I noticed a group of people raising their phones in the air – reaching towards something. Everybody around them was watching a band on a stage a little way off, but this cluster had turned their backs to the music and were gazing, intently, somewhere beyond the boundary of […]

Energising Evolution

Posted on by David Gelber

Popular ecology has always tended towards the jeremiad. ‘I think we’re fucked,’ wrote Stephen Emmott by way of conclusion to his recent 10 Billion, while numerous BBC natural history documentaries presented by the likes of David Attenborough have more politely implied the same thing. This tone of lamentation has a venerable pedigree, being deployed by […]

Cover Stories

Posted on by David Gelber

My copy of Martin Salisbury’s book has already passed the acid test. A couple of people have asked to borrow it, on what will probably turn out to be a one-way journey. It’s a delightful, deeply learned anthology (containing 371 illustrations) that lovingly confirms the ways in which good art and erudition will find their […]

Paper Trail

Posted on by David Gelber

Remarkably, given the turmoil that engulfed the paper throughout his time in office, Donald Trelford was editor of The Observer for eighteen years. His tenure was marked by swiftness of thought and action and great energy, allied with a strong sense of self-preservation. One underestimated Trelford – and many did – at one’s peril.

Diamond in the Rough

Posted on by David Gelber

Anyone who thinks lawyers are boring should read this book. Desmond de Silva has outfought, outwitted, outdined and outdrunk everyone, from warlords, criminal dictators, Hollywood stars and top footballers to major political figures and serial murderers. It reads like a real-life thriller.

Glitz Spirit

Posted on by David Gelber

I have to admit that before reading this book I was one of the anti-Tina Brown brigade who believed that she was all buzz and no balls – an editor infamous for sucking up to the rich and fawning before the famous. Yes, she may have brought Vanity Fair back from the dead and later rescued […]

Sound & Fury

Posted on by David Gelber

Ishion Hutchinson has been acclaimed as  the finest poet to emerge from Jamaica in recent years. His collection House of Lords and Commons, as the title suggests, points to social inequalities, but also to other dualities: childhood and adulthood, creation and destruction, Jamaica and lands beyond – Hutchinson now lives in the USA and teaches […]

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Twentieth-Century Elizabethan

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Thom Gunn started out as a member of the Movement, that 1950s collection of like-minded British poets, but he looks now like a consistent outsider. When he left England and went to America, he detached himself from one poetic community without, it seems, quite attaching himself to another

Fight to Write

Posted on by David Gelber

In Three Guineas, her pacifist tract written as the Second World War loomed, Virginia Woolf called on women to form a Society of Outsiders. No longer, she urged, should ‘the daughters of educated men’ simply ‘bolster up the system’ by remaining passive in the face of masculine militarism; now was the time for women to […]

Writing their Own Romance

Posted on by David Gelber

Mary Wesley became a literary star in 1983, when she published her first novel at the age of seventy. By that time her second husband, Eric Siepmann, himself a writer of sorts, was dead. They had met in 1944 in the Palm Court of the Ritz, bombs tumbling around them. They were both married. She […]

Loitering with Intent

Posted on by David Gelber

Alan Taylor, an experienced journalist, one day interviewed Muriel Spark in a hotel near Arezzo and became an immediate friend of hers. The same thing happened to me, with the difference that Taylor flew in from Scotland and I drove over from Florence. Oliveto is a picturesque Tuscan hilltop town not far from Arezzo, and […]

Imperial Designs

Posted on by David Gelber

The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies was granted its royal charter in 1600. This gave what became known as the East India Company a monopoly on all English trade ‘to the east of the Cape of Good Hope’. India became the principal focus of the Company’s operations, and by 1772, […]

Riding the Gravy Train

Posted on by David Gelber

Things aren’t what they used to be on Indian Railways. There was a time when, on boarding a long-distance train, you were invited to fill in a menu form for as many lunches, dinners and breakfasts as your journey looked likely to entail. The form was then collected and you forgot what you’d written. But […]

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