He Avoids Stonehenge and Rolling Stones

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The public apparition known as ‘Sir Roy Strong’ has been created partly by himself (his insistence on wearing those funny hats and drawling his exaggerated likes and dislikes on television) and partly by the satirists. Private Eye early took to calling him Dr Roy Strange, and Craig Brown, the best parodist since Max Beerbohm, has […]

True Voice of the Great Missing American Novel

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Ralph Ellison is one of the greatest modern African American (or, as he would probably have preferred, American Negro) novelists. In 1952 he published his first novel, Invisible Man, a book startling for its vision, rhetorical verve, and cunningly devised irony. It strangely mixed naturalism, expressionism and surrealism; its mood was apocalyptic. ‘I am an […]

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Into the Fire?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Readers aged over twenty-five will remember what it was like. The gruesome flared suits made from synthetic fibres. The Morris Marinas and Hillman Imps, cars which only started fifty per cent of the time. The fatalistic managements and the bloody-minded shop stewards. ‘Whaddawewan?’ ‘Tenpercent!’ ‘Whendawewannit?’ ‘NOW!’ Britain in the 1970s appeared to be trapped in […]

Euroscepticism Blown out of the Water

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Sooner or later, nations get the histories they need – different ones, of course, at different times. The early Victorians needed Macaulay’s brash, materialistic Whiggery; their less confident descendants a century later needed the more nuanced version offered by G M Trevelyan. By the same token, the bemused, post-imperial, post-modern citizens of the unravelling British […]

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Case History of a Literary Groupie

Posted on by Tom Fleming

For all his assiduity and weighty pronouncements on literary matters, Stephen Spender all too often comes across as a slightly ludicrous figure. Evelyn Waugh loved to mock him as a ‘semi-literate socialist’; James Lees-Milne recalled the poet in his wartime fireman’s uniform, draped across a hospital bed bearing the gorgeous form of ‘the Sergeant’, a […]

Out of the Snake Pit

Posted on by Tom Fleming

What does John Richardson think he is doing? He is half-way through his monumental Life of Picasso, with two volumes down and at least two more to go – you would think that, at seventy-five, he would feel some urgency to finish it. But he has taken time out to write this fluffy memoir. Of […]

Glimpse of Intelligence Too Vast to Apprehend

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In Harold Bloom’s native United States, his latest tome has proved something of a publishing phenomenon. When I visited New York last autumn, this academic panorama of Shakespeare was enjoying a lengthy sojourn in the New York Times’ bestseller list; its daunting 750-page bulk was to be found on the coffee tables of those Manhattan […]

How They All Admired Us Before We Fell Apart

Posted on by Tom Fleming

THE IDEA OF English or, rather different, British identity is currently an urgent matter. Europe threatens our political and economic dissolution and America our cultural. The first offers a regulated superstate; the second a deregulated globalisation. Neither offers the land we once knew and loved, nor the one we now know and love slightly less. […]

Invitation to Join the Monsters in their Lairs

Posted on by Tom Fleming

To summarise a Le Carré plot is to deflate it, for his peculiar merit is to soar above reality. Yet some explanation is needed, even if it brings the tale down to bump along the surface of the real world, like Mr. Branson’s balloon. Single and Single is an exalted London firm of financiers, led […]

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Visions on the Beach

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The Leper’s Companions appears to have been written in a state of heavenly innocence. But there is more to Julia Blackburn than that. She is the daughter of the poet Thomas Blackburn, who, she has said, was ‘very wild and very, very violent’, but taught her that ‘words have the magical power to make sense […]

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First Recognisable Epic Poem

Posted on by Tom Fleming

AT ONE OF the earliest points of our recorded history, the remarkable culture of Mesopotamia flourished, and one of its many versatile and precocious achievements was Gilgamesh, our first recognisable epic poem. It has gradually been pieced together, as the cuneiform tablets have been unearthed and deciphered. It has come out of the ground bit […]

Who Named the Fish?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Clever youths crave intellectual baubles. They like to toss them about, and then, once broken, they like even more to hurl them from the playpen. One envies, therefore, the students of Bologna University who gathered at the beginning of the 1994-5 academic year to hear Professor Eco deliver ‘The Force of Falsity’, which is the […]

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Way Out of the Congo

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Brilliant. Now, that is no sort of measured critical reaction but it is how I feel I must begin – with a one-word shout of praise for this superb epic novel. It is a novel predominantly about Africa, or, more precisely, the Congo: about what first the Belgians then the Americans have done to it. […]

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Seeing Politics as a Sexual Exercise

Posted on by David Gelber

Leo Abse has done it again. At eighty-three, the Freudian ex-MP to whom we owe the reform of the laws relating to divorce, homosexuality, suicide and children’s rights has produced a book that is brilliant, disturbing and entertaining, at times bewildering, but always stimulating. His opening is characteristically provocative, informing us in detail of how, […]

They May Have an Emotional Hole

Posted on by David Gelber

Animals have become a problem, a zone of serious instability in our moral self-perception. On the one hand, we seem to be an unusually caring age – domestic pets are pampered as never before, people are upset about fox-hunting, they fear for the fate of whales and other endangered species and they demand the extension […]

Wait for my Version

Posted on by David Gelber

Some years ago I was seated at dinner next to an editor from Collins, Patrick O’Brian’s publishers. I could not resist asking how they viewed my stepfather’s seafaring novels. My neighbour responded that, while they were of an unquestionably high literary standard, they attracted a small and loyal ‘cult’ readership, whose numbers, Collins felt confident, […]

A Novelist at Last

Posted on by David Gelber

In any conversation about Will Self it is a fair bet that, to nods of assent, someone will remark: ‘Of course, his stories are better than his novels.’ I have been there and done that. I have made the remark, given the nod. But no more. From now on, whenever the Quality vs Quantity Theory […]

Parts of America Still Untouched by Progress

Posted on by David Gelber

Much of what Lucinda Lambton, as an English writer, has discovered for herself is what Americans raised on the East Coast have known all their lives: those enclaves of earlier cultures brought from the Old World and now better preserved in the New. For such natives, her lavishly illustrated book offers the pleasures of recognition. […]

Joyful Logorrhoea

Posted on by David Gelber

King of the City ends on a ringing note of affirmation, eulogising the sound of the bells of London: ‘A great celebration of our enduring blood, of our will to justice and equity. Of the power of love.’ Mercifully, although Moorcock may occasionally preach such platitudes, he doesn’t practise them. Instead, he has written a […]

Further Thoughts of a Funeral Director

Posted on by David Gelber

The Undertaking, Thomas Lynch’s last book, had him rolling around small -town Michigan in his ‘Dead Wagon’, dispensing funeral services to a couple of hundred local inhabitants and poetry to a slightly smaller number. In this companion volume, he emerges as more than an undertaking bard. Catholic, former altar boy, Rotarian, fisherman, ex-drunk, divorcee and […]

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