An Interview with V S Naipaul

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I drive to Wiltshire on a rare sunny English summer’s day to interview V S Naipaul in his country home. All his books, fiction and non-fiction, are to be reissued (by Picador in Britain and Knopf in the USA), and this interview anticipates the publication next month of his new novel, Half a Life. Before […]

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Beating is Not The Same Thing as Buggery

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Since, so far as I can tell, all 5 million of the Literary Review’s readers – with the sole exception of myself – are writing/have written at least one book, they will know what I mean by ‘the myths of publishing’. One of the most enduring and fatuous of these myths is the notion that […]

Espionage is So Much More Amusing in French

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Count Alexandre de Marenches, and the French secret service which he headed for eleven years, are both great fun. The Count is 67, 6’1”, 15 stone, half American, trilingual and of ancient Burgundian lineage. This delightful and revealing book was written with Christine Ockrent, loved by every Frenchman as France’s most intelligent television journalist. She […]

Hamblecha of Notting Hill

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘You’re still the oldest Mrs Hippy in town.’ Rhaune Laslett was being greeted at the Notting Hill Carnival, which she herself started in 1965, by a couple she had not seen for over 20 years. She had helped rehouse them and their baby, who now towered over her, during the time when she ran an […]

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Life in them Old Bones?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Who should stand guard over the Classical tradition today – hunchbacks in inaccessible keeps, dragging bunches of rusty keys along the floor, or sincerely hoarse personalities bugling ‘Loadsaculchah! Sunnink for everyone!’ at the lager-belching proletariat? The strong impression that comes over from Stuart Gillespie’s fascinating anthology The Poets on the Classics is that the tradition […]

Nasty Stars

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Ben Okra, in addition to providing one of the most haunting and evocative titles of this year, has a sure hand with his chosen genre, the short story. Not a word is wasted, not a phrase out of place. His sparse, economical style is put to work on a landscape rich in horror and oozing […]

Give Me Fife

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The kingdom of Fife – so called because it is believed to have been the site of one of the Picts’ dominions – is, even to Scots, regarded as something of a mystery. Situated between the firths of Forth and Tay, its natives have long had a reputation for plain speaking and unvarnished opinions. This, […]

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Ablajan Awut Ayup

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I’ve written previously in these pages about the persecution of Uighur writers and journalists in northwest China. The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is predominantly Muslim and contains a significant number of Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group. It has been annexed to China on and off for the last three centuries and a low-level separatist […]

In Memoriam

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Jessica Mann, who first contributed to Literary Review in 1993 and has been the magazine’s crime fiction critic since 2006, died in Cornwall on Tuesday 10 July. The daughter of refugees from Nazi Germany, she was born in London in 1937. Two years later she was evacuated, with her four-year-old brother, to North America. This […]

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Under the Volcano

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Royce is seventy and dying. Founder of the Lushington Foundation, a Harvard fellowship for ‘Extraordinary Women’, he decides to write to Vita, one of the foundation’s past beneficiaries. He suggests a game of mutual confession, each the other’s ‘receptive reader’. They will pass the confessional baton, email by email, unveiling a passage of their lives […]

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Fascist Parade

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Sam Byers’s first novel, Idiopathy, was about three people trapped in their own personalities, destructively and irredeemably themselves. His scorching follow up, Perfidious Albion, is about four people in the post-Brexit near-future, most of whom are pretending to be somebody else. In the fictional town of Edmundsbury, Jess Ellis spends her time writing vicious, pseudonymous […]

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Leaps of Faith

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Right now, we are living through a period of historic feminist activity. As a society we are redefining what constitutes an abuse of power while also taking into account the imbalance of that power across gender lines in companies and communities. Together, we are renegotiating what kinds of behaviour will cost you your job or […]

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Leopold the Second

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

James Joyce’s Ulysses has prompted many cultural spin-offs but never, to date, a sequel. This may be down to the Joyce estate’s intervention or simply cold feet. What author in full possession of their senses would attempt a follow-up to the greatest novel ever written? The challenges are formidable: to own the antecedent material rather […]

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Don’t Mention the Movement

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Phyllis Forrester, newly arrived back in England after living in Belgium, settles with her husband and three children in Sussex, near to her sisters, Nina and Patricia. It is 1938 and Phyllis is unsure whether war is coming. Nina, however, is more convinced: ‘We face a very real peril,’ she tells her sister. Nina organises […]

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Modern Myths

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The allure of reinterpreting the myths and legends of antiquity seems undiminished. There are almost too many to count, recent examples ranging from Colm Tóibín’s House of Names, a retelling of the Oresteia, and Kamila Shamsie’s modernisation of Antigone, Home Fire, to Pat Barker’s Iliadic The Silence of the Girls, published later this month. As […]

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Folk Industries

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Writing about nature is no stroll in the park. I speak from experience, having set a novel on a farm in the 1970s and taught creative writing in various rural parts of England. Sometimes we send students outside to study a glorious scene of woodland, meadows and distant hills, then to write about it avoiding […]

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The Longest Night

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One evening in 2012, the French writer Edouard Louis was heading back to his apartment from a meal with friends when a man approached him in the street. Introducing himself as Reda, the man persuaded Louis to take him home, where the pair spent several hours having sex and sharing stories of their lives. Curled […]

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Missing in Action

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Andrew Miller is a paradoxical novelist. He writes eloquently about isolation in a way that feels modern and relevant, and yet, more often than not, he dips into the past in order to do so. He does it again in his eighth novel, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free. Set in 1809, the story begins with the return to Somerset of Captain John Lacroix, an English soldier who is brought

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Love at First Bite

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

William Ewart Gladstone, visiting the Bourbon kingdom of Naples in 1850–51, famously damned it as ‘the negation of God erected into a system of government’. He might have said the same, a hundred years later, about English boarding preparatory schools. With their inadequate sanitation, appalling food and draconian discipline administered by half-mad sadists, they seem, […]

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