In The What?

Posted on by David Gelber

From its opening sentences Susanna Moore’s new novel alerts the reader to its possibilities: I don’t usually go to a bar with one of my students. It is almost always a mistake. But Cornelius was having trouble with irony. For a cop book, which at its basest level this is, that is pretty good. This […]

Gay Man’s Lot

Posted on by David Gelber

If life as a homosexual was half as depressing as Neil Bartlett’s second novel makes it sound, the term ‘gay’ must be a wholly ironic label. Cruelty, loneliness, persecution and suicide, it seems, are the gay man’s lot. A series of historical documents – a man’s fond note to his grandson written in 1886, an […]

St Bega’s Choice

Posted on by David Gelber

The scotted-out Victorians are probably to blame for reducing the genre of historical fiction to its present lowly position in the literary pecking order. These days, anything set before Darwin and bathrooms seems to fall into two subcategories: daft romanticism or incredibly dirty realism. On the one hand, we have Ellis Peters and her host […]

Visionary Vales

Posted on by David Gelber

Few parts of Britain have been as much described, poeticised, romanticised or celebrated as the Lake District. Melvyn Bragg, a Cumberland lad from the lakeland’s fringe follows in the footsteps of his fellow countrymen Gilpin and Wordsworth, and a whole host of priests, antiquarians, hacks and ramblers, to rediscover this miniature mountain range famous for […]

Nothing to Fear

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Dr William Ullathorne, the first Catholic Bishop of Birmingham, was once asked to recommend a book about humility. He thought about it for a minute, then said judiciously: ‘My own is the best.’ A couple of years ago, I published a general history of millenarianism, and if anyone had asked me to recommend a book […]

Principled Philanderer

Posted on by Tom Fleming

This intelligent, interesting and very readable novel is ultimately depressing, and thus is representative of much good writing today. David Lurie is a fifty-two-year-old, twice-divorced Professor of Communications in Cape Technical University in South Africa. His course used to be called Modern Languages, but this has been renamed in accordance with ‘rationalisation’. He has no enthusiasm […]

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Arise, Sir David

Posted on by David Gelber

The closest we may ever come to learning how another human being thinks is reading novels. Despite the advances in science that could assist us to penetrate the mystery of another person’s consciousness, what will always remain is the old-fashioned method of making marks on some sort of surface. Whether the picture this presents is […]

Terror of Not Being Heard

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

By any standard, Primo Levi’s works must be ranked among the finest autobiographical writing of our age. Philip Roth’s claim that lf This Is a Man is ‘one of the century’s truly necessary books’ is more than just promotional hyperbole. It is the recognition that Levi’s exploration of the dark universe that was Auschwitz should […]

Mad as a Hatter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mathematicians – the really, really good ones – are not like other people. One of the (true) stories recounted by Paul Hoffman concerns the mathematician who slept with his wife only on those days of the month that were prime numbers – the second, third, fifth, seventh, and so on. Not so bad early in […]

Another Approach to Criticism

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The growing success of Greenwich’s infamous Dome – at any rate among schoolchildren at half-term – has led to calls for those who criticised it in the first place to eat their words. My friend and colleague Richard Ingrams has a robust answer to this suggestion. Even if the project can succeed in paying for […]

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What This Odd Couple Loved About Each Other

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are two of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. Among the remarkable things about them are the peculiar similarities and parallels of their backgrounds and the kind of literary friendship – which was also a literary enmity – that they forged. Both were born to reasonably affluent […]

Epic Fairy Tale Told as a Shakespearian Tragedy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A few years ago, I was talking to Joyce Carol Oates, who teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University, about a poem she had written describing a deer in her garden. ‘Actually,’ she told me, ‘there were five deer; but art must simplify.’ I recalled this wry remark when reading Blonde, her twenty-fourth novel, which is […]

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Who Is Sylvia?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sylvia Plath began keeping a journal when she was eleven and continued until her death at the age of thirty. This new edition publishes the journals that survive from the last twelve years of her life. Two notebooks are missing, from late 1959 to three days before Plath’s suicide in February 1963. According to Ted […]

Our Kind of Traitor

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are two puzzles that for many years have provoked speculation. Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all people are the British so good at both? The first is wound up in the fact that people are perennially intrigued by the seemingly unpleasant art of deception. It has been so since Gideon carried out his night raid against

Have Some Commons Decency

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Harold Macmillan felt physically sick before every Prime Minister’s Questions, even though Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the opposition, would only ask him one question every three weeks. Even Tony Blair, possibly the best PMQs performer of them all, described Parliament’s centrepiece confrontation as ‘the most nerve-racking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror-inspiring, courage-draining experience in my prime […]

Death by Review

Posted on by David Gelber

The John Murray publishing house has several continuities running through its long history. Seven successive John Murrays at the helm between 1768 and 2002 is one. The premises at 50 Albemarle Street, occupied by the company from 1812, is another. The Quarterly Review, founded in 1809 and running until 1967, is a third. Unsurprisingly, then, […]

Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo

Posted on by David Gelber

I’ve written in these pages many times about writers and journalists in Myanmar who, over the years, have been imprisoned or persecuted by the military junta. These have included various appeals for the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the Nobel Peace Prize laureate took office in 2016 as state counsellor […]

Worlds upon Worlds within Worlds

Posted on by David Gelber

The late Mal Peet was a writer of extraordinary gifts. His work was varied, intelligent and challenging, and he strained at convention while telling powerful and moving stories. His estate has been publishing the manuscripts he left behind; it is with sadness that I note that this is probably the final one. Few other authors […]

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