How anyone can produce such a short and dull book about such a tall and fascinating man is something to ponder when insomnia threatens. Would that the book itself were soporific enough to lure Lethe’s powerful arms, but unfortunately here and there the direct quotes from Spike (pictured on the cover in genial mood with […]
In America, at least as yet, there is nothing to match the bitter controversy that has developed in Britain between town and country. New York or San Francisco are impossibly remote from the vast tracts of Midwestern corn belt or Texan ranch country. The countryside – in so far as one can use the word […]
With the closure in September of the Edward Bawden exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, which was seen by over 39,000 visitors, I was delighted to be able to once again leaf through some of the treasured books that I had lent, including East Coasting, a wittily illustrated booklet with text by Dell Leigh, published by […]
While the world comes to terms with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, fears increase for the safety of other writers and journalists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. The country’s appalling human rights record and suppression of free speech are well documented. Human rights defenders and writers are routinely arrested.
For a novel dealing with quite timely issues – drug smuggling, coups d’état and illegal immigration – Lost Children is surprisingly nostalgic. Christopher Hart draws us into the tradition-steeped patterns of life in rural, poverty-stricken Chilitenango (on the El Salvador–Honduras border, though Hart doesn’t much care for lines on a map), where, were it not […]
Norah Lange’s People in the Room, first published in 1950, has been read as a Künstlerroman, as a critique of women’s stultifying domestic experiences, and as a female writer’s response to life as an object of the male gaze. It is all these things, as well as a powerful evocation of an overactive teenage imagination.
Future Popes of Ireland begins with gentle blasphemy: ‘It was September 1979 when Pope John Paul II brought sex to Ireland.’ Granny Doyle, aflame with the conviction that she will be grandmother to the first Irish pope, catches a drop of holy water in Phoenix Park and insists that her daughter-in-law sprinkle it on the […]
This book is a nonesuch, a hybrid, the literary equivalent of ‘neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring’, and it’s all the better for that. We can engage with Martín Cullen’s The Estancia as a straightforward childhood memoir or as the kind of fiction which harnesses a traditional genre to produce a dreamlike elaboration […]
The Drones Club is temporarily closed for summer, so Bertie Wooster is forced to find other sociable dwellings. The new chairman of his bank is the mean killjoy Sir Gilbert Skinner, replacing his dear friend Buffty (a man ‘four parts chalk-stripe, three parts whiskers, and two parts gin’). Elsewhere, his lofty Aunt Dahlia, a woman […]
A N Wilson’s new novel describes an earthquake that hits a city in a former British colony in the Pacific. He is at pains to say in a note at the beginning of the book that his fictional country, the Island, is not based on New Zealand, and that the earthquake that destroys his fictional city […]
Barbara Kingsolver has never ducked the big questions in her fiction. ‘I don’t understand how any good art could fail to be political,’ she told an interviewer in 2010 after her sixth novel, The Lacuna, scooped the Orange Prize. In 2000 she established the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, awarded to an unpublished novel […]
In 2015, a decade after her death, Lucia Berlin became celebrated as a great American short-story writer with the publication of A Manual for Cleaning Women. A female writer underappreciated in her lifetime, supporting herself and four sons through a series of menial jobs, she had a life that now seems particularly relevant. Evening in […]
Sequences of novels that follow characters through a long period of time are popular with writers and readers because they allow fiction to represent the experience of living. In Anthony Powell’s twelve-volume A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–75) and John Updike’s Rabbit quintet (1960–2000), the decades spanned allow minor characters to become unexpectedly relevant – and deaths to feel like real losses – in the way that they do in life. Sue Townsend’s nine books about Adrian Mole, published between 1982 and 2009, introduce the hero as a teenager neurotically measuring his penis
One lark, one horse? The epigraph for Michael Hofmann’s new collection is a jest quoted in Carole Angier’s biography of Primo Levi. Goldberg sells pâté – lark pâté. Cohen asks how he can afford to. Goldberg says he adds a bit of horse. ‘How much horse?’ ‘One lark, one horse’ comes the answer.
‘Trust the players,’ 89-year-old Bernard Haitink told a twenty-something conductor in Lucerne this spring, ‘they have so much more experience than you do.’ Haitink says relatively little during his conducting master classes, but all of it – mostly common sense – has a profound effect upon his acolytes. Whether more of that kind of sound […]
I once asked a former Oxford classics don which verse translation of Homer he thought was best. He shrugged before saying, ‘Read Homer in Greek, or else in prose.’ On the face of it, this looks like a way of saying that Homer’s poetry is impossible to capture in English. But there’s another lesson to take […]
Robert Plomin is a pioneer of modern behaviour genetics and Blueprint is unabashedly an exercise in cheerleading for the field. His enthusiasm can be contagious and his exposition of the surprising and sometimes seemingly paradoxical discoveries in his discipline over the last three decades or so can be fascinating. But that enthusiasm sometimes gets the […]
Medieval bodies do not, generally speaking, carry the best connotations. As art historian Jack Hartnell points out, in the popular imagination the medieval world is one of ‘generalised misery and ignorance’, ‘piteous squalor’ and ‘fretful darkness’, occasionally enlivened by a good war. And bodies are the spot where all that squalor and pain get actualised. […]
This book about Tudor and Stuart gardens is overlong and under-edited, but it contains a great deal of interest, including some fresh research (though not quite as much as the author repeatedly claims). The main new source is the garden notebook of Sir John Oglander, who inherited Nunwell on the Isle of Wight in 1609. […]