Public & Confidential

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

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 […]

Rotters’ Return

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

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

Home & Away

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

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. 

One Man Band

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘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 […]

Homeward Bound

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

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 […]

All in the Genes?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

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 […]

The Venerable Bod

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

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. […]

A Ffashion for Fflowers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

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. […]

Objects of Little Consequence

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Rod Stewart outed himself as a model railway enthusiast in 2007. The singer, who has sold more than a hundred million albums, wrote a fan letter to Model Railroader magazine, proudly enclosing photographs of his 23-foot-wide, 124-foot-long layout. Rod’s railway, subsequently featured in the magazine, is based on the New York Central and Pennsylvania lines […]

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What the Valet Did

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On Monday 6 July 1840, a crowd of around forty thousand spectators gathered at Newgate to enjoy the increasingly rare spectacle of a public hanging at the jail (in that particular year, just one took place). Charles Dickens, having recently reproached his brother Fred for planning ‘to gloat over such a loathsome exhibition’, secured a […]

Free Thinking

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The history of liberalism is a muddle, and even historians of liberalism are muddled about it. When they use the word, they routinely attach different and conflicting meanings to it. Sometimes it is taken to mean support for small government, sometimes the opposite; it can mean support for free markets, but not when state intervention […]

Let Down by Law

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It is a quarter of a century since Helena Kennedy’s book Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice was published. A great deal has changed in that time, a circumstance reflected in the less equivocal title of this sequel, which leaves us in little doubt that Kennedy believes things have got worse since she first […]

Powerful Traits of Successful Leaders

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the American republican tradition, the president is supposed to be an exemplary citizen. Not necessarily perfect: Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her study of four significant presidents, includes Lyndon B Johnson, a dangerous egotist who embroiled his country in the Vietnam War and broke the bank in the process. But even LBJ was an example […]

Put Out More Flags?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In October 2017, the autonomous government of Catalonia held a referendum on independence from Spain despite the fact that the action was illegal under the 1978 constitution (which Catalans had voted for) and the statute of autonomy (which they had also supported). It was later declared unlawful by Spain’s Constitutional Tribunal. Following the referendum (which […]

World in Motion

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Migration is the most critical issue currently confronting the EU, threatening the survival of governments, fostering the rise of extreme right-wing parties and endangering the cohesion of the EU itself. In the UK, home to the ‘hostile environment’ encouraged by Theresa May as home secretary, it became the issue that ensured the victory of the […]

Majority Report

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A political scientist working at Birkbeck College, London, Eric Kaufmann is ‘a quarter Latino and a quarter Chinese’. He was raised in Canada but his father’s family was of Czech-Jewish background. His original expertise was the history of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland. Like Richard English, the historian of the IRA, he has diversified into the study of nationalism. Unusually, Kaufmann is fluent in opinion surveys and political demography too. That alone ensures that Whiteshift is a very substantial book

From the Cutting Room Floor

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Behind every book that is published lies a hinterland its author knows only too well, though readers will never be aware of it. This is a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and excised, crisscrossed with paths that were thoroughly explored but came to a dead end, and alive with the faint […]

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Stream of Camp Babble

Posted on by David Gelber

I read this sublimely silly book while enduring the hideous experience of flying to New York on the quaintly-named ‘People’s Express’, an airline where they wait until you’ve fallen asleep to wake you up and make you pay for your ticker, have no hot food and charge you six dollars for a disgusting ‘picnic’ which […]

A Call for Women Poets to Become Sensible

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1979, Germaine Greer published The Obstacle Race, a compendious study of women painters and of their confrontation by ‘obstacles both external and surmountable, internal and insurmountable of the race for achievement’. In Slip-Shod Sibyls, she turns her attentions to women poets, including some on whose scholarly editions she has previously worked. Beginning with Sappho, […]

Elegant Pensées

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In conversation at a recent literary do with two eminent Oxbridge professors of Eng Lit, past and present, I felt moved for some reason to drop the name of Frank Kermode. ‘Ah,’ said one of the profs, ‘writing a memoir, I gather.’ ‘Really?’ mused the other. ‘A memoir?’ The word was held in the air between […]

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