Nothing To Touch It

Posted on by David Gelber

‘I . . . feel that there is a positive value in prescnting world history to the general public. Even if we do not know it, the history of the world is part of our mental furniture.’ (J M Roberts, The Pelican History of the World). ‘We get scared by history; we allow ourselves to […]

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Posted on by David Gelber

Two years ago I travelled to Assam to write about an itinerant theatre company there. Its latest sensation was a play in Assamese entitled The Life and Death of Princess Diana. When my guide heard that I’d come from London, he shook his head in despair. ‘We had another Englishman here recently,’ he said woefully, […]

His Writing Was Love

Posted on by David Gelber

When news came of Primo Levi’s sudden death at the age of sixty-seven, there were many people who refused to accept that he might have killed himself. Levi had slipped, they said, and fallen over precarious banisters; he was ill; the hall was dark. T here was even some talk of murder. And when the […]

Where Real Penetration is Impossible

Posted on by David Gelber

‘What does anyone here know of China?’ asked Macaulay in a rare confession of ignorance in the House of Commons in 1840. ‘Everything is covered by a veil, through which a glimpse of what is within may occasionally be caught, a glimpse just sufficient to set the imagination to work and more likely to mislead […]

Gracile but Ludic in its Martianism

Posted on by David Gelber

Although his literary works are by no means uniformly successful, Peter Ackroyd may safely be described as an author possessed of genius, and had he died before attaining middle age (like Bruce Chatwin, say), he would doubtless have been the subject of an admiring industry fussing over his prodigious achievements. But the life that he […]

Perils of Old Age

Posted on by David Gelber

This is the most distressing work that I have reviewed in the last half-century. Yet Ray Monk has written a fine book, mastering a daunting mass of material; it is written forcefully and with great clarity. But it is the history of the tragedy of a man haunted since childhood by a fear of the […]

Much More Useful than Writing Novels

Posted on by David Gelber

For everyone who has heard of ‘Lighthouse Stevensons’ a thousand or more will recognise the name [Robert] Louis Stevenson. Yet he wrote of his father, and it might have been of his grandfather and uncles too, that: ‘I might write books till 1900 and not serve humanity so well; and it moves me to a […]

Among the Members of a Quartet

Posted on by David Gelber

Vikram Seth ought to have won the Booker Prize in 1993 – or so most of those who have read A Suitable Boy will surely agree. It gives a superb portrait of a whole nation in a time of political, social and cultural turmoil; but it is for the human portraits that it will be […]

Perhaps There Is Something Wrong With Our Brains

Posted on by David Gelber

I didn’t think I was going to like this novel, being unwilling to surrender to a parable about the travails of a brother and sister in a far country in the very distant future. But Mara and Dann had me by the throat immediately. Whenever I had to put the book down I fretted about […]

Posted in 250 | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Perhaps There Is Something Wrong With Our Brains

Dog’s Tale

Posted on by David Gelber

Novels about animals are tricky acts to pull off. Anthropomorphism and sentimentality threaten to undermine the narrative if the author makes his characters too human, while a terminal case of so-whatness looms if he stays strictly in the realm of the feral. Perhaps this is why so few writers of adult fiction employ animals as […]

Will Three Survive?

Posted on by David Gelber

Looking about the Cheshire Cheese public house at the assembled members of the Rhymers’ Club, Yeats is reported to have said, ‘We are too many.’ The same thought occurred to me on first looking into The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English. Here are 1500 writers of all sorts of verse, from 1900 to […]

Another Victim

Posted on by David Gelber

Warren Farrell has set out to write a very brave book, one which feminists have been waiting for for many years. It would be the sort of land mark text The Female Eunuch or The Feminine Mystique was for the Sixties and early Seventies, a work of imagination and intelligence which would analyse and understand […]

Genuflexions

Posted on by David Gelber

In 1926 Max Beerbohm reflected that the world ‘is not likely to find caricature essential to its future happiness’. Certainly it remains an endangered graphic form. The threats come from within – from lazy second-raters who are happy to confect Harold Wilson out of a pipe and a Gannex mac – and from without. Currently […]

First Scandal Sheets

Posted on by David Gelber

No one does scandals quite like the French. It is not so much the who-did-what-and-to-whom that makes them gripping, but the tremors they seem to send through the whole society. And still they go on. Today you can choose between, at one end of the scale, the fascinating domestic story of little Gregory, a boy […]

Too Soft on Worzel

Posted on by David Gelber

Everyone who has met him agrees that Michael Foot is quite the nicest chap in the world. Even Margaret Thatcher thinks so. ‘Michael Foot is a highly principled and cultivated man, invariably courteous in our dealings,’ she writes in The Downing Street Years. ‘If I did not think it would offend him, I would say […]

An Explanation at Last for his Tragic End

Posted on by David Gelber

Pushkin’s Button is as compelling as Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, and deserves to be as widely read. Pushkin’s fatal duel, like Flaubert’s love life, is a subject on which much darkness has settled, and a riddle whose solution promises a revelation about every other aspect of genius. Like Barnes, Serena Vitale has a novelist’s gift for enthralling the reader with […]

American Underside

Posted on by David Gelber

For those us who have never heard of William Finnegan, the blurb to Cold New World tells us he ‘is regarded as the premier reporter in America‘. The claim is fairly magnificent, especially as Bob Woodward or Seymour Hersh or half a dozen other big-name reporters spring to mind. But Cold New World is, indeed, a piece of ambitiously […]

Posted in 249 | Tagged , | Comments Off on American Underside

His Best Book Yet, But Written For Americans

Posted on by Tom Fleming

This is probably Martin Amis’s best book to date. It is miles better than the newspaper extracts conveyed. Yes, it is at times overwritten, strained to the point of self-parody. ‘I had a cigarette in my mouth. It pleaded, it yelped to be torched.’ It is hard to remember whether these risible sentences occur in Craig Brown’s inspired parody in Private Eye […]

Where’s the Beef?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘I do not know what species of bird is halfway between a hawk and a dove, but I fancy the posture of that bird.’ Here. John Smith is talking about nuclear disarmament, but the posture has served him well more than once. Among those of us who hardly know him, Mr Smith’s image may be dull, but it is […]

Lady Van Der Post Writes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Little is known of Val Hennessy in what one might call literary (dread word!) circles, other than that, for a short time in the late Sixties (loathesome decade!) she was married to Christopher Isherwood. What quirk of fate, one now wonders, was it that brought them together? Isherwood seemed strangely attracted by her penchant for […]

Follow Literary Review on Twitter