The previous occupant of my home was Fay Weldon, and I am writing this in the room where she probably wrote The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. I bought the house for the full asking price in 2001, the year Weldon published her product-placement novel The Bulgari Connection, in which she mentioned the name […]
The six-strong Classics class of an American university forms a mutually distrusting and dependent clique. Its members are more sophisticated than their coke-snorting fellow students and often make secret asides to one another in Latin or Greek.
In 1988, NBC TV’s John Chancellor asked Richard Nixon how history would remember him. ‘History will treat me fairly. Historians probably won’t because most historians are on the left.’ Sadly, Stephen Ambrose does not include this illuminating exchange in the final volume of his three-part Nixon biography, but I hope that its subject is suitably […]
Lord Tennyson commented on Trollope’s novels, ‘But they’re so dull – so prosaic: never a touch of poetry.’ I have always rather inclined to this view, while tremendously admiring some of the better novels, like The Last Chronicle of Barset. Trollope is brilliant at capturing the humdrum anxieties which keep us awake at night, but […]
There are several good reasons to buy and to read this book by Michael Leapman. It is the most comprehensive account in years of Britain’s wildly competitive national newspaper press – by a journalist whose every page is crammed with narrative. It is by a journalist, furthermore, who really attempts to be fair, though his […]
Punters who were persuaded to buy Damage, Josephine Hart’s first, best-selling novel, because its striking black-and-white cover made it look like a box of chocolates were unlikely to have been disappointed. It was impossible not to devour the book in a single evening and, after you had finished it, you were left with a strong […]
Almost hidden in this characteristically dense proliferation of images, Michael Ondaatje has a vision of pre-war British explorers, now landlocked in Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush, making the anxious journey to Kensington Gore as guest lecturers to the Royal Geographical Society. By convention, their expeditionary accounts give no hint of emotion; by convention, the Society memorialises […]
If they thought about it all, most people would assume that a Chief of Protocol is someone who determines the mise à places at state banquets and keeps visiting dignitaries from sitting on their hats; a Mikadoesque figure performing a necessary but faintly absurd function. It’s surprising therefore to discover that the author of Keeper […]
How naïve we were in the mid-1950s. We saw Mao Tse-tung and his colleagues standing on the great Tien An Men Gate reviewing the masses and wrote of the comradeship of those who had endured the Long March and had conquered China. We saw them as austere soldiers who had brought peace to China after […]
There are as many views of Lloyd George as there are students of his times. According to A J P Taylor, he was ‘the nearest thing England has known to Napoleon’. Baldwin thought him ‘a dynamic force . . . a very terrible thing’. Beaverbrook maintained that ‘Churchill was perhaps the greater man, but George […]
Every August Anita Brookner ushers in the death of the year with a book steeped in dying, autumnal hues: slender, elegant books with tasteful jackets from the back of which stares a slender, elegant but also rather startled-looking author.
When Pietro Russell, the anti-hero of A Fool’s Alphabet, thinks of an afterlife, he imagines ‘a hell that is entirely composed of hotel bathrooms’. There will be the bars of soap, too tightly packed in their miniature wrappers and the roll of lavatory paper, neatly folded on the end sheet into a ‘V’ by the […]
The author clearly has an affinity with his subject: Nicholas II was an incompetent ruler and Mr Radzinsky is an incompetent historian. Before I say another unkind word let me quote from the chapter where he introduces us to Alix of Hesse, the future Tsarina: ‘Hills grown up in forest descended into the misty valley […]
‘Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when I was eight, I have had my eye on other people’s parents.’ Such a confession of monocularity, and in the opening sentence of Black Dogs! One always suspected male novelists besides Nicholson Baker breathed in hot, thick pants while writing, but it is gratifying to […]
Consider Hugh Trevor-Roper’s description in The Mind of Adolf Hitler of the European cultural order we would have grown up with if the Panzers had prevailed in 1945: ‘The hundred million self-confident German masters were to be brutally installed…and secured in power by a monopoly of technical civilisation and the slave labour of a dwindling […]
‘To take risks,’ said Nietzsche, ‘is to remain scrupulous.’ Few do it better than Peter Ackroyd, the conventional, punctilious surface of his novels habitually undermined by strange metaphysical conceits, Gothic melodrama, farce and capering antiquarianism. Ackroyd braves the accusation of self-indulgence in pursuit of a more exact truthfulness about the oddity of the world we […]
In his book on the Lucan affair, Trail of Havoc, Patrick Marnham made one of the most vivid calculations in modern British biography. Lucan, he explained, was a very unadventurous eater. In his days as a house player at the Clermont Club, his taste ran to nothing but smoked salmon and lamb cutlets. The latter […]
The world on which Marianne Wiggins’s stories opens is a strange one, and not only because in one of them an anglophone angel issues a death threat to a non-English-speaking Spanish bird-fancier over a defunct telephone. Wiggins seldom has recourse to such blatant disruption of the laws governing physical reality; she seldom needs to. As […]
Who on earth wants a biography almost 300 pages long on Michael Grade? Certainly not Michael Grade who refused to cooperate with the author. I am a little surprised at some of those who did, given the lottery of such unauthorised essays. The result is an unbalanced account which lists to where it found most […]
Sir Philip Sidney has always appealed to his fellow poets as the type of what a poet should be. Shelley called him ‘a spirit without spot’ and Browning called him ‘the starry paladin’. His legend bears comparison, in many respects, with that of Rupert Brooke.