Never Too Obscure

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The libraries are closed. If, like me, your day job involved calling up books and sifting them for material to fill articles, lectures or books of one’s own, then coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works. Suddenly there’s little opportunity to check any of the references, transcriptions or summaries jotted down when those books […]

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Elchin Mammad

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Several authoritarian regimes are using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to crack down on opposition and critics. Azerbaijan’s intimidatory tactics are perhaps less well known and scrutinised than those of other countries. Ilham Aliyev took over the presidency from his hardline father, Heydar, in 2003. By then, Ilham was already prime minister, vice-chairman of […]

Risorgimento Blues

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Steven Price is an award-winning novelist and poet with a talent for shading in the past. Lampedusa opens in 1955, when the real-life Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who has just been diagnosed with advanced emphysema, begins to write a novel. Tomasi was the last prince of Lampedusa, a realm that had been in decline for […]

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Getting Pantis in a Twist

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is the latest addition to the subgenre of ‘Brexlit’, or fiction inspired by Brexit. Marina Lewycka’s characters are a quartet whose actions are summed up by the words of the title. The gorgeous, septuagenarian George Pantis, whose Greek heritage was one of the factors that inspired him to vote Leave, his younger, left-wing wife, […]

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On the Road

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Dani is a successful singer who is taking his father’s body from Madrid to be buried in the village where he was brought up. For the forty-year-old, it’s a trip to a Spain he doesn’t know. It’s tempting to describe this as a journey from big-city modernity back to the family’s roots in rural tradition, […]

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Hangin’ on the Telephone

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In this perky series of quickfire sketches, Michael Frayn sends up a variety of 21st-century inanities, from the Kafkaesque loops of a utility company’s automated hotline to modern journalism’s mania for lists. The book gets its spark from the sense that Frayn is having a ball: ‘Ten of the Best’ takes the form of a […]

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Not Horsing Around

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In his 1913 story ‘Kleist in Thun’, the Swiss writer Robert Walser depicts Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811) living and writing alone in a villa in the Bernese Oberland. ‘Weeks pass,’ Walser writes, ‘Kleist has destroyed one work, two, three works. He wants the highest mastery, good, good. What’s that? Not sure? Tear it up. Something […]

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Ripples in the Pond

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu, Japan’s two greatest film directors, divide their contradictory country between them. In belligerent epics like Seven Samurai or Yojimbo, Kurosawa deals with Japan’s history of ritualised violence; the domestic dramas of Ozu examine the intimate stresses of modernity. Kurosawa’s sense of cosmic disruption led him to adapt Shakespeare, transforming Macbeth […]

A Right Racket

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I played tennis at my grammar school in 1960s Bermondsey and we travelled to matches at far posher schools against girls whose parents might have belonged to private clubs in Herne Hill, Dulwich or Blackheath. But it never occurred to me to imagine joining one, because I knew tennis clubs were to be despised, an attitude […]

Too Expensive for Wagner

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In recent decades, bringing Belle Epoque hotel life back from the dead has become something of a pan-European obsession. Andrew and Suzanne Edwards, in this new history of the Grand Hotel et des Palmes in Sicily, attempt a seance of sorts, evoking both individual and collective spirits of the once-fashionable holiday residence known in English […]

All the Raga

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It is almost a century since the narrator of E M Forster’s A Passage to India dismissed Indian music as a ‘maze of noises, none harsh or unpleasant, none intelligible’. Today the sound of a raga is more familiar to the Western ear, if still not completely appreciated. If anyone is responsible for that change, […]

Reader with a Cause

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The middle of a pandemic is a tricky time in which to proselytise for intellectual life. At its best, Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought is an inspirational attestation of the ability of intellectual activity to dignify oppressed lives. Hitz presents intellectual life as both a refuge and a retreat, offering an escape into self-examination and […]

Control, Alt, Mistreat

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Whistleblower is a chastening but ultimately uplifting memoir by the now 29-year-old Susan Fowler. The book has its roots in a blogpost, published in 2017, in which she critiqued the harassment culture within Uber, where she worked, and laid the behemoth bare to public scrutiny. The day-to-day toxicity she encountered

The Professor & the Chairman

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Hugh Trevor-Roper, Regius Professor of History at Oxford from 1957 to 1980, compared his visit to China in 1965 to Lord Macartney’s famous diplomatic mission to the same country in 1793, which was a fiasco. The Chinese regarded Macartney and his entourage as foreign devils come to pay tribute to the divine Emperor Qianlong, who […]

Keeping Up with the Koestlers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Memory is the mother of the Muses and, sometimes, of amusement. In David Pryce-Jones’s generous trawl of literary friends and acquaintances, up come many treasures, including a mutual friend (Somerset Maugham), the odd rusting reputation (Lawrence Durrell), prating prig (Noel Annan), historian for hire (A J P Taylor), self-destroying genius (Alasdair Clayre, whom I have […]

Great Oscillations

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A N Wilson’s new book is an enthralling, sometimes eccentric homage to a novelist whose works he has loved since childhood. He tops and tails this very personal exploration of Dickens’s many selves, secrets and double lives with poignant recollections of his own lonely years at a bleak prep school, where he was beaten by a […]

Deus Minimis

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Poulenc frustrates biographers, and perhaps musicologists too: no grand storylines can be teased out of his life, and there are few large-scale works to analyse in depth either. He doesn’t rank as one of the ‘great’ composers, and perhaps didn’t even aspire to. Urbane, insouciant and a little bit lazy, he was born into the […]

Untormented Genius

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Nothing is as beautiful as those trains we missed,’ wrote the Symbolist poet Jules Laforgue; and how especially golden seem geniuses who die young. Should it mitigate or enhance our regret that many of Frank Ramsey’s extraordinarily innovative ideas only came to be understood long after he died, aged twenty-six, in 1930? Straddling philosophy, maths, […]

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