Didcot Calling

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The first thing my radio tells me this morning is that travel conditions are ‘unfavourable’. Talk about rubbing it in. Discounting the odd walk beyond the city limits, I’ve left Oxford twice in the past ten months, and without being one of life’s vagabonds, even I’m finding things a little static. All our horizons have […]

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Land of Milk & Money

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Once, fossil fuels were regarded as the primary evil threatening our planet’s future. Recently, however, the humble cow has come to take its place alongside them. Methane from bovine behinds is now recognised as a major contributor to climate change. Cows are iconic of the countryside, especially in countries, like the Netherlands, where they have […]

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Zhang Zhan

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Human rights groups worldwide have expressed outrage at the four-year prison sentence handed down to citizen journalist Zhang Zhan for reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan. A former lawyer, 37-year-old Zhang was arrested on 14 May and formally charged in early November. The indictment alleges that she sent ‘false information […]

Homage to Orwell

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The biographical novel is a problematic form: it is always likely to contain too much fact for some and too much fiction for others. The problem only increases if the life being described has already been thoroughly analysed. In his debut novel, Dennis Glover takes a risk, therefore, in writing about George Orwell. Do we […]

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Iveton Undone

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 2016 the Prix Goncourt for a First Novel was awarded to De nos frères blessés, written by a pseudonymous author calling himself Joseph Andras. The writer did not wish to attract attention to himself, but when he heard the news, he did something that attracted a lot of attention: he turned down the prize. […]

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Fine Young Cannibals

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The main character in Mother for Dinner, Shalom Auslander’s new novel, is dissatisfied with the state of the contemporary American novel. He works as a publisher and has begun to feel as though every manuscript he reads is about the same thing: identity. The more minute and particular the identity in question, the more general […]

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Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The unnamed protagonist of Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel has a pet cat called Dr Butthole. She suspects this says something about her and her generation: ‘One hundred years ago, her cat might have been called Mittens.’ Irreverence is her stock in trade: she achieved online fame for her pithy posts on a Twitter-esque social media platform called ‘the portal’. But she is uneasy with her celebrity

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Germany Calling

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Lord Haw-Haw’ was the name originally concocted by a Daily Telegraph hack to mock one Wolf Mittler, a German broadcaster who spoke with a cut-glass English accent on the wartime radio programme Germany Calling, produced by the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and transmitted to Britain between September 1939 and April 1945. A […]

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After the Bombs

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The death of a fictional character can mark the point at which a writer’s imagination has run dry – a corner cut in the search for pathos – but in Francis Spufford’s new novel, the opposite is the case. Light Perpetual begins in the fraction of a second before a German V-2 rocket, seen as […]

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Ticks All the Boxes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The fictional town of Solace, perched on the edge of a lake and a forest that stretches all the way to the Arctic, offers little, at first sight, in the way of comfort. It is autumn, 1972. The only cafe is shut by seven in the evening and the waitress has the social graces of […]

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Devil’s Own Country

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the late summer of 1998, I flew for the first time to the American West. I went there in search of dinosaurs. Back in London, my wife was pregnant with – as it would turn out – our first daughter. Conscious that my opportunities for travel were about to narrow severely, I wanted, while […]

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A Rig of One’s Own

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When I first boarded a container ship to spend five weeks at sea, I made sure to wear trousers for the first week. I thought that I was entering a world of men, a tight-knit, unknown environment where it was easy to throw someone overboard or sexually assault them and there were no police or […]

Some Like It Hot

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The genesis of this book was an incident witnessed by the author in El Salvador in 1984. There was civil war between leftist rebels and the US-backed government, whose death squads murdered thousands. The government claimed ignorance of the squads, a position the United States was happy to go along with. What Scott Anderson witnessed […]

Workers & Twerkers

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

An accepted principle in enlightened circles holds that it is morally wrong, or at least ill-mannered, to judge people according to crude or roughly drawn stereotypes. Luckily, this principle is not often extended to millennials, or the young generally, about whom some rich and largely helpful generalisations

Stem Subjects

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The science of consciousness is having a bit of a moment. Long confined to the margins because of concerns about how experimental methods could possibly get a grip on the vagaries of subjective experience, consciousness has become neuroscience’s glittery new thing, the subject of colourful theories, packed-out conventions and the wildest of claims. Understanding how […]

Mary, Quite Contrary

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

While Mary Wollstonecraft earned her place at the table for pioneering women in Judy Chicago’s art installation The Dinner Party (1974–9), she would not be everyone’s ideal guest. She has a reputation as an acerbic killjoy. She deemed novels to be the ‘spawn of idleness’. She did not embrace women in sisterhood but censured them for their propensity to ‘despise the freedom which they have not sufficient virtue to struggle to attain’. Wollstonecraft has proved both an inspiration and a challenge to those who have come after her. Her life and works, as Sylvana Tomaselli demonstrates in this wide-ranging new book, contain startling contradictions. On the one hand, she championed women’s capacity for reason in an age that

Boiling with Raj

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It may seem surprising that Priya Satia, with a chair in history at Stanford University, should have chosen to write such an uncompromising polemic directed at her own profession. ‘Time’s monster’ for her is history as it is written by almost all historians, who not only record the past but also shape the future by […]

In the Land of the Poet Dictator

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One April years ago, I visited the Vittoriale degli Italiani, which looks out over Lago di Garda and was the last home of Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), ornate poet and self-proclaimed world’s greatest lover. April is the time of gite scolastiche (‘school trips’) in Italy and I was bemused to find myself alongside nuns instructing their […]

Did He Really Fiddle?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 19 July AD 64, fire engulfed the Circus Maximus in Rome. Nero returned from Antium when the blaze threatened his palace on the Palatine hill. He involved himself in firefighting and organised relief measures. After some nine days the fire was extinguished, leaving two thirds of the city damaged or destroyed. Nero was widely […]

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