Author Archives: David Gelber

A Great, Wonderful Storybook

Posted on by David Gelber

Debussy once asked Mallarme if he could set one of his poems to music. But, replied Mallarme, have I not already set it to music? Hilary Mantel has decided to treat the French Revolution as a novel. But was it not already a novel? The Revolution forms a concentration of extraordinary events that defies ordinary […]

My Spermy, Fattening Gland Turned Cold

Posted on by David Gelber

We learn from the Faber publicity blurb that Ted Hughes’s appointment as Poet Laureate is the ‘most inspired’ since Tennyson’s. We also learn that Hughes, in discharging his Laureate duties, ‘has found the means to express a comprehensive vision of reality and nationhood that goes far beyond the courtly doggerel of most of his predecessors’. […]

Caught in the Groove

Posted on by David Gelber

Toni Morrison’s new novel is like the music that gave it its title. It is rhythmic, emotional, controlled even in its wildest moments, skilful, subversive and irresistibly seductive. It is born out of, and evokes, both pain and pleasure. It laments and celebrates black experience; it takes themes and plays variations upon them; it plunges, […]

Pale Ghost of a Very Good Novelist

Posted on by David Gelber

Norman Mailer’s new novel opens with a sequence so good you believe for a moment he may have written the book his friends and critics agreed was inside him. On the coast of Maine, lyrically described, there is a car smash, a house, two women, a ghost, sex, an air of menace and a series […]

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Pull the Other One

Posted on by David Gelber

So, who told the biggest whoppers? Was it Amerigo Vespucci, the oily Florentine who claimed to have discovered America a year before Columbus, thus succeeding in having the New World named after him? Or perhaps you prefer Alexander VI – the Borgia Pope – who dissolved his daughter Lucrezia’s first marriage on the grounds that […]

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Joys of Young Love in a Superb Ghost Story

Posted on by David Gelber

Just towards the end of Penelope Fitzgerald’s brilliant new novel, the reader is treated to a ghost-story, told in the manner of M R James. It is the harrowing tale of an 1870s archaeological dig in a field near Cambridge, on the site of an ancient nunnery dedicated to St Salome (‘the Virgin Mary’s midwife’). […]

Hope’s Necropolis

Posted on by David Gelber

Until the age of forty-one, Peter Hessler had spent much of his adult life in China, where he worked as a correspondent for the New Yorker. He had mastered the language, written four acclaimed books and won a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ for his portrayals of ordinary people dealing with China’s sweeping transformation. Then something […]

Scaling the Heights

Posted on by David Gelber

In her foundational biography of Lee Krasner, Gail Levin tells a story of an artists’ sit-down strike in New York in 1936. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), the innovative government programme that allowed many American artists and writers to survive the 1930s, was about to fire five hundred workers. The police responded brutally to the protests […]

The Incompleat Diplomat

Posted on by David Gelber

I met Richard Holbrooke on a few occasions, the last time not long before he embarked on his final posting, as Barack Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But my first and most memorable encounter did not involve an actual meeting. In the autumn of 1973 I was researching

Roadkill & Camomile for Tea

Posted on by David Gelber

 I suppose the obvious next step for someone who has already written a book about how he gave up money for three years is to repudiate the technological advances of the modern world and write a book about living by candlelight and without running water. By conventional standards these are singular, not to say bizarre, […]

To the Innards of the Earth

Posted on by David Gelber

If I were a shrink, I’d worry about Robert Macfarlane – his dicing with eschatology, his claustrophilia, his recklessness, some of the company he keeps (sewer punks, cavist ultras, grotto mystics). But I’m not: I’m merely a repeatedly delighted fan of a true original. Macfarlane is a poet with the instincts of a thriller writer, an autodidact in botany, mycology, geology and palaeontology, an ambulatory encyclopedia – save that much of the time (a dodgy word in this context) Macfarlane does not ambulate but hauls himself feet first through tunnels the circumference of a child’s bicycle wheel in absolute darkness where day, night, maps and GPS do not exist. That’s when he is not being driven at absurdly high speed through potash mines beneath the North Sea’s shipping lanes by a gung-ho

Feds under the Bed

Posted on by David Gelber

There is a long history of FBI meddling in the affairs of public intellectuals in America, and it’s not a happy one. State surveillance of writers and political activists (such as Martin Luther King Jr) became an obsession under the bizarre and dictatorial leadership of J Edgar Hoover, who served as director from its inception […]

Ladies of the Raj

Posted on by David Gelber

With the Neapolitan saying “Vedi Napoli, e poi mori” [see Naples and die], I beg leave to differ entirely, and would rather offer this advice – “See the Taj Mahal, and then – see the Ruins of Delhi”,’ enthused Fanny Parkes while she was ‘vagabondizing’ through India in the 1830s. ‘How much there is to […]

Not Quite Master of All He Surveyed

Posted on by David Gelber

From 1519 until his abdication in 1556, Charles V, ‘By the Grace of God Holy Roman Emperor, Forever August King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, Navarra, Grenada, King of Jerusalem, King of the Western and Eastern Indies, Lord of the Islands and Main Ocean Sea, Archduke of […]

Learning to Deal

Posted on by David Gelber

For the proponents of many contemporary orthodoxies, Jared Diamond’s belief that geography accounts for some of the enduring features of global politics is an intellectual and political provocation. In his bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), for which he received a Pulitzer Prize, he argued that Western global dominance was at least partly the result […]

We Need to Talk about Judd Nelson

Posted on by David Gelber

Bret Easton Ellis used to be famous for his controversial 1991 novel American Psycho. Now he’s infamous for being an American asshole: a Trump-loving, racist and sexist white guy. What happened? Social media happened: too many late-night tequila-lubricated tweets, controversial podcasts and celebrity profiles that caused the Twittersphere to go berserk with outrage. Ellis, in […]

A Songbird in Knightsbridge

Posted on by David Gelber

In October 1838, four months after Victoria’s coronation, shocking news filtered back to England from West Africa. Letitia Landon, once hailed as Byron’s poetic heir, was dead. The empty bottle of prussic acid clasped in her hand pointed to suicide. A sense of self-preservation prompted Dr Anthony Thomson, the bottle’s supplier, to suggest murder. Wasn’t […]

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