Author Archives: Frank Brinkley

Burke and Ayer Strike Again

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One of the most comforting facts about the tempestuous life of Thomas Paine is that he didn’t do anything of any significance until he was nearly 40. If there hadn’t been a series of revolutions and threatened revolutions in the last quarter of the 18th century, no one would ever have heard of Thomas Paine. […]

Down on Hite

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Why, oh why does the Editor of this otherwise impeccable journal persist in sending me such huge and indigestible books to review? Surely, somewhere, there is a slim volume of sonnets, or a brief biography, that I could cover for the same much-needed postal-order and miniature of malt? As it is, it has taken me […]

Too Much Tallent

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Epigraphs are wonderful things. For her second collection of stories, the American author Elizabeth Tallent has looked to Edna O’Brien: ‘They chopped the wood, they lit the stove, they kept busy; there is always something to do in a house.’ It is true, of course; and indeed there is always something to do in the […]

Not a Book but a Commodity

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is a book so much not there that, like the dog that didn’t bark in the night, it’s remarkable. It is hard to imagine how human hand could have produced it. I have always believed, as a reviewer, that absolutely every book must hold some sort of interest for the truly attentive reader. After […]

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Man of Sixty-Two Words

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Novelists’ thoughts on their own work don’t always make very edifying reading. Among the Moderns, perhaps only James in his Art of the Novel – and, in a more intimate way, Conrad and Virginia Woolf in their respective Letters – have been able to shed any powerful light on the process and ‘ideology’ of their […]

Did He Influence the Mushrooming Zeitgeist?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘“Dare to know!” – that is the motto of enlightenment’, wrote Kant in 1784, in his famous essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Clerical authority, the veracity of the Bible, miracles, magic, satanic possession, monarchy, aristocracy, hierarchy, slavery, women’s subordination to men – all were challenged. Reason, which had immemorially been subordinated to ecclesiastical authority, but which […]

Keeper of the Locked Cabinet

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It was by chance rather than by design that I became a librarian. I had been working in London for the civil service when a family crisis required me to up sticks and return to Scotland. In urgent need of a job, I studied my qualifications and found that my options were, to say the […]

Object Lesson

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Out of the many million items in the British Library collections, I have a few favourites. One can only be viewed in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room. Printed in 1664, it’s a first edition of John Evelyn’s Restoration classic Sylva, Or a Discourse of Forest Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in His […]

Crime and the DPP

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s natural to open the memoirs of a retired DPP in high hopes of learning the inside stories of recent criminal causes celebres. You know anyway that nearly all these cases have an unrevealed lowdown, about which a whole clutch of officials (including above all the DPP) must have been tight-lipped for years. The publishers […]

Trench Warfare

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Joel Barnett was Chief Secretary to the Treasury throughout the last Labour government, part of the time as a Minister not in the Cabinet and later on as a member of the Cabinet, and this is largely a blow-by-blow account of the incessant internecine war which he was obliged to wage on the public expenditure […]

Elite Syncopation

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Shiela Grant Duff is a natural rebel. She was born an upper class girl just within the pre-1914 generation. Both her grandfathers had been Liberal MPs and distinguished public servants – Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff one time Governor of Madras, and Sir John Lubbock, later lst Lord Avebury. The last was an outstanding philanthropist and […]

The Ghost of Dornford Yates

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Dornford Yates’ was the pen-name of novelist William Mercer, 1885–1960. Of all the authors whose fiction has got about my wits, none has tempted me so clamorously to find out about his factual life. Where was, and what was the real name of, Gracedieu, the dream ‘House That Berry Built’ in the western foothills of […]

Noo Yoik, Noo Yoik

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A favourite pastime with a certain species of cultivated New Yorker – ‘obsession’ is probably a more correct word – is that of referring to well-known figures by their first names so as to ensure that a little of their glamour will rub off on you through the implied intimacy. ‘Have you seen David’s show?’, […]

Tickets on the Wall

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There is a faint smell of floorpolish in the rooms given over to the Kurt Schwitters Exhibition at the Tate, and an equally faint but all-pervasive recording of Schwitters reciting his own poetry. It comes from a bakelite radio set in a corner of the central room, an unending sequence of incantations, rhythmically repeated vowel […]

Demonstrate or Procreate

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

To be young in 1968 was not very heaven but, as we oscillated between hope and dread, it was certainly an exciting time to be alive. In and around that year, a period that Richard Vinen calls ‘The Long ’68’, progress was palpable. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society promised to realise Martin Luther King’s dream. Winds […]

How to Tumble Your Drier

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There is really no need for a layman like myself to remind you that some folk aren’t content with the Missionary Position. The curious researcher in the byways of human sexuality can easily discover perfectly reputable volumes of scholarship that furnish details of those who ‘love to devour the scabs taken off persons suffering from […]

We Have A Disposal Problem

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Joan Didion comes from California. Her best book was published in 1968. This is most of what you need to know. Here’s the rest of it. In that book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, she was, she said in her preface, dealing ‘directly and flatly with the evidence of atomisation, the proof that things fall apart’. If […]

Shades of Beak Street

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In Arabia Jonathan Raban suggested that if the Arabs were to acquire a genuine contemporary literature, it would be written by women ‘because women were the only people living under the kind of strain which produces serious poetry and fiction.’ Arab men, he said, had it too easy. He also predicted that when the lattice […]

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Boxcar Willie

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The old writer William Seward Hall lives in a boxcar by the river. Thirty years ago he wrote a book called The Boy Who Whittled Animals out of Wood, about a crippled boy who carved animals, and finally animated them by means of masturbatory rites, but since then nothing. Now he sits down to write […]

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