Author Archives: Frank Brinkley

Unpriestly Behaviour

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The enduring impression of JB Priestley is the down-to-earth, plain-spoken, pipe-smoking, cocksure Yorkshire entertainer, with a mind concrete and far from fastidious. It is nut an entirely agreeable one. ‘Jolly Jack’ Priestley, with his opinionated Honest John manner, has clearly presented his biographer with some embarrassment in explaining what lay behind the public image. Was […]

Better Than Seamus Heaney

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Not knowing Adam Thorpe’s poetry before, I found it good at first but good of a vaguely familiar kind. After all, we no longer suppose that every poet, still less every poem will be so original as to be startling; only two or three poets in a generation will surprise us, and they will not […]

A Trail of Sycophancy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When Batsheva de Rothschild, who runs a dance company in Tel Aviv, was touring in Kenya recently, she was asked at a press conference for her name. ‘Rothschild,’ she said. ‘Ah yes,’ came the rather surprising reply, ‘just like our giraffe.’ And indeed the local five horned giraffe is named after a member of the […]

Terror of Not Being Heard

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

By any standard, Primo Levi’s works must be ranked among the finest autobiographical writing of our age. Philip Roth’s claim that lf This Is a Man is ‘one of the century’s truly necessary books’ is more than just promotional hyperbole. It is the recognition that Levi’s exploration of the dark universe that was Auschwitz should […]

Mad as a Hatter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Mathematicians – the really, really good ones – are not like other people. One of the (true) stories recounted by Paul Hoffman concerns the mathematician who slept with his wife only on those days of the month that were prime numbers – the second, third, fifth, seventh, and so on. Not so bad early in […]

Another Approach to Criticism

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The growing success of Greenwich’s infamous Dome – at any rate among schoolchildren at half-term – has led to calls for those who criticised it in the first place to eat their words. My friend and colleague Richard Ingrams has a robust answer to this suggestion. Even if the project can succeed in paying for […]

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What This Odd Couple Loved About Each Other

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are two of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. Among the remarkable things about them are the peculiar similarities and parallels of their backgrounds and the kind of literary friendship – which was also a literary enmity – that they forged. Both were born to reasonably affluent […]

Epic Fairy Tale Told as a Shakespearian Tragedy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A few years ago, I was talking to Joyce Carol Oates, who teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University, about a poem she had written describing a deer in her garden. ‘Actually,’ she told me, ‘there were five deer; but art must simplify.’ I recalled this wry remark when reading Blonde, her twenty-fourth novel, which is […]

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Who Is Sylvia?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sylvia Plath began keeping a journal when she was eleven and continued until her death at the age of thirty. This new edition publishes the journals that survive from the last twelve years of her life. Two notebooks are missing, from late 1959 to three days before Plath’s suicide in February 1963. According to Ted […]

Our Kind of Traitor

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are two puzzles that for many years have provoked speculation. Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all people are the British so good at both? The first is wound up in the fact that people are perennially intrigued by the seemingly unpleasant art of deception. It has been so since Gideon carried out his night raid against

Have Some Commons Decency

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Harold Macmillan felt physically sick before every Prime Minister’s Questions, even though Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the opposition, would only ask him one question every three weeks. Even Tony Blair, possibly the best PMQs performer of them all, described Parliament’s centrepiece confrontation as ‘the most nerve-racking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror-inspiring, courage-draining experience in my prime […]

Lost in Elizabeth

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Nell Stevens is the go-to writer for accounts of not getting on with writing, a state with which many writers will be excruciatingly familiar. Fresh from a creative writing degree, she published her first book, Bleaker House, in 2017. It is a chronicle of spending three months in the Falklands on a generously funded Boston […]

Brexit Lit

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What happened to Britain on 24 June 2016 is routinely portrayed as the voice of the people making itself heard like a thunderclap. ‘Brexit’. It’s a word that has not previously existed in the political lexicon. Brexit is an idea without political apparatus, without a long history, without field-tested theory, without obvious creative writers to […]

An Interview with V S Naipaul

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I drive to Wiltshire on a rare sunny English summer’s day to interview V S Naipaul in his country home. All his books, fiction and non-fiction, are to be reissued (by Picador in Britain and Knopf in the USA), and this interview anticipates the publication next month of his new novel, Half a Life. Before […]

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A Talent For Shrouds

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the late 1970s, I had a colleague in the World Service of the BBC by the name of Feyyaz Fergar. We all loved him, especially in the basement bar of Bush House on Aldwych, but alas many of us did not discover until too late that, as well as being an uplifting companion, he […]

That Sinking Feeling

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Robert Service, twice biographer of Lenin, reveals himself in this volume to be a writer of small things: of the anekdot, or joke, which larded Russian conversation in the Communist era, and does so still; of the revealing characteristics of leaders, such as Boris Yeltsin’s habit of playing spoons on the pates of bald underlings; […]

Let Us Hope Not

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The fact that a millennium lasts a thousand years is, you might think, self – evident. So there is something distinctly odd about the subtitle of Rosalind Coward’s new book, which asks whether feminism is relevant to the new millennium: not the next decade, or the next fifty years, but the next ten centuries. This […]

Third Reich Filth

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If you are a fugitive in fear of your life, always walk along the road against the traffic, rather than in the same direction. It ‘s harder for someone to drive alongside and shoot you. The author of this disturbing book has lived in (very justifiable) fear of his life ever since leaving the neo […]

With a Bit More Democracy We Might Hang Mr Howard

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Cleisthenes may have invented democracy in Athens in 508 BC but not all Athenians were in favour of it. Here Plato in his Republic (c 375 BC) describes what happens when democracy gets out of hand: ‘Teachers are afraid of their pupils and curry favour with them, while pupils despise their teachers. Older members of […]

Worth Investigation

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Edith Wharton tells a story about Henry James, who once managed to get lost on the Kings Road, Chelsea. In desperation he accosted a local and proceeded to treat him to the usual orotundity and prolixity of the Jamesian period, replete with many an ‘in short’ – the inevitable prelude with James to a fresh […]

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