Author Archives: Jonathan Beckman

Splendid – but What About that Husband?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Most of us still talk of “Mrs Gaskell”,’ writes Jenny Uglow at the beginning of her splendid new biography. Like Samuel Johnson, Elizabeth Gaskell has long been saddled with a cumbersome, misleading (and, in Gaskell’s case, vaguely demeaning) handle; and so before even opening Uglow’s life, we can take heart at its apt and promising […]

Runaway Train

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Slavenka Drakulić is a Croat. ‘Two years ago, if you mentioned that you came from Croatia (which you probably wouldn’t mention anyway, because you knew it wouldn’t make sense to a foreigner) people would look at you in bewilderment repeating the unknown name with a question mark…’ Things are completely different now. ‘…whereas before, I […]

Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Stay

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Among contemporary American writers, Pynchon is the chief practitioner of what Gore Vidal calls the R&D Novel, as distinguished from the R&R Novel. (For those unfamiliar with this sort of terminology, I should explain that R&D is corporate shorthand for Research and Development, R&R Bilko-ese for Rest and Recreation. Vidal takes, or took, a stern […]

Coming of Age

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Surely even the literary world’s most sagacious commentators couldn’t have anticipated a Booker Prize shortlist quite like the one we have this year: six books, four of them debuts and, for good or ill, only one written by a UK citizen. That book is Shuggie Bain, the gritty first novel by Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart. […]

Missing Links

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When I was five years old, my oldest half-brother came one evening to say goodnight. With him was the most beautiful person I have ever seen. She leaned over my bed to kiss me and said ‘Shane and I are going to get married’. I decided at once she was a princess and asked if […]

With Sensitivity

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I have not watched a single screen second of the BBC’s adaptation of Tender is the Night and have not the slightest intention of ever doing so. Nor, if you are half the reader I take you for, will you. I understand from some friends that the piece is, in fact, excellently done: beautifully filmed, […]

Discretion, C’est Tout

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Political wives and husbands do not have an enviable lot, and Prime Ministers’ consorts are no exception. Theirs is a thankless task – whether they forget their own identity and faithfully support their spouse as the other half, or try and retain a semblance of independence by doing their own thing. Either way it’s a […]

Written in Blood

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Edward Brooke-Hitching’s The Madman’s Library begins with a question. ‘Which books’, he wonders, ‘would inhabit the shelves of the greatest library of literary curiosities, put together by a collector unhindered by space, time and budget?’ It’s a rather flimsy peg on which to hang this ragbag of bibliographical oddities, but no matter. There are enough […]

Go With the Floe

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In Britain the North Pole no longer enjoys the iconic status of its southern counterpart. We celebrate the men who slogged their way across the bloodless Antarctic ice fields, battling fathomless crevasses, withering blizzards and pesky Norwegians to plant the Union Jack at the South Pole. Yet in the nineteenth century, and at the beginning […]

Sebastian Shakespeare talks to Beryl Bainbridge

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

You once said you can only write about the past as it is the only language you understand. Could you please explain. The present is too immediate, and I’ve gone beyond the age when I feel at home in it. My family lived in the past owing to my father having begun his working life […]

Against Entropy: Interview with J G Ballard

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

J G Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and interned by the Japanese from 1942-1946. After his release he came to England and for a short time studied medicine at King’s College, Cambridge. His previous novels include The Drowned World, The Crystal World, Crash and The Unlimited Dream Company. Empire of the Sun is […]

Masterly Performance

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The forbears whom Evelyn Waugh affectionately described in his unfinished autobiography A Little Leaning were professional men as far back as the eye could see: clergymen (mostly Scotch divines in the earlier reaches of the pedigree), lawyers, doctors, soldiers. His own father, Arthur Waugh, was a publisher and a man of letters of a kind […]

Warsaw Diary

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Poland, torn apart by history, is a land of ghosts and symbols. Some are obvious, like the eighteenth-century shoemaker who led a riot in Warsaw against the Russian occupier, and whose monument in the old part of the city receives daily tributes of flowers. Some are tucked away, as in the dingy National Museum where […]

Freedom of the Press?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Every so often, the paper boy oversleeps, or the railwaymen, or NALGO or the civil servants go on strike, and I find myself sitting at the breakfast table with, as I usually put it on such occasions, ‘nothing to read’. Never mind that I have never read Goethe, or half the Michael Innes books, or […]

Compassionate Odyssey

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Gloria Steinem has never written a book. She has been much too busy campaigning – mainly for feminism, although Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern have also earned her support. Co-founder of both New York and Ms magazines, she had earned her living mainly as a journalist and, latterly, by lecturing. But that never-written book irks […]

The Czech Dissidents

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In Milan Kundera’s (b. 1929) novel The Farewell Party (1973), Jakub, a political dissident, comments cynically – ‘How many young people have been thrown out of school because the parents fell into disfavour, and how many parents resigned themselves to a life-time of cowardly submission just to avoid embarrassing their children… anyone who wants to […]

Rome Diary

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Today Italy is a country like any other,’ Moravia declared in a recent interview, and there is more than a grain of truth in this. More than five years have passed since Pasolini took the disappearance of fireflies, dense sparkling clouds that hung over the countryside on summer nights, as a symbol of the impoverishment […]

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After Dallas what?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Elliott Baker is an American. This is, I think, his sixth published novel. Norman Mailer finds Baker one of the funniest writers he knows. And We Were Young is dedicated to Norman Mailer. Elliott Baker is pictured on the back cover and he looks like Dennis Norden minus the spectacles and with a more expensive […]

Drieu La Rochelle: Double Agent

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1944-45, after his suicide attempts and with trial for collaboration an increasingly likely possibility, Drieu La Rochelle blamed his inability to live up to the fascist ideal on his class inheritance: ‘I was basically, essentially, weak. The son of timid, frightened bourgeois … I’ve always been frightened of everything. There was in me another […]

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