Author Archives: Jonathan Beckman

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 […]

Epater la bourgeoisie

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Moravia is perhaps the only Italian novelist to attain world, stature (Italian Nobel prizewinners have tended to be poets). This is undoubtedly due to his work being less Italian and more worldly than that of other Italian novelists. A period of illness as an adolescent started him on an exploration of world literature and it […]

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The Magical Power of Money

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IT IS one of the ironies of American history that the founder of the Pinkerton detective agency, that efficient tool of post civil war capitalism, left Scotland to avoid arrest after his involvement in a Chartist demonstration in 1842. He was, after his arrival in the land of the free, an ardent abolitionist deeply involved […]

Feminist Fiction?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Clive Sinclair, interviewing writer Emily Prager at the ICA, fell off his chair when she mentioned castration. How would he have copied with the heroine of Jill Miller’s comic novel Happy as a Dead Cat, who ‘dreamed [she’d] cut off twenty penises and fed them to a pack of wild dogs.’ Of course it is […]

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Sheer Pleasure

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When I read novels as good as these two, whether it be by chance, or the happy whim of the Editor, I thank God for the public libraries. It is only through these institutions that I shall be able to lay hands on the ten or so earlier novels which both these unfamiliar (to me […]

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Back to Nature

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Elizabeth and her German Garden became something of a cult when it was published in 1898, reprinting 21 times by the following year. There was much speculation about the identity and sex of its author (in the new Virago edition Elizabeth Jane Howard has written a lively summary of her biography), but even with the […]

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Mothers & Daughters

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The relationship between mother and daughter is probably the most insidious, powerful, elaborate and devastating connection known to woman. (It can, of course, alternatively be the most powerful, elaborate, rewarding and positive relationship, but either there is far less of that about, or novelists find it harder or less interesting to deal with.) Fathers and […]

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Double Trouble

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Hard Luck describes the comic, frequently unhappy adventures of identical twins, Richard and Tom, from their birth in Macmillan’s Fifties to adolescence in the more affluent and progressive Seventies. The tone might be lighthearted but times are indeed hard for Richard , who narrates the story, and Tom. Their father, who initially appears in the […]

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They Are All Cameras

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A fashionable method of dramatising a novel in recent years has been to assemble as few actors as possible, preferably two, and divide all the characters of Bleak House or War and Peace between them, fire the starting pistol and see how quickly they can convey the entire story without props and without confusing the […]

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It’s The Same The Whole World Over

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

London in the thirties. Soho. A sleazy maze of noisy smoke-filled bars, oily red plush cinemas and quirky tea houses. This is the world of Patrick Hamilton’s trilogy: The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure and The Plains of Cement. The books were written by Hamilton in his middle and late twenties and were published […]

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What a Coincidence

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Paradise Motel is Eric McCormack’s first novel. He has already been compared with, amongst others, J L Borges and Bruce Chatwin on account of his extravagant imagination and his deep affection for the bizarre. But his stories, which he says, with typical understatement, ‘dabble… in the slightly alien areas of everyday life’ are told […]

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Not Much Comfort

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Joseph Connolly’s latest novel focuses on – a disparate group of people staying at an English seaside resort for their summer holiday. They range from the unlikeable to the odious. There are several couples: wealthy Elizabeth and Howard; impoverished Dotty and Brian; Lulu and her madly jealous husband John – all occupying different places on […]

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So What?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This is the curiously elusive story of Catherine Hammond. From the genteel spa-town of her earliest memories, she glides through 500-odd picaresque pages, until, having come full-circle, she ends up back in Aquae-Regis. In the interim, on a timescale that runs from the 1930s to the 1980s, Catherine encounters Experience. She feels the warmth of […]

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Take it Rafting

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Traditional university teaching in the United States used to include a compulsory course on the history of Western civilisation, starting with the Sumerians in Mesopotamia and proceeding by weekly instalments to the most recent technological triumphs of American genius. This was the staple food of first-year students. Felipe Fernández-Armesto, an Oxford academic with an appetite […]

The Decline and Fall of a Friendship

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Just occasionally, a book is published that transports the reader through time and space to another world. The world in question here is that of Habsburg Mitteleuropa: a place of duels and balls, opera and cafés. It is a rickety, multinational empire of ten languages, and at least twice as many minorities, all ruled over […]

Wang Dejia

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Beijing’s successful bid for the Olympics in 2001 caused consternation amongst campaign groups who believed China’s appalling human rights record did not merit her winning this opportunity. However, there were many who argued that the international platform would encourage the Chinese authorities to be more responsive to pressure from other countries. If anything, though, China’s […]

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