The Meaning of an Apple-Green Citroën

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘I seek, at once, both the eternal and the ephemeral.’ It’s a line from the French writer Georges Perec. Perec, you may remember, is most famous – notorious – for writing La Disparition, a whole novel without the letter E (Gilbert Adair’s virtuosic English translation is titled A Void). What fewer people know is that […]

The Boating Party

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It was strange to meet him halfway across Siberia, at a lonely town on the Amur river. He had already travelled overland some 2,600 miles from Moscow, whereas I had followed the nascent Amur on a wandering route out of Mongolia. He appeared a little studious, even when he was young, pale and lightly bearded, with an expression of faintly unreadable concern. How he was dressed

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Devil’s Own Country

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the late summer of 1998, I flew for the first time to the American West. I went there in search of dinosaurs. Back in London, my wife was pregnant with – as it would turn out – our first daughter. Conscious that my opportunities for travel were about to narrow severely, I wanted, while […]

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Hull Revisited

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The first poem by Philip Larkin I can remember reading is ‘Wild Oats’, in an English lesson in Hull with Mr Grayson, to whom I am greatly indebted for introducing me to 20th-century poetry. ‘Wild Oats’, with its sense of lost romantic opportunity and the slow exhaustion of a relationship that entailed settling for less, […]

The Ettrick Shepherd

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One February morning, my wife and I drove from our home near Melrose in the Scottish Borders to the hamlet of Ettrick, a journey of around twenty miles. It was a day for connoisseurs of the dreich. Sleety rain fell in sheets and a dense mist hung in the valleys. Fields were flooded and swollen […]

Born in the USA

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Nothing in the books I knew at the time reflected what I saw and felt growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States. This was before the stereotypical 1960s began in earnest, around 1963, with the Beatles and Dylan, organised protest and the demands for radical change. Until then it was an era of confusion and weirdness, unwritten about, as far as I could tell. I was a mediocre student, a loose fit in a big unruly family

A Bend in the Danube

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Where the Danube bends at Tulcea, near the Black Sea in eastern Romania, the river divides. The main body continues along the north of the Delta towards the Black Sea, entering it near Chilia. Several miles southeast of Tulcea, the narrower section, now calling itself the Old Danube, again divides, this time into the Sulina […]

Going French

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I was in my mid-twenties and just beginning work on my first book when I was invited to dinner with some older and very distinguished writers. I was excited, and a little curious as to why they would possibly be interested in me. Then an email arrived naming the restaurant. My stomach lurched at the words. […]

In Brigand Country

Posted on by Tom Fleming

When asked to name the living writers he admired, the intolerable hero of Cyril Connolly’s novel The Rock Pool replied, ‘Eliot, Joyce and Norman Douglas.’ Douglas was indeed much admired between the wars, especially for his Capri novel, South Wind. Now I suppose he is little read and when mentioned in the press has the […]

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World Enough Outside

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In 1992, Joseph Brodsky published Watermark, a book-length essay that brings together his impressions of Venice in winter – he refused to go there in any other season – and a series of powerful and moving meditations on the writer’s vocation. A lifelong Brodsky fan, I had read Watermark several times since then, but never, until […]

Love at First Bite

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

William Ewart Gladstone, visiting the Bourbon kingdom of Naples in 1850–51, famously damned it as ‘the negation of God erected into a system of government’. He might have said the same, a hundred years later, about English boarding preparatory schools. With their inadequate sanitation, appalling food and draconian discipline administered by half-mad sadists, they seem, […]

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Reading Proust in the Empty Quarter

Posted on by David Gelber

We had left Tehran, heading down to the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas. I, who did none of the driving, sat in the back of our decommissioned army lorry and started to read the English translation of Marcel Proust’s failed masterpiece Jean Santeuil. Apart from Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic Dune and The Preservation of […]

In Search of Raskolnikov

Posted on by David Gelber

I was thirty when I first went to St Petersburg (then Leningrad, of course); in thrall to Dostoevsky as a schoolboy, I learned to read him in Russian at university. I talked the talk, but had not yet walked the walk, particularly the perambulations of the murderer Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. St Petersburg in […]

Lines in the Sand

Posted on by David Gelber

The ideal beach is often assumed to be somewhere hot, with inoffensive azure waters lapping on sandy shores. That sounds nice, but the beaches I hanker after are British. I want them wild and windswept, with crashing waves, fossils and rock pools lively enough to hold the attention of David Attenborough. The preference comes from […]

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