The Gracious Curmudgeon

Posted on by David Gelber

For almost forty years, Robert Hughes has turned his shrewd and perspicacious gaze to the world of the visual arts. Through television, most famously his vigorous defence of modernism in 1980, The Shock of the New; through a series of impressive monographs, not least a masterly study of Goya; and through his prolific contributions to […]

The Courtier’s Craft

Posted on by David Gelber

Sir Alan Lascelles, known to his friends as ‘Tommy’, was a courtier. He served as Principal Private Secretary to King George VI from 1943 until his death, and to the Queen for the first two years of her reign. From 1935 to 1943, he had been Assistant Private Secretary to three sovereigns, and during the […]

From Odessa to Paris

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Fans of Teffi in this country have had to wait only two years since the publication of Subtly Worded, her remarkable collection of short stories, for two further volumes to appear. Memories, her memoir of the Civil War, and Rasputin and Other Ironies, a collection of shorter reminiscences, are both, like Subtly Worded, published by Pushkin Press and translated by the excellent Robert Chandler and colleagues

Long Goodbye

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It is hard to conceive of a worse nightmare that any mother or father could face. Having raised four children to adulthood and settled into a happy second marriage, Lu Spinney enjoyed a privileged life revolving around dinner parties with friends, boisterous family lunches and holidays in France. Then in March 2006 her eldest son, […]

Bin There, Done That

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘I took my life and threw it on the skip’ begins one of James Fenton’s best poems. After which, in the manner of skip economy, ‘some bugger’ nicked it and threw his own on the skip in exchange. Finding this other discarded life, Fenton’s narrator brings it in, dries it by the stove and tries it […]

Cafe Culture

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘It’s not so easy writing about nothing’, states Patti Smith at the beginning of M Train. She just makes it look easy. M Train is essentially a companion piece to her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, which was a record of her life in New York in the early 1970s with her friend the photographer Robert […]

Love among the Paperbacks

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Must we document everything?’ exclaims Greta Gerwig, heroine of Noah Baumbach’s recent film Mistress America, when someone takes a casual snap of her on a mobile phone. Tweets, emails and instant photography allow us to keep constant track of our lives and to bombard the outside world with the details. But one wonders what effect […]

Crossing the Yalu

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Here are three chilling but revealing books about North Korea and the perils of escaping from it. Lucia Jang surprised me by making plain that even after decades of brainwashing by the ruling Kim dynasty, ordinary Koreans remain traditional and superstitious in their habits and beliefs. But the cruelty of the North Korean regime is […]

Still Smoking

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Admirers of Simon Gray will not be disappointed by this last volume in his trilogy of ‘smoking diaries’. Many of the topics he treats are now familiar: the delights of swimming, the miseries of air travel, the pains and humiliations of the decaying body, and then, more sombre still, the deaths of close friends or […]

The Socialist at Centre-Half

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This charming book encompasses all those elements that help make a modern bestseller – espionage, treachery, class warfare, politics, celebrity, drink, nostalgia and … football. Jim Riordan is Professor Emeritus in Russian Studies at the University of Surrey. He is also a novelist, a writer of children’s books, a translator, and a graduate of the […]

Cut Adrift

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Surprisingly, given the rage Shalom Auslander can muster against God for even the slightest mishap, this memoir contains no lamentation for his own circumcision. It is the prospective birth of a son that causes turmoil in the mind of this Jew who has rejected the traditions and laws of his forefathers: will his boy get […]

The Oxygen of Influence

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This autobiography starts with a boy’s love for his mother, so beautifully evoked that when she dies of cancer it is heartbreaking. Not that he was supposed to feel it so deeply. Her unselfishness, together with the fear of emotion so common in English people of her class, made her ‘spare’ him the facts of […]

The Maestro Matures

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The first volume of Prokofiev’s extraordinary diary, which covered the period 1907–14, was published by Faber two years ago. I reviewed it enthusiastically in these pages, expressing impatience for its sequel. Two years is a long time to be feeling impatient; so I had already taken the trouble to have short sections of it translated […]

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