Stoyo Petkanov, the central character of Julian Barnes’s new novella, is a satirical creation of genius. Three parts Todor Zhivkov, the ghastly former ruler of Bulgaria, to one part Alf Garnett, he is the deposed communist boss of a (nameless) Soviet satellite state. Imprisoned by his reform-minded successors, he is about to be put on trial. The proceedings are to be televised. For the chief prosecutor, Peter Solinsky, it is an opportunity for advancement under the new regime. For the watching millions, it is a chance to purge themselves of the past. For Petkanov, however, it is a stage from which he can appeal to History: ‘He wasn’t going to play the part allotted him. He had a different script in mind.’ The Porcupine tells what happens.
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'Thirkell was a product of her time and her class. For her there are no sacred cows, barring those that win ribbons at the Barchester Agricultural.'
The novelist Angela Thirkell is due a revival, says Patricia T O'Conner (£).
'Only in Britain, perhaps, could spy chiefs – conventionally viewed as masters of subterfuge – be so highly regarded as ethical guides.'
In this month's Bookends, @AdamCSDouglas looks at the curious life of Henry Labouchere: a friend of Bram Stoker, 'loose cannon', and architect of the law that outlawed homosexual activity in Britain.