Ian Thomson rss

Edmund White says that the first time he met Bruce Chatwin (pictured), they had sex immediately Photo: Getty

Gay Paree: food, feuds and phalluses – I mean, fallacies

15 March 2014
Inside a Pearl Edmund White

Bloomsbury, pp.261, £18.99, ISBN: 9781408820452

In his preface to The Joy of Gay Sex (revised and expanded third edition), Edmund White praises the ‘kinkier’ aspects of homo-erotic life. Practical advice is given on frottage, spanking,… Read more

Flann O'Brien (on right) in the Palace Bar in Dublin (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty)

Was Flann O'Brien at his best when writing about drink? (Answers on a damp stressed envelope, please)

1 February 2014
The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien Neil Murphy and Keith Hopper (eds)

Dalkey Archive, pp.435, £9.50, ISBN: 9781564788894

On his deathbed in Dublin in the spring of 1966, Flann O’Brien must have been squiffy from tots of Paddy. A bottle of the amber distillate was smuggled in to… Read more

The young Clarice Lispector was strikingly beautiful, with catlike green eyes and ‘very, very sexy’, remembered a friend

'She's the most important Jewish writer since Kafka!'

11 January 2014
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector Benjamin Moser

Penguin Books, pp.479, £12.99, ISBN: 9781846147814

The Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector was a riddlesome and strange personality. Strikingly beautiful, with catlike green eyes, she died in Rio de Janeiro in 1977 at the age of only… Read more


The many attempts to assassinate Trotsky

4 January 2014
The Man Who Loved Dogs Leonardo Padura, translated by Anna Kushner

Bitter Lemon Press, pp.576, £20, ISBN: 9781908524102

Leon Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban Volkov, is a retired chemist in his early eighties. I met him not long ago in the house in Mexico City where his grandfather was murdered… Read more


Carlos Acosta, the great dancer, should be a full-time novelist

2 November 2013
Pig’s Foot Carlos Acosta, translated by Frank Wynne

Bloomsbury, pp.333, £12.99, ISBN: 9781408833704

Carlos Acosta, the greatest dancer of his generation, grew up in Havana as the youngest of 11 black children. Money was tight, but Carlos won a place at ballet school,… Read more

Death of Sardanapalus, Eugene Delacroix, 1827 (Picture: The Art Archive / DeA Picture Library / J. E. Bulloz)

Italo Calvino's essays, Collection of Sand, is a brainy delight

26 October 2013
Collection of Sand: Essays Italo Calvino translated by Martin McLaughlin

Penguin Modern Classics, pp.240, £9.99, ISBN: 9780141193748

The Japanese are sometimes said to suffer from ‘outsider person shock’ (gaijin shokku) when travelling abroad. Recently in London we had a lodger from Hiroshima who wanted to practise his… Read more

Stephen King isn't as scary as he used to be, but 'Doctor Sleep' is still a cracker

5 October 2013
Doctor Sleep Stephen King

Hodder, pp.485, £19.99, ISBN: 9781476727653

Though alcohol withdrawal is potentially fatal, booze has none of the media-confected glitz of heroin (imagine Will Self boasting of a Baileys Bristol Cream addiction). The 17th-century word for the… Read more

Mr Loverman, by Bernardine Evaristo - review

14 September 2013
Mr Loverman Bernadine Evaristo

Hamish Hamilton, pp.307, £8.99, ISBN: 9780241145784

In 1998, the Jamaican singer Bounty Killer released a single, ‘Can’t Believe Mi Eyes’, which expressed incredulity that men should wear tight trousers, because tight trousers are an effeminate display… Read more

An Armenian Sketchbook, by Vasily Grossman - review

17 August 2013
An Armenian Sketchbook Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler

MacLehose Press, pp.221, £12, ISBN: 9780857052353

Vasily Grossman, a Ukranian-born Jew, was a war correspondent for the Soviet army newspaper Red Star. His dispatches from the front between 1941 and 1945 combined emotional engagement with independent-minded… Read more

Left: a glassy-eyed Tennessee Williams in a bar in Turkey, c.1948.
Right: the poet John Berryman at his desk, tumbler to hand

A Trip to Echo Spring, by Olivia Laing - review

10 August 2013
The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink Olivia Laing

Canongate, pp.340, £20, ISBN: 9781847677945

The boozer’s life is one of low self-esteem and squalid self-denial. It was memorably evoked by Charles Jackson in his 1944 novel The Lost Weekend; having hocked his typewriter for… Read more


Nicolas Roeg interview: ‘I hate the term “sex scene”’

13 July 2013

‘Oh, some of my films have been attacked with absolute vitriol!’ said Nicolas Roeg, 85, and still one of the darkest and most innovative of post-war British directors. We were… Read more

Vauxhall, by Gabriel Ghadomosi; Sketcher, by Roland Watson-Grant - review

29 June 2013
Vauxhall Gabriel Gbadamosi

Telegram, pp.320, £12.99, ISBN: 9781846591464

Sketcher Roland Watson-Grant

Alma Books, pp.279, £12.99, ISBN: 9781846882425

At the grubbier end of my street in north London is the Somali mosque that was burned down earlier this month in an arson attack. The other day I asked… Read more

Dan Brown's Inferno Set To Be The Best Seller Of The Year

Inferno, by Dan Brown - review

25 May 2013
Inferno Dan Brown

Bantam, pp.462, £20, ISBN: 9780593072493

The other day, while shopping in Tesco, I was surprised to find copies of the Inferno for sale by the checkout. ‘Oh dear’, I declared, ‘who would have thought of… Read more

'The Making of a Minister', by Roy Kerridge

20 April 2013
The Making of a Minister Roy Kerridge

Custom Books, pp.59, £11.99, ISBN: 9780956918413

Back in the 1960s, England was a bad disappointment to many West Indians. In the grey city streets with their scruffy, bay-fronted houses they looked for somewhere to live. Many… Read more

'Well Done God!: Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson', edited by Jonathan Coe – review

6 April 2013
Well Done God!: Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson Jonathan Coe (ed)

Picador, pp.471, £25, ISBN: 9781447227106

B.S. Johnson railed intemperately at life, but in his fiction at least he found a lugubrious comedy in human failings. In 1973, aged 40, he killed himself by slashing his… Read more

Fanny (left) and Stella —‘the more presentable of the two’

'Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England', by Neil McKenna - review

9 March 2013
Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England Neil McKenna

Faber, pp.396, £16.99, ISBN: 9780571231904

Mick Jagger, the Danny La Rue of rock, impersonates a woman on the cover of the 1978 Stones album Some Girls. Vaudeville performers in the Jagger mould love to put… Read more


A model of micro-history

26 January 2013
World War Two: A Short History Norman Stone

Allen Lane, pp.238, £16.99, ISBN: 9781846141393

Adolf Hitler considered jazz a ‘racially inferior’ form of American black music, and banned it from the airwaves. Germany’s gilded youth flouted the prohibition by playing Duke Ellington in secret… Read more

Erratic historian of alternative pop

8 December 2012
Copendium: An Expedition into theRock’n’Roll Underworld Julian Cope

Faber, pp.736, £30, ISBN: 9780571270330

Julian Cope, the well-read jester of English pop, was the founder member of the 1980s art-rock combo The Teardrop Explodes. With his antic appearance (Rommel overcoat, wild tawny hair), he… Read more

Shades of Greene: a Havana interior by Andrew Moore, one of many haunting photographs of decayed grandeur from Cuba (with essays by Joel Smith and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo), published by Damiani, £50

A heady mix of vice and voodoo

1 December 2012
Seeds of Fiction: Graham Greene’s Adventures in Haiti and Central America Bernard Diederich, with a foreword by Pico Iyer

Peter Owen, pp.300, £20, ISBN: 9780720614886

By any standards, Haiti represents a great concentration of misery and dashed hopes. From the air, the Caribbean republic is a sun-scorched clinker; deforestation, caused by a ruinous cutting of… Read more

The plight of the Poles

3 November 2012
The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War Halik Kochanski

Allen Lane, pp.734, £30, ISBN: 9781846143540

Was a nation ever so beset by calamity as Poland? During the second world war, Polish cities were bombed, fought over hand-to-hand and crushingly shelled. Beyond their ideological differences, Hitler… Read more

The poetry of the streets

1 September 2012
NW Zadie Smith

Hamish Hamilton, pp.296, £18.99, ISBN: 9780241144145

For good or ill, black West Indian culture is synonymous with youth culture in Britain today. Even among white teenagers, a Jamaican inflection (‘buff’, ‘bruv’) is reckoned hip. The ‘Jamaicanisation’… Read more

Harry Belafonte Portrait

Man smart

23 June 2012
My Song: A Memoir Harry Belafonte, with Michael Schnayerson

Canongate, pp.469, £14.99, ISBN: 9780857865861

Port Antonio, in Jamaica, radiates a torrid, hothouse air. At night the inshore breeze smells faintly of bananas. Port Antonio was once Jamaica’s chief banana port, shipping out an average… Read more


The world in arms

2 June 2012
The Second World War Antony Beevor

Weidenfeld, pp.863, 25

The long summer that led up to the last days of peace in Europe in 1939 — the vigil of Hitler’s assault on Poland and the subsequent Phoney War —… Read more

Life imitates art

19 May 2012
Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow Susannah Corbett

The History Press, pp.320, 20

The other evening my wife came home to find me watching re-runs of Steptoe and Son. The washing up had not been done, and everything was in a state of… Read more

The tide turned

21 April 2012

A couple of years ago, a rescue operation was recorded at a lifeboat station in Poole, Dorset. ‘The boat was launched at 13.35p.m. following a call that a man and… Read more