Patrick Skene Catling rss

Dennis Potter, 1978 (Photo: Getty)

Dennis Potter: one of the last great masters of vituperation

11 July 2015
The Art of Invective: Selected Non-Fiction, 1953–94 Dennis Potter, edited by Ian Greaves, David Rolinson and John Williams, with a foreword by Peter Bowker

Oberon Books, pp.397, £24.99, ISBN: 9781783192038

‘Genuine invective is an almost lost art in our wild satirical age,’ Dennis Potter complained in New Society in 1966. Now, as the British Film Institute celebrates the life and… Read more

There may be an unknown somebody even more wonderful

The smartphone is like having a singles bar in one’s pocket 24/7

20 June 2015
Modern Romance Aziz Ansari, with Eric Klinenberg

Allen Lane, pp.279, £6.99, ISBN: 9780241211830

An American stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari, who usually performs in Los Angeles and New York, has found time to conduct an international investigation of the mating habits of the young… Read more

Disturbed patients in a London lunatic asylum, 1838. From 'Sketches in London' by James Grant. Photo: Getty Images

Back to Bedlam: Patrick Skene Catling on the book that makes madness visible

4 April 2015
Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity Andrew Scull

Thames & Hudson, pp.448, £28, ISBN: 9780500252123

Madness is an ancient, evidently inscrutable mystery, often regarded with superstitious fear, yet can provide a refuge from reality. Sometimes, however, the refuge turns out to be a trap. The… Read more

Sidney Bechet in 1939

Blue Note's 75 years of hot jazz

8 November 2014
Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression Richard Havers

Thames & Hudson, pp.400, £48, ISBN: 9780500517444

This is a big book, a monumental text with 800 illustrations, 400 of them in colour, to be contemplated more easily on a lectern than in bed, celebrating the 75-year… Read more

River Kenmare

A Troubles novel with plenty of violence and, thank heaven, some sex too

13 September 2014
Ashes in the Wind Christopher Bland

Head of Zeus, pp.402, £14.99, ISBN: 9781781859346

‘The Anglo-Irish, their tribe, are dying. . . . They will go without a struggle, unlamented,’ Christopher Bland, 76, declares at the outset of his exciting, poignant and ultimately consoling… Read more

The William A Clark Mansion on Fifth Avenue and recluse, Huguette Clark Photo: Getty / PA Images

The robber baron who 'bought judges as other men buy food’

2 August 2014
Empty Mansions Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr

Atlantic, pp.456, £16.99, ISBN: 9781782394761

The robber barons of the gilded age, at the turn of the 20th century, were the most ruthless accumulators of wealth in the history of the United States, and none… Read more

O.Z. Whitehead, Dorris Bowdon, John Carradine and Henry Fonda in the 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath

The two people who brought us The Grapes of Wrath

25 January 2014
Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage Susan Shillinglaw

University of Nevada Press, pp.312, £29.50, ISBN: 9780874179309

John Steinbeck (1902–1968), an ardent propagandist for the exploited underdogs of the Great Depression, had barely enough money for subsistence during the years he spent preparing and writing The Grapes… Read more


How to get old without getting boring

19 October 2013
Ammonites & Leaping Fish: A Life in Time Penelope Lively

Penguin, pp.234, £14.99, ISBN: 9780241146385

When one notices the first symptoms of senile dementia (forgetting names, trying to remember the purpose of moving from one room to another, and so on), books can be wonderfully… Read more

The Spoken Word, Irish Poets and Writers - audio book

The Spoken Word: Irish Poets and Writers British Library,

3 CDS, 3 hours, 35 minutes, £20, ISBN: 9780712351263

Here is further evidence that it is disillusioning, more often than not, to encounter close up any artist long admired at a distance. This generalisation applies to actors, musicians, painters… Read more


A hero of folk

9 February 2013

‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ was the ambitious slogan that Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) painted on his guitars. By fascists he meant the entire American capitalist establishment during the Great Depression and… Read more

Pig in the middle

12 January 2013
Mixed Blessings Peter Somerville-Large

Somerville, pp.272, £11.99, ISBN: 9780956223180

With nice ecumenical parity, Peter Somerville-Large derides equally both Ireland’s principal Christian churches as they compete for the soul, or at least the membership, of young Paul Blake-Willoughby. His discordant… Read more

Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of Batman and Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher, 1997

Bionic bore

3 November 2012
Total Recall: My Unbelievable True Life Story Arnold Schwarzenegger

Simon and Schuster, pp.646, £20, ISBN: 9781849839716

After wading through 646 pages of narcissistic gush and breathtaking vulgarity in the accents of Dr Kissinger and Dr Strangelove, I am consoled by the thought that the ordeal has… Read more

Thrills and spills

28 July 2012
The Truth Michael Palin

Weidenfeld, pp.261, 18.99, ISBN: 9780297860211

The singer of the ‘Lumberjack Song’, vendor of the Dead Parrot and leader of the Spanish Inquisition has written another novel. It is Michael Palin’s second, called The Truth. On… Read more


Swinging into action

14 July 2012
Music Wars, 1937-1945 Patrick Bade

East & West, pp.433, 25, ISBN: 9781907318078

Whereas it is generally agreed that music has charms to soothe a savage breast, Congreve might have added that music also has the power to inflame bellicose fervour. Patrick Bade,… Read more


Bookends: Prep-school passions

In his introductory eulogy, Peter Parker calls In the Making: The Story of a Childhood  (Penguin, £8.99) G. F. Green’s masterpiece, which, though not popular, attracted the admiration of E.M.… Read more


Travel Special – Grenada: Fit for a prince

24 March 2012

Having visited most of the islands of the Caribbean when they were British colonies and since they were granted independence, I am convinced that Grenada, in the far south-east, is… Read more

Time to sit and stare

11 February 2012
A Shed of One’s Own Marcus Berkmann

Little, Brown, pp.248, 12.99

Hermitic, oneiric withdrawal from responsibilities and threats is the most effective way of alleviating the pangs of middle age, suggests Marcus Berkmann. In his fifties, he is a frank and… Read more

A serenely contented writer

3 December 2011
P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe

Hutchinson, pp.602, 30

Beaming Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE, D.Litt. (Oxon), Mark Twain medallist and co-founder of the Hollywood Cricket Club (1881-1975), personified a rare oxymoron: he was a serenely contented writer. Shortly… Read more

A literary curio

26 November 2011
The Sea is My Brother Jack Kerouac

Penguin, pp.426, 25

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, better known as Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the son of French-Canadians spiced with the blood of Mohawk and Caughnawaga Indians and subdued, no doubt, by migration from… Read more


Bookends: The Jazz Baroness

20 August 2011

She was born Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild. Her father, Nathaniel Charles Rothschild, an ardent lepidopterist, named her Pannonica, Nica for short, as a tribute to the region in Hungary where… Read more

A well-told lie

13 August 2011
The Cat’s Table Michael Ondaatje

Cape, pp.265, £16.99

Autobiography provides a sound foundation for a work mainly of fiction. A voyage in an ocean liner provides a sound framework of time and place. Michael Ondaatje was born in… Read more


12 March 2011

About 80 per cent of books sold in this country are said to be bought by women, none more eagerly than Joanna Trollope’s anatomies of English middle-class family life. Her… Read more


Beatrix Potter meets the Marquis de Sade

12 February 2011
Animal Magic: A Brother's Story Andrew Barrow

Cape, pp.324, 18.99

Anthropomorphism and a weird, astringent sense of humour combined to make The Queue, the late Jonathan Barrow’s only novel, a work of genius in the opinion of his brother Andrew.… Read more


On the charm offensive

27 November 2010
Derek Hill Bruce Arnold

Quartet, pp.448, 35

Derek Hill (1916–2000), writes Bruce Arnold, was an English representational landscape and portrait painter of ‘haunting and evocative creative spirituality that is perhaps indefinable’. Derek Hill (1916–2000), writes Bruce Arnold,… Read more


Nothing like a Dame

29 September 2010
Handling Edna: The Unauthorised Biography Barry Humphries

Weidenfeld, pp.338, 18.99

Kafka was right: ‘Strange how make-believe, if engaged in systematically enough, can change into reality.’ But Barry Humphries, at the age of 76, manages much of the time to control… Read more