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Jews from the Warsaw ghetto surrender to German soldiers after the uprising (Photo: Getty)

A moving tribute to Janusz Korczak, hero of the Warsaw ghetto

27 June 2015
The Book of Aron Jim Shepard

Quercus, pp.240, £14.99, ISBN: 9781784290290

‘My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done, and my uncle told everyone they should have called me… Read more


A novel set in an aquarium in Seattle is as addictive as a first-class detective story

14 March 2015
Aquarium David Vann

Heinemann, pp.266, £18.99, ISBN: 9780434023332

Books ought to be able to stand on their own, but perhaps it is important to know this about David Vann: a year after his stepmother’s mother had shot her… Read more


A ghost story without the scary bits

24 January 2015
See How Small Scott Blackwood

Fourth Estate, pp.208, £12.99, ISBN: 9780007580934

Two men walk into an ice cream parlour in Austin, Texas, order the three teenage girls working there to undress, then tie them up and gag them with their own… Read more

Gough Whitlam addresses reporters outside the Parliament building in Canberra after his dismissal by Australia's Governor General, 1975 Photo: Getty

A big literary beast's descent into incoherence

8 November 2014
Amnesia Peter Carey

Faber & Faber, pp.378, £18.99, ISBN: 9780571311187

Something odd happened between the advance publicity for this book and its printed appearance. Trailed as addressing the troubled history of Australia’s relationship with the USA, it is actually about… Read more

A Little Bill of Fare.
As he journeyed through Europe in the 1870s writing his travelogue A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain grew increasingly tired of the cuisine — which he described as ‘a monotonous variety of unstriking dishes’. Towards the end of his trip he compiled a list of the foods he longed for most, which were to be prepared and eaten immediately on his return

Things to do: read this book

1 November 2014
Lists of Note Shaun Usher (compiled)

Canongate/Unbound, pp.318, £30, ISBN: 9781782114529

It would be perverse not to succumb to the temptation to write this review as a list. So, the first item is how very handsome an object this book is:… Read more


Kafka goes to Dubai

30 August 2014
The Dog Joseph O’Neill

Fourth Estate, pp.240, £16.99, ISBN: 9780007275748

‘X’ is in ‘the Situation’: Joseph O’Neill, author of the clever and superb Netherland, hereby lets us know that his new novel is a riff on Kafka’s The Castle. Kafka’s… Read more

W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot Photo: Getty

Sorbet with Rimbaud

23 August 2014
Bloomsbury and the Poets Nicholas Murray

Rack Press Editions, pp.54, £8, ISBN: 9780992765460

The Bloomsbury of the title refers to the place, not the group. The group didn’t have a poet. ‘I would rather be a child and walk in a crocodile down… Read more


The Zone of Interest is grubby, creepy – and Martin Amis's best for 25 years

16 August 2014
The Zone of Interest Martin Amis

Cape, pp.320, £18.99, ISBN: 9780224099745

‘Everybody could see that this man was not a “monster”, but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown,’ wrote Hannah Arendt of Adolf Eichmann, in… Read more


P.J. Kavanagh: ‘I assert my triumphant uselessness, and sing’

7 June 2014
New Selected Poems P.J. Kavanagh, with a foreword by Derek Mahon

Carcanet, pp.159, £12.95, ISBN: 9781847772527

P.J. Kavanagh, if not dismissed or relegated, is often shall we say bracketed, as a ‘nature poet’. The truth is, he’s as much of a nature poet as William Cowper… Read more

Bouillon in Belgium

Half-poetry, half-prose, half-Belgian – and not half bad

3 May 2014
Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory Patrick McGuinness

Cape, pp.180, £14.99, ISBN: 9780224098304

Patrick McGuinness’s prose trembles on the edge of poetry, occasionally indeed tipping gently over into it. This is thoroughly characteristic of a book that does sometimes feel as though it… Read more

Large crow feather necklace by Alex Monroe

A master craftsman of the anecdote

15 March 2014
Two Turtle Doves: A Memoir of Making Things Alex Monroe

Bloomsbury, pp.222, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408841181

One of the many charms of this book is its sheer unexpectedness, which makes it hard to review, for to reveal the brilliancies too fully would spoil their effect. My… Read more

Portrait of Vernon Scannell by Charlotte Harris, who ‘tried to catch his half smile, and the sadness and humour in his eyes’

Deserter, wifebeater, great poet: the shame and glory of Vernon Scannell

14 December 2013
Walking Wounded: The Life and Poetry of Vernon Scannell James Andrew Taylor

OUP, pp.415, £25, ISBN: 9780199603183

Vernon Scannell was a thief, a liar, a deserter, a bigamist, a fraud, an alcoholic, a woman-beater and a coward. Plenty of material for a biography, then, especially given that… Read more

Basil Bunting, 1980
(Photo: Jonathan Williams/
Basil Bunting Poetry Archive, Durham University Library)

A Strong Song Tows Us, by Richard Burton - review

12 October 2013
A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting Richard Burton

Infiniteideas, pp.608, £30, ISBN: 9781908984

How minor is minor? ‘Rings a bell’ was more or less the response of two English literature graduates, now successful fifty-somethings, when asked what the name Basil Bunting meant to… Read more

Six Bad Poets, by Christopher Reid - review

28 September 2013
Six Bad Poets Christopher Reid

Faber, pp.87, £12.99, ISBN: 9780571304035

Is poetry in good enough health to be made fun of in this way? The irony is that this long, funny poem describing the incestuous peccadilloes of contemporary poetry’s social… Read more

There and Then: Personal Terms 6, by Frederic Raphael - review

31 August 2013
There and Then: Personal Terms 6 Frederic Raphael

Carcanet, pp.201, £18.95, ISBN: 9781847771407

Frederic Raphael is forensic in his description of the failures of successful people. He is enviously superior and he is partial to the clever oxymoron: ‘predatory caution’, ‘reticent curiosity’, ‘intimidating… Read more


Country Boy, by Richard Hillyer - review

10 August 2013
Country Boy Richard Hillyer

Slightly Foxed Editions, pp.255, £16, ISBN: 9781906562519

Under his real name, Charles James Stranks, the author of this little masterpiece wrote on a number of ecclesiastical subjects: the Venerable Bede, Jeremy Taylor, Durham cathedral, where he was… Read more

A Slap in the Face, by William B. irvine - review

3 August 2013
A Slap in the Face William B. Irvine

OUP, pp.253, £14.99, ISBN: 9780199934454

A friend of mine who works for the NHS has been told recently by a superior that his ‘attention to detail is bordering on the obsessive’. Aside from observing that… Read more

They really were in love: Scott, Zelda and their daughter Frances (‘Scottie’) in Paris

Z, by Therese Anne Fowler, Beautiful Fools, by R. Clifton Spargo, Careless People, by Sarah Churchill - review

1 June 2013
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald Therese Anne Fowler

Two Roads, pp.376, £17.99, ISBN: 9781444761405

Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald R. Clifton Spargo

Duckworth, pp.366, £16.99, ISBN: 9780715645437

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby Sarah Churchwell

Virago, pp.438, £16.99, ISBN: 9781844087662

The Great Gatsby is one of those great works of literature, like Pride and Prejudice, that appeals as much to the general reader as to the literary bod. It’ll always… Read more


Holloway, by Robert Macfarlane - review

11 May 2013
Holloway Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards

Faber, pp.40, £14.99, ISBN: 9780571302710

This is a very short book recording two visits to the hills around Chideock in Dorset.In the first Robert Macfarlane and the late Roger Deakin, author of Waterlog, go searching… Read more

'Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls', by David Sedaris - review

27 April 2013
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls David Sedaris

Abacus, pp.275, £12.99, ISBN: 9780349121635

David Sedaris writes principally for The New Yorker. Urbane, then, American, smart. But is he a memoirist, a fabulist or an essayist? He is most often described as a humorist,… Read more

I Know You’re Going to be Happy: A Story of Love and Betrayal, by Rupert Christiansen – review

16 March 2013
I Know You’re Going to be Happy: A Story of Love and Betrayal Rupert Christiansen

Short Books, pp.175, £12.99, ISBN: 9781780721248

This is an unsettling book. On the face of it a memoir by the opera critic of the Daily Telegraph, it veers from social history to intimate confessional, from objective… Read more

Two Hunting Dogs by Jacopo Bassano (1510-92)

What dogs know about us

2 March 2013
The Genius of Dogs: Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

Oneworld, pp.367, £20, ISBN: 9781851689859

In Aesop’s fable of the Dog and the Wolf, the latter declares that it is better to starve free than be a fat slave, but the fact is that, without… Read more

Redemption through rock and roll

1 December 2012
Bruce Peter Ames Carlin

Simon and Schuster, pp.495, £14.99, ISBN: 9781471112331

E Street Shuffle Clinton Heylin

Constable, pp.438, £20, ISBN: 9781780335797

‘I’m the President, but he’s the Boss’, Barack Obama declared a couple of years ago, and most Spectator readers will know Bruce Springsteen as the President’s celebrity pop star friend.… Read more

A 1922 poster promoting a new development in Greenwich and the issuing of housing bonds to fund it

Little boxes, all the same

24 November 2012
Greater London: The Story of the Suburbs Nick Barratt

Random House, pp.608, £25, ISBN: 9781847945327

This book purports to be a history not of London but of its suburbs. In the end this amounts to much the same thing, because the author is referring not… Read more


Narrative drive

17 November 2012

Michael Holroyd describes this tiny, charmingly pointless publication (On Wheels, Chatto, £9.99) not as a book but as an example of ‘nostalgic intertextuality’, which is a grand way of saying… Read more