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Books

Stephen Ward (Photo: Express Newspapers/Getty)

Fiction embroiled in the Profumo affair

Books

Sex, spies, aristocrats and atom bombs — the Profumo affair is in the news again, thanks to the recent Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about Stephen Ward. William Nicholson has chosen to hang his seventh novel around it in Reckless, which… Read more

Portrait of Sheila by Cecil Beaton

Australia's entrancing Sheila

Books

The ‘dollar princesses’, those American heiresses who crossed the Atlantic in search of a titled husband, are familiar figures from the 19th and early 20th century. Less well known are the young ladies who made the much longer journey from… Read more

The Edith Maersk in the Suez Canal, October 2012

What seamen fear more than Somali pirates

Books

If a time traveller were to arrive in our world from, say, 1514 — a neat half-millennium away — what single feature would strike them most? What could they use on their return to try and explain the sheer weirdness… 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)

Books

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 the hospital on April Fool’s Day by a couple of… Read more

Arming for conquest (Picture: John Bostock)

A creepy father, a lustful music teacher, four virgins — and one genuine love affair

Books

London, 1794. It’s a different world from that portrayed by the Mrs Radcliffes and Anons of the time: rich young women are not all naïve and swoony in Katharine Grant’s first novel for adults. In Sedition, five girls (two of… Read more

JAIPUR

William Dalrymple's notebook: How I lured Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Franzen to Jaipur

Notebook

In 2004, ten days after I moved my family to a new life in India, I gave a reading at a small palace on the edge of the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur. Fourteen people turned up, of whom ten were… Read more

From left to right: Graham Greene, Muriel Spark and H.G. Wells

Reviewing reviews of reviews — where will it all end? 

Books feature

About halfway through reading this collection of essays I had one of those hall-of-mirrors moments. These are mostly book reviews, you see: high-toned, long-form New York Review of Books-type review-essays, given — but book reviews nevertheless. There I was, dutifully… Read more

A wounded soldier is carried through the mud near Boesinghe during the battle of Passchendaele in Flanders Photo: Getty

When No Man's Land is home

Books

Countless writers and film-makers this year will be trying their hand at forcing us to wake up and smell the first world war.  How do they plant a fresh, haunting, horrifying image into our unwilling and saturated heads? We know… Read more

American abolitionist John Brown believed in armed revolt to end all slavery Photo: Getty

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride - review

Books

James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird is set in the mid 19th century, and is based on the real life of John Brown, the one who lies a-mouldering in his grave. Recently it won a National Book Award in the… Read more

A supporter of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds his portrait during a demonstration in Cairo, November 2013

From Nasser to Mubarak — Egypt's modern pharaohs and their phoney myths

Books

Reporting Egypt’s revolution three years ago, I had a sense of history not so much repeating itself as discharging sparks which seemed eerily familiar. Smoke was billowing into my hotel bedroom from the building next door, the headquarters of the… Read more

Do you believe in Elves? Photo: John Anster Fitzgerald

Why are Scandinavians so happy when they should be so sad? 

Books

As I sit here in my Sarah Lund Fair Isle sweater, polishing my boxed sets of Borgen and nibbling on a small piece of herring, it briefly occurs to me that perhaps I too have fallen victim to the prevailing… Read more

‘Returning from Brooks’s’ by James Gillray (1784)

Where the Whigs went

Books

A book about one of the London clubs, published to mark its 250th anniversary, might be regarded as of extremely limited public appeal, designed only for the enjoyment of its members, 800 of whom have subscribed more than 900 copies… 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

Books

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 of Wrath, the protest novel regarded as his masterpiece. It… Read more

American soldiers are welcomed to Sicily Photo: Time & Life/ Getty

Write what you know — especially if it's the second world war

Books

Adam Foulds’s latest novel is less successful than its predecessor. In 2009 he reached the Booker shortlist with The Quickening Maze, which saw Victorian poets orbit a lunatic asylum in Epping Forest. Now, with In the Wolf’s Mouth, he has… Read more

Hanif Kureishi Photo: Getty

A cruel novel about an India-born, world-famous, possibly real-life author

Books

It is six years since Hanif Kureishi’s last novel Something to Tell You, a kaleidoscopic meditation on life and death seen through the eyes of a Freudian analyst striving to make sense of middle age. It was regarded as a… Read more

Lord Mountbatten discloses Britain's partition plan for India Photo: Getty

Hope for one of the most turbulent, traumatised regions in the world

Books

John Keay’s excellent new book on the modern history of South Asia plunges the reader head first into some wildly swirling currents. Here are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, not to mention Sri Lanka and Nepal, and a supporting cast of mini-states… Read more

The Wyndham Sisters, 1899, by John Singer Sargent. Left to right: Madeline, Pamela and Mary

My family's better days

Books feature

The Sargent painting reproduced opposite suggests the wealth and comfort that these three sisters, Mary, Madeline and Pamela, were born to. Their father, Percy Wyndham, was the younger son of Lord Leconfield of Petworth, Sussex. He was his father’s favourite,… Read more

Entering Oregon

Butcher's Crossing is not at all like Stoner — but it's just as superbly written

Books

John Williams’s brilliant 1965 novel, Stoner, was republished last year by Vintage to just, if surprisingly widespread, acclaim and went on to sell tens of thousands of copies and appear in many Books of the Year lists. Written with a… Read more

Japanese soldiers salute after filling a channel with coffins during a mass burial of tsunami victims Photo: AFP/Getty

Is there a way to live without economic growth? 

Books

During Japan’s lost decade in the 1990s I found myself handing out rice balls to Tokyo’s homeless on the banks of the Sumida river. The former salary men — it was always men — slept in cardboard boxes the size… Read more

Woman in black: Madeleine St John, due for revival. 
‘Her steadiest relationships were with a series of cats’

Breakdowns, suicide attempts — and four great novels

Books

Among the clever young Australians who came over here in the 1960s to find themselves and make their mark, a number, as we all know, never went back. A few became household names — Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James… Read more

Scarlett O’Hara runs through the streets of burning Atlanta

'Where are the happy fictional spinsters?'

Books

This book arose from an argument. Lifelong bookworm Samantha Ellis and her best friend had gone to Brontë country and were tramping about on the Yorkshire moors when they began bickering: would it be better to be Cathy Earnshaw, or… Read more

Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, 1960 Photo: Getty

Hugh Trevor-Roper, the man who hated uniformity

Books

The arrival of a letter from Hugh Trevor-Roper initiated a whole series of pleasures.  Pleasure began with the very look of the envelope, addressed in his wonderfully clear, elegant hand (writing to Alasdair Palmer in 1986, he advised ‘No, don’t… Read more

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sits with her new Cabinet Photo: Getty

The 'semi-detached' member of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet

Books

John Biffen was mentally ill. This is the outstanding revelation of Semi-Detached, a memoir which has been assembled from his diaries and from the autobiographical writings which he completed before his death in 2007. During the mid-1960s he tried psychotherapy,… Read more

‘Grace Higgens in the Kitchen’ by Vanessa Bell

The Angel of Charleston, by Stewart MacKay - review

Books

Above the range in the kitchen at Charleston House is a painted inscription: ‘Grace Higgens worked here for 50 years & more, she was a good friend to all Charlestonians.’ The words are those of the art historian Quentin Bell,… 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!'

Books feature

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 57. Some said she wrote like Virginia Woolf (not necessarily… Read more

bike

This year, discover Michel Déon

Books

In Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, the efforts of an academic claque propel the mysterious German author Benno von Archimboldi onto bestseller lists across the Continent. But ‘in the British Isles, it must be said, Archimboldi remained a decidely marginal writer’.… Read more

Coloured photograph of Princess Louise dating from the early 1880s by the society photographer Alexander Bassano

What was the secret of Queen Victoria's rebel daughter?

Books

Princess Louise (1848–1939), Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, was the prettiest and liveliest of the five princesses, and the only one who broke out of the royal bubble. Artistically talented, she trained as a sculptor, and her marble statue of Queen… Read more

The National Theatre

The National Theatre Story by Daniel Rosenthal - review

Books

In 1976, as the National Theatre moved into its new home on London’s South Bank, its literary manager Kenneth Tynan observed: ‘It’s taken 123 years to get here: 60 of Victorian idealism, half a century of dithering, and a final… Read more