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


Pig in the middle

22 January 2011
The Stranger in the Mirror: A Memoir of Middle Age Jane Shilling

Chatto, pp.241, 16.99

Writing an autobiographical account of middle age is a brave undertaking, necessitating a great deal of self-scrutiny at a time of life when most of us would sooner look the… Read more

Red badge of courage

1 January 2011
Stalin’s Schoolboy Roy Kerridge

Custom Books, pp.306, 12.00

The author describes this book as an ‘auto- biographical novel’, but since it would be quite beyond me to distinguish fact from fiction in this hair-raising account of his childhood… Read more


Cambridge and after

25 September 2010
The Fry Chronicles Stephen Fry

Michael Joseph, pp.448, 20

My dread was that someone would ask me my opinion of Lermontov or Superstring Theory or the Categorical Imperatives of Kant. I would be exposed as a dull-witted fake. Having… Read more


A charismatic narcissist

11 September 2010
A Journey Tony Blair

Hutchinson, pp.624, 25

In equal measure, this book is fascinating and irritating. The ‘Hi, guys!’ style grates throughout. From this, it is tempting to conclude that Tony Blair is incorrigibly insincere. But that… Read more


A foot in both camps

7 August 2010
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate Kai Bird

Simon & Schuster, pp.424, 17.99

As a five-year-old in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem in the 1950s, Kai Bird overheard an elderly American heiress offering $1 million to anyone who could solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.… Read more


The dying of the light

7 August 2010
What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness Candia McWilliam

Cape, pp.482, 18.99

The phrasing of the subtitle is exact: a memoir in blindness, not of blind- ness. Like a portrait in oils — blindness being not just the subject, but the stuff… Read more


Crisp and brave

24 July 2010
The Third Man Peter Mandelson

Harper Press, pp.601, 25

Among my guests last weekend as I read Lord Mandelson’s book was Ben, aged two and a half. Among my guests last weekend as I read Lord Mandelson’s book was… Read more

How are you today?

7 July 2010
Teach Us To Sit Still Tim Parks

Harvill Secker, pp.335, 12.99

How am I? Very well, thank you. Actually, now you ask, I do have this stubborn pain in the small of my back, and my right knee isn’t what it… Read more


Mountain sheep aren’t sweeter

2 June 2010
The Garden in the Clouds Antony Woodward

Harper Press, pp.295, 16.99

Anyone who can speak Welsh is going to get a lot of fun from this book. Antony Woodward buys a six-acre smallholding 1200 feet up a mountain near Crickhowell in… Read more


Insufficiently honoured here

2 June 2010
Hitch-22 Christopher Hitchens

Atlantic, pp.448, 20

‘Next time it’s full buggery!’ said Christopher Hitchens as I helped him onto a train at Taunton station after a full luncheon of Black Label, Romanée-Conti, eel risotto and suckling… Read more


Casualties of war and peace

14 April 2010
Unreliable Sources John Simpson

Macmillan, pp.593, 20

John Simpson quotes Humbert Wolfe’s mischievous lampoon but makes it clear that, in spite of the somewhat disobliging title of his book, he does not accept it as fair comment.… Read more


The ghost of an egoist

17 February 2010
The Autobiography of Fidel Castro Norberto Fuentes, translated by Anna Kushner

W.W. Norton, pp.572, 18.99

Very long books appear at intervals about Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Rarely do they contain anything both significant and new, and they get longer and longer. This one too… Read more


Survivor syndrome

10 February 2010
The Suicide Run William Styron

Cape, pp.194, 14.99

In late middle age, William Styron was struck by a disabling illness, when everything seemed colourless, futile and empty to him. In fact, as he recalled in Darkness Visisble (1990),… Read more

Chic lit

11 November 2009
Redeeming Features Nicholas Haslam

Cape, pp.348, 25

First, I must declare an interest. I have never met Nicholas Haslam. As everyone else has, this makes me uniquely qualified to review his book without partiality. But not without… Read more

Fun and games

4 November 2009
Get Her Off the Pitch: How Sport Took Over my Life Lynne Truss

Fourth Estate, pp.308, 12.99

Sport, say those who write about it, is only the toy department of daily journalism. They don’t really mean it. Some of the finest wordsmiths in what may still be… Read more

Mum, dad and the music

21 October 2009
I Know This Much: From Soho to Spandau Gary Kemp

4th Estate, pp.313, 18.99

Bob Geldof is quoted on the cover of Gary Kemp’s autobiography with untypical succinctness: ‘Great bloke, great band, great book’. Bob Geldof is quoted on the cover of Gary Kemp’s… Read more

But then the snow turned to rain

14 October 2009
Seasonal Suicide Notes Roger Lewis

Short Books, pp.199, 12.99

My daughter when small came home from school one night singing these extraordinary lines: ‘Fortune, my foe, why dost thou frown on me/ And will thy favours never lighter be?’… Read more

It’s not all good manners

24 June 2009
An Education Lynn Barber

Penguin, pp.182, 8.99

Lynn Barber’s interviews are one of the main reasons to subscribe to the Observer: on any Sunday when a piece of hers appears, it’s always the first thing to turn… Read more