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Book review

‘Swing’, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2003

The abstract art full of 'breasts and bottoms'

9 November 2013
Terry Frost: A Painter’s Life Roger Bristow

Sansom & Co, pp.253, £30, ISBN: 9781906593780

Is there any such thing as abstract art? Narratives and coherent harmonies seem to me always to emerge from the shapes and colours. Picasso’s cubist planes, as critics have noticed,… Read more

Rhondda1

The man who shared a bed with D.H. Lawrence and Dylan Thomas (though not together)

9 November 2013
Rhys Davies: A Writer’s Life Meic Stephens

Parthian Books, pp.364, £20, ISBN: 9781908946713

Rhys Davies was a Welsh writer in English who lived most of his life in London, that Tir na nÓg in the east, the place of eternal youth and beauty… Read more

One of the two pavilions at Stoke Park, designed by Inigo Jones

Is Northamptonshire not scenic enough to visit?

9 November 2013
The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire Bruce Bailey, Niklaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry

Yale, pp.757, £35, ISBN: 9780300185072

I don’t know whether Bruce Bailey, a proud Northamptonshire man, agrees with the late Sir Nikolaus Pevsner that no one would visit his county for its landscape. In the introduction… Read more

(Photo: The Art Archive/Anthony Stewart / NGS)

The thrill of the (postmodern neo-Victorian) chase

9 November 2013
Rustication Charles Palliser

Norton, pp.325, £12.99, ISBN: 9780393348231

Charles Palliser’s debut novel The Quincunx appeared as far back as 1989. Lavish and labyrinthine, this shifted nigh on a million copies, while more or less inaugurating the genre of… Read more

Joanne Spencer, who sold salad and rabbits from a basket in Portobello, c. 1904

Portobello's market mustn't be allowed to close

9 November 2013
Portobello Voices Blanche Girouard

The History Press, pp.256, £14.99, ISBN: 9780752499369

After reading Portobello Voices, I feel more strongly than ever that the unique Portobello market mustn’t be allowed to close. It gets over a million visitors a year and is… Read more

Greta Garbo (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bill Bryson's 'long extraordinary' summer is too long

9 November 2013
One Summer: America 1927 Bill Bryson

Doubleday, pp.557, £20, ISBN: 9780385608282

Hands up Spectator readers who can remember the American celebrities Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the  adulteress and husband-killer Ruth Snyder … Read more

The Duke of Wellington 
at the Battle of Salamanca, 
22 July 1812

How we beat Napoleon

2 November 2013
Britain Against Napoleon: The Organisation of Victory, 1793-1815 Roger Knight

Allen Lane, pp.677, £30, ISBN: 9781846141775

Wellington: The Path to Victory, 1769-1814 Rory Muir

Yale, pp.672, £30, ISBN: 9780300186659

It feels the height of ingratitude to blame Jane Austen for anything, but it probably is her fault that most people seem to think that the only impact that the… Read more

Black Sheep 2

Village life can be gripping

2 November 2013
Black Sheep Susan Hill

Chatto, pp.135, £10.99, ISBN: 9780701184216

Black Sheep opens biblically, with a mining village named Mount of Zeal, which is ‘built in a bowl like an amphitheatre, with the pit winding gear where a stage would… Read more

Communal, comforting and calming: tobacco in a war zone has always been important, says Kate Adie

Why Jeremy Paxman's Great War deserves a place on your bookshelf

2 November 2013
Great Britain’s Great War Jeremy Paxman

Viking, pp.368, £25, ISBN: 9780670919611

Fighting on the Home Front Kate Adie

Hodder, pp.416, £20, ISBN: 9781444759679

The Great War involved the civilian population like no previous conflict. ‘Men, women and children, factory, workshop and army — are organised in one complete unity of social resistance, to… Read more

Underneath the arches: Cruikshank’s illustration of ‘one of those afflicting occurences in the life of London: 
TOM, JERRY and LOGIC are arrested in their progress home by the melancholy discovery of Corinthian KATE 
in the last stage of a Consumption, disease & inebriety’

Hogarth and the harlots of Covent Garden were many things, but they weren't 'bohemians'

2 November 2013
The First Bohemians Vic Gatrell

Allen Lane, pp.484, £25, ISBN: 9781846146770

It was Hazlitt who said of Hogarth that his pictures ‘breathe a certain close, greasy, tavern air’, and the same could be said of this book. It describes the fermenting… Read more

Jeeves

The imitable Jeeves

2 November 2013
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells Sebastian Faulks

Hutchinson, pp.272, £16.99, ISBN: 9780091954055

For as long as I can remember — I take neither pleasure nor pride in the admission — I have been one of those people who feels an irresistible curling… Read more

Cuba

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

Photograph courtesy of Tina and Terence dooley

Why did Penelope Fitzgerald start writing so late? 

2 November 2013
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life Hermione Lee

Chatto, pp.508, £25, ISBN: 9780701184957

‘Experiences aren’t given us to be “got over”, otherwise they would hardly be experiences.’ The opening sentence of the first draft of The Bookshop, published in 1978 when Penelope Fitzgerald… Read more

Wall-painting in San Isidoro of a shepherd

Christopher Howse takes the slow train in Spain — and writes a classic

2 November 2013
The Train in Spain Christopher Howse

Bloomsbury, pp.244, £16.99, ISBN: 9781441198051

This is probably not a book for those whose interest in Spain gravitates towards such contemporary phenomena as the films of Pedro Almodóvar, Barcelona Football Club or the fashion retailer… Read more

Orwell

George Orwell's doublethink

26 October 2013
George Orwell: English Rebel Robert Colls

OUP, pp.304, £25, ISBN: 9780199680801

This is the most sensible and systematic interpretation of George Orwell’s books that I have ever read. It generously acknowledges the true stature of the great works — most notably,… Read more

Pictorially, railways sell: as the 19th century progressed, the station and the coach compartment provided new scope for narrative painting, as in Augustus Egg’s ‘The Travelling Companions’, 1862

A is for Artist, D is for Dealers

26 October 2013
Breakfast at Sotheby’s: An A-Z of the Art World Philip Hook

Particular Books, pp.347, £20, ISBN: 9781846146254

‘S is for Spoof.’ There it is on page 86, a full-page reproduction of a Nat Tate drawing, sold at Sotheby’s in 2011 for £6,500. A sum which, it is… Read more

J.S. Bach: more complex and human than 
the Haussmann portrait suggests

Was Bach as boring as this picture suggests?

26 October 2013
Music in the Castle of Heaven John Eliot Gardiner

Allen Lane, pp.629, £30, ISBN: 9780713996623

What, one wonders, will John Eliot Gardiner be chiefly remembered for? Perhaps, by many who have worked with him, for his notorious rudeness to performers and colleagues. At one point… Read more

Ernest Hemingway (Picture: Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Does the world need 17 volumes of Hemingway's letters?

26 October 2013
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume II:1923-1925 Sandra Spanier and others

CUP, pp.515, £30, ISBN: 9780521897341

‘In the years since 1961 Hemingway’s reputation as “the outstanding author since the death of Shakespeare” shrank to the extent that many critics, as well as some fellow writers, felt… 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

The ruins of Hamburg after Allied bombing,  July 1943

Hitler didn't start indiscriminate bombings — Churchill did 

26 October 2013
The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 Richard Overy

Allen Lane, pp.821, £30, ISBN: 9780713995619

‘I cannot describe to you what a curious note of brutality a bomb has,’ said one woman who lived through the initial German raids on London during the second world… Read more

cricket

My dear old thing! Forget the nasty bits

26 October 2013
Squeezing the Orange Henry Blofeld

Blue Door, pp.368, £20, ISBN: 9780007506392

There can be a strong strain of self-parody in even the greatest commentators. When Henry Blofeld describes the progress of a pigeon in his inimitably plummy tones, or greets a… Read more

Morrissey_autobiography

'If I can barely speak, then I shall surely sing'

26 October 2013
Autobiography Morrissey

Penguin Classics, pp.457, £8.99, ISBN: 97801411194817

A few weeks ago, I was wandering with a friend around West London when our conversation turned to the reliable and inexhaustible topic of Morrissey. We were discussing his gestures,… Read more

Prince Albert (Photo: John Jabez Edwin Mayall/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Clash of the titans

26 October 2013
High Minds Simon Heffer

Random House, pp.837, £30, ISBN: 9781847946771

This is an odd book: interesting, informative, intelligent, but still decidedly odd. It is a history of the Victorian era which almost entirely eschews wars and imperial adventures and concentrates… Read more

Malala

Malala's voice is defiant — but how much can she change Pakistan? 

26 October 2013
I Am Malala Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

Weidenfeld, pp.288, £18.99, ISBN: 9780297870913

In 2012 a Taleban gunman, infuriated by Malala Yousafzai’s frequent television appearances insisting that girls had a right to education, shot her in the face. She survived and is now… Read more

Bookends

#Onyourmarks! What is the formal name for the hashtag? 

26 October 2013

One day there simply won’t be any strange byways of the English language left to write quirky little books about. Happily that day hasn’t arrived yet. Keith Houston’s Shady Characters… Read more