Book reviews

Kill or cure

Ifs and Buts: Personal Terms 5 Frederic Raphael

Carcanet, pp.185, 19.95

Frederic Raphael was the first man to use a four-letter word in The Spectator: the work of his fellow playwright Stephen King-Hall, he wrote in 1957, made him ‘puke’. Frederic… Read more


Rather in the lurch

9 April 2011
The Irish Country House the Knight of Glin and James Peill, with photographs by James Fennell

Thames & Hudson, pp.192, 24.95

The Country House Revealed: A Secret History of the British Ancestral Home Dan Cruickshank

BBC Books, pp.288, 25

Will it ever end? The romantic interest in the architecture, history and life lived in the country house is as alive today as it was in 1978, when Mark Girouard… Read more

Whatever next?

9 April 2011
King of the Badgers Philip Hensher

Fourth Estate, pp.436, 18.99

Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers is set in Hanmouth, a small English coastal town described so thickly that it is established from the outset as effectively a character in… Read more


The wisdom of youth

9 April 2011
People Who Say Goodbye P.Y. Betts

Slightly Foxed, pp.312, 15

‘You must write it all down’ is the age-old plea to elderly relatives about their childhood memories. ‘You must write it all down’ is the age-old plea to elderly relatives… Read more


Bookends: Murder in the dark

2 April 2011

When the Observer critic Philip French started writing on the cinema in the early 1960s, he once explained in an interview, books about film were a rarity. ‘Now I have… Read more

A world of her own

2 April 2011
Behind the Black Door Sarah Brown

Ebury, pp.452, 18.99

This book, written by someone whose husband was for three years prime minister of Britain, is impossible to review. Yes, it is dull, but it is so triumphantly, so ineffably,… Read more


Haitian horrors

2 April 2011
Imajine Claudel Casseus, translated by Jean Rodrigue Ulcena, with a foreword by Bill Drummond

Penkiln Burn Books, pp.130, £10

Twenty years ago, in 1991, I was shown round the National Palace in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. A government official led me through long rococo halls crammed with oriental… Read more


The trail goes cold

2 April 2011
Venetian Navigators: The Voyages of the Zen Brothers to the Far North Andrea di Robilant

Faber, pp.244, £14.99

For centuries, the history of the far North was a tapestry of controversies and mis- understandings, misspellings, dubious arrivals and equally dubious departures. Pytheas the Greek sailed north from Britain… Read more


In the pink

2 April 2011
The Morville Year Katherine Swift

Bloomsbury, pp.316, £18.99

In 1988 Katherine Swift took a lease on the Dower House at Morville Hall, a National Trust property in Shropshire, and created a one-and-a-half acre garden in what had been… Read more


The passionate friend

2 April 2011
A Man of Parts: A Novel David Lodge

Harvill Secker, pp.565, £18.99

Sam Leith explores H. G. Wells’s addiction to free love, as revealed in David Lodge’s latest biographical novel In the history of seduction, there can have been few scenes quite… Read more

Bookends: Capital rewards

26 March 2011

London has been the subject of more anthologies than Samuel Pepys had hot chambermaids. This is fitting, as an anthology’s appeal — unexpected juxtaposition — matches that of the capital… Read more


The masters in miniature

26 March 2011

Jeremy Treglown finds something for everyone in Penguin’s new Mini Modern series It’s a cool silver-grey in colour, weighs two and a half ounces and fits flexibly into your pocket.… Read more

A clash of commerce and culture

26 March 2011
Other People’s Money Judith Cartwright

Bloomsbury, pp.257, 18.99

Other People’s Money — and How the Bankers Use It by Louis D. Brandeis was a collection of articles about the predatory practices of big banks, published in book form… Read more


Iron in the blood

26 March 2011

How curious that such an outsize man, in physique as well as personality, should be remembered today mainly for giving his name to a small fish. For the 19th century,… Read more

Glutton for punishment

26 March 2011

With its vast areas of barely explored wilderness, and its heady mix of the sublime, the bizarre and the lushly seductive, South America would appear to have all the ingredients… Read more


A grief ago

26 March 2011
A Widow’s Story Joyce Carol Oates

Fourth Estate, pp.450, 20

The cautionary slogan ‘less is more’ has never been the American writer Joyce Carol Oates’ watchword. The cautionary slogan ‘less is more’ has never been the American writer Joyce Carol… Read more


Sins of the fathers

26 March 2011
The Popes: A History John Julius Norwich

Chatto, pp.506, 25

The Journey of the Popes Gerard Noel

Catholic Herald Ltd, pp.382, £15 UK, Euros 23, $24 US

The trouble about writing a history of the popes is that there are so many of them. Usually elderly when elected, most of them have only lasted a few years.… Read more

A chorus of disapproval

19 March 2011

At more than 700 pages including appendices, Guardian writer Dorian Lynskey’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs (Faber & Faber, £17.99) certainly can’t be accused of skimping… Read more

Triumph and disaster

19 March 2011
When God Was a Rabbit Sarah Winman

Headline Review, pp.325, 13

The title of this first novel refers to a version of childhood as a magical kingdom where evil can be overturned and heaven and earth remade at the whim of… Read more


Nostalgie de la boue

19 March 2011
Edgelands: Journeys into England’s Wilderness Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

Cape, pp.264, 12.99

In the late 1960s I grew up in the London borough of Greenwich, which in those days had a shabby, post-industrial edge. Behind our house on Crooms Hill stood a… Read more

Design for living

19 March 2011
Justice for Hedgehog Ronald Dworkin

Belknap Press, pp.506, 14.95

The first thing to be said about this remarkable book is that it has nothing to do with animal rights. The title is borrowed from the archaic Greek poet Archilochus,… Read more


‘We’ll always have Paris’

19 March 2011
French Cinema Charles Drazin

Faber, pp.448, 25

The long war between France and the US has its liveliest consequence in the world of film: Hollywood does movies, the French do cinema. In terms of equipment, the Yanks… Read more


Rogues’ gallery

19 March 2011
The Actors Brian Masters

The Garrick Club, pp.319, 20

The distinguished writer Brian Masters in his handsomely produced book on the actors of the Garrick Club has set himself a formidable task. Not only, until he reaches the mid-20th… Read more


The missing millions

19 March 2011
Gulag Voices: An Anthology edited by Anne Applebaum

Yale,, pp.224, 17.99

Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir Fyodor Mochulsky

OUP, pp.272, 16.99

The collapse of the Soviet Union spawned an entire genre of literature: the Gulag memoir, produced by victims of the USSR’s concentration camps. A few masterpieces were published in the… 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