Corpses in the coal hole
The best actor in the world
I like books with weather and there’s plenty in this one, all bad, which is even better. Set in London during a cold winter, Blue Monday (Penguin, £12.99) is the first of a new series for Nicci French, the successful husband and wife author team.
Like all politicians, Bob Marshall-Andrews is fond of quoting himself, and Off Message (Profile Books, £16.99) includes a generous selection of his speeches and articles on such topics as Tony Blair’s messianic warmongering and David Blunkett’s plans for a police state. Less typically, perhaps, he is almost as generous in his quotation of others, such as Simon Hoggart, who has called him ‘a cross between Dennis the Menace and his dog, Gnasher’.
Sticky at Christmas, packed in serried rows around a plastic twig in an oval-ended paper-wrapped box with a picture of a camel train; dates in childhood were exotic.
Books about Venice are almost as numerous as gondolas on the Grand Canal, but Robin Saikia is the first to write one about the Lido. The subject might be thought too insubstantial for a book of its own, and so it proves: excluding its index and appendices, The Venice Lido (Somerset Books, £6.95) runs to a modest 132 pages of generously sized print. But what this monograph lacks in volume it makes up for in warmth, charm and eccentric scholarship.
I am in love with Jackson Brodie. Does this mean that, in a literary homoerotic twist, I am actually in love with Kate Atkinson, his creator? I think it must. Sometimes I think I am Jackson Brodie. We share many traits: 50-odd, mid-life crisis, a lost (though in my case not murdered) sister. I know that it’s really Kate Atkinson who is Jackson Brodie. She must have a lost or murdered sister, mustn’t she?
It is 1979. You are a 15-year-old boy starring in a hit US television show. You’ve seen the crowds of screaming girls outside the gates as you arrive for work, and are therefore very excited to have received your first fan letter. You open it eagerly and begin to read: ‘Dear Mr Rob Lowe, You are a great actor. Can you please send me an autographed photo of yourself? If possible in a bathing suit or in your underwear. Sincerely, Michael LeBron. #4142214 Pelican Bay Prison.’
It may have been first published in 1973, but reading it again in Persephone Books’ elegant re-print, Adam Fergusson’s The Sack of Bath (£12) remains a real shocker. The fury of his polemic against the powers in Bath that seemed hell-bent on destroying everything except a few grand Georgian set- pieces in that beautiful city still has a terrible relevance today.
In existence for over 250 millions years, lobsters come in two distinct varieties, ‘clawed and clawless’. Human predators tend to the flawed and clueless as they overfish and — since lobsters must be cooked live — kill them heartlessly.
Imagine a 77-year-old woman hanging around, say, Leicester bus station, telling people about her life. She confides her belief that she is under surveillance by the military. She maintains that she can ‘see the reality of the web of synchronicity in my life’. Showing off her special jewellery that ‘helps balance the chakras’, she reveals that ‘because I had a high metabolism and moved around a lot, I had no real [weight] problem until I was about 50’.
Sporting literature is a strange old business, often underrated by those who don’t like sport and overrated by those who…
No description of Eric Gill is ever without the words ‘devout Catholic’, and Eric Gill: Lust for Letter & Line…
In July, the world’s most famous restaurant, elBulli, closes, to reopen in 2014 as a ‘creative centre’. Rough luck on the million-odd people who try for one of 8,000 reservations a year. It’s also a blow for the eponymous young cooks of Lisa Abend’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentices (Simon & Schuster, £18.99), the 45 stagiaires who labour in Ferran Adria’s kitchen for a season in the hope of sharing in the magic. Ferran, you see, is no mere cook. With him, ‘hot turns into cold, sweet into savoury, solid into liquid or air’.
When the Observer critic Philip French started writing on the cinema in the early 1960s, he once explained in an…
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 itself. But it does mean that any new contender has to work hard to justify its publication.
At more than 700 pages including appendices, Guardian writer Dorian Lynskey’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs…
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 16th novel, Daughters-in-Law (Cape, £18.99), is sociologically and psychologically as observant as ever, showing how not to be a suffocatingly possessive mother-in-law.
Nora Ephron has a clever solution to a particular social quandary. Whenever she pinches her husband’s arm at a party, it’s their agreed signal for ‘I’ve forgotten the name of this person I have to introduce you to, so give them your name directly and they’ll respond in kind’. Only one problem — his memory is now as bad as hers, so he keeps forgetting what the signal means.
‘I’m not writing songs anymore; they’re writing me.’ Plagued by music in her head that arrived unbidden, drowning out conversation,…
In the Christmas issue of The Spectator there was a review of Showtime: A History of Broadway Musicals, a book which ran to 785 pages. Ruth Leon, in The Sound of Musicals (Oberon Books, £9.99), deals with the whole lot, well perhaps 20 in practice, in 128 much smaller ones; so she has to be selective. The top three, in her view, select themselves: Guys and Dolls (1950), My Fair Lady (1954) and West Side Story (1957) — ‘almost everyone agrees on this’.
P. J. O’Rourke is what happens when America does Grumpy Old Men.
Salley Vickers name-checks (surely unwisely) the granddaddy of all short stories, James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, in the foreword to her first collection, Aphrodite’s Hat (Fourth Estate, £16.99).
Much of Stephen King’s recent work has been relatively lighthearted, but in Full Dark, No Stars (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) he returns with gusto to his dark side and explores the perils of getting what you ask for.