How can I write like that about my family? Easy. My wife isn’t reading

4 May 2013

People often ask how I get away with writing about my wife so often. Doesn’t Caroline mind being cast as the matronly foil to my errant schoolboy? I’d love to… Read more


Why should our children be more like the French?

27 April 2013

I’ve no particular beef with the French, gruesomely tortured beef as it would no doubt be, but I’m a little tired of being told we ought to follow their example… Read more


My battle with Britain's mean, ineffective immigration system

27 April 2013

When I first came to this country nearly a decade ago, Britain wanted immigrants like me. Back then you could get a visa just for being creative. It was called… Read more

What is this word?

23 March 2013

‘What are you writing?’ I asked my nine-year-old daughter as she sat at the kitchen table doing her homework. ‘A recount,’ she said. ‘What’s a recount?’ She looked at me… Read more

Group portrait of the Du Maurier sisters with their dog Brutus by Frederic Whiting (1918). From left to right: Daphne, Jeanne and Angela

'Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing', by Jane Dunn - review

9 March 2013
Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing Jane Dunn

Harper Press, pp.423, £25, ISBN: 9780007347089

Jane Dunn is something of a specialist on sisterhood. She has — we learn from the dedication — five sisters of her own; she has already written a book about… Read more

The daily I miss every day

2 March 2013

Not a day passes in which I don’t regret firing Irena. She was my ‘daily’ from 1991 to 2004. I don’t think I could have asked for anyone better qualified.… Read more


Family favourites

11 September 2010
Wait for Me! Deborah Devonshire

John Murray, pp.370, 20

Because Deborah Devonshire’s journalism has nearly always made me laugh, and because she seems like one of the jollier aunts in P. G. Wodehouse — an Aunt Dahlia, not an… Read more


Beating his demons

11 September 2010
Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl Donald Sturrock

Harper Press, pp.656, 25

Some of us are still startled that Wallace Stevens was 44 when he published Harmonium. So what to make of the fact that Roald Dahl was past the midpoint of… Read more


Kin, but less than kind

28 August 2010
Shades of Greene: One Generation of an English Family Jeremy Lewis

Cape, pp.580, 25

About 100 years ago two brothers settled in the same small English town and raised 12 children. Charles Greene was a scholar, destined for the Bar, who blundered into schoolmastering… Read more


Why, oh why?

14 August 2010
Pictures of Lily Matthew Yorke

Corsair, pp.311, 7.99

In my many years as a judge for the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography, I have been constantly surprised by the high proportion of books that deal with the… Read more


Mother issues

24 July 2010
I Curse the River of Time Per Petterson, translated by Charlotte Barslund

Harvill, pp.233, 16.99

The Norwegian, Per Petterson, was not well known until his 2003 novel, Out Stealing Horses, became a surprise international bestseller. It deserved the many prizes it garnered: it is a… Read more


Secrets and silences

30 June 2010
Hancox: A House and A Family Charlotte Moore

Viking, pp.484, 20

Charlotte Moore’s family have lived at Hancox on the Sussex Weald for well over a century. Charlotte Moore’s family have lived at Hancox on the Sussex Weald for well over… Read more


Small but perfectly formed

23 June 2010
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance Edmund de Waal

Chatto, pp.351, 16.99

Some years ago, Edmund de Waal inherited a remarkable collection of 264 netsuke from his great-uncle Iggie, whom he had got to know 20 years previously while studying pottery and… Read more


The pride of the Sackvilles

23 June 2010
Inheritance Robert Sackville-West

Bloomsbury, pp.293, 20

Knole is a country house the size of a small village in the Kent countryside. For the past 400 years it has been inhabited by 13 generations of a single… Read more


The loss of innocents

16 June 2010
The Missing Boy Rachel Billington

Orion, pp.304, 18.99

Forgetting Zo Ray Robinson

Heinemann, pp.278, 12.99

Here are two novels about that most harrowing and haunting of subjects — children who go missing. Here are two novels about that most harrowing and haunting of subjects —… Read more


The loneliness of the long distance salesman

2 June 2010
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim Jonathan Coe

Viking, pp.352, 18.99

If only E. M. Forster hadn’t beaten him to it by exactly a century, Jonathan Coe could have coined the enigmatic phrase ‘only connect’ in this novel. If only E.… Read more


Lurking beneath the surface

12 May 2010
Tony and Susan Austin Wright

Atlantic, pp.352, 14.99

One’s past life is, usually, comfortably past. One’s past life is, usually, comfortably past. Susan Morrow’s first husband, Edward, is so firmly in her past that his second wife even… Read more


The woman behind the god

12 May 2010
Empress of Rome Matthew Dennison

Quercus, pp.320, 20

The emperor Augustus was the original god/father. Julius Caesar was often referred to as ‘the divine Julius’, but his nephew (and adopted son) was the first Roman to have temples… Read more


The ultimate price

21 April 2010
The Courtesan and the Samurai Lesley Downer

Bantam, pp.338, 12.99

Lesley Downer is one of the most unusual authors writing in English. Years ago, determined to become an expert on the Japanese geisha, ultra-sophisticated entertainers and hostesses who are neither… Read more


Low dishonest dealings

21 April 2010
At the Chime of a City Clock D. J. Taylor

Constable & Robinson, pp.242, 12.99

The strange, unsettled decades between the wars form the backdrop of much of D. J. Taylor’s recent work, including his novel, Ask Alice, and his social history, Bright Young Things.… Read more


To strive, to seek, to find . . .

21 April 2010
The Watkins Boys Simon Courtauld

Michael Russell, pp.208, 18.95

In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’ Watkins returned from an expedition to the white depths of the Greenlandic ice cap. In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’… Read more


Dogged by misfortune

17 March 2010
Landed Tim Pears

Heinemann, pp.230, 12.99

Unusually for a work of fiction, Tim Pears’ new novel opens with a spread of black-and-white photographs, part of an ‘investigator’s report’ into a fatal collision said to have taken… Read more


The stuff of legend

10 March 2010
Did You Really Shoot the Television? Max Hastings

HarperPress, pp.278, 20

This book could have been a classic. It starts as an account of the author’s family, no better, no worse than many such; but then, amongst the grandparents and the… Read more


The greatest rogue in Europe

24 February 2010
Birthright: The True Story that Inspired Kidnapped A. Roger Ekirch

WW Norton, pp.258, 17.99

On 11 November 1743, the most sensational trial of the 18th century opened in the Four Courts in Dublin. The plaintiff, James Annesley, claimed that his uncle, Richard Annesley, the… Read more


Throw it in a stream

24 February 2010
Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love Xinran

Chatto and Windus, pp.224, 12.99

I know a British couple with a Chinese daughter, pretty and fluent in English. Of course the little girl was adopted. It is necessary to steel one’s self against three… Read more