Things I Don’t Want to Know, by Deborah Levy - review

22 June 2013
Things I Don’t Want to Know: A Response to George Orwell’s Why I Write Deborah Levy

Notting Hill Editions,, pp.108, £12, ISBN: 9781907903632

In her powerful rejoinder to Orwell’s 1946 essay ‘Why I Write’, Deborah Levy responds to his proposed motives for writing — ‘sheer egoism’, ‘aesthetic enthusiasm’, ‘historical impulse’ and ‘political purpose’… Read more


Consolations of the Forest, by Sylvain Tesson - review

15 June 2013
Consolations of the Forest Sylvain Tesson

Allen Lane, pp.239, £16.99, ISBN: 9780149754721

In this book, the French writer Sylvain Tesson spends six months, mostly alone, in a log cabin in Siberia. ‘Cold, silence and solitude are conditions that tomorrow will be more… Read more

Memoirs of a Leavisite, by David Elllis - review

15 June 2013
Memoirs of a Leavisite: The Decline and Fall of Cambridge English David Ellis

Liverpool University Press, pp.224, £25, ISBN: 9781846318894

As the author of this wise, patient and delightful book wryly reminds us, Stephen Fry — who, of course, knows everything — has recently written F.R. Leavis off as a… Read more

Photographs are reproduced courtesy of Ronald Blythe

A Time by the Sea, by Ronald Blythe - review

15 June 2013
The Time by the Sea: Aldeburgh 1955-58 Ronald Blythe

Faber, pp.224, £15.99, ISBN: 9780241144183

I first encountered Ronald Blythe at Benton End, a glowing oxblood farmhouse above the river Brett, poised on the edge of Hadleigh in Suffolk. This was the East Anglian School… Read more

Liverpool, Merseyside, 1951

How do you define a 'northerner'?

8 June 2013
The North (And Almost Everything In It) Paul Morley

Bloomsbury, pp.582, £20, ISBN: 9780747578161

Obviously, now that every high street in England looks identical, and everyone under 30 uses exactly the same Australian rising inflection in speech, books of this sort are based on… Read more

Gustave Moreau’s vision of Cleopatra, 1887

Alexandria, by Peter Stothard - review

8 June 2013
Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra Peter Stothard

Granta, pp.383, £25, ISBN: 9781847087034

This subtle, mournful book is many things. It is a diary of three weeks spent, during the tense winter before the outburst of the Arab Spring, in off-season Alexandria, where… Read more

Jacob Barnett.

The Spark, by Kristine Barnett - review

8 June 2013
The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius Kristine Barnett

Fig Tree, pp.272, £18.99, ISBN: 9780241145623

Jacob Barnett is a youthful prodigy. His IQ tested off the scale. At nine he began work on an original theory in astrophysics; aged 12 he became a paid academic… Read more

This Boy, by Alan Johnson- review

8 June 2013
This Boy Alan Johnson

Bantam, pp.304, £16.99, ISBN: 9780593069646

This Boy is no ordinary politician’s memoir, still less a politician’s ordinary memoir. It ends where others might begin: when the author is barely 18, newly married and only just… Read more

The Last Train to Zona Verde, by Paul Theroux - review

1 June 2013
The Last Train to Zona Verde: Overland from Cape Town to Angola Paul Theroux

Hamish Hamilton, pp.353, £20, ISBN: 9780241143674

Paul Theroux has produced some of the best travel books of the past 50 years, and some of the lamest. His latest work shrieks swansong, from its title — The… Read more


Holloway, by Robert Macfarlane - review

11 May 2013
Holloway Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards

Faber, pp.40, £14.99, ISBN: 9780571302710

This is a very short book recording two visits to the hills around Chideock in Dorset.In the first Robert Macfarlane and the late Roger Deakin, author of Waterlog, go searching… Read more


In a Greene shade

26 May 2012
The Man Within My Head: Graham Greene, My Father and Me Pico Iyer

Bloomsbury, pp.241, 16.99

One of the unanticipated benefits of British rule in India is the body of distinguished writing in the English language coming from the Indian diaspora — Naipaul, Seth, Rushdie, Mistry,… Read more

Cracks in the landscape

19 May 2012
The Wolf Pit: A Moorland Romance Will Cohu

Chatto, pp.256, 14.99

Sartre tried to prove that hell is other people by locking three strangers in a room for eternity and watching them torture each other. Similarly Will Cohu seems determined to… Read more


Menace, mystery and decadence

11 February 2012
The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell

Faber, pp.880, 14.99

Amateurs in Eden Joanna Hodgkin

Virago, pp.335, 25

It is fitting that Charles Dickens’s bicentenary coincides with Lawrence Durrell’s centenary, for the two novelists have crucial resemblances: both of them are triumphant in the intensity and power of… Read more

The Devil in the mirror

31 December 2011
The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly Dennis O’Donnell

Cape, pp.352, 16.99

As a kid growing up in Scotland in the 1950s, Dennis O’Donnell was aware of ‘loonies’, and the men in white coats who were supposed to take them away. Then,… Read more

Don’t mention the war

10 December 2011
Major/Minor Alba Arikha

Quartet, pp.217, 15

It wasn’t easy being the daughter of the artist Avigdor Arikha. In this memoir, Alba Arikha mixes teenage fury with glimpses of her godfather Samuel Beckett and a fragmented account… Read more

Settling old scores

10 December 2011
Outsider: Almost Always, Never Quite Brian Sewell

Quartet, pp.343, 25

As a boy, Brian Sewell was unimpressed by opera but enraptured by pantomime which, he reveals in Outsider, sowed in him ‘an undying ambition, never fulfilled, to play the Widow… Read more

… in the battle for London

26 November 2011
You Can’t Say That: Memoirs Ken Livingstone

Faber, pp.710, 25

Charlatan, fornicator, liar, inebriate, pugilist, Marxist, anti-Semite; Ken Livingstone has been called many things but never a writer. Actually, that’s a shame because his words following the 2005 London bombings… Read more

Blue Night by Joan Didion

12 November 2011
Blue Night Joan Didion

Fourth Estate, pp.188, 14.99

This is a raw, untidy, ragged book. Well, grief is all of those things. On the other hand, Didion wrote about the death of her husband in an iconic memoir,… Read more


Bookends: The showbiz Boris Johnson

29 October 2011

Amiability can take you a long way in British public life. James Corden is no fool: he co-wrote and co-starred in three series of Gavin and Stacey, and wowed the… Read more

Fun-loving feminist

16 July 2011

How to be a Woman is a manifesto memoir. Feminism, says the Times journalist Caitlin Moran, ‘has ground to a halt … shrunk down to a couple of increasingly small… Read more

Casualties on the home front

16 July 2011
Ghosts By Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love Janine di Giovanni

Bloomsbury, pp.271, 16.99

War correspondents aren’t like the rest of us: they can’t be. War correspondents aren’t like the rest of us: they can’t be. Most of the writers I know sit at… Read more

Wool of bat and lizard leg

16 July 2011
Thin Paths Julia Blackburn

Cape, pp.250, 17.99

When Julia Blackburn and her Dutch husband Herman move into an old village house perched on a cliff high above the Italian Ligurian Riviera they become part of a dwindling… Read more

Sense and magnanimity

9 July 2011
Memoirs William Rees-Mogg

Harper Pres, pp.329, 30

People see William Rees-Mogg as an archetypal member of the Establishment. But this is not quite true. His father’s family had been modest landowners for centuries, but his mother was… Read more


The worst crime was to be a bore

2 July 2011
The House in France: A Memoir Gully Wells

Bloomsbury, pp.307, 16.99

Gully Wells is a spirited and amusing writer, the daughter of the American journalist Dee Wells and the stepdaughter of the famous philosopher Freddie Ayer. While an undergraduate at Oxford… Read more

Backs to the wall

28 May 2011
Call of the Litany Bird Susan Gibbs

Loose Chippings, pp.272, 17.99

Susan Gibbs begins her book by describing the death from cancer of her first husband after 13 years of happy marriage. She ends with her farewell to Africa and her… Read more