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Sex

Physical and spiritual decay

7 July 2010
The Misogynist Piers Paul Read

Bloomsbury, pp.257, 16.99

The most striking thing about Piers Paul Read’s early novels was their characters’ susceptibility to physical decay. The most striking thing about Piers Paul Read’s early novels was their characters’… Read more

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Schlock teaser

30 June 2010
Gypsy: The Art of the Tease Rachel Shteir

Yale, pp.240, 12.99

The somewhat straightlaced theatre-going audiences of 1880s America, eager for performances by European artistes like Jenny Lind and solid, home-grown, classical actors such as Otis Skinner, were hardly prepared for… Read more

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A rather orthodox doxy

16 June 2010
Anne Boleyn G. W. Bernard

Yale, pp.237, 20

‘His cursed concubine.’ That was the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys’ judgment on Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. ‘His cursed concubine.’ That was the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys’ judgment on… Read more

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Cherchez la femme

12 May 2010
The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice, Countess de Janzé Paul Spicer

Simon & Schuster, pp.308, 14.99

The 22nd Earl of Erroll, Military Secretary in Kenya in the early part of the second world war, was described by two of his fellow peers of the realm as… Read more

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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

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Fine artist, but a dirty old man

31 March 2010
Linley Sambourne: Illustrator and Punch Cartoonist Leonee Ormond

Paul Holberton, pp.312, 30

I have always been sceptical of those passages in the ‘Ancestry’ chapters of biographies that run something like this: Through his veins coursed the rebellious blood of the Vavasours, blended… Read more

A narrow escape

24 February 2010
The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs Starr Kenneth Gormley

Crown, pp.790, 35

For once, I felt sorry for Bill Clinton. It was January 1998, and the press reported that the President had had an intimate relationship with one Monica Lewinsky. In Independent… Read more

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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

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From gloom to dispair

17 February 2010
The Man from Beijing Henning Mankell

Harvill Secker, pp.367, 17.99

In little more than a decade, the cosy world of Anglo-American crime fiction has been transformed by wave after wave of Scandinavian invaders. Some, like Steig Larsson, are suddenly parachuted… Read more

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Not ‘a boy-crazed trollop’

17 February 2010
Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feuds Lyndall Gordon

Virago, pp.491, 20

For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot of trouble. For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot… Read more

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An institution to love and cherish

3 February 2010
Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage Elizabeth Gilbert

Bloomsbury, pp.285, 12.99

Couples: The Truth Kate Figes

Virago, pp.406, 14.99

Books about marriage, like the battered old institution itself, come in and out of fashion with writers, readers and politicians, but never quite die away. These two, from the latest… Read more

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It happened one summer

3 February 2010
The Pregnant Widow Martin Amis

Cape, pp.470, 18.99

For those unfamiliar with Martin Amis’s short story, ‘What Happened to Me on My Holiday’, written for The New Yorker in 1997, it was a purist exercise in autobiographical fiction;… Read more

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What a difference a gay makes

20 January 2010
City Boy Edmund White

Bloomsbury, pp.297, 18.99

Edmund White is among the most admired of living authors, his oeuvre consisting of 20-odd books of various forms — novels, stories, essays and biographies — though each one is… Read more

A lost masterpiece?

25 November 2009
The Original of Laura Vladimir Nabokov

Penguin, pp.304, 25

These long anticipated literary mysteries never end in anything very significant — one thinks of Harold Brodkey’s The Runaway Soul, falling totally flat after decades of sycophantic pre-publicity, or Truman… Read more

Surprising literary ventures

21 October 2009
Love Letters of a Japanese Marie Stopes

Love Letters of a Japanese begins: ‘These letters are real. Love Letters of a Japanese begins: ‘These letters are real. And like all real things they have a quality which… Read more

Tracks through the wasteland

21 October 2009
The Death of Bunny Munro Nick Cave

Canongate, pp.304, 16.99

Sex, and plenty of it. That’s certainly what Bunny Munro — the titular protagonist of Nick Cave’s second novel — wants. And, in a roundabout way, he gets it. In… Read more

Back to basics

11 February 2009
Wetlands Charlotte Roche

Fourth Estate, pp.229, 12.99

Wetlands, by Charlotte Roche What an odd mix of distinguished residents High Wycombe has had! Fern Britton, Benjamin Disraeli, Dusty Springfield, Karl Popper, Jimmy Carr: it’s a list that reads… Read more