David Blackburn

Across the literary pages

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Here is a brief selection of the best offerings from the world's literary pages:

Writing in the City Journal, Christopher Hitchens asks why Capitol Hill has been stolen by the pot-boilers:

'The days of the Georgetown hostess are gone; the hostesses themselves are gone, too. Their reign began to close years ago, when senators started canceling dinners to appear on shows like Nightline. (There's a prefiguration of this in Larry McMurtry's neglected 1982 Washington novel Cadillac Jack, in which a character pontificates on world-shaking matters of which he knows little.) The Washington pundit is also a thing of the past: it's been a good while since any insider columnist had the kind of access or influence that Ben Bradlee enjoyed with John F. Kennedy. And the British Embassy, while it still stages some of the best dinners, is not the brokerage of influence that it once was.'

The New Yorker reports that Prix Goncourt winner Michel Houellebecq is embroiled in a copyright war with a vengeful blogger. It's like the plot of Houellebecq novel:

'If a work lifts material protected by a Creative Commons-BY-SA license, does it automatically become CC-BY-SA licensed itself? That is the question being considered this week in France, where a blogger named Florent Gallaire recently posted the entirety of Michel Houllebecq's latest novel, "La Carte et le Territoire," a few days ahead of the scheduled release of the e-book, on the grounds that Houllebecq lifted several passages from Wikipedia.'

The New York Review of Books publishes Alan Hollinghurst's review of Michael Cunningham's latest novel, By Nightfall.

'Cunningham has always been the most level-headed of gay novelists. By never making an issue of gayness he simply but subtly deepens our sense of its being unarguable. He writes wisely about gay lives and desires as completely natural, and seems never to have been tempted by the more programmatic or socially exclusive kinds of gay fiction. The poet Richard in The Hours presents a memorable image of a mind and body ravaged by AIDS, but The Hours is not an "AIDS novel." Cunningham's rightful and capable claim has always been to represent life in general, from the viewpoint of either gender and in the light of all kinds of sexual persuasion.'

Amanda Craig reviews Michael Morpago's Shadow in The Times (£):

'The love of animals and the cruelty of man is an old theme for children's classics, but nobody writes about it quite like Michael Morpurgo. War Horse is, thanks to the National Theatre, now his best-known book, his new novel, Shadow, pulls off a topical and heart-rending tale.'

Claire Messud on Rosamund Bartlett's new biography of Tolstoy for The Telegraph.

'That Tolstoy was petty and foolish should not surprise us; and yet inevitably, with each retelling, it does not fail to. Bartlett's final chapter charts Tolstoy's legacies, both literary and spiritual, through the 20th century, and the struggles of the keepers of his flame.

In her revelations about the immense difficulties of producing the definitive Collected Works (a task that, under Soviet Communism, proved almost impossible) and in her elucidation of the suppression of Tolstoy's spiritual influence, Bartlett reminds us not only that the great man is not so very long dead, but also that his myth is being made and remade even now.'