There ought to be more mileage than there is in stories of diplomacy.
Ahundred years ago, a character in a novel who was keen on music would, like E.M. Forster’s Lucy Honeychurch or Leo- nard Bast, be as apt to stumble through a piece at the piano as listen to it at a concert.
In 1564 a book was published calculating that there were 7,409,127 demons at work in the world, under the administrative control of 79 demon-princes.
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 Capote’s Answered Prayers, emerging in fragments in 1975, after 17 years of non-work, to scandal but no acclaim.
In 1975, admitted to an institution for inveterate alcoholics, John Cheever alarmed and scandalised the staff by what they called inappropriate laughter:
Not every writer would begin a history of the 1950s with a vignette in which the young Keith Waterhouse treads on Princess Margaret by mistake.
The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown
William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies, by John Carey
Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro
The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino, translated by Martin McLaughlin, Tim Parks and William Weaver
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies, by Andy Beckett
Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harman
The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-40, Volume I, edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck
Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships that Stopped the Slave Trade, by Siân Rees
2666, by Roberto Bolaño
State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey
Gabriel García Márquez, by Gerald Martin
Philip Hensher looks ahead to the Booker Prize and back to a holiday in Syria
Just Me, by Sheila Hancock
My Word is My Bond, by Roger Moore
Me Cheeta, by Cheeta
Fine just the way it is: Wyoming stories by Annie Proulx
Philip Hensher on Peter Martin's biography of Samuel Johnson
Philip Hensher on Paul Fisher's portrait of the James family
Philip Hensher on John Prescott's autobiography
Philip Hensher on Doris Lessing's account of her parents' lives