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Small-town screwballs and surprises

In a 1925 essay, Freud unearthed an important linguistic truth about the concept of the uncanny (unheimlich). He noticed that it had drifted very close to its apparent antonym heimlich, which starts out as ‘homely’ and can, via ‘private and personal’, become ‘secretive and repressed’. This enabled him to offer the more important psychological insight

Tom Tiddler’s ground

For many people in the West, the Middle East is a source of perplexity and foreboding. Home to morose despotisms, political violence and a thoroughly ruined natural environment, the Middle East now sends us its refugees, headscarves and, most notably since 11 September 2001, violence. The peoples of the Middle East reply that their lives

The inside story

This posthumous book is the summation of a lifetime’s research into aspects of the 18th-century interior in the British Isles by the leading historian of the subject. I say British Isles, for John Cornforth had strong interests in Irish and Scottish Georgian architecture, as well as English. As the former architectural editor of Country Life

England’s greatest export

Shakespeare was the great glory of England. So wrote Victor Hugo. But he added that if you went to England to admire the statue of Shakespeare you would find instead the statue of Wellington. The English did not like Shakespeare. His fame came to England from overseas. And Hugo believed that the French played their

White-water trip towards wisdom

In his 12th novel, Tim Parks revisits a subject that has been dominating his writing of late: the middle-aged man, plunged into crisis, forced to re- evaluate his life. Destiny (1999) revolved around a suicidal son and a crumbling marriage, Judge Savage (2003) involved a crumbling marriage and a distressed daughter. In Rapids, the divorce

Defending the Marxist citadel

In the last several years, English-speaking readers have been treated to a plethora of Soviet history books unlike others before them. The opening of Soviet archives has given us everything from Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad to Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s book on Stalin’s court, to new biographies of Rasputin, Lenin and Trotsky. Now, however, we have The Soviet

The unease of the distant East

Defying the geographical promise of its title, The India House turns out to be set in Shropshire. Here, in sequest- ered, Eden-era retreat, two generations of a decayed rentier family — embittered grandma Mrs Covington and frosty daughter Evelyn — are doing their utmost to prevent any noxious post-war fall-out from contaminating the third. They

Fumbling with the raw materials

Most great artists begin as mimics. They do not, as Clara Schumann claimed Brahms did, come into the world ‘ready-made’. Manet prided himself on painting ‘straight from nature’, but he had spent many hours copying Old Masters in the Louvre, and his friend Degas thought they were guiding his brush as surely as they were