Lead book review

The laureate of repression

In 1927, while delivering the lectures that would later be published as Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster made a shy attempt to get to know his Cambridge neighbour, the classical scholar A.E. Housman. At first all appeared to be going well. After one lecture the two men dined together, and Housman told Forster ‘with

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A choice of crime novels | 30 June 2016

Pascal Garnier’s novella Too Close to the Edge (Gallic, £7.99, translated by Emily Boyce) deals with the boredom of middle age and how passion and violence can take on the guise of salvation. Éliette has moved to the French countryside following her husband’s death. She seeks an ‘atom of madness to stop herself sliding into

The road to catastrophe

France’s problems today should lessen the condescension of posterity towards Louis XVI. Presidents of the Republic have proved just as incapable as the King of reforming privileged corporations — stemming the flight of skills and capital — and winning popular confidence. Louis XVI’s failure to manage France after 1789 is easier to understand after reading

The food of love | 30 June 2016

‘You are the most adorable man and artist, intelligent, gifted, simple, loving and noble… I am really very, very lucky to be alive with you around….’ The relationship between the tenor Peter Pears and the composer Benjamin Britten is part of our cultural and national furniture. A partnership spanning nearly 40 years drove each artist

Ce n’est pas la guerre

On 1 July 1916, along a frontage of 18 miles, 100,000 British infantrymen — considerably more than the entire strength of the British army today — climbed out of the trenches to begin the great offensive that would become known as the Battle of the Somme. By nightfall there were 60,000 casualties, 20,000 dead or

Life’s rich collage

Such is the veneration in this country for the St Ives school of painters, it’s easy to forget that other art colonies existed, let alone thrived, in the mid-20th century: that in Great Bardfield, Essex, perhaps chief among them. The village near Saffron Walden was home to the likes of John Aldridge, Kenneth Rowntree, Michael

Escape into pop

‘How can you come into this room and ask me “What is the purpose of life?”,’ wails Massive Attack’s laconic DJ Mushroom after a typically searching interrogation by the veteran music journalist Sylvia Patterson. In this powerful, enjoyable memoir she fares better with Spike Milligan (‘I wake up every morning and think, “Thank God, another

Of microbes and men

Which disease are you most scared of catching: Ebola or influenza? Before I read this medical memoir, I would have said Ebola. Now, I’d say flu. As Dr Ali S. Khan points out, Ebola is fairly hard to catch; flu is fairly easy. And unlike wimpy man flu, proper flu can be a killer. You’ve

Preacher and prosecutor

Craig Raine is a pugnacious figure in the fractious world of contemporary poetry. When his poem ‘Gatwick’ appeared in the LRB (2015), social media had one of its habitual spasms. Here was a piece which indulged the male gaze and celebrated lustful yearning — an older man for a younger woman. Hardly new ground one

What did you do in the last war, Maman?

‘La France,’ as everyone knows, is female. Perhaps this is due to gendered assumptions about the beauty, cuisine and couture of the French capital, the symbolic revolutionary Marianne, or the patriarchal nature of language. Between 1940 and 1945, however, Paris was more literally female. Most of the capital’s men were serving with the Allied effort

Two little boys, one little toy

Rose Tremain sets the true story of Police Captain Paul Grüninger, commander of the Swiss border force in Canton Saint Gallen, at the core of this powerful novel. Grüninger helped hundreds — some sources say thousands — of Austrian Jews fleeing the Nazis in 1938–1939 to enter Switzerland illegally. After a long trial he was