Lead book review

The gull’s way

In 1978, Adam Nicolson received three Hebridean islands as a 21st birthday present from his father, Nigel. The Shiants, each about a mile long, were uninhabited, with just one rat-infested bothy: not everyone’s idea of paradise. But, precisely because human beings had neglected them, wild life flourished — the islands were ‘thick with the swirl

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Lessons and games

‘Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that, mate,’ the Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios remarked to his opponent Stan Wawrinka during a match in Montreal in 2015. He was referring to Thanasi Kokkinakis, who had partnered Wawrinka’s girlfriend in mixed doubles. After Kyrgios’s remark, Wawrinka’s game went to pieces, and he soon retired

Pirates and puritans

In The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend’s hapless teenage diarist, reeling from the news that Argentina has just occupied the Falkland Islands, fails to locate the archipelago on his world map. Eventually, his mother comes to the rescue and discovers it ‘hidden under a crumb of fruitcake’. If general awareness of the Falklands

Immaculate conceptions

Some 30 summers ago we were staying at a famously beautiful villa outside Turin; our hostess was — indeed is — renowned for her superb taste and distilled perfection of every aspect of douceur de vivre. Each night we dined in a different sylvan setting — under inky trees, in flower-filled gardens and in 18th-century

Towering tree of God

In his biography of Gaudí, published in 2001, Gijs van Hensbergen opined that ‘we should never try to finish the Sagrada Família, otherwise we undo the web of power that is elaborately woven into this mysterious religious spell’. But he now appears to take the view that it should, and will, be finished by 2026,

Too much of everything

Arundhati Roy has published only one previous novel, but that one, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize. That was 20 years ago. Early success did not, however, block Roy into neurotic silence: instead, it offered her a platform for verbally intemperate political activism. She is an impassioned campaigner against globalisation, industrialisation and

A cursed house

Beyond the patricide and even the incest, the horror of the Oedipus myth lies in its insistence that our fates are not ours to change. And yet the story itself is far from unalterable, having been handed down in multiple variants — something that Natalie Haynes knows very well as a classics scholar. Now Haynes

Brava Bella

I like Bella Pollen for her open-mindedness, self-deprecation and verve. Given her early success as a fashion designer — top client Princess Diana — her memoir is extraordinarily modest. Now in her mid-fifties, she has also published five novels — one, Hunting Unicorns, a bestseller. Unusually, this had a dead narrator, and Meet Me in

Every horror imaginable

The group of kidnapped women were terrified. They had been brought back to the camp as booty and were being urged to convert to Islam with machetes pressed to their necks. They did their best to gabble words that sounded like the prayers they were being taught before one fighter noticed a captive with a