Lead book review

When reasoning goes wrong

It’s the intellectual bromance of the last century. Two psychologists — Danny, a Holocaust kid and adviser to the Israel Defence Forces, and Amos, a former child prodigy and paratrooper — meet at the end of the 1960s, and sparks immediately begin to fly. They spend countless hours locked in rooms together at Hebrew University

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From man to beast and back again

If there’s one shared characteristic of the so-called ‘new nature writing’ it is a failure, with a few notable exceptions, even to approach what up until very recently writing about the non-human had as its core ambition; that is, to dissolve the ego, to melt the self in the recognition of the other and, through

Is this the American Houellebecq?

I Hate the Internet is not so much a novel as a wildly entertaining rant. Jarett Kobek is a self-published former software engineer who has been hailed as the Michel Houellebecq of San Francisco — a city whose tech-era hypocrisies he doesn’t so much as satirise as carpet-bomb with excrement. Kobek lacerates so many aspects

Children’s books for Christmas | 1 December 2016

Maurice Sendak, no mean judge, observed that William Nicholson’s Clever Bill was ‘among the few perfect picture books for children’. I’d go along with that if I didn’t think Nicholson’s other picture book, The Pirate Twins, even better, with its lovely opening, ‘One evening, on the sands, Mary found the pirate twins.’ Now Clever Bill

High priestess of horror

A film critic friend, astonished that I had never heard of Shirley Jackson, told me to go and read her immediately. That was ten years ago and she has since become one of a handful of talismanic writers I reach for when craving literary succour. An undisputed master of the gothic and the uncanny— We

Ripeness is all

‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’ The line from Life of Brian is followed by: ‘It’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.’ In fact, cheese animates the Bible and — building on Job’s searing image of the womb — its coagulation became an emblem of the Immaculate Conception, endorsed

A choice of gardening books | 1 December 2016

Garden design usually breaks out of its confines to become part of the general consciousness only in Chelsea Flower Show week, but this year there have been so many events to mark the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown — the most prolific and talented designer of the 18th-century landscape garden — that

Rifling through a writer’s desk

Frantumaglia isn’t strictly a book by Elena Ferrante. Frantumaglia isn’t strictly a book at all. It’s a celebration of the life of the novel and a manifesto for the death of the author, told in a collection of interviews, letters from journalists requesting interviews, letters within letters, stories within letters, and letters from Ferrante’s editor