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Instant post-mortem verdicts

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. In every life there is the subject for a sermon. Perhaps that is why so many sons of the manse have ascended into Fleet Street’s paper pulpits. Indeed, if there is one area of journalism that has progressively improved over the last 20

Surprising literary ventures | 5 November 2005

Lecherous Limericks (1975) by Isaac Asimov Isaac Asimov’s ambition was to have a book in every one of the major Dewey Decimal categories. This one fits in the category labelled ‘dirty poems’. It’s a collection of 100 original limericks dealing with what Asimov called ‘actions and words concerning which society pretends nonexistence — reproduction, excretion,

The perils of peace

In 1945, Europe lay prostrate after the greatest and most terrible war in history. More than 35 million people had been killed, Tony Judt says (other estimates are even higher), with combatant deaths easily outnumbered by civilian; whole countries were starving, scores of cities were razed. That was not what optimistic souls — or maybe

Ten men went to mow

Sitting at Stamford Bridge at the weekend, Chelsea trailing Bolton 0-1, I reflected on the nature of 11 brilliant players and their manager. After Mourinho’s half-time talk, Chelsea scored four goals in 10 minutes. There are inspiring and uninspiring gaffers. If he were a conductor, José Mourinho would be a virtuoso, but what does this

The man in the iron mask

Isn’t it peculiar when people change their name? John Wilson becoming Anthony Burgess, Peggy Hookham being borne aloft as Margot Fonteyn, or Richard Jenkins leaving Port Talbot as Richard Burton. When a person insists on being called somebody else we are witnessing an identity crisis. (Frank Skinner was Chris Collins until 1987. It is rumoured

Raking through the embers

It is difficult to put a finger on the reason, but there has always seemed something particularly dismal about the Gunpowder Plot. There is obviously a lot to be said for any conspiracy that can erase the Stuart line from English history at a blow, but from Robert Catesby and the rest of the old

Looking for trouble and finding it

Thrillers now come heavily disguised, and but for the blood-stained head-lamp on the jacket of this one and the warning across the corner, ‘Be careful who [sic] you trust. It might just be the death of you’, one would take the book to be a straight- forward, if lurid, portrait of a bright girl with

Ego trip with excess baggage

Readers may sympathise with Tracey Emin. Her big mouth and huge appetite for self- advertisement make her a ready target; she’s so shameless and yet, by her own account, so abused. (‘And then they started: “SLAG, SLAG, SLAG.” A gang of blokes, most of whom I’d had sex with at some time or other…’) Life

Nobody has been left out

Histories of Victorian London now come two a penny. They are the left-wing historian’s answer to biographies of Good Queen Bess. What is there new to say? We start with fog and smells and move on to disease and the working classes. We meet Charles Booth and Henry Mayhew. We chastise the rich and welcome

Antipodean wit and wisdom

Shocking, I know, but I hadn’t paid much attention to Clive James since my dim distant undergraduate days 30 years ago, when I remember being vastly amused by his verse satire of Grub Street parvenus, Peregrine Prykke’s Pilgrimage. Since then he’s rather passed me by — I never thought his television shows up to much,

The rich harvest of the random

There is a delightful moment in this novel when Nathan, the narrator, is standing on one side of the street with his nephew, Tom, and they see Nancy Mazzucchelli on the other side. Tom thinks of her as the BPM, the Beautiful Perfect Mother, and he would never dare approach. Nathan simply walks over and

The holy terror himself

Osama: The Making of a Terrorist is not so much another biography of old beardie as a worldly and suave example of a once thriving subclass of literature, the newspaper correspondent’s memoir. Born in Buffalo, New York on ‘the day President Roosevelt closed the banks’ in 1933, Jonathan Randal reported for 40 years on the

Too French by half

Take Harold Pinter: dismissed at the outset for having written an impenetrable play, but who nearly 50 years on ends up being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. I ask you, who’d be a critic? I mention this by way of an apology should, in 50 years’ time, Simon Liberati pick up a gong of

The wonderful edge of the sea

There are some classic novels about a boy growing up — Great Expectations and Kes spring to mind. Well, here is another. The Highest Tide is one of the best novels it has been my pleasure to read for many a day. And its cover is one of the worst it has been my misfortune

Earning brownie points

Prospect is a monthly magazine with high aims, and it is therefore welcome. To borrow from the old advertisement for Mars Bars, it fills the gap. It is hard to think of any comparable outlet in this country — as opposed to the United States — where it is possible to publish contributions of 5,000

Pursuit in the desert

Seven years after the groundbreaking Border trilogy, Cormac McCarthy has returned to that literary landscape he has made his own, the American-Mexican border: a near-fantastic tabula rasa of unmapped and unknowable spaces and histories, populated by people in thrall to geographic and climatic necessity, and for whom both the present and the future represent only

The case of the curious Christian

Alan Jacobs quotes Philip Hensher on C. S. Lewis: ‘Let us drop C. S. Lewis and his ghastly, priggish, half-witted money-making drivel about Narnia down the nearest deep hole … They are mean-minded books, written to corrupt the minds of the young with allegory, smugly denouncing anything that differs in the slightest respect from Lewis’s

Colossally bad taste

Everyone loves a good dictator, at least at a distance. Dictators exert the same horror and fascination that snakes have for some people; Latin American literature, for example, would be very much the poorer without them. It seems that we cannot ever know too much about their daily lives, for their arbitrary power over life