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The autobiography of a fig leaf

There are going to be plenty more of these, no doubt, even though the Blair administration doesn’t strike one as having been a government full of natural diary- keepers or memoir writers. Still, the incentive of publishers’ lucre presses strongly on those recently deprived of office — John Prescott, in this memoir, remarks guilelessly that

All the best tunes

On a damp spring evening in 1955, Ian Fleming returned home to find his wife, Ann, hosting a salon at their house in Victoria Square. Raucous laughter was emanating from the drawing-room downstairs. One by one, the cream of London’s literati — Cyril Connolly among them — were reading aloud passages from the Bond novels

Drawing a blank

I can’t remember. How many times have we all made a similar response and thought no more about it? But what if those three words start to recur rather more often? Panic. And what if you are under 60 years of age and you know that a family member has already been diagnosed with early-onset

The intelligentsia head south

Adam Thorpe set his previous novel, Between Each Breath, in Hampstead. He moves in his latest to the liberal intelligentsia’s summer hunting ground, the south of France. Nick and Sarah Mallinson, two not quite successful enough Cambridge historians, decamp on their sabbatical to Languedoc with their three young daughters. Their house is rented from the

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

In exile on St Helena, Napoleon brooded on the cause of the failure of his bid for the mastery of Europe. He confessed that ‘accursed Spain was the primary cause of my misfortunes’. Ronald Fraser’s book of over 500 pages may be seen as a commentary on this confession. Fraser made his name as the

Trouble and strife | 4 June 2008

William Leith on Dietmar Rothermund’s account of India If anybody knows about modern India, it’s Dietmar Rothermund. He’s the Professor Emeritus of South Asian history at the University of Heidelberg. He is, as he puts it himself, ‘a witness who has watched India for nearly half a century’. He first visited the place in 1960, and

Getting to the heart of the matter

Andrew Taylor’s latest thriller is set in London in 1934, when Mosley and his Blackshirts were beginning to capitalise on the miseries of economic depression while idealistic young Communists pounced with glee on evidence that the old class hierarchies were cracking. Taylor’s London is a murky, monochrome place of fog and cigarettes, stewed tea and

The decline of the West

‘This is a work of non-fiction,’ Alexandra Fuller writes. ‘But I have taken narrative liberties with the text.’ She presents a fictionalised account of the life and early death of one man to personify the tragedy of a whole generation in the modern American West, which is no place for John Wayne heroics. With the

The revolutionary, the president, the playwright

Victor Sebestyen reviews Václav Havel’s new book A troika of heroic Slavic statesmen played the key roles in the last great drama of European history — the collapse of Soviet Communism. They were Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Václav Havel. All are still feted in Western capitals and can command high fees on the international

A house and its history

The new Brideshead Revisited film, out in September, was, like the 1981 television version, filmed at Castle Howard. For Jane Mulvagh, however, the ‘real’ Brideshead was Madresfield Court near Malvern in Worcestershire, a lovely moated house that has been in the Lygon family, headed by successive Earls Beauchamp, for nearly 1,000 years. This new book