Lead book review

Between the woods and the water

At the beginning of the historical record, the lands that we now call Ukraine were a reservoir of fantasy. Achilles probably did not sail from a Greek port on the north of the Black Sea up the rapids of the Dnipro River to find his final resting place, as some Greeks once believed. Nor is

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Dancing like a demon

‘Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough,’ said Gustave Flaubert. He might have been talking about this slim volume, which takes a slimmer subject and inflates it to an epic of noble proportions. The subject is unpromising. ‘This is the story of a man who took part in a dance contest,’ runs

A separation of powers

In 2014, Beijing and Moscow signed a US$400 billion deal to deliver Russian gas to Chinese consumers. Construction of the Power of Siberia pipeline began last summer on the banks of the Amur river, known in Chinese as the Black Dragon river. It marks a rapprochement between two powers who have warily eyed each other

A posh Del Boy

The Art of Smuggling comes garlanded with fraternal encomia from Howard ‘Mr Nice’ Marks, Phil Sparrowhawk (author of Grass) and Maurice O’Connor (author of The Dealer), but it seems the author was hardly a master of his chosen art. As Eddie the Eagle was to skiing, so was Francis Morland to drug trafficking. Spectacularly unsuccessful

More terrible beauty

At some point during your reading of this book the realisation might dawn, if you didn’t already know about his creative double life, that Richard Skelton demonstrates an unusual sensitivity to sound. Barbed wire unfolds over a dry-stone wall, an image which he reimagines as a mutant stringed instrument. ‘What harmonies would result if all

A choice of crime novels | 7 January 2016

It’s often the case that present-day crimes have their roots in the past. Ian Rankin’s Even Dogs in the Wild (Orion, £19.99, Spectator Bookshop, £16.99) uncovers abuse and ill-treatment in a care home in the 1980s, and the murder of a teenage boy. That terrible act echoes through the years. When three people receive threatening

The great inscape

‘I am 12 miles from a lemon,’ lamented that bon vivant clergyman Sydney Smith on reaching one country posting. He was related to Gerard Manley Hopkins, a priest who, in the popular imagination, would quite possibly balk at the offer of a lemon. After all, 30 years before Prufrock, Hopkins did not dare to eat

The wandering Jew

It’s been a long time coming for György Spiró. However much Hungarian writers complain about the isolation forced upon them by their non-Indo-European agglutinative language, the big names have always got through, maybe to a global shrug from the reading public, but they have made it out. And in fact, recently, the Magyar dead have