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Susan Hill

With a nod to the Master

Literature feeds off other literature and why ever not? Think of Jean Rhys’s The Wide Sargasso Sea and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, bred from, respectively, Jane Eyre and Mrs Dalloway. Think of Shakespeare for that matter, who told a good story provided someone else had told it to him first. To get the most out

The music of the earth and the dance of the atoms

Science is sexy. It always was, as we who were forced to give up biology at the age of 14, for the irrelevant reason that we were quite good at French, have always resentfully suspected. Now, accessible and even inaccessible books on how the physical world ticks become bestsellers. The new president-elect of the Royal

Brilliance and bathos

That most astute of reviewers, Lynn Barber, recently wrote of this curiously bloodless biography that the subject is a minor star, now only remembered for one film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. While this may be true, I imagine none but a dedicated cineaste can now name a film of Gloria Swanson’s apart from Sunset Boulevard, or

Still in the dark

From the timing of Michael Crick’s book on the Leader of the Opposition we can surmise that the author, like most of the rest of us, has made his mind up already about the result of the imminent election. There will be nothing significant to add after 5 May. The Tory party will not win

Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans

It seems only yesterday that Margaret Thatcher was ranting away before an invited group of academics, journalists and experts at Chequers about the perils of German unification and the imminent subordination of all Europe to a nation of 80 million beasts, barbarians and bullies. The idea seemed distinctly odd even at the time, but not

God’s house with many mansions

Institutional history is a tricky genre, so prone to over-reverence, so likely to be tedious to anyone but those attached to the institution described. So it was superficially brave of a commercial press to commission a quincentenary history of a Cambridge college: brave, that is, until one discovers that its authors include Quentin Skinner, the

A nest of ungentle Essex folk

Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, is the author of 12 novels which deal with extremely aberrant behaviour treated on the easiest and most companionable terms. There is no doubting that the author herself is on the side of the sane, the balanced, and the well-behaved: this is apparent in the clarity of her sentences,

Patron and prisoner

Joan Brady’s previous books include Theory of War, a powerful historical novel which won the Whitbread Book of the Year prize. Now she has written a thriller. It is set in Springfield, Illinois, once the home of Abraham Lincoln and now a prosperous city overshadowed by an unholy alliance of politicians, cops, lawyers and bankers.

A roll call of honour

‘This,’ announces Max Hast- ings at the outset, ‘is an old-fashioned book.’ So it is, and it is none the worse for it. As a schoolboy, Hastings thrilled to a 1920s’ anthology called Stirring Deeds of the Great War. His own book, a Brief Lives-style collection of essays on 14 of the most colourful or