More from Books

The making of modern myths

Who are the big intellectuals today? There are academics, to be sure, each with their speciality, and journalists, ditto. When something comes up the BBC will call on them to pontificate, to explain, but only on their speciality. Off their own piste they are no more valuable than a saloon-bar or dinner-party bore, eager to

Doctoring the record

The Story of San Michele is one of the great bestsellers of all time. It languishes on the shelves of second-hand bookshops, the autobiography of a Swedish doctor who fell in love with the island of Capri. The author, Axel Munthe, is a shadowy figure, a name often mentioned but (to me at least) an

Not the marrying type

Those days are gone in which romantic novels had heroines called Muriel. Even on first publication 84 years ago, The Crowded Street was not a conventional romantic novel nor Muriel Hammond a conventional heroine — but the former embraces elements of romance, the latter aspects of heroism. The subversion of our expectations of heroism and

Cries and whispers

C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake series concerns the activities of a hunchback lawyer struggling to make a living in the increasingly dangerous setting of Henry VIII’s reign. The first three novels have been deservedly successful, not least because of Matthew Shardlake himself, a man of intelligence and integrity who has managed to survive with his essential

Through Levantine eyes

The corniche at Izmir had a magic atmosphere. Lined with cafés and orchestras playing every kind of music — Western, Greek, Turkish, Armenian — it had the reputation for making the gloomiest laugh. Though ‘terribly chee-chee’ (i.e., they spoke with a sing-song accent), the women were famous for their allure. The trade in figs, raisins

Lust in a hot climate

This sprightly book recounts the life of Idina Sackville, the author’s great-grandmother. A glamorous aristocrat with a penchant for scandal, she married and divorced five times and was a protagonist of the Happy Valley set, the coterie of dim and adulterous cocktail-swiggers who achieved notoriety in inter-war Kenya (pronounced Keenya). Idina was not beautiful —

Coming up trumps

There is an old Arab saying, ‘among the one-eyed close one eye’ (when in Rome…), a saw which seems particularly appropriate for Hugh Miles’s second book, set in and around the City of a Thousand Minarets. Novel or travelogue? — the reader sometimes wonders which, with a narrative too close-up and personal for the average

At her most disarming

I must declare an interest at the outset. Thirty or so years ago I went out, or walked out (or whatever the phrase is), with the author, until, that is, the night when, for reasons I have never been able to establish, she hit me over the head with a stainless-steel electric kettle. You may

Dramatic thrills and chills

To be a member of a good audience is exhilarating. The sounds that it makes around you are as much a part of the show as the sounds from the stage: the sound of alert anticipation before the curtain rises — the sound of silence — the sound of implications being understood — the sound

Grace under fire

To reach Sir Christopher Ondaatje’s Glenthorne estate you have to drive down a three-mile track which drops 1,000 feet to the only piece of flat land between Porlock and Lynmouth. Here, in 1831, the Reverend Walter S. Halliday built a substantial house, hemmed in behind by the towering Devon cliffs but enjoying an uninterrupted view

Llamas but no locals

Richard Askwith is Associate Editor of the Independent and lives in a small Northamptonshire village; presumably he commutes. After a year’s absence abroad he returns to his village and finds that two loved neighbours have moved, eight houses (out of 94) have been sold, and five more have ‘For Sale’ notices outside them. The pub