Lead book review

Where three empires met

Norman Stone has already written, with a brilliant blend of humour, understanding and scepticism, histories of the Eastern Front, Turkey, Europe between 1878 and 1919, both world wars and the Cold War. A history of Hungary is his latest book. He has one qualification increasingly rare in England. As polyglot as an educated archduke, he

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Trysts among the trees

In this current era of identity politics and a more fluid approach to gender and sexuality amongst a younger generation, it’s somewhat surprising to be reminded that there remains one letter in the ever-shifting LGBT acronym that is still considered something of an unspoken taboo: male bisexuality. One only has to count the number of,

Good and evil on an epic scale

David Keenan’s debut novel, This is Memorial Device, about a small town in Lanarkshire and its post-punk scene, showed that it wasn’t easy being Iggy Pop in Airdrie. For the Good Times, his second, set in 1970s Belfast, shows that it isn’t easy being a Perry Como-loving one of the boys in the Ardoyne. In

Life at the Globe

  IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE The Globe was the occasion of drama before the first line was even spoken from its stage. In the snowy winter of 1598, three days after Christmas, Shakespeare and his colleague Burbage resolved a falling-out with the landlord of their then Shoreditch theatre in the

More scenes from my life with Francis Bacon

The case of Michael Peppiatt is a curious one. He first met Francis Bacon when he was an undergraduate at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and visited Bacon for a student magazine. Something clicked and Bacon became his sugar daddy, immediately and for ever, though Peppiatt has said that no sex was involved. One can see what

A tragic fall from grace

Nurture hatred in your heart and you will keep ‘an unfed tiger in a house full of children’. A man who passes on a plausible lie ‘may be offering a rattlesnake in a calabash of food’. Someone who lugs grievances around carries ‘a full pitcher of resentment from which, every step or so on its

The making of a monstrous metropolis

When Bishop Guy of Amiens looked across the Channel in the 11th century he saw ‘teeming London [which] shines bright. A most spacious city, full of evil inhabitants, and richer than anywhere else in the kingdom’. Well, plus c’est la même chose. Even then those Mammonic associations were already old. Over 300 years earlier the

From Access to Youth

The mid-term elections in the US, when Democrats took over Congress, were hailed as a victory for ‘progressives’, while David Cameron once claimed to be a ‘progressive conservative’. Well, progress towards what exactly? ‘It is certainly significant that nearly all political tendencies now wish to be described as progressive,’ wrote the cultural critic Raymond Williams,

Little shots of sedition

In this handsomely illustrated book Tobie Mathew makes a case for the lowly postcard’s role in the politicisation of pre-revolutionary Russia. Cheap to produce, easily transported and hidden, and conveying a simple graphic message, picture postcards were ideally suited to anti-government agitation. Too dangerous to post, these little shots of sedition were preserved and shared

Homage to catatonia

As a boy Josh Cohen was passive, dopey and given to daydreaming. Now a practising psychoanalyst and a professor of literature with several books to his name, he retains ‘a long and deep intimacy with lassitude and aimlessness’. Cohen believes the special affection reserved for pop culture’s fictional slackers, slobs and reverists — think Jeff

Everyone’s a victim

From the very first pages of Among the Lost, we’re engaged, and compromised. Estela and Epitafio are our main anchors, their experiences and relationship driving the story’s developments, but these magnetic central characters are people-traffickers and kidnappers, capable of startling violence and dehumanising cruelty. And truly, they’re very much in love. For most of the

Art’s hard graft

Once, when a number of Royal Academicians were invited to Buckingham Palace, the celebrated abstract painter John Hoyland (1934–2011) found himself enjoying a conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh about art. ‘The real problem with painting,’ said the Duke, in Hoyland’s delighted re-telling of this encounter, ‘is not so much the doing of it, as

Theatre of war

There was a time when you read French literary novels in order to cultivate a certain kind of sophisticated suspicion. Post-modern writers like Robbe-Grillet, Ricardou and Perec were hyper-aware of the political and philosophical problems underlying traditional realist narratives. They produced novels that were as much critiques of novel writing as they were actual stories

The ballad of John and Anton

Tom Barbash’s dark and humorous second novel takes a risk by combining invented and real characters. I feared nagging doubts about what was ‘true’.  However, it absolutely succeeds. Set in 1979–80, the alluring (fictional) Winter family attend parties with neighbours like Betty Bacall or John and Yoko. They all live in the Dakota building —

With Friends like these…

The ultimate driving force of William Penn’s adult life is inaccessible, as the Quaker phrase ‘Inner Light’ suggests. While a young man administering the family estates in Ireland, Penn experienced ‘convincement’, another Quaker term for what other Dissenters called conversion. But while these experiences were inward and personal, they had public consequences. Since they were