Lead book review

Dedicated to debauchery: the life of Thom Gunn

In 1876, writing to his friend Gertrude Tennant, Gustave Flaubert set down a principle that artists and writers should live by: Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d’être violent et original dans vos œuvres. (Be regular in your life and ordinary as a bourgeois, in order to be violent and

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The rewards of being the ‘asylum capital of the world’

They came on a small, crowded, leaky boat from Calais towards Dover in seas that could turn from placid to treacherous in an instant, around 30 people seeking sanctuary from persecution, unsure of the welcome they would receive. ‘We were seized by horrible vomitings and most of the party became so dreadfully ill they thought

A haunting apparition: Bonehead, by Mo Hayder, reviewed

It is well established that women are happy to read novels written by men but that male readers rarely extend a reciprocal courtesy. The late Mo Hayder is a case in point, since despite the extraordinary sales of the novels she wrote before her premature death in 2021, her fan base remains overwhelmingly female. It

At last, a private education that wasn’t unmitigated misery

There has been a spate of books recently about private education, ranging from academic denouncements of their malign effects on society, such as Francis Green and David Kynaston’s Engines of Privilege, to Charles Spencer’s grim chronicle of neglect and abuse, A Very Private School. Though technically falling within this genre, 1967, the singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock’s

Could anyone be trusted in Tudor and Stuart England?

‘Spies, you are lights in state, but of base stuff,/ Who, when you’ve burnt yourselves down to the snuff,/ Stink, and are thrown away.’ Ben Jonson likened his fellow secret agents to a tallow candle: a grotty necessity, to be discarded without regret. Who now remembers Arthur Gregory, and his ‘admirable art of forcing the

Why state bureaucracy is crucial to our happiness

Most days, outside the local courtroom where I live in Finchley Central, a man holds up a placard that says in big black capitals: ALL OUR BRAINS ARE MICROCHIPPED BY THE SECURITY SERVICES. It’s a foolish conspiracy theory, of course, but it’s also a symptom of the fear and loathing of the state which has

How cartomania captivated even Queen Victoria

The wife of the Victorian photography pioneer Henry Fox Talbot called his first cameras ‘mousetraps’: little wooden boxes that were designed to capture anything placed before them. Yet most of Fox Talbot’s earliest photographs do not show living bodies at all. Long exposure times meant that the faintest twitch on a sitter’s face would dissolve