Lead book review

How pleasant to know Mr Lear

Edward Lear liked to tell the story of how he was once sitting in a railway carriage with two women who were reading aloud to children from his Book of Nonsense. When a male passenger confidently asserted that ‘There is no such person as Edward Lear’, the writer was obliged to prove his own existence

More from Books

Recent crime fiction | 12 October 2017

Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling (4th Estate, £12.99) has the word masterpiece emblazoned on the cover, alongside quotes from several famous authors telling us how brilliant it is. It can be difficult to see through this hype and find the true novel, but let’s try. Fourteen-year-old Turtle Alveston lives with her father, Martin, a survivalist

His dark materials | 12 October 2017

In this giant, prodigiously sourced and insightful biography, John A. Farrell shows how Richard Milhous Nixon was the nightmare of the age for many Americans, even as he won years of near-adulation from many others. One can only think of Donald Trump. Nixon appealed to lower- and  lower-middle-class whites from the heartland, whose hatred of

Navigating a new world

In the 1890s, when British-owned ships carried 70 per cent of all seaborne trade, legislators worried about the proportion of foreigners who served in their crews; which could top 40 per cent. Their worry is not surprising, given the verdicts gathered from British consulates in port cities on the native seaman: ‘drunk, illiterate, weak, syphilitic,

The problem with Hungary

The name of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, is on the lips of most left-wing, liberal politicians and intellectuals in Europe. They have adorable tantrums, denouncing him as ‘authoritarian’, ‘autocratic’ or, even uglier, ‘dictatorial’, as they congratulate themselves on their righteousness and courage in speaking out. A few months ago I visited Budapest. On

Putting the boot into Italy

A young woman, naked and covered in blood, totters numbly down a night road. A driver spots her in his headlights and swerves. Was he the last to see Clara alive? Did she jump to her death from a parking structure, as stated in the report? Are her rich family trying to hide more than

Gleaming pictures of the past

If you think you know what to expect from an Alan Hollinghurst novel, then when it comes to The Sparsholt Affair, you’ll almost certainly be right. Once again, Hollinghurst explores British gay history by plunging us into haute bohemia over several decades of the 20th century. (A few years ago he told an interviewer that

The great betrayal

They were at sea for more than two months in desperately cramped conditions. The battered ship, barely seaworthy, pitched violently in storms where the swell rose to 100 feet. One of the beams cracked and there was talk of returning to England before it was temporarily repaired with a house jack. With spray in their

Highly charged territory

I first heard of this tragicomic spy romp around Israel and Palestine when Julian Barnes sang its praises in the Guardian a few months ago, having been ‘lucky to see an advance proof’. Lucky? Well, he and Nathan Englander do share an agent, who perhaps noticed that Dinner at the Centre of the Earth just

Princess Uppity

Princess Margaret was everywhere on the bohemian scene of the 1960s and 1970s. She hung out with all the famous rock stars, actors and other arty types of the day. Marlon Brando was struck dumb; Picasso wanted to marry her. As Craig Brown puts it artfully: ‘Everyone seems to have met her at least once

On the waterfront | 12 October 2017

Much has been made of the American novelist Jennifer Egan’s mutation, in her latest novel, from purveyor of metafiction and fragmentary, experimental narratives to creator of a solid piece of traditional realism. Manhattan Beach tells the story of a father and daughter in New York in the years in and around the second world war: