Lead book review

Julie Burchill

Celebrity lives

I learned from this little lot that if one has read The Diary of a Nobody, then one can derive pleasure from even the most pedestrian life story, as there’s always an unintentional chuckle to be had. The former racing driver Nigel Mansell’s Staying on Track (Simon & Schuster, £20) delighted me with its Pooterish

Books of the Year: the best and most overrated of 2015

Anna Aslanyan   My top title of the year is Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (Cape, £16.99), convincing proof that the best writers of our time are anthropologists, and that James Joyce, were he alive today, would be working for Google. I also enjoyed Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (Granta, £14.99), a self-deconstructing novel whose metafictional plot

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He knew he was right

A highlight of this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival was the Rough Magic Theatre Company’s production of The Train, a musical by Arthur Riordan and Bill Whelan. Political theatre at its wittiest and craziest, it told the story of the fledgling Irish Women’s Liberation Movement’s publicised trip in 1971 to Belfast to buy contraceptives, ostentatiously importing

Loneliness and the love of friends

When Hugh and Mirabel Cecil’s book In Search of Rex Whistler was published in 2012, the late Brian Sewell reviewed it with typical insight and lack of generosity. Despite recognising the artist as an extraordinary talent and perhaps the inventor of neo-romanticism, he regretted that Whistler would never be taken sufficiently seriously and pronounced it

A soothing Negroni for la dolce vita

The first draft of the famous story was called ‘A Martini as Big as the Ritz’. That’s not true, but F. Scott Fitzgerald was certainly at work in the First Cocktail Age. The Algonquin circle also floated into literary history on a choppy ocean of toxically high-ABV mixed drinks. The quotes and jokes are legend:

Life in the chain gang

In 2004, French police officers searching the home of the professional cyclist David Millar found some syringes and empty phials hidden in a hollowed-out book. Millar confessed that he had been using the substance EPO to boost his red-blood-cell count. He was banned from the sport for two years, and returned to cycling a reformed

Patti Smith grows old too gracefully

‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins/ but not mine’: the opening lines of Patti Smith’s 1975 debut album, Horses, find a young woman marking her territory with fierce conviction. Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, she was (or was treated as) an invalid for much of her New Jersey childhood. The restrictions were physical and spiritual. But

Charles Williams: sadist or Rosicrucian saint?

Charles Williams was a bad writer, but a very interesting one. Most famous bad writers have to settle, like Sidney Sheldon, for the millions and the made-for-TV adaptations and the trophy wife. Williams had a following, and in the 1930s and 1940s some highly respected literary figures declared him to be a genius. But why

There’s nothing wrong with plugging a friend’s book

The advantage of reviewing books by a friend is that you can invite him out for a walk across the South Downs and menace him with blunt questions. Books pages editors call this sort of thing ‘backscratching’ and ‘logrolling’, as if, instead of engaging in proper criticism, you and your mate had spent the time

Too much gush

The cover of Edna O’Brien’s 17th novel sports a handsome quote from Philip Roth: ‘The great Edna O’Brien has written her masterpiece.’ Late Roth and late O’Brien have something in common. In The Plot Against America (2004), Roth provided an alternative history of the 20th century: what if Roosevelt had been defeated by the anti-Semitic