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The Go-Away Bird

There is no plaque yet on No 13 Baldwin Crescent, otherwise known as ‘Dunedin’. There ought to be. For on the top floor of this shabby yellow-brick house, hidden away between the Camberwell New Road and gloomy Myatt’s Fields, Muriel Spark wrote most of the four or five novels for which we’ll remember her. She

The new age of enlightenment

God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, by James Hannam We all have our hobby-horses. James Hannam’s is the abuse of the word ‘medieval’. Hats off. As I have written in this magazine before, using the term as shorthand for anything you consider cruel, arcane or barbarous (be it the

Strangely familiar

In 1935, Noël Coward included in his series of playlets, Tonight at 8.30, a jaunty, song-filled exposé, in Victorian dress, of fam- ily relationships, Family Album. Penelope Lively’s novel of the same title, her 16th, covers similar territory — without the jauntiness or predisposition to burst into song. It is an apt title. Lively’s novel

Playing for high stakes

1938: Hitler’s Gamble, by Giles MacDonogh Hitler’s greatest gamble in 1938 was his determination to occupy the Czechoslovak Sudetenland, even at the risk of sparking a European war. Neither Neville Cham- berlain nor the French prime minister, Edouard Daladier, was prepared to play for such high stakes and they threw in their chips, giving the

Beating his demons

When I first read Naked Lunch, as a teenager sleeping rough in a Greek olive grove, I thought it funny, baffling and vile, its hallucinatory horrors recalling paintings by Francis Bacon — ‘mouth and eyes are one organ that leaps forward to snap with transparent teeth’. A diet of ouzo and dodgy mousaka played havoc