More from Books

Travelling far without finding home

This unusual and nostalgic novel comes from a writer whose last work, The Transit of Venus, remains as startling and effective today as it did when it was published in 1980. The Transit of Venus was an open-ended love story whose development could only be pieced together from clues dropped unobtrusively in the text and

So nice and yet so Nazi

We are none of us, thank heaven, one-dimensional creatures easily and succinctly defined by a single characteristic. It is an obvious truth, yet was almost entirely ignored in the reporting of Diana Mosley’s death in Paris last summer, announced with the same clamour as had enveloped her for many of the last 70 years of

The grand passion of a philosopher

Abelard has been made to play many roles in French history. In 1796 Alexandre Lenoir created the first museum of French national monuments. The French Revolution had abolished the past, but they thought that the French people should know about it. So the tombs of the French kings illustrated the continuity of French history, and

A new breed of heroes

When aid workers, battling in distant places to bring some kind of comfort and safety to displaced and miserable people, are asked why they do what they do, many reply that it all comes down to the immediate and very simple satisfaction of giving a hungry person something to eat. ‘There are,’ notes David Snyder,

Receipts and recipes

The Pedant in the Kitchenby Julian BarnesGuardian Books, £9.99, pp. 96, ISBN 1843542390 ‘I haven’t cooked since the War,’ proclaims the Duchess of Devon- shire in the introduction to her Chatsworth Cookery Book. Though it was put to her that writing a cookery book was, in that case, ‘like a blind woman driving down the

A charming toff of the turf

John Oaksey is the archetypal English gentleman. He is a sweetheart, a star, the bravest of the brave, funny and kind: the only person who will disagree with this is himself. His modesty is complete, his successes are never his, the credit always goes elsewhere, to the horses mostly, or to his friends, his colleagues,

A continuation of empire by other means

Melvyn Bragg’s superb new history of the English language is told as an adventure story, and rightly so. Brought to the British Isles in the 5th century AD by Germanic warriors, ‘this hungry creature, English, demanded more and more subjects’, until today, with 1.5 billion speakers, it is poised for global domination. Nearly strangled first

It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going

When asked why he was always so incredibly cheerful, David Niven (Stowe, Sandhurst and the Silver Screen) used to reply, ‘Well, old bean, life is really so bloody awful that I feel it’s my absolute duty to be chirpy and try and make everybody else happy too.’ Niven’s extraordinary charm and delightfully light touch made

Always her own woman

The Grandmothers consists of four novellas, very different from The Golden Notebook, that sprawling, seemingly unedited, over-talkative, rather wonderful book that made Doris Lessing famous and became as stirring a call to arms for the swelling ranks of the feminist movement as Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Lessing disliked being pigeon-holed like this, insisting it

A bland and baleful stoic

‘Woke up this morning feeling fine. Notices for Lorca’s comedy, Jack’s the Lad, terrific (even from that goof on the Times). Rehearsals for the new Arnold Wesker a real gas. Long lunch with Aimé Planchon (hot French bombshell); short siesta; drinks party at NT for all of us with CBEs … rest of evening a

The theatre of the globe

Atlases are things that one takes for granted, but they have an interesting history. This book tells the story of the world’s first atlas, which was published in Antwerp in 1570. It was the brainchild of a Dutchman named Ortelius. Of course, maps had existed for many centuries. Ptolemy put together a Geographia in Roman

Gallery crawl with a guiding star

In the ancien régime of John Murray (before the publishing firm was taken over by Hodder Headline) it used to be joked that their typical book title would be Sideways Through Abyssinia by Freya Stark. Rupert Hart-Davis suggested as a characteristic Faber title How to Grow Grass on an En Tout Cas Court. In the


Clive James Three books of non-fictional prose kept me awake like thrillers. Frederic Raphael’s The Benefits of Doubt (Carcanet, £14.95) is an exemplary book of humanist essays, although I would hate to have him doubting me, because he makes me laugh too hard when he doubts Heidegger. Published posthumously, D. J. Enright’s Injury Time (Pimlico,