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The strange experience of England

The Wessex novels of John Cowper Powys — Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1933), Jobber Skald (also published as Weymouth Sands, 1935) and Maiden Castle (1937) — must rank as four of the greatest ever to be written in our language. Even those who do not feel ready for the 1,000-page novel based on

The slave in the next room

‘Being Roman,’ declares Catullus, the poet protagonist of Counting the Stars, ‘is a state of mind’. As in earlier novels — The Siege, House of Orphans — Helen Dunmore allows the reader to enter the ‘state of mind’ of a specific moment in history. Here, Julius Caesar’s Rome, in all its squalor and grandeur, brutality

All at sea in Shanghai

The conquering white male, guiltily plundering, seduced by exoticism and abundance but never quite sure that he’s not just the clueless foreigner being taken for a ride: so we have Tony Parson’s pugnacious hero Bill, clad in his designer suit. He is the ambitious corporate lawyer, billing for every hour he breathes, hoping to ‘make

Not under the volcano

Ian Thomson reviews a collection of Malcolm Lowry’s poems, letters and fictions  Malcolm Lowry was a ferocious malcontent, who free-wheeled towards an early grave with the help of cooking sherry, meths, even bottles of skin bracer. From skid row to bedlam and back, it was a Faustian dissipation. Lowry died in 1957, at the age

Winner by a nose

When, after his exertions on behalf of the love-struck Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie Wooster hears himself compared to Cyrano de Bergerac, his literary knowledge rises to the occasion: ‘the chap with the nose’. It was Edmund Rostand’s play of 1897 that brought Cyrano and his protuberance their modern fame. The 17th-century soldier and writer who gave

Triumph of the little ships

Michael Rose reviews Antony Hichens’ biography of Commander Robert Hichens In an era when the Royal Navy seems to be struggling hard to find heroes, it is a relief to discover that one only has to turn back a few pages of history to the second world war to read of sailors who still acted in the

Grace under pressure | 16 February 2008

Can a straight-talking Republican Senator, a decorated war hero at odds with the GOP establishment, win his party’s nomination for president? Richard North Patterson insists that the similarities between the hero of his latest novel and John McCain ‘end with his military career and penchant for candor’. There are, nevertheless, numerous other parallels between McCain

A slice off the top

‘I’m not going to pay good money’, Groucho Marx famously quipped, ‘to join a club that lets in people like me.’ In the case of the Carlton Club on St James’s Street, whose 175th anniversary last year was marked by this handsome history, requirements were quite explicit. Membership depended on opposition to the 1832 Reform

Dial M for mother

Peter Carey’s fictions are like a powerful old-fashioned car driven with the modernist hand-brake on — revved-up narrative that stutters, stalls, leaps in unexpected spasms. With a less good writer this would be intensely annoying. Carey runs through many of the tricks of post-modernism — the tricksy shifts, the dislocations of chronology and viewpoint, the

The son of Mann

Klaus Mann’s Journals don’t pretend to be a work of literature; they are jottings, records of day-to-day existence, full of names many of which will mean nothing to readers today, even, I suppose, to German ones. ‘I suddenly thought,’ he wrote in January 1933, ‘that these notes could seem terribly superficial to anyone who chanced