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One long moanfest

Tama Janowitz’s memoir is a relentlessly cheerless and bitter collection of vignettes. Between tales of her purportedly miserly, creepy and emotionally manipulative father, who suggests that Janowitz enter a wet T-shirt contest aged 15, and her estranged and vicious brother, who tries to sue her despite he being rich and her virtually penniless, the Janowitz

Twists and turns of the Italian campaign

When Rome fell to the Allies on 5 June 1944 General Harold Alexander, commander of the 15th Army, calculated that he would need just 12 weeks to reach the river Po and liberate Italy from the Germans. It took him nearly a year. Christian Jennings’s new book chronicles the months of heavy fighting, the advances

Too, too shy-making

You might have thought that the last thing shy people need is a book about shyness: a large part of what makes us shy is our self-preoccupation and awareness of our own shyness. No social situation is more embarrassing — too, too shy-making — than someone pointing out we are shy: as if we didn’t

The power of the American oligarchs

Talk about plutocracy and oligarchy has become commonplace in America, as the billionaire class grows ever richer and seemingly more arrogant. But do today’s super-rich constitute a threat to American democracy? Jane Mayer thinks they do, particularly when their money is employed by fanatics like Charles and David Koch and other like-minded tycoons to upend

A rose between two thorns

Emma Rauschenbach was the daughter of rich Swiss industrialists — a plump, good-natured girl, nicknamed ‘Sunny’, who married young without knowing what she was letting herself in for. Her husband, Carl Gustav Jung, was revered after his death as a guru as much as a doctor — as the mystic and visionary that Freud might

Exquisite mementoes

All alone on page 313 of this spectacular book, a tattered but heroic flag flies in a painting of an icy wasteland. It is a remarkable picture for two reasons: first, because it was done by the Arctic explorer Edmund Wilson in 1912, when he and Captain Scott learnt from that very flag that the

The trouble with actors

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride’s acclaimed, prize-winning debut, felt like a one-off, not the beginning of a career. Its prose style — a staccato, Beckettian rush — was a good match for the subject of burgeoning womanhood amid grief and exploitation. But it was also very intense — so much so that

Hoarder disorder

The enormous desk on which I am writing this is swamped by four precarious piles of books, one topped by an ancient Filofax, another by a small framed photograph of a long-dead friend. I still bear the bruises from last week when I fell out of bed and triggered an avalanche of the book mountain

The great Dadaist novel

Anicet is, as its cover proclaims, a Dadaist novel, reissued on the centenary of its composition. Louis Aragon would doubtless have been delighted to learn that it is almost impossible to review. An art critic, with his ‘little gadgets… called criteria’, is satirised in these pages as a kind of ‘policeman’, whose mission is in

Monet’s great war effort

Claude Monet wanted to be buried in a buoy. ‘This idea seemed to please him,’ his friend Gustave Geffroy wrote. ‘He laughed under his breath at the thought of being locked forever in this kind of invulnerable cork, dancing among the waves, braving storms, resting gently in the harmonious movements of calm weather, in the

A lively, rebellious boy

It is one of the great set-pieces of high drama in English history. The king, shamed by his part in the murder of his one-time friend turned implacable enemy, the Archbishop of Canterbury, agrees to come as a penitent to the holy site of the archbishop’s death to seek forgiveness and, in a conspicuously unkingly

Hit and miss | 15 September 2016

A few years ago, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune stumbled upon what was widely reported as ‘the Holy Grail of chicken’: a version of Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe that his second wife had scribbled in an album. Anyone hoping that it would contain exotic ingredients such as powdered lark’s tongue or virgin snow from

Ghosts of the past

You find it in the vistas of skeletal metal gangways, the abandoned 18th-century forts, the squat oil holders and rusted pipelines, the pale reeds of the marshes, the barbed wire, the peeling housing estates, the lonely river paths. You hear it in the thick silence by the water, broken only by the wide river slurping

Dancing with robots

Back in 2012, a team at Google built a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence network and fed it ten million randomly selected images from YouTube. The computer churned through them, and announced that it kept finding these strange things with furry faces. It had, in other words, discovered cats. Artificial intelligence has, all of a sudden, become

Come in, but keep your voices down

The illustrated manuscripts of the European Middle Ages are among the most beautiful works to survive from a maligned and misrepresented age. The darkest of the Dark Ages produced the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels. Out of the most vicious period of France’s medieval history emerged the exquisite books of hours painted by