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Two halves don’t make a whole

What on earth is a ‘high concept novel’? For the expression to have any meaning you’d have to have a low concept novel, a medium concept novel and even a no concept novel. How high? Compared to? It doesn’t make sense. Nonetheless this is one. (In fairness to Fay Weldon she does not say so;

Reheating the Cold War

In the days when the Cold War provided depth and context to all spy fiction, Charles McCarry was the strongest of the contenders for the title of ‘the American John Le Carré’. Although Robert Littell and Paul Hennisart wrote novels of complex moral ambiguity, McCarry’s CIA was closer in tone to Smiley’s Circus, chosen from

Breaking out of purdah

Reading Maharanis has something of the poignant pleasure of rummaging in the attic of a great house fallen into desuetude: here are reminders of another age. Princesses stroll in their gardens in the Indian moonlight, fireflies flickering like stars, or roller-skate gaily through their marble palaces, saris billowing, with a staff of 400 to keep

Ketchup and thunder

I have read somewhere that the friends of this author are worried. Apparently he is an MP, a shadow minister, a performer on chat shows, editor of a weekly magazine, the next prime minister but three — and now out pops a novel. How can he manage it all? They need not worry. On the

Making sheep interesting

He is most like a poet when writing least like one. Skim the titles of P. J. Kavanagh’s new collection and you’ll find the clues. ‘November’, ‘London Bridge’ and ‘Christmas walk’ are admirable instances of a skilled craftsman plying his trade, but they lack the yeasty suddenness of the real thing. Head instead for ‘What

Evangelism on the march

When Robert Goizueta, Coca-Cola’s boss, attempted to justify his $80 million annual income to a meeting of shareholders he was interrupted four times — with applause. Attitudes to wealth and opportunity, as to so much else in the United States, are far removed from the prevailing mood in Britain and Europe. During the Cold War,

Goggling at the box

This far from flimsy novel has been written and published with remarkable speed. Little more than a year ago, on 5 September 2003, the American illusionist David Blaine entered his Perspex box beside the Thames, eventually to emerge after 44 days of starvation. His feat of heroism, madness or self-punishment (interpret it as you will)

Lost white dogs of Africa

There is a fading misconception in Europe that every white person in South Africa lives the life of Reilly, albeit behind a barbed-wire perimeter fence. The fact is that, apart from all the hardworking white postmen and store clerks, genuine white trash abounds, booted out of one too many doors by bosses and wives and

Master of most

Andrew Marr is a great adornment to his — our — trade. He is terribly clever and well-read, and I am sure he could have done something serious and useful with his life. But he decided early on that journalism was the thing for him. Despite his first-class degree in English at Cambridge, it quickly