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A lord of thin air

It is easy, especially if one is not American, to feel ambivalent about the fictions of John Updike. The immaculate clarity of his prose style, the precision of his vocabulary, the tenderness underlying his Wasp comedies of manners, the puckish wit rising above a sorrowful temperament — none of these can be gainsaid. But the

Life imitates art

The other evening my wife came home to find me watching re-runs of Steptoe and Son. The washing up had not been done, and everything was in a state of bedragglement (including Olga, the family dog). ‘How can you bear to watch that stuff? Steptoe’s got a face like a squeezed lemon. He’s perfectly horrible.

Ladies, you don’t want to go back there

In 2009 a magazine survey found that many women in their twenties wanted to stay at home baking while their husbands went out to work: ‘I’d love to be a captive wife.’ Jessica Mann’s thoughtful and emphatic book is a riposte to this, an overview of the Fifties, which she calls a polemic and a

Forever waging wars

Death by buggery. Death by castration. Even death by being scared to death. Or so we are led to believe for the Plantagenets’ world. They had a lighter side, too: Henry II employed a professional flatulist with the trade-name of Roland the Farter. The longest reigning royal dynasty in English history (1154-1399), the Plantagenets offer

Cracks in the landscape

Sartre tried to prove that hell is other people by locking three strangers in a room for eternity and watching them torture each other. Similarly Will Cohu seems determined to show that hell is our own families. What is remarkable is that Cohu’s family members were not a collection of horrific monsters. On the contrary,

Photo finish

Christopher Isherwood kept diaries almost all his life. The first extant one dates from 1917, when he was 12, and like most schoolboys he used it more to measure than record his days: ‘Work in morning, walk in afternoon. In choir. More work. Nothing special.’ At Cambridge, however, inspired by the W.N.P. Barbellion’s The Journal

Who needs money?

I was racking my brains, trying to understand money, trying to grasp exactly what it is, when I came across these two books. One is written by Aaron Brown, who is the risk manager of a large Wall Street hedgefund. The other is by David Graeber, the anarchist who has been called the leader —

Bookends: Prep-school passions

In his introductory eulogy, Peter Parker calls In the Making: The Story of a Childhood  (Penguin, £8.99) G. F. Green’s masterpiece, which, though not popular, attracted the admiration of E.M. Forster, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, J.R. Ackerley, John Betjeman, Philip Toynbee, C.P. Snow, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Frank Tuohy and Alan Sillitoe. According to Elizabeth Bowen,