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Captain Yossarian rides again

Closing Time by Joseph Heller Scribner, £7.99, pp. 464 ISBN 0743239806 Fortune granted Joseph Heller’s generation, raised during the Depression, not only service in a war whose good intentions were universally applauded but, once in uniform, a standard of living previously unknown to a boy like Heller himself, brought up on Coney Island in a

A one-man Dad’s army

It isn’t good manners for somebody to criticise a great-uncle after his death, but I know from first-hand experience that my great-uncle, Lord Longford, either didn’t mind criticism or at least grew so used to it that he looked like he didn’t mind. After he appeared in an Oxford Union debate in the early 1990s

The horror! The horror!

I have to declare an interest. In the late 1980s, I travelled with the author of this book. After university we went to run the bulls in Pamplona together, while our neighing contemporaries were being strapped into their first pinstriped suits. Then we went to Africa, where his family had lived since the 1930s. That

More respected than admired

At the Italian seaside last week I flicked through the hotel’s copy of a translation of Gombrich’s Story of Art. The publisher had reproduced Reynolds’s portrait of his friend Giuseppi Baretti to a larger size than any other British picture. ‘Ottimo,’ said the text, and by some odd process of displacement I was all the

From one hustler to another

Dear James, Thanks for sending me a copy of your … what shall we call it? Memoir? Novel? Anyway, I really enjoyed it. You’ve completely captured what it was like to be an Oxford undergraduate in the mid-80s — all that Sloane Ranger crap, the Pimms, the seccies. Every time I turned the page I

For the union dead

‘When I die,’ Robert Lowell told me, three days before he did die, in 1977, at the age of 60, ‘Elizabeth’s shares will rise and mine will fall. But mine will come back.’ Elizabeth, in this context, was Elizabeth Bishop, who with Randall Jarrell was Lowell’s correspondent and best friend in the art. His temperament

Courtiers and communists

Courts can be a tool for understanding the present as well as the past. The behaviour patterns of courts and courtiers are often a better guide to the workings of modern regimes than constitutions or ideologies. In The Last Days of Hitler, Hugh Trevor-Roper analysed the government of the Third Reich as a ‘cannibal court’.