Lead book review

An old soldier sees through the smoke of Waterloo

There is a very nice story of a dinner for Waterloo veterans at which Alexandre Dumas — ‘Dum-ass,’ as the Antarctic explorer Taff Evans would have him — was for some reason present. I can’t remember now the exact wording of the exchange between them, but Dumas had clearly spent so much of the evening

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The Australian literary icon who fooled her family

There aren’t many places you can get shouty about Proust without losing your job. The Lane Bookshop in Perth, Western Australia, is one of them. As an undergraduate, I’d pitch up there for work on Saturday mornings with as much song in the heart as a hangover allowed. Because for me the Lane wasn’t just

Ice Sculpture

If I begged you to, would you hitchhike to the ice-sculpture factory, where the drunken cow was just presented, and the sleeping horse was celebrated? Ah, those caught animals, where else would they be paraded? I visualise you sitting on a black camel, wearing a red fedora, and a maroon, velvet dress. It would be

Stephen King – return of the great storyteller

Stephen King’s latest novel, Mr Mercedes, is dedicated to James M. Cain and described as ‘a riveting suspense thriller’ — a phrase so closely approaching 100 per cent semantic redundancy (a non-riveting thriller? A thriller entirely free of suspense?) that it tells us precisely nothing. All it does is declare that the reader will keep

No special pleading needed for this disabled Dutch master

To discover an ‘unknown’ is the dream of anyone connected with the arts and in Johannes Thopas (c.1626-1688/95) we have just that. This book catalogues the exhibition now transfering from Aachen to the Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam (12 July–5 October). The curator is Rudi Ekkart, who discovered Thopas’s meticulous lead-pencil (plumbago) drawings on parchment as

Hillary Clinton’s autobiography seems destined to join her husband’s – in a bin marked ‘Free’

Last year a Washington-based journalist called Mark Leibovich wrote This Town, a book whose thesis was, roughly, that Washington-based journalists are terrible people. Leibovich’s book exemplified a trend among self-described Beltway insiders who decry as venial and insipid the trivialities they spend their lives reporting. Sounds a bit precious, I know, not to mention suicidal.

The punk who inspired a generation of British woman to pick up a guitar

Viv Albertine is deservedly famous as the guitarist of the tumultuous, all-female English punk band The Slits. Their debut album, Cut, released in 1979, combined jangly Captain Beefheart-style guitarwork with reggae rhythms and sardonic social commentary. Ariane ‘Ari Up’ Forster, the vocalist, added an element of wild-child abandon to Tessa Pollitt’s infectiously heavy bass lines.

The breasts that launched Les Fleurs du Mal

This novel is based on the life of Charles Baudelaire and the relationship he enjoyed — or endured — with his Haiti-born mistress, his Black Venus, Jeanne Duval. We first see him in 1842, a young poet of 20, making his dandyish way through the slums of Paris to meet his friends at a cabaret

When Geoff Boycott was a DJ in a Sydney nightclub

Sport isn’t about putting a ball into a net or over a bar or into a hole. It’s about the people who are trying to do those things. Frank Keating, late of this and several other parishes and now just late, understood that truth, which is what made him such a great sports writer. Matthew

Those weren’t the days

If you wanted a brief epigraph for Linda Grant’s recent fiction, then five words from Dorothy Parker might well do the trick: ‘Time doth flit/ Oh shit.’ Certainly, there aren’t many writers who seem so astonished, even affronted, by life’s tendency (admittedly a strange one) to pass by more quickly than you ever imagined. Her