Lead book review

A strange vibration

Among the many curiosities revealed in this book, few are more startling than the fact that at the height of the so called ‘summer of love’ in 1967 the British historian Arnold Toynbee, on a visit to San Francisco, made his way to the Haight-Ashbury district — hippy central — to catch a concert by

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A choice of short stories

It can’t be easy to switch between editing others people’s fiction and writing your own: how do you suspend that intuitive critical impulse? Gordon Lish, who is best known as the editor of Raymond Carver’s short stories but has also written plenty of fiction in his own right, is familiar with this dilemma, and in

The cold grip of fear

A screenwriter sits in a lovely rented house somewhere up an Alp in early December. The air is clear, the views stunning, the isolation splendid. He rented the home through Airbnb — surprisingly cheaply, as it happens. He has come to this place for a family holiday with his wife Susanna and their four-year-old, Esther,

By Patten or design?

My old friend Richard Ingrams was said always to write The Spectator’s television reviews sitting in the next-door room to the TV set. I’m more assiduous: I have actually read this book under review. And Chris Patten’s latest memoir is a very enjoyable read — the account of a life of considerable privilege. Born into

The infamous four

Most books about British traitors feature those who spied for Russia before and during the Cold War, making it easy to forget that we also spawned a few who worked for the Germans in the second world war. This book concerns four of them: John Amery, wastrel son of a Conservative cabinet minister; William Joyce,

Playing Stalin for laughs

Christopher Wilson’s new novel is much easier to enjoy than to categorise. And ‘enjoy’ is definitely the right word, even though The Zoo tackles subject matter that should, by rights, make for a punishingly bleak read. The narrator is 12-year-old Yuri, whose misfortunes start with the fact that he’s growing up in Moscow in 1953

Something in the water

‘It was a shock, and an epiphany,’ says Fiona Sampson, to realise that many of her favourite places were built on and out of limestone: the cosy Cotswold village of Coleshill, the shambolic hamlet of Le Chambon in the Dordogne, the limestone Karst region of western Slovenia, and the honeycombed hills of Jerusalem and the

The new age of the refugee

After years of estrangement in a foreign land, what can immigrants expect to find on their return home? The remembered warmth and blazing beauty of Jamaica have remained with some British West Indians for over half a century of exile. Yet 100 changes will have occurred since they left. Long brooding over the loss of