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A stranger to the truth

Anthony Burgess was someone whose accomplishment as a fibber far surpassed even that of such formidable rivals as Laurens van der Post, Lilian Hellman and Patrick O’Brian. What made fibbing particularly perilous for Burgess, as for most fibbers, was that he rarely remembered his fibs. In consequence they varied widely from telling to telling. The

A good and faithful but critical servant

As one who has always been a bit afraid of Virginia Woolf and daunted by heavy tomes on the Bloomsbury group, I opened this book cautiously. I soon found that I was wrong to be nervous as I became caught up in a fascinating story. Leonard Woolf was Virginia’s husband and his life was far

A woman in a million

Of all the extraordinary secret careers that have gone public since the end of the world war against Hitler, one of the most dashing and farthest out of the ordinary was that of the woman the SOE called Christine Granville. Her father, the Polish Count Jerzy Skarbek, died when she was a child; her mother

The days of Hitler’s jackal

When Benito Mussolini invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1935, Italians were filled with jingoist pride. The dictator triumphantly announced the conquest of the promised sub-Saharan kingdom. ‘He’s like a god,’ marvelled one Fascist. ‘Like a god?’ returned another. ‘He is a god.’ Mussolini was part demagogue, part buffoon; on occasion he wore a tasselled fez

Broadening the mind without moving

The phrase ‘armchair travel’ sounds quaint; suggestive of austerity at home and anarchy abroad; an era of currency restrictions and mustachioed bandits, when it was altogether more advisable to stay at home and read some daredevil’s account of the Damascene soukhs or the Grand Canal than risk venturing into such places yourself. But travel is

Great reporter, lousy prophet

Eavesdrop on any gathering of Middle East correspondents huddled by the poolside of the Hamra Hotel in Baghdad or enjoying a late supper at Cairo’s Greek Club and the name Robert Fisk will inevitably enter the conversation. For three decades the reporter and author has energetically criss-crossed the Arab world and beyond, generating respect and

The making of a poet

I once considered attempting a biography of Siegfried Sassoon. Having now read Max Egremont’s comprehensive and perceptive book, based partly on access to private papers unavailable to previous biographers, I’m relieved I didn’t. Egremont has produced a thorough, sympathetic, balanced, engrossing account. There are two aspects to the 1886-1967 life of Captain Siegfried Sassoon, MC

A heart of gold — and steel

By the morning of Tuesday 9 April 2002 some 200,000 people of all ages had filed past the lying in state of the coffin containing the mortal remains of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. By the time she died, aged 101, Queen Elizabeth was a figure as familiar in the national consciousness as Winston Churchill.

Surprising literary ventures | 22 October 2005

David Cameron (1950) by George Frederick Clarke David Cameron is what one might call a hatchet job. Written by one G. F. Clarke, it’s the tale of a simple Scottish lad sold into slavery in the New World, who escapes and leads a life of adventure in the wild fighting of the various tribes, finally