More from Books

The prank that grew to giant proportions

The story has been told dozens of times already, but never gets dull, and until the 1996 McDonald’s libel case there had not been a longer saga played out in any English court. From 1867 the Tichborne claimant dominated conversation for years, and people openly despaired they might die before a verdict was reached. Photographs

Predictable plots, familiar faces

A Place of Hidingby Elizabeth GeorgeHodder & Stoughton, £18.99, pp. 576, ISBN 034076709X Blacklistby Sara ParetskyHamish Hamilton, £12.99, pp. 432, ISBN 0241141885 I have in front of me three novels, all of which are over 400 pages long. Their average length, in fact, is 482 pages and their average weight is 783g. A Place of

How good was the Boyo?

When Dylan Thomas first lived at the Boathouse, Laugharne (tel. Laugharne 68) there was no electricity, no running water and the rats took liberties. Today it is a spick and span little gimcrack museum. I went there recently hoping perhaps for a faint psychic whiff of Wales’ most famous son. But the place has been

Howard’s end reconsidered

Minette Walters is an unusually uneven writer. Although we know she is just one person it is as though there are two writers taking it in turns to produce the novels. Her last one, Fox Evil, was a histrionic, scrappy affair, while Disordered Minds is far more intriguing, and has characters that seriously engage your

All you need is love

‘Cora sits at the bay window, writing, in a fat manuscript book with a lock, about a man she once married … and wishing in the nicest possible way that he was dead.’ At the beginning of this novel, Cora, former madame of the Hotel de Dream, Jacksonville, Florida, finds herself alone and lonely in

Beta plus and beta minus

Say ‘Rossetti’ to most people, and you will get back ‘Dante Gabriel’, or ‘Christina’, or perhaps a description of paintings of exotically beflowered, heavy-jawed women. It is impossible to imagine that anyone will respond with, ‘Of course, William Michael’, much less ‘Lucy Madox’. Angela Thirlwell, in her passionately argued double biography, wants to bring Dante

Question mark over Cuba

In the United States several diplomats have written profound books about countries where they have been posted. For example, the works on the Soviet Union by George Kennan and Chip Bohlen were among the most important studies of that once menacing empire. I remember little recently by British ambassadors apart from Percy Cradock’s admirable Experiences

When believing is not all there is to seeing

In his 100-page introduction to the Collins Guide to the Parish Churches of England and Wales (1958), John Betjeman does not deem it necessary to explain any of the symbolism in architecture or decoration. It is interesting to speculate whether this was because he could have assumed that, despite only ‘scattered worshippers in the nave’,

A bas la différence!

Kathy Lette’s latest novel begins with a zany one-liner: ‘How can we win the sex war when we keep fraternising with the enemy?’ The next sentence is a zany one-liner: ‘God, apparently as a prank, devised two sexes and called them opposite.’ The third is also a zany one-liner, and the fourth and the fifth.

Talking to some purpose

Nineteenth-century British politics used to be the historian’s bread and butter, but it has gone sadly out of fashion. Instead of the Great Reform Act, what every schoolgirl knows today is Hitler and Stalin, studied over and over again. The story of reform is too narrowly political for today’s tastes. The historians spoiled it too.

Blood-brother and king-maker

At a garden party in Kampala, Uganda, in 1994 I overheard Tom Stacey, a tall elegant figure, saying with some urgency, ‘The Bakonjo when I first met them 40 years ago in the west of your beautiful country …’ and later noted, ‘Tom is fascinating for quite a long time about Rwenzori, their king Charles

Their knavish tricks frustrated

The Enterprise of England, the name given by His Most Catholic Majesty, Philip II of Spain, to the attempted overthrow of Queen Elizabeth I and the conquest of England, was part of a great plan. In 1588, when the Spanish Armada set sail for the English Channel, Philip already controlled the greater part of the

Hitler’s unbalanced Orangeman

Lord Haw-Haw: The English Voice of Nazi Germanyby Peter MartlandThe National Archives, £19.99, pp. 308, ISBN 1903365171 Although I yield to no one in my admiration of Mary Kenny as a journalist, an uncomfortable doubt arose in my mind as I read the lengthy acknowledgments with which she prefaces her biography of Lord Haw-Haw. I


Hugh Massingberd Surrounded by spin, mealy-mouthed political correctness and Orwellian ‘newspeak’, I longed for the absolute frankness demanded by the Memoir Club of Old Bloomsubry — and found it in A. N. Wilson’s joyfully funny Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her (Hutchinson, £18.99); the tenth volume of James Lees-Milne’s addictive diaries, Beneath a Waning Moon