23/04/2022
23 Apr 2022

The survivor

23 Apr 2022

The survivor

Books

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David Sexton
Michel Houellebecq may be honoured by the French establishment, but he’s no fan of Europe

For many years, Michel Houellebecq was patronised by the French literary establishment as an upstart, what with his background in agronomy rather than literature, his miserable demeanour, his predilection for science fiction and his gift for unyieldingly saying the unsayable, especially about relations between the sexes. That’s all changed now. He won the Prix Goncourt in 2010 for The Map and the Territory and in 2019 was elevated to the Légion d’Honneur.

Michel Houellebecq may be honoured by the French establishment, but he’s no fan of Europe
Houman Barekat
A universal language will always be an unattainable dream

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in his stage persona as the dim-witted interviewer Ali G, once asked Noam Chomsky if a person could simply invent a new language from scratch. The renowned linguist gave him short shrift: ‘You can do it if you like and nobody would pay the slightest attention to you because it would just be a waste of time.’ Throughout history, however, a motley array of eccentrics has done just this, and received a fair bit of attention.

A universal language will always be an unattainable dream
Madeleine Feeny
A tale of forbidden love: Trespasses, by Louise Kennedy, reviewed

Kenneth Branagh’s Oscar-winning recent film Belfast chronicles the travails of a Protestant family amid sectarian conflict in 1969. Louise Kennedy’s much hyped first novel, set outside Belfast in 1975, explores the same tensions from a different perspective. Like her protagonist Cushla, Kennedy’s Catholic family owned a pub in a Protestant-majority town, and Trespasses captures how it feels to be outnumbered and under scrutiny.

A tale of forbidden love: Trespasses, by Louise Kennedy, reviewed
Katja Hoyer
German billionaires are still benefiting from the Nazis

It was a clear cold morning in January 1936 when Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler arrived at the luxurious Regina Palast Hotel in central Munich. He had come to pick up a group of businessmen for a day trip. Their destination: Dachau concentration camp. Nazi Germany’s first official camp had been set up by Himmler in March 1933 to detain the new regime’s political enemies. It became the prototype on which other camps were modelled.

German billionaires are still benefiting from the Nazis
Stuart Jeffries
We must all become Doctor Dolittles and listen to the wisdom of animals

One day the writer and artist James Bridle rented a hatchback, taped a smartphone to the steering wheel and installed some webcams in order to make his own self-driving car. Armed with software cut-and-pasted from the internet, his aim was to collaborate with the AI he’d thus devised and travel to Mount Parnassus, sacred to Dionysus and home of the Muses, ‘to be elevated to the peak of knowledge, craft and skill’. Just try telling that to the traffic cops.

We must all become Doctor Dolittles and listen to the wisdom of animals
Bart Van Es
Jonathan Bate weaves a memoir around madness in English literature

There is a trend for books in which academics write personally about their engagement with literature. Examples include Lara Feigel’s Free Woman, in which the author blends a memoir of her marriage break-up with a close reading of Doris Lessing’s fiction, and Sally Bayley’s Girl With Dove, which fuses an account of a traumatic childhood with sketches that focus on Bayley’s early love of books. Addressed to a wider readership, these works combine autobiography with literary criticism.

Jonathan Bate weaves a memoir around madness in English literature
Keith Miller
The case of the ‘Hay Poisoner’ inspired many a cosy murder mystery

The case of the retired major Herbert Rowse Armstrong, a Hay-on-Wye solicitor hanged in 1922 for killing his wife Katharine with arsenic, is one of nine examined in George Orwell’s 1946 Tribune essay ‘The Decline of the English Murder’ as having enthralled the public. ‘A little man of the professional class’, living an ‘intensely respectable life’, nevertheless, for reasons that appear somehow underpowered (in Armstrong’s case a change to his wife’s will and a romantic friendship, probably never consummated, with a woman he met in Bournemouth during the war), finds himself resorting to the bathroom cabinet or garden shed (‘the means chosen should, of course, be poison’) with heinous intent, and is only brought to justice after slipping up over some ‘tiny, unforeseeable detail’.

The case of the ‘Hay Poisoner’ inspired many a cosy murder mystery
Diana Hendry
Memory test: The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan, reviewed

On page 231 of The Candy House, a sequel – no, a ‘sibling’ says Jennifer Egan – to the Pulitzer prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, we meet a character called Noreen. Wasn’t she in Goon Squad? Quick check and yes, there she is playing a bit-part peeping through a fence. Now she’s older, madder and still obsessed with the fence. It’s hard to decide if it’s an advantage to have read the previous novel, or if it just makes reading The Candy House like the sort of memory test that could mess with your head.

Memory test: The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan, reviewed
Tibor Fischer
Accusations of racism have lost all meaning

The War on the West is Douglas Murray’s latest blast against loony left wokery, chiefly in the areas of race and ‘social justice’. ‘This is not like earlier wars,’ he writes. ‘It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the western tradition and against everything good that the western tradition has produced.’ The meticulous, measured way that Murray presents his arguments and evidence suggests a man who knows he’s in for a lot of flak.

Accusations of racism have lost all meaning
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