How does Philip Larkin’s gloom retain such power to disturb? His bleakest verses have the quality of direct address, as if a poetical Eeyore were protesting directly into our ear. ‘Aubade’, his haunting night-time meditation on the terrors of death and dying, focuses on ‘the sure extinction that we travel to/ And shall be lost in always’ and offers no consolation. His ‘Next Please’ makes grim fun out of our habit of hope, pictured as a ship we expect to greet us with its full cargo of rewards.
The Bloomsbury of the title refers to the place, not the group. The group didn’t have a poet. ‘I would rather be a child and walk in a crocodile down a suburban path than write poetry, I have heard prose writers say,’ wrote Virginia Woolf, albeit tongue-in-cheek (maybe).
Nonetheless, unsurprisingly, these non-poets steal the first chapter of this amuse-bouche of a publication. They are allowed to so that the author, or rather his sources, may describe the rather dull area of London that abuts the eastern end of the Euston Road to the north, and to the south High Holborn.
When Napoleon Bonaparte captured Venice in 1797, he extinguished what had been the most successful regime in the history of the western world. The Venetian Republic had lasted over 1,000 years — longer than ancient Rome — without a revolution, a coup d’état or a successful foreign invasion. Yet after 1797 it was never to be independent again: it was given to Austria, taken back by France, allotted once more to Austria and finally, in 1866, handed over to the young Kingdom of Italy.
Nina Stibbe has a way with children. Her first book, a memoir, was a deceptively wide-eyed view of a literary Hampstead family observed in all its turbulence by the teenage Stibbe, working as the nanny. Written as letters home to her sister, Love, Nina won over fellow writers and critics; reviews spoke of a quirky, life-affirming comic genius.
Now she’s written her first novel, and again she has the domestic arena in her sights.
The travel writer Colin Thubron once told me that to understand a country and its people he first asks, ‘What do they believe?’ This is also a good place to begin when writing about the past, not least when your subject is Thomas Cromwell, a key figure in the English Reformation. But Tracy Borman’s Cromwell doesn’t have beliefs so much as qualities: ones that will appeal to fans of the fictional Cromwell of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels.
Nothing brings him to the door
quite as surely
as Silexine Watertight,
the complete waterproofer.
One Imperial Quart.
Opened this morning
to seal a stump,
it scents my hands
No warning on the tin,
no list of toxins,
just a metal lid
scummed with rust.
Eleven and thruppence.
My father walks into his garage
and puts it away
on the back of the bench,
next to the spare.
7 August 1964
4 Old Mitre Court, EC4
A thousand thanks for your sweet letter & for Heaven’s sake don’t think of bringing me back anything from Brazil, except perhaps a Diamond as big as the Ritz if you happen to find one in your back garden.
When from my eyrie beneath the Christ Corcovado I looked closely at this (unusually) typed letter from Ian Fleming I saw that it was ‘dictated in his absence’ and that it must have been sent by the devoted ‘Griffie’, model for Miss Moneypenny.
For the last 50 years Americans have been decrying the increase of presidential power whenever the party they oppose is in office. Republicans hated to see Kennedy and Clinton throwing their weight around, while Democrats deplored the ‘imperial presidency’ of Nixon and Reagan. F.H. Buckley, a Canadian law professor now working in Virginia, explains why presidents have become so powerful. He adds that it’s not just an American problem.
During the Spanish civil war the single greatest atrocity perpetrated by the Republicans was known as ‘Paracuellos’. This was the village where an estimated 2,500 prisoners loyal to Franco were executed by leftish militiamen between November and December 1936.
Even though the facts of this massacre are now widely known, one question still remains: who ordered the killings? In his latest book The Last Stalinist,Paul Preston claims that it was Santiago Carrillo who played a crucial role in signing the death warrants.