Lead book review

The biography that makes Philip Larkin human again

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

More from Books

Sorbet with Rimbaud

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

A Hello! magazine history of Venice

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

A novel that will make you want to call social services

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,

Thomas Cromwell: more Tony Soprano than Richard Dawkins

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

80 sq yds per gallon

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 beyond washing. No warning on the tin, no list of toxins, just a metal lid scummed with rust. Eleven and thruppence. My father walks into his

Stalin’s Spanish bezzie

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