More from Books

Seven of the best

Call the Dying is the seventh novel in Andrew Taylor’s Lydmouth series. He started it in 1994 and by setting it in the 1950s he recreates the English detective novel in what is perhaps its heyday but with subtle additions. In the first couple of novels the reader is aware of 1950s dress, behaviour and

A romantic socialist

There is no introduction to this collection of essays, reviews and ‘think-pieces’ by Doris Lessing, but they are presumably chosen by herself from the quantity of her literary criticism (the hardest work, or so they say) over a long political and literary lifetime. The pieces must have been difficult to assemble, for the acknowledgments in

The hum of special contentment

How welcome it is to find a book published by a small private concern in this age of conglomerates; the more pleasing when one knows that the Perpetua Press is the creation of the poet Anne Ridler’s husband Vivian, former Printer of the Oxford University Press, and that it is still run from their Oxford

Britannia’s finest years

In 1903, the final volume of Laird Clowes’s seven-part History of the Royal Navy thudded on to Britain’s bookshelves: 4,385 pages of broadside-by-broadside chronology from 55 BC to 1900 AD that were in print for almost a century. Nobody has attempted to follow it on that scale, until Professor Rodger that is. His 1997 volume,

Fear in a handful of dust

Richard Wollheim died last year, aged 80, after a distinguished academic career as a philosopher fascinated by aesthetics and psychoanalysis. He had recently completed this memoir of his childhood. Posthumous publication reveals it to be a masterpiece — an unclassifiable work of startling originality in which the acutely sensual and confusedly cerebral experience of infancy,

Well worth the weight

There is no comfortable way to read or appreciate this vast book without the benefit of a lectern. How many households now possess such a thing? I certainly don’t, and the frustration that this immediately caused — it’s hard enough to pick the book up in one hand, let alone hold it balanced to peruse

Mixed mediaeval motives

The crusades have had a bad press lately, for reasons which are not far to seek. They were characterised by the three things that the modern age has found most abhorrent about its own recent past: religious enthusiasm, racism and colonial settlement. More generally, they were inspired by a belief that there is a divine

All human life is here except politics

Unfortunately for this volume commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Daily Telegraph, most people today are keener to read about the paper’s somewhat scandalous recent experiences and mysteriously uncertain future — about which it has nothing to say — than about its long and worthy past. So the timing of this chatty and jolly tome

The outsider who came in from the cold

Professor McIntire disowns any claim to have written a conventional biography of the Cam- bridge historian Herbert Butter- field. His book is a detailed, scholarly study of the intellectual odyssey of a complex character, who wrestled all his life with the problems of writing history. As such it is not an easy read.a His biographer

Posh and common

This is one of those lovely Persephone reprints with a pearly grey cover and endpapers like the maids’ bedroom curtains in a Victorian country house. The title, too, suggests that one is in for a soothing read. Marghanita Laski provides a complete dramatis personae, to add to the reader’s comfort. If one were to confuse

An uninspired foreign correspondent

What are the essential elements that make a good book of letters? The first is mild spite. Had John Gielgud spared us his catty asides (such as his amusement at Larry’s latest attempt at Iago) his letters would have been horribly dreary. The second is a lively correspondent. Fanny Kemble’s vivid letters describing the horrors

A bad Samaritan

An avalanche in a French ski resort is thought by some to have been caused by American warplanes flying low in order to refuel on their way to bomb some hapless Balkan country. This is the first clue to one of the main themes in Diane Johnson’s L’Affaire: the dislike, mistrust and misunderstanding of all

An accretion of accumulators

The word ‘camp’ is often used as shorthand for ‘homosexual’. Its wider cultural sense has been best defined by Susan Sontag: the sublime treated as ridiculous or the ridiculous treated as sublime. In Sontag’s first category might be Marcel Duchamp’s daubing a moustache on the Mona Lisa. And in the second? Well, suppose somebody wrote