Lead book review

Music for my own pleasure

At the end of his study of Debussy, Stephen Walsh makes the startling, but probably accurate, claim that musical revolutionaries tend to be popular. We generally think of radicals as being primarily like Schoenberg, Charles Ives and Pierre Boulez, whose works, after decades, still mainly appeal to a small group of sophisticates. But if one

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The Little Matchstick that ignited civil war

Spanish restaurants in Germany are relatively rare, but not nearly as rare as biographies of General Franco. So when the Spanish-born waiter in Bonn’s Casa Pepe approached my table, it struck me as an opportune moment to solicit his opinion about the former dictator. ‘No sé mucho,’ he shrugged. ‘I don’t know a whole lot.’

Ray of light

Often a blurb exaggerates, but rarely does it fundamentally misrepresent (unless it contains the words ‘In the tradition of…’). The Adulterants, however, talks of ‘the modern everyman… stubbornly ensconced in an adolescence that has extended well beyond his biological prime’. We thus expect a man-child, resiling from responsibility and dependent on internet porn and gaming

Close to the bone

Does J.G. Ballard’s ‘disquieting equation’, ‘sex x technology = the future’, still hold? Not in Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel, which imagines a society better described by the formula ‘the future = technology – sex’. There is no procreation in it, and any manifestation of sexuality is a crime. Its inhabitants have left Earth for a space

A comedy of violence

The well-written spy novel is not a hotly contested field. Le Carré, Fleming, Deighton, a few Greenes, and that’s largely it. However, we now have a new contender: Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series. It was a brief but intriguing review in the TLS that first alerted me to the books, with their sidelined spooks, contemptuously

Drugs, guns and blood

The Spanish journalist Alberto Arce worked for Associated Press in Honduras in 2012 and 2013. After a year, he says: ‘My wife and daughter left me. It was the right choice.’ Arce stayed on in the capital, Tegucigalpa, ‘fighting against addictions, sadness and depression’. He believes he ‘won’ that fight, ‘but only because each morning

The only word that hurts

It is hard to be honest about anorexia. The illness breeds deceit and distortion: ‘It thrives on looking-glass logic. It up-ends your thoughts, turns bone into flesh, makes life unlivable, death seem glorious.’ In her first book, the literary critic and art historian Laura Freeman is determined to tell the truth about her recovery from