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Deluded and abandoned

Once, while travelling in an odd part of Siberia, I was told of a place called ‘the English colony’. A remote spot — it was said to be several hours from the nearest town, but trains were infrequent and roads non-existent — the ‘English colony’ was the site of a former Soviet camp: a small

A monkey business

‘To philosophise,’ Montaigne once wrote, ‘is to learn to die.’ He was paraphrasing Cicero and making an ancient point — only by leading examined lives can we reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of our deaths. The legendary sanguinity of philosophers such as Socrates and Epicurus on their deathbeds seems to bear witness to the truth

The stuff of legends

There have been many biographies of Sir Richard Burton, the renowned and enigmatic Victorian explorer, ethnologist, archaeologist, author, translator, and one of the greatest linguists of his era. Curiously, however, there have been no major novels based on Burton’s extraordinary life. Iliya Troyanov, in a remarkable German novel Der Weltensammler, has corrected this omission. The

Hope born of fantasy

Molly Guinness reviews Wendy Perriam’s latest collection of short stories Wendy Perriam’s latest collection of short stories tends to focus on the lonely, the mousy and the underachieving, and she combines serious and comic elements with varying degrees of success. The combination works well in ‘Birth Rage’, where a woman loses her temper with a

The pity of it

This book opens with a bang; things are suggested rather than described, in short paragraphs, mostly dialogue; the impression is of a (very English) Hemingway. A party of six inmates, two orderlies and a newly arrived doctor, Irvine, are being taken on a bus from Dartford Asylum to view a whale beached on the Thames

They are made a spectacle unto the world

In four years London will host its third Olympic Games. It is the first time it will have done so as the winner of a competition between bidding cities as fierce – and some say as suspect – as any that take place in the stadium. Before that London was volunteered as a stage only

The death of the novel

Charles II apologised for being ‘an unconscionable time a-dying’, and, if it could speak, the novel might do the same. Its death has been so often decreed. More than sixty years ago J B Priestley called it ‘a decaying literary form’ which ‘no longer absorbs some of the mightiest energies of our time’. Does this