Lead book review

Sam Leith

Theatre of politics

We don’t usually pay all that much attention, as James Shapiro points out, to the Jacobean Shakespeare. We’re in the habit of thinking of him as an Elizabethan playwright: look in most cradle-to-grave biographies for ‘what Shakespeare was doing after James came to the throne in 1603 and there usually aren’t many pages left to

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Tree devotion

I have never written much about the one-acre shaw of native trees I planted in 1994, even though it is the delight of my heart, especially when the wild cherries flame in autumn. That’s because I am well aware that en masse tree-planting is a niche activity, open only to the fortunate few. But no

How cool is Britannia?

Is it true that, having lost an empire, we reinvented ourselves as an island of entertainers? Do we channel the same rigour and vigour into film and music and literature as once went into conquering continents? Is there a residual colonialist bias in our arts, seen, for instance, in our cinematic penchant for creating patriotic

The voice of Crow

A dead parent, the interrogation of a literary inheritance, and over everything, a bird: Max Porter is apparently unafraid to step into massive shoes. Not just the colossal ones belonging to Ted Hughes, whose ‘Crow’ poems are the jumping-off point for this free-verse novella about a bereaved Hughes scholar visited by Hughes’s corvine manifestation, but

Complicated, but unfussy

Amory Clay, photographer and photo-journalist, was born in 1908, only two years after Logan Mountstuart, writer, poseur and ‘scribivelard’. Amory died in 1983; Logan in 1991. Though shaped by the same era, their accounts of their lives are tonally worlds apart. Logan is flamboyant, self-regarding, lyrical, self-pitying; Amory plainer, braver, yet less self-revealing. Both, of

Love, loneliness and all that jazz

Woody Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg), the prolific, Oscar-winning auteur, New Orleans-style jazz clarinettist, doyen of New York delicatessen society, moralistic nihilist and icon of nebbishes everywhere, will be 80 on 1 December. He says he hopes to sleep through the occasion, but he is already completing next year’s film, his 47th, and preparing a


I have people to see is what I said. I did not say they are all in my head. I am committed; did not say to whom, did not say to my own self in my room. I have places to be where I must go. You want to make arrangements? Sorry, no.

Cry havoc

If you love dogs and or live with one — I declare an interest on both counts — there is enough here about what the authors too often call ‘doggies’ to keep you interested. But what I liked about this book, despite its trickle of cute language, is that the title exactly tells the story.

Lines of beauty | 24 September 2015

David Jones (1895–1974) was a remarkable figure: artist and poet, he was a great original in both disciplines. His was an art of ‘gathering things in’ that engaged imaginatively with history and myth, with his Welsh heritage and the Christian religion. But art also comes out of conflict, and the tension between the two sides

Sibling rivalries

In The Past (set chiefly in the present) four middle-aged siblings spend an eventful summer holiday in the Devon country house vacated by their dead grandparents. When Alice, a failed actress, turns up with an unannounced male guest who’s still at university, her footloose ways vex the others — particularly the youngest, Fran, a harassed

Pillar of the Victorian age

Briefing his illustrator for the jacket of A Handful of Dust (1934), Evelyn Waugh asked for a country house in ‘the worst possible 1860’. The result was a neoGothic extravaganza with a pinnacled entrance tower and spiky dormer windows — just the sort of thing that might have come from the drawing board of George

Dick at his trickiest

In the more than 40 years since Richard Nixon resigned as president — disgraced as much by his inveterate lying as by his actual crimes related to Watergate — history has been relatively kind to him. Compared with Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Nixon in retrospect can seem statesmanlike, thoughtful and liberal-minded.