Lead book review

The house on the hill

‘True crime’ is a genre that claims superiority over imagination, speculation and fantasy. It makes a virtue of boredom and detailed accounts of procedure and paperwork, and characteristically narrates two things: the process of investigation and discovery, and the events that set them off. But what happens if those procedures can’t be narrated? What becomes

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Love becomes a duty

The story, as it emerges, feels both familiar and inevitable. A bored 19-year-old student, on his university holidays in mid-century Metroland, joins the local tennis club, where he dismisses all the girls his age as wholesome ‘Carolines’ but falls for Mrs Susan Macleod, a spirited, sarcastic woman in her forties. Paul shocks the village by

The true hero of Singapore

Accounts of the founding of the British Empire once echoed the pages of Boy’s Own, featuring visionaries, armed with a flag, a faith and a funny hat, arriving in exotic lands untouched by civilisation. Overcoming great odds, they would kick-start the regions’ histories, show the locals the proper way to live and extend the imperial

The ‘Pope’ must answer to God

Enrico Fermi may not be a name as familiar as Einstein, Feynman or Hawking, but he was one of the greatest figures of 20th-century physics, with a reputation for infallibility. In Rome, pioneering atomic science under Mussolini, he was nicknamed ‘the Pope’. Escaping to America where he created the world’s first nuclear reactor, he was

Hopes and dreams

Twenty-odd pages into Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come, I pounded the table and bellowed an Australian-accented ‘fuck yeah!’ This startled my wife, who startled the cat, which startled my gin and tonic into my lap. But it was worth it, and remains my unvarnished critical opinion. To varnish it a bit: The Life

Running for her life

Françoise Frenkel was a Polish Jew, who adored books and spent much of her early life studying and working in Paris. Her passion for French literature led her to open the first French bookshop in Berlin in 1921, a resounding success in spite of the predominantly Francophobe sentiment in Germany following the first world war.

Fairy tales for feisty girls

This being the centenary of women’s suffrage, there’s an unmissable feminist aspect to children’s books right now. Stories about strong girls, fictional and historical, are everywhere. (The worst example of the genre, I may say, was Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.) Well, if it’s feisty girl stories you’re after, you could do much worse than

Fear of little men

When this survey of British fairydom arrived I turned to the chapter on Dorset to read about the little people of my county. After a survey of place names referring to the ‘puca’, which may or not connect with Shakespeare’s Puck, I received the disheartening news that Dorset wasn’t very good for fairies, and that

A long way home

Until recently, it seemed we were living in an age of Iliads. Since 2007, the ancient Homeric epic has been translated into English at least seven times (including by Caroline Alexander, the first woman to do so). Yet the Iliad’s sequel, the Odyssey — about war’s aftermath, the home front and the difficult return to

The Mutiny and the bounty

Sullying the glorious sunshine, sand and sea, Miami in the 1940s, when I first ventured there, was already overcrowded, vulgar and exorbitant. It got a lot worse. By the early 1980s, the period to which this sensational criminal history is devoted, it had become the capital of Cubans in exile and America’s most prosperous cocaine

Figures in a landscape | 25 January 2018

Martin Caiger-Smith’s huge monograph on Antony Gormley slides out of its slipcase appropriately enough like a block of cast iron. In its beautiful rust-coloured linen covers it looks a bit like a block of cast iron, too. Open it to the endpapers, ‘Bodies in Space’, and black splatters across a white ground. Turn a couple