Lead book review

A man for all ages

The deployment of Shakespeare to describe Brexit is by now a cliché. It might take the form of a quotation, be borrowed in a headline, or involve the name of one of the better-known characters; it might turn up in that most hollow of adjectives, Shakespearean. It has two possible modes. There is triumphalism drawn

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Living with Leviathan

Our relations with cetaceans have always been charged with danger and delight, represented by the extremes of the Book of Revelation’s ‘beast out of the sea’, and the frescoed dolphin-riders of Pompeii. Rare, huge, and unknowable, whales have traditionally been omens, or metaphors for improbability — ‘very like a whale’, Hamlet chaffs the cloud-watching Polonius.

An outsider inside

It’s not immediately obvious who the survivors in Tash Aw’s formidable new novel are, or who the narrator even is, or who has been killed. We know there has been a murder, however, or a culpable homicide not amounting to murder, as the narrator quotes the person being addressed as describing it. Details reveal themselves

Genius and geniality

I cast my Readers under two general Divisions, the Mercurial and the Saturnine. The first are the gay part of my Disciples, who require Speculations of Wit and Humour; the others are those of a more solemn and sober Turn, who find no Pleasure but in Papers of Morality and sound Sense…Were I always Grave,

Method in the madness

Have you heard of the Oulipo? The long-running Parisian workshop for experimental writing? Even if you haven’t, you might have heard of some of its members: Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp. The group’s stock-in-trade (so-called ‘constrained writing’) is best illustrated by their most notorious production: Perec’s 1969 novel La Disparition which manages to avoid

The bad cat of journalism

God, I wish I was Janet Malcolm. Fifty or more years as a staff writer on the New Yorker, reviews in the New York Review of Books, the occasional incendiary non-fiction bestseller (In the Freud Archives, The Journalist and the Murderer, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes), even the famous lawsuit. (She was

A moral hypochondriac

Surely God, if He existed, would find a major source of entertainment down the ages in the activities of theologians, reaching their climax perhaps in the 19th century, when they involved Him with German idealism, and then the descent from that to the present day, when the sheer naivete of anyone who thinks that God

The ultimate comfort food

‘You are what you eat.’ The old phrase always reminds me of Denzil, John Sparkes’s character in the comedy sketch show Absolutely, who quotes it to his girlfriend and then adds: ‘And you have obviously eaten something very stupid.’ Pete Brown, on the other hand, has taken it as the theme of his book about

The House of Eliot

Like many a 20th-century publishing house, the fine old firm of Faber & Faber came about almost by accident. The inaugurating Faber — Geoffrey — was an All Souls don in search of a livelihood, who began his career in the post-Great War book trade by investing in the Scientific Press, publishers of the Nursing

Life at the Globe | 25 April 2019

    IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON As I noted last week, the dramatic climax of Henry IV, Part Two — that stew of rot and renewal — is reached when Prince Hal casts off the roguish companion of his younger years, ‘the tutor and the feeder of

The ugly truth

Timothy Hyde’s Ugliness and Judgment: On Architecture in the Public Eye is not about why we find things ugly. It’s not even about what ugliness is, or why our understanding of what it is see-saws so violently. We don’t learn why people once loathed John Nash’s All Souls at Langham Place, one MP calling it