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Bookends | 28 May 2011

In the summer of 2003, in a bar in Malta, George Best was approached by a man holding a paper napkin and a pen. ‘It’s been my childhood dream,’ said the man, ‘to have George Best ask me for my autograph.’ Best obliged. As so often, his fame was so great that it turned normality

Goodbye to Berlin

Peter Parker is beguiled by a novel approach to the lives of Europe’s intellectual elite in flight from Nazi Germany In his time, Heinrich Mann was considered one of Germany’s leading writers and intellectuals. Unlike his rivalrous younger brother Thomas, who always put his literary career before any other consideration, Heinrich was an early and

All shook up

Olivia Glazebrook’s first novel begins with a disaster. Olivia Glazebrook’s first novel begins with a disaster. Kit, painter of meretricious society portraits, has whisked Alice, his younger, pregnant girlfriend, off to Jordan for an indulgent weekend. Their car skids off a mountain road leaving Alice trapped inside. Kit behaves like an unheroic imperialist. ‘You bloody

The mind’s I

The quasi-religious zeal with which certain popularising neuroscientists claim that man is no different, essentially, from the animals, and that consciousness is but an epiphenomenon, strikes me as distinctly odd. The popularisers seem to take a sado-masochistic delight in it, in the way that some people get a thrill from envisaging the end of the

What did you do in the war, Mummy?

By tradition, ‘What did you do in the war?’ is a question children address to Daddy, not to Mummy. By tradition, ‘What did you do in the war?’ is a question children address to Daddy, not to Mummy. In this ambitious, humane and absorbing book Virginia Nicholson moves Mummy firmly to the centre of the

Victorian rough and tumble

Derby Day is meticulously plotted and written with bouncy confidence. It tells the story of a sordid, conniving rascal called Happerton who plots a betting swindle for a Derby of the 1860s. He marries the colourless but near-sociopathic daughter of a rich attorney, and cheats on her without noticing the intensity of her passion for

Sixties mystic

The misery memoir is the fad of the moment. We seem to have a limitless desire to delve into other people’s hardships. Robert Irwin has gladly shown the way to a more enlightening type of memoir, that of the spiritual quest. But surely, I hear you say, the spiritual quest is nothing new? Think of

Backs to the wall

Susan Gibbs begins her book by describing the death from cancer of her first husband after 13 years of happy marriage. She ends with her farewell to Africa and her journey to Britain in 1983 with her second husband, Tim, and four children. Between these events she led a tense life farming in Zimbabwe, watching

Very drôle

It’s nice to know that the trees lining the roads in Paris have microchips embedded in their trunks, that the city council is controlling the pigeon population by shaking the eggs to make them infertile and that the Café Voisin served elephant consommé during the 1870 siege. It’s nice to know that the trees lining

Vastly entertaining

It may not be quite true that the next best thing to eating good food is reading about it, but undeniably food writing has its considerable pleasures. You’ve got it all there: sex and sensuality (the link between the appetites hardly needs spelling out), social history, the loving acquaintance with ingredients . . . and