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The boy done good

The saga of Naim Attallah and his writing career continues. For readers who have just joined, Attallah’s short morality tale about his simple and happy childhood with his good and loving grandmother and great-aunt, The Old Ladies of Nazareth, appeared last year. It came swiftly on the heels of Jennie Erdal’s entertainting memoir, Ghosting. In

Intrepid sisters of the Service

Diplomatic memoirs were once a staple of serious publishers; nowadays they are privately printed, if published at all. But the appetite for memoirs of the ‘trailing spouse’, the plucky ‘diplomatic baggage’, seems insatiable. A phalanx of distinguished critics rolled out on the dustjacket has greeted Brigid Keenan’s contribution, the latest to this popular genre, as

The shaky scales of justice

Trials make irresistible reading. The slow discovery of truth, the revelation of other people’s usually disgraceful lives, the battle of cross-examination and the warm and comfortable feeling induced by reading about other people in deep trouble make them always popular. More important, the fairness of our trial system is a mark of our civilisation. By

Learning how to swim

The Glass Castle is a memoir of an extraordinary childhood. Jeannette Walls and her three siblings survived an upbringing truly stranger than fiction — if it were invented, it would not be credible. Rex Walls, Jeanette’s father, is a brilliant and charismatic man; a mathematician, a physicist, and an inventor. He is also a brutal,

Practising to deceive

There are two views about the morality of political lying. The first is the classical British view that politicians should always tell the truth, as people should in private life. This view is usually qualified, as William Waldegrave qualified it before the Treasury and Civil Services Committee of the House of Commons: ‘In exceptional circumstances

A master of ambiguities

School reports can be remarkably prescient. William Empson’s headmaster noted, ‘He has a good deal of originality and enterprise: I hope he is learning also to discipline his vagaries.’ It’s a judgment which could serve as an epigraph for this massive first volume of John Haffenden’s long-awaited, long-meditated biography, in which the great literary critic

A long and winding road

Having read The Prester Quest almost at a single sitting, I think I can say without fear of contradiction or a libel suit that Nicholas Jubber is full of it. But his is a most passionate, exuberant and charming kind of ‘it’, and his account of travels in Italy, the Levant, Sudan and Ethiopia in