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The peculiarities of a realist

Fine just the way it is: Wyoming stories by Annie Proulx The realism of Annie Proulx’s fiction is an extraordinary phenomenon. Realism in a novel has never been the same thing as plausibility, and her novels and short stories are full of bizarre and unforeseen events. The violent extremity of a great deal of her

Will he, won’t He?

Ararat by Frank Westerman, translated by Sam Garrett Who was Noah? The Bible tells us little. He was the flood hero of course, but what else? A drunken viniculturist who lived to the age of 950; who was 600 at the time of the flood and 500 when he fathered Shem, Ham and Japheth. His

On a wing and a prayer | 27 August 2008

The Balloon Factory by Alexander Frater This is a curiously enjoyable book. Its structure is very odd for it is basically two books bolted together across 100 years: the first is the high drama of the dawn of powered flight in Britain as young men, and some not so young, fall out of the skies;

Worldly and otherworldly

In ‘The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’, John Betjeman has Wilde whimper to Robert Ross: ‘So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:/ And Buchan has got in it now:/ Approval of what is approved of/ Is as false as a well-kept vow.’ It is a marvellous scene, but not quite accurate.

A new angle on autism

When Roy Richard Grinker’s daughter Isabel was diagnosed with autism in 1994, the condition was considered rare. It was thought to affect three in every 10,000 children. Now, the rate is closer to one in 100. Many see this rise as evidence of a catastrophic epidemic. Grinker, controversially, sees it as a cause for optimism.

Like father like son

Phillip II of Macedonia by Ian Worthington Alexander the Great, it goes without saying, was a man not much given to modesty. In 334 BC, as he was preparing to embark on his invasion of Asia, his mother, the sinister witch-queen Olympias, whispered in his ear ‘the secret of his birth’, revealing that he was

Who is selling what to whom?

Powers of Persuasion: The Story of British Advertising by Winston Fletcher The impression you get from reading this book, which covers post-war advertising until the present, is of a chaotic, self-serving, occasionally brilliant, but ultimately shallow business. It is full of accounts of crassness, of overstated promise, of meaningless awards, fly-by-night companies, promotion of the

Sweden’s magic, its women – and its fish

Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future that Disappeared by Andrew Brown Sweden holds a powerful allure for British men, which I used to see for myself every Friday in a departure lounge of Heathrow airport. I was part of a group of weekend commuters who met for a beer, en route to see our

Night thoughts in an unhappy home

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster August Brill is a widower whose leg has been smashed by a car. He lies awake at night in the house he shares with his daughter, Miriam, and his granddaughter, Katya, in Vermont. Katya’s boyfriend, Titus, has been murdered, and Miriam ‘has slept alone for the past five

On home ground

Neil Clark on Cyril Hare’s Tragedy at Law, first published in 1942. ‘The best detective story that has appeared for some time and at the end of the year will tundoubtedly stand as one of the class leaders in the English school’ was how The Spectator described Cyril Hare’s Tragedy at Law, when it first