Lead book review

In the steppes of a warlord

I suspect travel writing was once a fairly simple business: the author travelled somewhere, the reader did not; the author explained what the place was like and the reader was duly informed and even entertained. Dr Uno von Troil, for example, went to Iceland in 1772 and served up lurid descriptions of the devil holes

More from Books

A book that’s inspired by a movie (for a change)

Books become films every day of the week; more rarely does someone feel inspired to write a book after seeing a film. Peter Conradi’s Hot Dogs And Cocktails tells the story of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to North America in the summer of 1939 and specifically the couple of days they spent

The Last Knight, by Robert O’Byrne – review

I have to declare an interest: for many years the Knight and I were the closest of friends until a sequence of his unpredictable and volcanic rages drove us apart. Robert O’Byrne explains how the Knight suffered for most of his life from the illness and strong medication of manic depression. It is a tribute

Have a crime-filled Christmas

Pity the poor novelist whom commercial pressures trap within a series, doomed with each volume to diminish the stock of options for the next one. It’s even harder when the series is not yours to begin with. Jill Paton Walsh has now written her fourth instalment of the Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective

When Francis Davison made me judge — and burn — his art

In 1983, Damien Hirst saw an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery of the collages of Francis Davison which ‘blew him away’. He spent the next two years trying to emulate them, in vain. As he discovered, although Davison’s works might look casually thrown together, they are in fact immaculately crafted orchestrations of colour, shape and

Angel, by Elizabeth Taylor – review

‘She wrote fiction?’ Even today, with the admirable ladies at Virago nearly finished reissuing her dozen novels, Elizabeth Taylor remains mostly unknown except to fellow novelists, literary journalists, worthier publishing types, and a handful of dedicated readers. Even Nicola Beauman felt obliged to call her wonderful 2009 biography The Other Elizabeth Taylor so as to

The best children’s books for Christmas

Animal stories for children are always tricky; as J.R.R. Tolkien observed in his essay on fairy stories, you can end up, as in The Wind in the Willows, with an animal mask on human form. Watership Down has been described as a nice story about a group of English public schoolboys with occasional rabbit features.

Ann Patchett’s new book will win you over, in spite of yourself

Ann Patchett’s novels revel in the tightly constructed ecosystems imagined for their characters: an opera singer besieged among diplomats in the Orange Prize-winning Bel Canto; State of Wonder’s pharmacologist in the Amazon; a fugitive wife hiding in a home for unwed mothers in The Patron Saint of Liars. In this new collection of personal essays

Margaret Drabble tries to lose the plot

Halfway through her new novel, Margaret Drabble tells us of Anna, the pure gold baby of the title, ‘There was no story to her life, no plot.’ That statement is partly true. It is also a challenge, a gauntlet cast by this very knowing writer at the reader’s feet; in terms of Drabble’s narrative, it