A.n. wilson

Books of the Year | 9 November 2017

A.N. Wilson Elmet by Fiona Mozley (John Murray, £10.99). It is difficult to convey the full horror of this spellbinding first novel. The young author, a medievalist, presumably knows the no less violent Njál’s Saga. Elmet, though set in the modern age, concerns timeless protagonists who have contrived to live outside the normal modern settings. Dad is an ex-prisoner, who earns his living as a prize-fighter — at illegally organised, very bloody bare-knuckle fights. Somehow he and his children manage to build a house on land belonging to a sinister figure called Mr Price, without any bureaucrats from the local planning office materialising to ask what he is up to.

Books podcast: A N Wilson

A N Wilson’s new biography of Darwin was acclaimed in these pages by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst for having a ‘scientist’s forensic skill and a novelist’s imaginative touch’; but, he warned, it was likely to ‘put the felis catus among the columbidae’ with its portrait of the great man as a publicity-hungry plagiarist who got the science wrong. It certainly has done that.    In this week’s podcast I talk to Andrew Wilson about Darwin’s feet of clay — and the way in which, as Wilson sees it, the theory of evolution was used to license everything from the cruellest excesses of Victorian capitalism to the eugenics programmes of the mid-20th century.  And if you enjoyed that,

Spectator Books of the Year: The man who stole Captain Cook’s thunder

Hot on the heels of his books about the Bible and the Queen comes A.N. Wilson’s witty, learned, utterly self-possessed novel Resolution (Atlantic, £16), about the turbulent life of George Forster. He was the Polish-born, Warrington-raised, multi-lingual Enlightenment scholar-scientist who, aged 18, was appointed botanist on board the Resolution. His popular account of the voyage pipped Captain Cook’s own book to the post. So Wilson’s Forster is a guilty man, a protégé who murdered his master: ‘It now amazes me that I had the gall, the sheer cheek, to write my Voyage book. I wrote it fast. We finished it before Cook. It sold well — only now do I

Spectator Books of the Year: Why evolution is still a theory in crisis

Michael Denton’s Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (Discovery Institute Press, £16.80). A sequel to his 1985 book — Evolution: A Theory in Crisis — this takes us up to date with the dazzling developments of life sciences over the past 30 years. Denton is a sceptic about Darwin’s theory of evolution on purely scientific grounds. It is hard to see how anyone reading his book could not be persuaded. Palaeontology provides abundant evidence of evolution within species, but none of one species morphing into another. Denton is fascinatingly clear in his exposition of the science of genetics, and how it destroys the Darwinian position. A truly great book. The

A life of telling stories

Not all novelists lead a public life. Those who do, however, tend to make a bit of a performance out of it. Beryl Bainbridge’s life, even before she started publishing novels, was an act, and during her period of fame she was famous for presenting herself in a certain way. It was an effective strategy for dealing with life, and because of it Beryl was one of the most widely loved figures of London life. I didn’t know her at all well, but always found her a total delight when she surfaced at literary parties; she had a knack of making you feel that you were going to enjoy looking

Diary – 21 January 2016

Quarrelling about the date of Easter has been a Christian pastime for centuries. The chief bone of contention is whether Easter should be held on 14th Nisan in the Jewish calendar — that is, at a fixed point of the lunar month — or whether it should be held on the nearest Sunday to this date. The Celtic church(es) evidently had their own ideas on the question. In the year 651, Queen Eanfleda of Northumbria was fasting on what she regarded as Palm Sunday on the very day that her husband, Oswy, King of Northumbria, was celebrating Easter. Behind the seemingly batty arguments lay the world-changing conviction that Christ’s death

That’s another year gone and, against the odds, I’m still here

A fruity voice on the train’s announcement system said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, make sure you have all your belongings, family members and what have you with you when alighting from the train. We are now arriving in the naughty little station of Newton Abbot.’ This carriage was empty. The Teign estuary sparkled in the Sunday morning sunshine. The line from Totnes in Devon to Paddington is a lovely journey at any time of the year across the farms and pastures green of Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Berkshire. Always I have good intentions to read, but usually I rest my chin on the heel of my palm and look out of

Spectator books of the year: A.N. Wilson on the British Pushkin

Tristram Hunt’s Ten Cities that Made an Empire (Allen Lane, £25) is a stylish history of the British empire, told through its cities in sunny, civilised prose. He begins with the bungling of the American colonies and ends with Britain’s bewilderment as its own cities in turn become ‘colonised’. Constantine Phipps’s What You Want (Quercus, £20) is a verse novel in heroic couplets. It is bright verse, not light verse; a gripping, upsetting story of adultery, which turns into a sort of Dantean journey (while he drifts off in an unwise mixture of whisky and pills) with Freud as Virgil. Unlike many modern novels, this is actually about something. It is moving, scary, funny,

Lolita’s secret revenge mission, and other daft theories of literary spite

Richard Bradford has written more than 20 books of literary criticism and biography. This latest one is a compendium of writers’ feuds and resentments. Reading Literary Rivals is a curious experience; from the quotations and bare facts you can just about make out a version of reality, but it’s fighting so hard against the author’s interpretations that it’s sometimes obscured altogether. It feels as if Bradford has done his research with a baleful monocle pressed to his eye, giving a ghastly pallor to everything he reads. When Dickens read Thackeray’s review of his work, he wrote to thank him, but when Professor Bradford read the same review, he saw nothing

We need more opinionated English eccentrics making documentaries like, ahem, me…

Is it just me or are almost all TV documentaries completely unwatchable these days? I remember when I first started this job I’d review one almost every fortnight. Always there’d be something worth watching: on the horrors of the Pacific or the Eastern Front, say; or castles; or Churchill; or medieval sword techniques. But now it’s all crap like The Hidden World of Georgian Needlecraft or In The Footsteps of Twelve Forgotten South American Civilisations Which All Look The Same or A Brooding, Long-Haired Scottish Geographer Shouts From Inside A Volcano Why Climate Change Is Worse Than Ever. The presenters have got more annoying too. I mean, I’m not saying

William Dalrymple’s notebook: How I lured Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Franzen to Jaipur

In 2004, ten days after I moved my family to a new life in India, I gave a reading at a small palace on the edge of the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur. Fourteen people turned up, of whom ten were Japanese tourists who had got lost. The next year, I helped organise a modest literary programme of 18 authors. Two failed to arrive, but with the aid of my co-director, Namita Gokhale, we gathered a respectable audience of nearly 100. Eight years later, however, by some strange yogic sleight of hand, the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival has shape-shifted into the largest free litfest in the world and the largest literary