Bookends: Corpses in the coal hole

30 July 2011 12:00 pm

Corpses in the coal hole

Bookends: A friend of mine

23 July 2011 12:00 pm

The best actor in the world


16 July 2011 10:00 am

I like books with weather and there’s plenty in this one, all bad, which is even better. Set in London during a cold winter, Blue Monday (Penguin, £12.99) is the first of a new series for Nicci French, the successful husband and wife author team.

Bookends: Scourge of New Labour

9 July 2011 12:00 pm

Like all politicians, Bob Marshall-Andrews is fond of quoting himself, and Off Message (Profile Books, £16.99) includes a generous selection of his speeches and articles on such topics as Tony Blair’s messianic warmongering and David Blunkett’s plans for a police state. Less typically, perhaps, he is almost as generous in his quotation of others, such as Simon Hoggart, who has called him ‘a cross between Dennis the Menace and his dog, Gnasher’.

Bookends: Not just for Christmas

2 July 2011 6:00 am

Sticky at Christmas, packed in serried rows around a plastic twig in an oval-ended paper-wrapped box with a picture of a camel train; dates in childhood were exotic.

Bookends: Venice improper

25 June 2011 1:00 pm

Books about Venice are almost as numerous as gondolas on the Grand Canal, but Robin Saikia is the first to write one about the Lido. The subject might be thought too insubstantial for a book of its own, and so it proves: excluding its index and appendices, The Venice Lido (Somerset Books, £6.95) runs to a modest 132 pages of generously sized print. But what this monograph lacks in volume it makes up for in warmth, charm and eccentric scholarship.

Bookends: When will there be good news?

18 June 2011 12:00 pm

I am in love with Jackson Brodie. Does this mean that, in a literary homoerotic twist, I am actually in love with Kate Atkinson, his creator? I think it must. Sometimes I think I am Jackson Brodie. We share many traits: 50-odd, mid-life crisis, a lost (though in my case not murdered) sister. I know that it’s really Kate Atkinson who is Jackson Brodie. She must have a lost or murdered sister, mustn’t she?  

Bookends: Lowe and behold

11 June 2011 12:00 am

It is 1979. You are a 15-year-old boy starring in a hit US television show. You’ve seen the crowds of screaming girls outside the gates as you arrive for work, and are therefore very excited to have received your first fan letter. You open it eagerly and begin to read: ‘Dear Mr Rob Lowe, You are a great actor. Can you please send me an autographed photo of yourself? If possible in a bathing suit or in your underwear. Sincerely, Michael LeBron. #4142214 Pelican Bay Prison.’

Bookends: Bloodbath

4 June 2011 1:00 pm

It may have been first published in 1973, but reading it again in Persephone Books’ elegant re-print, Adam Fergusson’s The Sack of Bath (£12) remains a real shocker. The fury of his polemic against the powers in Bath that seemed hell-bent on destroying everything except a few grand Georgian set- pieces in that beautiful city still has a terrible relevance today.


28 May 2011 1:00 pm

Double trouble

Bookends: The voice of the lobster

21 May 2011 12:00 am

In existence for over 250 millions years, lobsters come in two distinct varieties, ‘clawed and clawless’. Human predators tend to the flawed and clueless as they overfish and — since lobsters must be cooked live — kill them heartlessly.

Bookends: Unbalanced chorus

14 May 2011 6:00 am

Imagine a 77-year-old woman hanging around, say, Leicester bus station, telling people about her life. She confides her belief that she is under surveillance by the military. She maintains that she can ‘see the reality of the web of synchronicity in my life’. Showing off her special jewellery that ‘helps balance the chakras’, she reveals that ‘because I had a high metabolism and moved around a lot, I had no real [weight] problem until I was about 50’.

Bookends: To a tee

7 May 2011 12:00 am

Sporting literature is a strange old business, often underrated by those who don’t like sport and overrated by those who…

Religious doubt

23 April 2011 6:00 am

No description of Eric Gill is ever without the words ‘devout Catholic’, and Eric Gill: Lust for Letter & Line…

Bookends: The last laugh

9 April 2011 6:00 am

In July, the world’s most famous restaurant, elBulli, closes, to reopen in 2014 as a ‘creative centre’. Rough luck on the million-odd people who try for one of 8,000 reservations a year. It’s also a blow for the eponymous young cooks of Lisa Abend’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentices (Simon & Schuster, £18.99), the 45 stagiaires who labour in Ferran Adria’s kitchen for a season in the hope of sharing in the magic. Ferran, you see, is no mere cook. With him, ‘hot turns into cold, sweet into savoury, solid into liquid or air’.

Bookends: Murder in the dark

2 April 2011 6:30 am

When the Observer critic Philip French started writing on the cinema in the early 1960s, he once explained in an…

Bookends: Capital rewards

26 March 2011 6:00 am

London has been the subject of more anthologies than Samuel Pepys had hot chambermaids. This is fitting, as an anthology’s appeal — unexpected juxtaposition — matches that of the capital itself. But it does mean that any new contender has to work hard to justify its publication.

A chorus of disapproval

19 March 2011 6:00 am

At more than 700 pages including appendices, Guardian writer Dorian Lynskey’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs…


12 March 2011 6:00 am

About 80 per cent of books sold in this country are said to be bought by women, none more eagerly than Joanna Trollope’s anatomies of English middle-class family life. Her 16th novel, Daughters-in-Law (Cape, £18.99), is sociologically and psychologically as observant as ever, showing how not to be a suffocatingly possessive mother-in-law.

Bookends: Wit and wisdom

19 February 2011 6:00 am

Nora Ephron has a clever solution to a particular social quandary. Whenever she pinches her husband’s arm at a party, it’s their agreed signal for ‘I’ve forgotten the name of this person I have to introduce you to, so give them your name directly and they’ll respond in kind’. Only one problem — his memory is now as bad as hers, so he keeps forgetting what the signal means.

Bipolar exploration

12 February 2011 6:00 am

‘I’m not writing songs anymore; they’re writing me.’ Plagued by music in her head that arrived unbidden, drowning out conversation,…

Bookends: Musical bumps

13 January 2011 6:00 am

In the Christmas issue of The Spectator there was a review of Showtime: A History of Broadway Musicals, a book which ran to 785 pages. Ruth Leon, in The Sound of Musicals (Oberon Books, £9.99), deals with the whole lot, well perhaps 20 in practice, in 128 much smaller ones; so she has to be selective. The top three, in her view, select themselves: Guys and Dolls (1950), My Fair Lady (1954) and West Side Story (1957) — ‘almost everyone agrees on this’.

Bookends: Self-help guide

18 December 2010 12:15 pm

P. J. O’Rourke is what happens when America does Grumpy Old Men.

BOOKENDS: In the bleak midwinter

11 December 2010 12:00 pm

Salley Vickers name-checks (surely unwisely) the granddaddy of all short stories, James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, in the foreword to her first collection, Aphrodite’s Hat (Fourth Estate, £16.99).

BOOKENDS: Gothic tales

27 November 2010 10:00 am

Much of Stephen King’s recent work has been relatively lighthearted, but in Full Dark, No Stars (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) he returns with gusto to his dark side and explores the perils of getting what you ask for.