Booker prize

It’s good to be back on the back benches

After the shale gas vote, I was literally sent to Coventry – to visit the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre. It is a remarkable facility that helps take batteries from development through to production. It means companies only need the hundreds of millions of pounds in investment once they have shown that their product works and is saleable. It was funded by the Faraday Battery Challenge, and I was there to announce a further £221 million of taxpayers’ money. This is one of the rather better ways the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spends money, while some of our policies seem designed to ruin industry. I am particularly concerned

Inside the Booker Prize

It’s been a great week for the powerful fantasies of fiction (see more below), but over the weekend no novel anywhere in the world could compete with the fantasy of British politics. Continental Europe watched spellbound as the Prime Minister and her Chancellor humiliated themselves and the standing of the UK. The reactions of the different nations were predictable, but none the less excruciating for that. In Germany, where journalists have disconcertingly deep knowledge of British constitutional history, the reaction was dismay, as a distracted friend inflicts yet further damage on themselves. As for France: King Lear is playing at the Comédie-Française for the first time in its history, so

Good riddance to long books

As soon as I picked up the parcel, my heart sank. The sheer weight of it gave the game away. Already I could unhappily picture myself struggling to hold it in one hand without straining a wrist while standing on the Piccadilly Line. I’d ordered it after coming across a couple of positive references to it in quick succession: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Written in the 1980s, set in the 1870s, it’s a cowboy story that won a Pulitzer in its day and still has its enthusiasts. I just hadn’t thought to check its length. In fact the paperback isn’t much smaller than a box of Kleenex and runs

There is nothing cosy about Penelope Lively

At one time, Penelope Lively was routinely shortchanged by critics. Her protagonists are often middle-class professionals — historians, archeologists, scriptwriters and the like — and her Booker-prizewinning Moon Tiger was notoriously dismissed as the ‘housewife’s choice’. Now, gods, stand up for housewives! Lively is not a cosy read. The word which keeps coming to mind to describe these stories is ‘beady’ — though I may be influenced by ‘The Purple Swamp Hen’, in which the narrator is a wise old bird in the garden of a household in Pompeii (AD 79). A bird’s gaze is bright, speculative and disconcertingly dispassionate. Ted Hughes found the ‘attent sleek thrushes on the lawn’

Remembering David Storey, giant of postwar English culture

There is a famous story about David Storey. It is set in 1976 at the Royal Court where, for ten years, his plays had first been seen before heading away to the West End and Broadway. That same week he had won the Booker Prize with his novel Saville. With unrivalled success across fiction, theatre and cinema, Storey was a giant of postwar English culture. He was also, compared with most writers, an actual giant. This Sporting Life, his novel made into a groundbreaking film, grew out of his experience of playing rugby league for Leeds. Unlike Saville, his new play Mother’s Day was greeted by a raspberry fanfare after

The brilliance of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ slogan

Four years ago, I bought a ranch in Wyoming. Not that I was tired of New York, but I’m fascinated by the epic scale of this country, and I wanted to try something different. And different it is. The state of Wyoming is physically larger than the UK, but has much less than a hundredth of the UK’s population. I have to drive ten miles before I see a paved road. I stop there to pick up my mail, from a locked box on the shoulder. From there I have a choice of two supermarkets, one 40 miles north, the other 60 miles south. But distances are relative here. I