Kim philby

The stark horror of Barbara Comyns’s fiction was all too autobiographical

Barbara Comyns’s reputation rises and falls like a Mexican wave, making her one of the most rediscovered novelists of recent times. She’s credited with anticipating Angela Carter and for being in the vanguard of tackling themes of traumatic dissociation and the realities of childbirth. Yet younger, trendier writers have regularly eclipsed her. Aged 29, Barbara was broke: a single mother who’d weathered affairs, an abortion and a suicide attempt Every fan remembers their first Comyns novel: the visceral jolt of black humour, the suckerpunch of stark horror. Knowing that she drew from life, we have longed for a biography, and hooray, it’s finally here. Avril Horner, emeritus professor of English

Russia’s long history of smears, sabotage and barefaced lies

Russian politicians often refer to something called the Dulles Plan. This document purports to capture the future CIA chief Allen Dulles explaining, in 1948, the US strategy to destroy the moral foundations of the USSR and bring about ‘the death of the most intractable people on Earth… the definitive, irreversible dying out of its self-consciousness’. If this sounds like a fictional villain’s expository monologue then that’s because it is. The text was taken from an antagonist’s speech in a 1971 novel, Eternal Call, which itself recalled a much earlier Russian forgery, the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The ‘plan’ was written and disseminated in 1993 in an attempt

Too in thrall to today’s dogmas: ITV1’s A Spy Among Friends reviewed

In 2014, Ben Macintyre presented a BBC2 documentary based on his book A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. The programme managed to shed new light on a familiar but still irresistible story by concentrating on Philby’s relationship with his old chum – and fellow Cambridge man – Nicholas Elliott. Elliott was sent in 1963 by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to question Philby in Beirut where Philby had become the Observer’s foreign correspondent after a long and successful career betraying his countrymen to the Soviets. Elliott did elicit some sort of confession, but a few days later, Philby absconded to Moscow. So had Elliott helped with

Demystifying the world of espionage

John le Carré once wrote sadly that he felt ‘shifty’ about his contribution to the glamorisation of the spying business. David Omand doesn’t deal in glamour. He was at the top of the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office, director of the code-braking Government Communications Headquarters, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and responsible for structuring the government’s current anti-terrorist organisation. He thinks and writes deeply about the intellectual and moral problems thrown up by a business that depends on stealing other people’s secrets. He knows what he is talking about. How Spies Think is engagingly readable, even though the arguments are complex. It aims, ambitiously, ‘to empower ordinary

The paradox of Graham Greene – searching for peace in the world’s warzones

Joseph Conrad’s death made Graham Greene feel, at 19, sitting on a beach in Yorkshire, ‘as if there was a kind of “blank” in the whole of contemporary literature’. Greene’s own death in 1991, aged 87, had a similar effect on many younger writers, myself included. For John le Carré, his most obvious successor, Greene had ‘carried the torch of English literature, almost alone’. His cool fugitive presence, in Martin Amis’s phrase, had been there all our reading lives. In an age of diminishing faith, he had used Catholic parables in a way that lent them a power beyond their biblical origins, mining the gospels rather as le Carré has