Literature

Life & Letters: Memoirs as literature

15 January 2011 6:00 am

Laurence Sterne remarked rather a long time ago that they order these matters better in France, and happily this is still the case. Fifteen hundred teachers of literature recently protested about the choice of a set book for Terminale L du bac — the exam taken by 17-year-olds. Their concern is perhaps more political than literary. Nevertheless they denounced the choice of book as ‘a negation of our discipline’. ‘We are teachers of literature,’ they said; ‘is it our business to discuss a work of history?’

BOOKENDS: The Elephant to Hollywood

9 October 2010 12:00 am

The three knights of British cinema have taken disparate routes in their twilight years. Roger Moore jettisoned a hokum career for more worthwhile pursuits as a Unicef ambassador, while Sean Connery settled into his Bahamian golf-resort to champion Scotland’s independence. Michael Caine, however, has added a further veneer to a great body of work.

Angry old man

9 October 2010 12:00 am

Ecce Homo Erectus. Saul Bellow, John Updike … at 77, Philip Roth is the last of three giants still standing; and he actually does stand to write, at a lectern-like desk — scriptern? This verticality is crucial to his ideas of self and spirit, and is fully evident in his fiction, which is nothing if not erect.

Whine, whine, whine

9 October 2010 12:00 am

There came a moment, very early in my reading of the latest volume of Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, when a spell was broken. The relevant entry, written at his beach home in Santa Monica, California, was dated 12 November 1960. And the single, throwaway notation which caused me to re-evaluate, I fear definitively, my admiration for Isherwood ran as follows: ‘Tonight I have to take the Mishimas out to supper.’

Absurdly grandiose – and splendid

9 October 2010 12:00 am

The Potteries are one of the strangest regions in the British Isles, and Matthew Rice’s The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent celebrates their extraordinary oddity.

. . . and they did to us

9 October 2010 12:00 am

The craters are all filled in, the ruins replaced, and the last memories retold only in the whispery voices of the old.

What we did to them . . .

9 October 2010 12:00 am

The perception of war changes, remarked the poet Robert Graves, when ‘your Aunt Fanny, the firewatcher, is as likely to be killed as a soldier in battle’.

Futile phantoms

9 October 2010 12:00 am

Haunted Britain; A Ghost Tour of London; Ghosts of the British Isles;Victorian Ghosts; Railway Ghosts; Hotel Ghosts; Ghosts of the Civil War; Ghosts of Derbyshire/Cornwall/Yorkshire/Devon/Scotland/the Cotswolds.Drop into any local bookshop around the country and you are pretty sure to find a shiny-covered, heavily illustrated paperback about ghosts of the region. The list above was taken from a lightning visit to the pages of Amazon.

A race against time

9 October 2010 12:00 am

Lord Palmerston poses severe quantitative problems to biographers.

Curiosities of literature

9 October 2010 12:00 am

Sam Leith enjoys two recent miscellanies

Proscribed reading

17 July 2010 12:00 am

In 1948, Poland’s new communist government was badly in need of legitimacy and desperate for international recognition. So they did what any self-respecting left-wing government would do, back in those days, in order to win a bit of respect; they held a cultural Congress.

Frustrating but enjoyable

7 July 2010 12:00 am

If we didn’t already know that Milan Kundera is one of Craig Raine’s literary heroes, then it wouldn’t be too hard to work it out from his first novel.

Secrets and silences

30 June 2010 12:00 am

Charlotte Moore’s family have lived at Hancox on the Sussex Weald for well over a century.

Not as sweet as he seemed

16 June 2010 12:00 am

There are already three biographies of E. M. Forster: P. N. Furbank’s two- volume, authorised heavyweight; Nicola Beauman’s less compendious, more engaging middleweight; and my own bantamweight, little more than an extended essay.

Odd men out

16 June 2010 12:00 am

The first game played by the Allahakbarries Cricket Club at Albury in Surrey in September 1887 did not bode well for the club’s future.

Our squandered national treasure

14 April 2010 12:00 am

Torn with grief, Melvyn Bragg has produced a condolence book for the South Bank Show (born 1978, died of neglect, 2010).

Scourge of the ancien régime

14 April 2010 12:00 am

Voltaire’s was a long and amazing life.

Prize-winning novels from France

30 December 2009 12:00 am

After an unremarkable year for fiction the Prix Goncourt was awarded to Marie Ndiaye for a novel — actually three novellas — which must have beguiled the judges by the sheer unfamiliarity of its contents.

Enjoyer and endurer

14 December 2009 12:00 am

I approached the late David Nokes’s scholarly book with some trepidation, having heard that it had been criticised for its apparent dismissal of James Boswell.

Squeaks and squawks

14 December 2009 12:00 am

Jonathan Cecil is nostalgic for the voices of the Bloomsberries

Recent books for children

9 December 2009 12:00 am

One thing which struck me immediately on surveying the books on offer for children this Christmas is the large number which are really toys, with only a minor bookish element.

Delight and horror

11 November 2009 12:00 am

‘Everything that the lovingest of husbands can express to the best of wives, & love to the little ones, not forgetting the kicker in the dark,’ Jack Verney wrote to his pregnant wife in 1683.

Voices of change

21 October 2009 12:00 am

Not every writer would begin a history of the 1950s with a vignette in which the young Keith Waterhouse treads on Princess Margaret by mistake.