A multicultural microcosm: Brooklyn Crime Novel, by Jonathan Lethem, reviewed

Would readers approaching this novel (although novel might not be precisely the right word) without any indication as to the authorship recognise it as the work of Jonathan Lethem? It doesn’t have kangaroo gangsters packing heat, or sentient miniature black holes, or marine drills converted into nuclear-powered limos. It is not set on an alien planet, or in a parallel universe, or inside a simulated game. There are a few hints. It is set in Brooklyn and has a vaguely geeky feel to it; but tonally it seems very different to Motherless Brooklyn or The Fortress of Solitude. Instead of vernal exuberance there is autumnal wistfulness, but certainly not sentimentality.

Why the Tories are more diverse than Labour

‘The candidates fighting to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative party leader and Britain’s prime minister reflect the country’s rich diversity,’ the England-hating New York Times put it earlier this week, through gritted teeth, ‘with six having recent ancestors hailing from outside Europe.’  It might seem initially curious that it’s the Conservatives who are so ethnically diverse. In British politics the realignment over Brexit caused identity to replace economics as the crunch issue, so that the gap between Labour and Tory voters on the issues of immigration and diversity has significantly grown, even if immigration’s salience has declined and remains low. Yet despite this, the British right has become in some ways more diverse

Sounds of the suburbs

In After the Vote, her talk for this week’s special edition of A Point of View (Radio 4) on the subject of Brexit, the philosopher (and former Reith lecturer) Onora O’Neill suggested that the media have played a large part in creating our current crisis. All branches of it failed ‘to communicate with the public an accurate and honest account’, she argued. The BBC, she said, ‘provided coverage but failed to challenge unfair or dubious claims’ by either side, adding that ‘democracy does not work if such claims are not properly challenged’. This for her is the true nature of ‘the democratic deficit’ — lack of information, of informed debate,

High life | 28 March 2019

New York   This place feels funny, a bit like Beirut, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze and encamped Palestinians live together but separately, with one or two million Syrian refugees completing the mix. Over here the once-ruling Wasps are now irrelevant, having moved to their country clubs in the suburbs. The Chinese are creeping up, having bought more real estate in Manhattan alone than Islamic State has lost in Syria and Iraq. (I now get nuisance telephone calls in Chinese.) On the bottom of the ladder are the Hispanics and the African-Americans, the former doing all the heavy lifting in the construction business, the latter, sadly, being the majority in

High life | 5 January 2017

Gstaad  New Year’s Eve was a Rhapsody in Blue, with a clarinet glissando that promised joys to come, and the Gershwin downbeat not registering until 6 a.m. The hangover was, of course, Karamazovian, but who the hell cares. I am finally solid again, and even the flu I caught on the trip over is on its last legs, lingering and as annoying as EU regulations, but no longer to be taken seriously. I had lots of close friends for dinner, but the new chalet was packed by the time I began slurring. Mind you, it’s during dreamlike moments such as those between midnight and dawn that wisdom strikes: there is

A radical mistake

In the early 1990s, after the shock of the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie, I began to do some research among those who condemned him, and learned that a strange thing was happening among young British Muslim men and women. I first wrote about this strange thing in my novel The Black Album, which concerns a young man who comes to London from the provinces to study and finds himself caught between the sex-and-ecstasy-stimulated hedonism of the late 1980s and the nascent fundamentalist movement. At the end of the novel the Asian kids — as they were called then — burn The Satanic Verses and attack a bookshop. I followed

When the fear of racism trumps everything else

Do you remember Alan Kurdi, the poor, drowned three-year-old whose photograph provoked a wave of sympathy for migrants almost exactly a year ago? Social media lit up with outrage — something must be done! — as millions shared the picture back and forth. A Facebook share is a pretty easy way of caring, but even so it was uplifting: we in the West mind about all children, not just our own. Our fellow feeling extends to fellows worldwide. So where then is the great Facebook uprising over the news that there’s been not a single successful prosecution in this country for female genital mutilation (FGM) though it’s been illegal since

High life | 11 August 2016

Gstaad   ‘He flies through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze.’ As everyone knows, life’s unfair, but this is ridiculous. An American daredevil falls out of an aeroplane at 25,000 feet without a parachute and manages to land on a postage-stamp-size net without a scratch. The poor little Greek boy falls off a balcony ten to 15 feet high, lands on gravel and breaks many bones in his body. Being encased in plaster is similar to living under a strict dictatorship, North Korea, for example. There’s no crime, no muggings, but as far as doing what comes naturally, fuggetaboutit. Self-doubt and

An elegy for Oldham

My home town of Oldham is the sort of place people imagine when they think of ‘The North’. It has mill chimneys, redbrick terraced streets and a rain-swept football ground (the third highest in the country) where supporters of the perpetually struggling Oldham Athletic queue for hot Vimto or a bag of black peas. Oldham is now the most deprived town in England, according to the Office for National Statistics. Crime and unemployment are high; investment, wages and prospects generally are pitifully low. Boarded-up shops and dilapidated factories tell a sorry tale of economic woe. It wasn’t always like this. My family’s home, in the leafy suburb of Werneth, was

Word processing

‘Comedy is like music,’ said Edwin Apps, one of the characters in Wednesday afternoon’s Radio 4 play, All Mouth and Trousers (directed by David Blount). ‘The words are the notes and they have to be in exactly the right place. And every line has to pull its weight, add something to the situation.’ Apps was one half of the writing partnership who created that most unlikely of TV hits in the supposedly swinging Sixties, All Gas and Gaiters, set in the cathedral close of St Oggs and featuring a laughably inept quartet of Anglican clerics. Mark Burgess’s engaging drama told the story of how the series (which ran for 33

An inconvenient truth | 14 April 2016

‘Our findings will shock many people,’ promised Trevor Phillips at the beginning of What British Muslims Really Think (Channel 4, Wednesday). But the depressing thing is that I doubt they will, actually. I think the general British public have known for some time what Phillips’s documentary professed to find surprising: that large numbers of Muslims don’t want to integrate, that their views aren’t remotely enlightened, and that more than a few of them sympathise with terrorism. It’s only the establishment elite that has ever pretended otherwise. As former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Phillips was very much part of that elite. He commissioned the 1997 Runnymede report

The rise and fall of Sicily

A few weeks ago, I looked out on the Cathedral of Monreale from the platform on which once stood the throne of William II, King of Sicily. From there nearly two acres of richly coloured mosaics were visible, glittering with gold. In the apse behind was the majestic figure of Christ Pantocrator — that is, almighty. The walls of the aisles and nave were lined with scenes from the Bible. In another panel, just above, Christ himself crowned King William. It was a prospect of the greatest opulence and sophistication stretching in every direction from this regal vantage point. The mosaics are in the manner of Byzantium, and probably executed

Christmas Notebook | 10 December 2015

As I strolled through the aisles in a large department store, I almost choked when I read a large display that blared: ‘Don’t forget to treat your pussy at Christmas…’ with relief I read the rest of the ad: ‘…and your bow-wow too!’ Beneath the dubious banner lay a massive display of beautifully wrapped chew toys, scratching posts and all manner of treats and playthings. That’s when I realised this entire Christmas practice has gone truly bonkers. Every 6 January I breathe a sigh of relief as I take down and store the enormous number of Christmas decorations with which I festoon my house. ‘Never again!’ I say to Percy,

At least these rioters hate the right people

I was unable to join the violent protests held by Class War at the Cereal Killer Café in London last week because I had to stay at home to supervise our gardener. Yes — I know what you’re about to say. It is indeed ridiculous that one should have to stand over workmen to ensure that they are doing a decent job. But there is a patch of lawn towards the rear of our grounds which the blighters always skimp on, believing that it is too far from the house for us to notice. So I stand down there, with a cheerfully expectant expression, as the surly little man goes

‘The truth is hard’: an interview with Roger Scruton

To the extent that Britain has philosophers, we do not expect them to address issues of any relevance to the rest of us. They may pursue some hermeneutic byway perhaps, but not the urgent or profound issues of our time. Roger Scruton has always been an exception in this regard, as in many others. He has spent his adult life thinking and writing about the nature of love, the nation state, belonging, alienation, beauty, home and England. But even his closest readers may gulp at the relevance of his latest subject matter. His new novel, The Disappeared, is set in the north of England and centres on the recent rape-gang

I have absolutely no sympathy for liberals who find themselves being called ‘right-wing’

This week I would like you to share the deep pain of a liberal who has been called ‘right-wing’. This is a terrible thing to happen. It is hard to think of anything worse. There you are, being dutifully liberal all over the place and suddenly, perhaps inadvertently, you divest yourself of the opinion that — for example — Islam may, in some way, have some sort of weird, unfathomable connection to the jihadists of the Islamic State and kaboom, your credibility is blown to shreds. All of a sudden people are calling you horrible names online, like ‘right wing’. People who are quite like you calling you this. Nice,

Patriotism isn’t uncivilised – it’s what makes civilisation possible

Is it racist to be patriotic? Is patriotism, by definition, small-minded and exclusive? When you strip away the onion layers of sentiment about history and hymns, Shakespeare and lawn clippings, does it have a hateful heart? I ask because, as I’ve written before, I feel patriotic, and until recently I’ve considered this to be a good thing. I felt particularly patriotic at a service in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria, last week. I slid in late and guilty, amid snippy Sunday stares. After the sermon we trooped outside and in the suddenly sunlit graveyard the vicar whipped a trumpet from his cassock and began to play. A pair of starlings began their electric

Let’s face it – Ray Honeyford got it right on Islam and education

Thirty years ago, as editor of the Salisbury Review, I began to receive short articles from a Bradford headmaster, relating the dilemmas faced by those attempting to provide an English education to the children of Asian immigrants. Ray Honeyford’s case was simple. Children born and raised in Britain must be integrated into British society. Schools and teachers therefore had a duty, not merely to impart the English language and the English curriculum, but to ensure that children understood and adhered to the basic principles of the surrounding society, including racial and religious tolerance, sexual equality and the habit of settling conflicts by compromise and not by force. Honeyford complained of