Why did Jon Fosse win the Nobel Prize for literature? It’s baffling.

The Nobel Prize for Literature this year was awarded to the Norwegian novelist and playwright Jon Fosse (pictured). He has long been admired by anyone in the literary world keen to advertise their seriousness. The Canadian critic Randy Boyagoda, writing of Fosse’s Septology in the New York Times, said that he’d ‘come into awe and reverence myself for idiosyncratic forms of immense metaphysical fortitude’. The technique is to bury statements of mystic vision or horror in piles of mostly tiny and uninteresting events Fosse is published in Britain by Fitzcarraldo Editions, that elegant firm bringing all sorts of high-minded writers to our attention in matchy-matchy formats. The Spectator’s literary editor

The phoney mystics who fooled the West

In recent years when we’ve talked about the relations between India and the West, we’ve gone back to stressing the impossibility of interchange. A hundred years ago, E.M. Forster ended A Passage to India with the certainty that Aziz and Fielding could not be friends. Forster thought things would be different after Indian independence, but the spectres of cultural appropriation and the assertion of ongoing imperialist guilt have discouraged equal exchange.  Meher’s spiritual energy was soon devoted to persuading Hollywood to make a massive movie about his life That may explain why the excellent story Mick Brown tells in The Nirvana Express has hardly been covered in the past. How

The socialist thinker who imagined ‘transforming her body and soul into potatoes’ to feed the poor

May you live in interesting times. The jury is still out on whether that sentiment is a blessing or a curse. There can be no doubt, though, that the heroines of Wolfram Eilenberger’s new book lived in interesting times and then some. Ayn Rand fled the Russian Revolution; Hannah Arendt fled the Nazis; Simone Weil took part in the French general strike of 1933 and fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War; Simone de Beauvoir went to bed with Jean-Paul Sartre. Eilenberger calls his foursome The Visionaries. It’s an odd title, but then so was the one he gave his previous book, The Time of the Magicians. There

‘Jerusalem’ is a rousing anthem – but who knows what the words mean?

The spontaneous mass adoption of deep feeling is always interesting. Jason Whittaker has a very good subject, in the journey of the cryptic lyric section of the preface to William Blake’s incomprehensible epic Milton, written and illustrated between 1804 and 1810, to its becoming the de facto national anthem of England. ‘And did those feet…’ only took on its familiar title ‘Jerusalem’ (which has nothing to do with Blake’s poem entitled ‘Jerusalem’) after it was set to music by Hubert Parry on 10 March 1916. The following day, Parry handed over his composition to his colleague Walford Davies, saying insouciantly: ‘Here’s a tune for you, old chap. Do what you

The great awakening: Henry Shukman becomes a child of the universe

For eight years I rented a small house in Oxford overlooking the canal. The landlord, a poet and novelist younger than myself, had moved with his family to New Mexico. At his desk I managed to write three books, beneath shelves containing editions of his work. I can’t explain why it took me so long to reach up and open those books, but when I finally did, it was extraordinary to discover how similar were our trajectories: same prep school and university; two young sons; novels set in North Africa and Peru; a gap year working on an Argentine estancia. Until that moment, I had cultivated a self-protective disconnect with

Spectacular and mind-expanding: Tantra at the British Museum reviewed

A great temple of the goddess Tara can be found at Tarapith in West Bengal. But her true abode, in the view of many devotees, is not this sacred structure itself but the adjacent, eerily smoking cremation ground. There she can be glimpsed in the shadows at midnight, it is believed, drinking the blood of the goats sacrificed to her during the day. Many holy men and women live in that grisly spot too, adorned with dreadlocks, smeared with ash, and dwelling in huts decorated with lines of skulls painted crimson. As a domestic setting this wouldn’t suit everybody. But the varieties of religious experience (to borrow the title of