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

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

A novel approach to New Zealand’s wine

The last Saturday of lockdown — inshallah — and we were discussing literature. Specifically, when does a detective story become a novel? T.S. Eliot edited the World’s Classics edition of The Moonstone and gave a copy to A.E. Housman, with the inscription: ‘The best detective story in English or any other language.’ Surely Eliot was right. The Moonstone and The Woman in White are superb detective fiction. But they are not novels. Poor Wilkie Collins did try to write novels. Nobody read them. Nobody was wise. We more or less agreed. Ian Rankin, Reginald Hill, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, James Lee Burke: all regularly cross the frontier into novelism. Perhaps

The best novels to read this year

There will be many great new novels published this year, but, sadly, even in lockdown, not enough time to read them all. Here are just a few that might be worth adding to the reading pile:  Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander  This is the novel I’m most looking forward to this year. Shalom Auslander’s Hope: A Tragedy is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, telling the story of a frazzled family man living in a rural US town whose life is made even more stressful when he discovers an elderly Anne Frank hiding in his attic. The premise for this long-awaited new novel, which comes just the nine years

Why I stopped reading novels

New York I received a letter from a long-time Spectator reader, James Hackett, enquiring about books I am reading. It is not often that I get letters that delight me, as this one did. It is a far cry from the readers’ letters you see in newspapers and magazines in the United States. Lots of them seem sanctimonious, holier than thou; others, I suspect, are written by the glossy magazines themselves promoting their own celebrity culture worship. James Hackett is an American gent whom I’ve never met, and I hope I don’t disappoint with my choices. The last time I read novels was literally some 50 years ago. I stopped

How on earth did Harold Pinter and Danny Dyer become such good friends?

Collectors of TV titles that sound as if they were thought of by Alan Partridge will presumably have spotted Danny Dyer on Harold Pinter. As Dyer himself understatedly put it: ‘This might seem an unlikely pairing: the likely lad and the Nobel Prize winner.’ Yet, what made the programme such an intriguing if undeniably peculiar watch is that the pairing in question wasn’t dreamed up by a desperate (or drunk) commissioning editor. In 2000, aged 22, Dyer auditioned for Pinter’s Celebration at the Almeida Theatre in Islington. ‘I knew the money would be rubbish,’ he told us, ‘so I didn’t care much.’ Nor, unlike his rivals, did he really know who

How Tom Stoppard foretold what we’re living through

A TV play by Tom Stoppard, A Separate Peace, was broadcast live on Zoom last Saturday. I watched as my screen divided itself into four cubes in which appeared the actors, performing from home. The play was written in 1964 and it’s well suited to the split-split screen format because no physical contact occurs between the characters. Director Sam Yates added some rudimentary music and a bit of wobbly background scenery. Mr Brown (David Morrissey) is a mysterious Englishman who asks to be admitted to a private hospital in the middle of the night. Though he has no symptoms he’s given a bed, and he pays his bills in cash.

The best crime novels to read during lockdown

For those with work to do and kids to homeschool, the idea that you might have lots more time on your hands amid the coronavirus lockdown probably seems like a bad joke. But for those who have a bit of extra reading time to make the most of, here are five crime fiction series to help pass the lockdown hours: The LA Quartet, James Ellroy James Ellroy L.A. Confidential (Cornerstone) James Ellroy is well deserving of his status as the pre-eminent crime fiction writer of our times, and for those yet to discover the demonic delights of his oeuvre, the original ‘LA Quartet’ is definitely the place to start. The

Five reasons why the Jack Reacher novels are brilliant

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is back with the release earlier this month of The Midnight Line, the 22nd book in the series. The Reacher books are hugely popular, but fail to garner much in the way of critical respect. Here are five reasons why the public love Reacher and why critics should… Jack Reacher Reacher is without a doubt one of the most original, complex and compelling characters in crime fiction. An ex-military policeman turned drifter, he has nothing tieing him to the world except for his relentless (and almost psychopathic) desire for justice. He’s the archetypal existential avenging angel – John Wayne, Bogart and Brando rolled into one. Plot