A web of rivalries: The Extinction of Irena Rey, by Jennifer Croft, reviewed

Jennifer Croft is a translator of uncommon energy. In 2018 she won the International Booker Prize for her rendering of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. In 2021, she took on Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob, a great big historical epic. Now she’s written a satirical page-turner set over what one character calls ‘seven toxic, harrowing, oddly arousing, extremely fruitful weeks’. Like members of some ancient mystery cult, eight translators fetch up in a house near a primeval forest in Poland on the Belarus border. The year is 2017. ‘Bedraggled and ecstatic’, they’ve come to translate Szara eminencja (Grey Eminence), a novel about art and mass extinction, by the Stockholm-worthy woman of

The problems of being a Bee Gee

For quite some time, the prospect of death has held a fresh terror. The British Heart Foundation’s step-by-step guide to cardiopulmonary resuscitation advises performing chest compressions ‘to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees’. This means that the last sound some of us will ever hear is ‘Stayin’ Alive’, with our chests as the drums: Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive!Ah! ah! ah! ah!Stayin’ alive! Stayin’ alive! Despite their success, the Bee Gees have always been regarded as naff. They are to pop music what Fanny Cradock was to cookery or Julian Fellowes is to the world of letters. Bob Stanley is

Friendships and rivalries in the golden age of Oxford philosophy

Though it is startling to think of it now, analytic philosophy was once considered a promising subject for satire on mainstream television. When Beyond the Fringe was broadcast in 1964, the viewing public could apparently be relied upon to recognise the archetype of the post-Wittgensteinian linguistic philosopher being impersonated by Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The discursive style on display was anguished, effete and reflexively pedantic; the setting, a kind of implied common room (the only atmosphere this particular creature was able to breathe); the repartee hopelessly clogged with qualifications and smug little obiter dicta and minutely alert to exquisite verbal distinctions of doubtful relevance to the point in hand.