Samuel beckett

It feels somehow improper to witness an author groping for the right words

The early stages of a literary work are often of immense interest. It is perhaps a rather tawdry kind of interest, like paparazzi shots of a Hollywood starlet taking the bins out before she’s put her make-up on. Of course it’s extraordinary to think that some of the most famous characters, events and lines in literature weren’t as we now know them but had to be struggled towards. Sometimes these efforts have the anachronistic but unavoidable sense of somebody getting it wrong. Textual bibliographers have carefully classified the different steps a work takes from manuscript to first edition and subsequent versions. Perhaps we could go further in search of a

The horror of finding oneself ‘young-old’

It’s a familiar tale. Midway through life’s journey, Marcus Berkmann woke to find himself in a dark wood, where the right road was wholly lost and gone. Without a Virgil to guide him through the trials and torments of middle age, he composed a bestselling memoir based on his experiences, A Shed of One’s Own – not so much a divine comedy as a mildly amusing stocking-filler. In his latest book, Still a Bit of Snap in the Celery, he realises he has entered a new age category: the so-called ‘young-old’. It’s easy to picture the delight on the sleepy faces of many a grandparent this Christmas as they wake

‘My attachment to Giacometti grew into the bedrock of my existence’

Michael Peppiatt is an octogenarian English art historian, based in London and Paris, who has met many of the artists he writes about. But, sadly, he never met Alberto Giacometti. He was working as a translator when, in 1966, he applied for a junior editor’s job at Réalités magazine in Paris and, much to his surprise, got it. He went to say goodbye to his friend Francis Bacon,who offered to give him an introduction to Giacometti. Bacon wrote it in felt-tip on a torn-out page of Paris Match and told Peppiatt to take it round to Giacometti’s studio, which he did. But then he stood irresolute at the door, lacking

M. John Harrison’s ‘anti-memoir’ is a masterpiece

It would be hard to categorise M. John Harrison as a novelist, and that is just the way he would like it. He may definitely have a foot in the camps of science fiction and fantasy – with fans including Neil Gaiman and the late Iain Banks – but he is not one for being pinned down, whether he steps outside those genres or not. Of his 1989 novel Climbers, he said: It isn’t about somebody who ‘finds himself’ through climbing, or who ‘becomes a climber’. It’s precisely the opposite of that: it’s about someone who in failing to become a climber also fails to find a self. And so

The heyday of Parisian erotica

Maurice Girodias was the most daring avant-garde publisher in English of the post-war era. His Paris-based Olympia Press took on Samuel Beckett at a time when no British publisher wanted him, Vladimir Nabokov when Lolita was considered unprintable, William Burroughs when The Naked Lunch was regarded as obscenely incomprehensible, The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy, as well as translations of risqué works by Jean Cocteau and other French authors. After a police raid, Terry Southern’s banned book Candy simply reappeared as Lollipop Olympia flourished for a dozen or more years from 1951. Its best known list, the Traveller’s Companion Series, specialised in supplying titles such as The Wisdom of the

Nymphomaniac, fearless campaigner, alcoholic – Nancy Cunard was all this and more

The title of Anne de Courcy’s riveting new book might give the impression that Nancy Cunard had no more than five lovers. In fact she had many, many more. Born in 1896, Nancy was the only child of fantastically ill-matched parents. Her mother, Maud – she later changed her name to Emerald – was an American heiress and socialite. Her father, Sir Bache Cunard, was a fox-hunting squire busily engaged in spending the fortune he inherited as the grandson of the founder of the shipping line. Maud neglected Nancy, leaving her in the charge of an odious governess. The only person who had any time for the lonely little girl

A brilliant, tense, ragged slice of drama: Waiting for Lefty reviewed

A Russian Doll is a monologue about Putin’s campaign to swing the Brexit vote in his favour. It stars Rachel Redford whose Borat accent becomes grating after a little. She plays Masha, a computer wizard and language expert, who works for a firm of hackers appointed to spread fake news ahead of the referendum. Masha uses two techniques. She poses as a British Facebook subscriber and drops scary comments on to her timeline. ‘If we don’t leave the EU, Muslim extremists will flood the country.’ Her other ploy is to share a quiz about bikinis with her female correspondents. If the offer is taken up, the bots can harvest data

When Paris was the only place to be

For more than 100 years Paris has been as much a symbol and a myth as a geographical reality. The enchantment dates back to the end of the 19th century, when ‘le bordel de l’Europe’, in words quoted by Marie-José Gransard, was transformed into ‘la capitale de l’amour’. In Twentieth Century Paris she traces the growth of the community of mostly foreign artists and writers who created this international brand. By the 1890s Paris had recovered from defeat by Prussia and the atrocity of Bismarck’s bombardment in 1870 and had become the capital of more than ‘l’amour’.It ran a colonial empire powerful enough to deprive the Kaiser of his ‘place

Why foreign-language series will always have the edge over American ones

An office worker stands on the ledge of an open window about to leap. Two colleagues enter, ignoring him completely. They sit at symmetrical desks and read reports about the man’s background while he clings to the window frame, poised between life and death. This is the opening of Samuel Beckett’s Rough for Theatre II, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming. Stewart Laing’s beautiful design places the window centre-stage with the man standing in isolation between his two colleagues, like Christ and the thieves at Calvary. Beckett would have approved. For the first ten minutes of this bizarre play, the Old Vic audience sat in polite silence tittering only at