The american civil war

A redemptive fable: Night Watch, by Jayne Anne Phillips, reviewed

The Appalachians have become fashionable fictional territory. Following Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer and Demon Copperhead comes Jayne Anne Phillips’s Night Watch. Like Cold Mountain, it is set largely in the aftermath of the American civil war, but, for all its wealth of detail, it is less a historical account than a redemptive fable. As befits a portrait of a society riven by war, the novel unfolds in a series of discrete episodes. Its dominant consciousness and first-person narrator is 12-year-old ConaLee, who lives in a remote hillside cabin with her mother Eliza, infant brothers and sister and violently abusive ‘Papa’. Their nearest neighbour is Dearbhla,

An angry poltergeist: Long Shadows, by Abigail Cutter, reviewed

Long Shadows, a powerful novel set mainly in the American civil war, is very unlike Gone with the Wind. The narrator, Tom Smiley, is now an unhappy ghost trapped in his old home, which, apart from snakes, mice and silverfish, has been uninhabited since his widowed daughter Clara died. A young couple arrive: Harry, who has inherited the property, and Phoebe, a psychic. To Tom’s indignation, they start renovating, getting rid of loved objects such as his family’s kitchen table and piano. Letters, medals and his sisters’ clothes are unearthed, prompting painful memories for him. This is the story of a man from a modest Virginia farming family who were

Walt Whitman’s poetry can change your life

To describe a new book as ‘eagerly awaited’ is almost unpardonable. Yet Mark Doty’s What is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life is exactly that. It’s not just that Doty is an extraordinarily fine writer whose every word sings on the page. Poetry has a tendency to come into its own at exceptional times such as our own. William Wordsworth’s 250th anniversary has provoked media reflections on his consolatory power; a recently established Poetry Pharmacy is receiving attention; and social media brims with poems and poets attempting to make sense of what’s happening to us. Arguably there couldn’t be a more apt context for Doty’s book about his lifelong

The radical history of The Spectator

A newspaper – it would be more than 100 years before it became a magazine – calling itself a spectator of events, while consistently standing up for individual freedom, was bound to fall out with its readership from time to time. In the early years, under the editorship of its Scottish founder, Robert Rintoul, The Spectator’s support for the Tolpuddle Martyrs, for the Chartists and for the abolition of slavery in the colonies did not cause too many raised eyebrows. Thanks to Rintoul’s enlightened imperialism, a fund was established to settle labourers and young married couples in Australia and New Zealand. But when the new joint editors, Meredith Townsend and