Explorer, author, soldier, lover: The Romantic, by William Boyd, reviewed

William Boyd taps into the classical novel tradition with this sweeping tale of one man’s century-spanning life, even to the extent of providing the accustomed framing device: the chance discovery of a cache of papers and mementoes. The items listed by ‘WB’ in his ‘Author’s Note’ – a musket ball, a fragment of a Greek amphora, a crinkly lock of hair – all find their place in the tale of this 19th-century adventurer, lover, traveller and author. Cashel Greville Ross (his name turns out to be as mutable as his identity and nationality) is born in Ireland in irregular circumstances – so irregular that a swift flight to England as

Fiction’s most famous Rifleman returns — and it’s miraculous he’s still alive

It has been 15 years since the last Richard Sharpe novel, and it’s a pleasure to report that fiction’s most famous Rifleman is still thriving, miraculous as that may seem after his long and suicidally dangerous career. Sharpe, a foundling child from the East End of London, brings street fighting skills to the business of soldiering. He has risen slowly and painfully through the ranks, campaigning in India during the 1790s and in Spain during the Peninsular war. At the start of this book, he has just saved the day at Waterloo with a typical combination of tactical skill, reckless courage and unorthodox thinking (in this case shooting the Prince

France will always have a love-hate relationship with its heroes

The French have a love-hate relationship with heroes. For the great 19th-century historian Jules Michelet, the French Revolution was supposed to have inaugurated the age of the people: ‘France cured of individuals,’ he wrote in the preface to his history. But that same Revolution created a pantheon for its grands hommes. Anyone who has spent time in France will be familiar with the names of those figures celebrated endlessly in street names: Hugo, Gambetta, Pasteur, Jaurès, Moulin and so on. Many French people might now be hard-pressed if asked who some of these heroes were. But the two names everyone knows — even if neither is actually in the Panthéon

Old-school Sunday-night family viewing: ITV’s Belgravia reviewed

The world may be going to hell in a handcart but some things remain reassuringly unchanged: Julian Fellowes period dramas about feisty dowager duchesses, social climbing and snobbery, say. I like and admire Fellowes so I don’t want him to take this the wrong way. But when I say that his new series Belgravia (ITV) borrows from the same template he employed so successfully with Downton Abbey, and before that Gosford Park, and also in that series set on the Titanic that didn’t do quite so well, I’m not trying to suggest he’s a one-trick pony. More that he’s a canny chap who understands his market, has found the perfect