David Sexton

The exquisite pottery of Lucie Rie

Lucie Rie had no time for high-flown talk about the art of ceramics. ‘I like to make pots – but I do not like to talk about them,’ she’d say. ‘I am not a thinker, I am not an art historian, I just do.’ It was her profession, she would maintain. Rie’s work is astonishingly

The exquisite pottery of Richard Batterham

Richard Batterham died last September at the age of 85. He had worked in his pottery in the village of Durweston near Blandford Forum in Dorset for 60 years continuously. It was, in its own way, an heroic life. Batterham took an astonishingly pure, austere approach to his work. Quite simply, he undertook every part

Down – if not out – in Paris

Virginie Despentes remains best known in this country for her 1993 debut novel, Baise-Moi, about two abused young women who set off on an orgiastically murderous road-trip round France. In 2000, she became notorious when she collaborated on the hardcore film of the book, which ran into certification problems, with Alexander Walker fulminating about the

One Leg Too Few may be one biography too many

It’s no joke, writing about comedians. Their work is funny, their lives are not. Rightly honouring the former while accurately relaying the disasters of the latter is a challenge few writers can well meet. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore have been extensively studied before. Harry Thompson published his excellent biography of Cook in 1997, Barbara

Bitter Experience Has Taught Me, by Nicholas Lezard – review

What, really, is a literary education for? What’s the point of it? How, precisely, does it help when you’re another day older and deeper in debt? These are questions that after a while begin to present themselves with uncomfortable force and persistence to those of us who have believed from our earliest youth that if

Here and Now, by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee – review

In love, there is always one who kisses and one who offers the cheek. So too in the luckless genre of letters artificially exchanged for the purposes of publication. There’s been a little spate of these lately, the most interesting and unbalanced having been Public Enemies, in which Michel Houellebecq brilliantly began the exchange by

The revised version

The narrator of Julian Barnes’s novella has failed disastrously to understand his first love. David Sexton admires this skilful story, but finds something missing Julian Barnes once said that the only time he had ever threatened to throw a guest out of his house was not because the churl had disparaged his food or insulted

Dreaming of cowsheds

In 1999, Adam Nicolson published a very good book called Perch Hill: A New Life, about his escape from London and a break-down, after his divorce and a nasty mugging, to a farm in the Sussex Weald, close to Kipling’s house, Batemans. In 1999, Adam Nicolson published a very good book called Perch Hill: A

From red giant to white dwarf

Richard Cohen, who was a publishing director of Hutchinson and Hodder before moving to New York where he now teaches Creative Writing, is the author of one previous book: By the Sword: Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers and Olympic Champions (2002). This comprehensive history drew on his deep, personal knowledge of the subject, for Cohen was

Change, decay and success

After having for so long been treated with such disdain by the French literary establishment, Michel Houellebecq has at last been embraced by it. Last week La carte et le territoire, his fifth novel, was awarded the Prix Goncourt, a distinction any of his previous novels might just as well have merited. Perhaps it has

A strict, controlling vision

Thoughtful Gardening, twice as long as the first two, beautifully produced in Germany, is a summation of the Lane Fox gardening doctrine, this time mixing more or less practical advice on particular plants — Later Clematis, Sociable Deutzias, Desirable Dahlias, the Etna Broom — with more discursive essays, recalling great gardeners, visiting gardens from Texas

Ruling the planet

‘Facebook’, says the excitable author of this hero-gram, ‘may be the fastest-growing company of any type in history.’ ‘Facebook’, says the excitable author of this hero-gram, ‘may be the fastest-growing company of any type in history.’ ‘Thefacebook.com’ went live on 4 February 2004, as an on-line directory for students at Harvard, inviting them to upload

The houseguest from hell

Once upon a time, an untrustworthy story- teller seemed rather an enterprising creation — and some great books were written this way, like Lolita and The Good Soldier (from which Blake Morrison takes an epigraph). But nowadays having a fibber as compère seems painfully predictable. Only if our dodgy raconteur is strikingly engaging or funny

The whirlwind and the saint

Dave Eggers is the very model of the engaged writer. Since publishing his first book, the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he has branched out into all kinds of philanthropic literary activity. His organisation, McSweeney’s, has become a major imprint, championing emerging writers. In San Francisco, he has set up a community writing