Digby Durrant

Not for insomniacs

In Sybille Bedford’s book, Jigsaw, a woman who is suffering from insomnia asks for books. ‘Oh, not real books, I couldn’t look at those. Detective stories only.’ So Sayers’ Wimseyland and Christie’s Poirot are required. How would she get on today? Ruth Rendell and P. D James would do excellently but none of these books

Love goes begging

I was astonished by the huge success of Louis de Bernières’ Captain Correlli’s Mandolin which I staggered through back in 1994. Many separate passages were colourfully and beguilingly written, but the book as a whole was confusing and over- written, as if the author couldn’t bear to stop. I haven’t read any others since, and

Edinburgh still rocks

Will Alexander McCall Smith’s readers remain loyal now that he’s not writing about Bots- wana, which he sees as an earthly paradise, but about Edinburgh, which even her most devoted citizens couldn’t claim for her, beautiful though she is. He’s as amazed by that skyline as they are, but no one is more aware than

Pity the oppressed; fear the oppressed

The fight to abolish slavery and its consequences is an immense subject so it’s not surprising that the Nigerian Simi Bedford’s new book could be likened to the kind of film once made famous by Cecil B De Mille with a cast of thousands and dramatic events at every turn. There are no quiet pages

Return of the native

We know the pressures the steady flow of immigrants has caused in our society though we hear less about the benefits of having them here; nor do we have much idea what they think about us. Lev, the Polish migrant in Rose Tremain’s new book, expected to find men who looked like Alec Guinness in The

Past and future imperfect

This is a book about the failure of two marriages. One is destroyed by a past that refuses to slacken its grip, though the marriage itself has to limp on; the other is wrecked by a future impossible to avoid. They are seen through the eyes of four different people, two from one family, two from

An innocent abroad

Even as a boy Charles knew there was something false about his father Adrian Mainguard. Why? Nobody else did. An internationally famed pianist and composer, blessed with Dionysian looks and a forehead Virginia Woolf described as ‘like a bow window revealing his soul … there was something god-like about him’. Benjamin Britten, Auden, Sackville-Wests and Bloomsburys, all

Going under and coming up

It’s understandable that a man fails to kill himself with a puncture repair outfit or drown himself in a bucket but rather miraculous if he can’t throw himself under a bus successfully. Yet this is the melancholy achievement of ex-Sub-Inspector Swaminathan, Swami, from Mullaipuram in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. A good

A small stir of Scots

I wonder how much my enthusiasm for Alexander McCall Smith’s stories about Precious Ramotswe, the founder of The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency, came from reading them while in a French hospital recovering from an emergency operation?  Grateful to be transported from my hospital bed to Botswana and find myself in her company I wouldn’t have

Ghosts from the past

Listing page content here Andrew Taylor has written on a wide range of subjects, but it is for his crime thrillers that he has become famous and won so many awards. By my estimate he’s written 26, which is just under half of the 59 books he’s credited with by Amazon. Until now I have

Come, rap for the planet

You don’t read Nadine Gordimer without knowing it will be about Africa and its manifold problems of which you will know too little and even if you did know more could do little about. Her new book is no exception, though I think it will trouble our conscience less than usual. Paul Bannerman is a

Oh, my Papa!

Miles Kington, humourist-at-large from the moment he was born, which he remembers because a shadowy figure had snapped at him that he’s pressed for time, what does he want to be, girl or boy? He arrives to find himself surrounded by an unusually colourful family. Father, a very short man who is made all the

The fake’s progress

Ever since Dixon’s pie-eyed lecture on Merrie England in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim there’s been a hunger for more exposures of the pretentious absurdities and backbiting jealousies of academia. Here’s another from a distinguished professor of English at London University who’s presumably seen a great deal of it. Perhaps it’s because of this that David

Love lies bleeding

A writer, John Dearborn, known as Bron, persuades a publisher to commission him to do a book about love at first sight. Bron is obsessed with Paul Marotte, a physician living in Amsterdam who one day in 1889 sees Kate Summer on a bridge and instantly falls in love, decides to paint professionally and they

Erudition without tears

There never was a ticket with the word ‘POSH’ stamped on it by the P&O shipping line, which meant a passenger to India went out on the port side and returned on the starboard and got the best of the cooling breezes. So, where did the word come from? Michael Quinion says humans fear the

‘My libido’s last hurrah!’

At first sight Gilbert Adair’s new book seems like shameless pornography of a particularly sad and depraved kind, but more charitably and more accurately we discover as we read on that it is the story of an unlikely martyr-hero who risks his life in the cause of militant homosexuality rather than suffer suicidal loneliness. As

Always her own woman

The Grandmothers consists of four novellas, very different from The Golden Notebook, that sprawling, seemingly unedited, over-talkative, rather wonderful book that made Doris Lessing famous and became as stirring a call to arms for the swelling ranks of the feminist movement as Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Lessing disliked being pigeon-holed like this, insisting it

The doubting priest

As Schindler’s Ark shows, Thomas Keneally is at his best bringing the past to life undaunted either by the importance of the events or by the famous names at the centre of them. Two of his other novels that lie to hand, A Family Madness and Gossip from the Forest, confirm that he wastes no

Fiddler on the run

This is the story of a strange and intense friendship between two orthodox Jews, one a violinist seen as the next Kreisler, the other a clever plodder who falls under his spell, almost wrecking his own life in the process. The two meet as boys just before the war. Dovdl Rapoport, called David, a refugee