Duncan Fallowell

Barbara Ker-Seymer – Bright Young Person in the shadows

English Modernism was graced by five daring and gifted women who were in many respects well in advance of their native male counterparts: Virginia Woolf and Anna Kavan in prose, Edith Sitwell in poetry, Elisabeth Lutyens in music and Barbara Hepworth in sculpture. Barbara Ker-Seymer is not remotely in this class. She took some attractive

Karl Lagerfeld – from fashion icon to invisible man

Karl Lagerfeld was an icon when he died in 2019, but for most of his career he was unknown outside the fashion business. He was born in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, a distasteful coincidence, so Lagerfeld altered his birth to 1938. He was an only child, whose father did well by introducing

Russian escapism: Telluria, by Vladimir Sorokin, reviewed

Vladimir Sorokin, old enough to have been banned in the Soviet Union, flourished in the post-Gorbachev spring, and he fled to Berlin several days before Russia attacked Ukraine. He writes phantasmagorias, as so many Russians do, because Russia is a nation that has never allowed its writers to examine society directly. Solzhenitsyn said: ‘Russian literature

Is Donald Trump postmodern?

David Shields is an American author who has decided to collate many of the questions he’s been asked in interviews and reprint them – without any of his answers – under themes of Childhood, Art, Envy, Capitalism etc. The idea is that the questions put to him are just as revealing as his responses. This

The wizard that was Warhol

In 1983 I was sent to New York to interview Johnny Rotten and I took the opportunity to call on Andy Warhol. The Factory was in the phonebook; and the receptionist, Brigid Berlin, said that Andy was in Milan but would be back the following afternoon. ‘You better give him half an hour. Why don’t

Where’s Coco?

Anne de Courcy, an escapee from tabloid journalism, has become a polished historian of British high society in the 20th century. Her book The Viceroy’s Daughters, an account of the three daughters of Lord Curzon, marked her transition from debutante-itis to something grittier. It was followed by a biography of Diana Mosley, published a few

More scenes from my life with Francis Bacon

The case of Michael Peppiatt is a curious one. He first met Francis Bacon when he was an undergraduate at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and visited Bacon for a student magazine. Something clicked and Bacon became his sugar daddy, immediately and for ever, though Peppiatt has said that no sex was involved. One can see what

Russian royalty

It is not as surprising at it sounds that two of the greatest collectors of modern art should have been merchants from 19th-century Moscow. If Russia managed to contrive a semblance of western civilisation in St Petersburg, it was by virtue of being directly under the steely Tsarist eye. Moscow on the other hand, half

Pondering the flowers

This new book, from the NYRB’s publishing arm, is in a non-fiction genre I love: short entries dedicated to an integrating purpose; approaching a subject via concentrated, separated stabs rather than extended unfolding text. In philosophy this is called the aphoristic technique. In wider literature, it can range from the concise notebook to prose poetry.

Free-wheeling flakiness

Early on in his introduction of nearly 60 pages, Owen Hatherley writes: ‘I find the Britain promised by Brexiters quite terrifying — xenophobic, paranoid, enclosed, pitifully nostalgic, cruel. But in much of the country that landscape never went away.’ One’s heart sinks. This isn’t even polemical; it’s just silly. The introduction, subtitled ‘What is a

Beyond Timbuktu

Every so often a monster comes along. Here’s one — but a monster of fact not fiction, over 700 pages recounting the French expedition from Dakar to Djibouti 1931–33. It doesn’t matter that this travel diary — part field study, part confessional, first published in 1934 — has arrived so late for an English readership.

The books the Nazis didn’t burn

For one who has, since boyhood, regarded the secondhand bookshop as a paradise of total immersion, it is quite shocking to discover Albatross, an unknown imprint from the English literary past. Before Albatross there was Tauchnitz, the Leipzig firm which for 100 years cornered the market in English language books outside the territories of the

From Balzac to the Beatles

All biography is both an act of homage and a labour of dissection, and all biographers are jealous of their subjects. Most keep it cool, but some like it hot and have created a distinct category in which jealousy becomes murder followed by necromancy: the one they hug is asphyxiated — but lo! — they

Nazis and narcotics

Norman Ohler is rather hard on the Nazis, for compared to what our little group got up to in the late 1960s and 1970s, they were shrinking violets in the drugs department. We smoked cannabis, ate opium and sometimes took strong LSD; lines of uncertain content went up nostrils; and we swallowed countless uppers (speed)

A masterpiece of mesmerising beauty

In the beginning was Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, pleached and Proustian, released in February 1960. This was followed soon after, at Cannes in May 1960, by Antonioni’s L’Avventura, which invented slow cinema by taking a Hitchcock premise through a maze with no end. In June the following year, Last Year in Marienbad was released, in

Gay tittle-tattle

The Comintern was the name given to the international communist network in the Soviet era, advancing the cause wherever it could. The ‘Homintern’, a wry play on that, was first coined at Oxford by Maurice Bowra and gladly passed on by Cyril Connolly, Auden and others, inferring an international homosexual network of mutual interest and

The Mann who knew everyone

Thomas Mann, despite strong homosexual emotions, had six children. The two eldest, Erika and Klaus, born in 1905 and 1906 respectively, were delinquent almost from the word go: shoplifting, prank phone calls, trickery on old ladies, special schools. They were also artistically precocious; the frantic pair took German Expressionist cabaret to Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London,