Gilbert Adair

His own best invention

Just as it will sometimes happen that a critic feels obliged to preface a review with a declaration of interest, so I should now declare a lack of interest. Prior to being commissioned to review David Bellos’s heroically well-researched and hugely entertaining biography, I confess I had never managed to finish one of Romain Gary’s

Whine, whine, whine

There came a moment, very early in my reading of the latest volume of Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, when a spell was broken. The relevant entry, written at his beach home in Santa Monica, California, was dated 12 November 1960. And the single, throwaway notation which caused me to re-evaluate, I fear definitively, my admiration for

No body in the library

The opening paragraph of Duchess of Death’s fourth chapter, in which its subject is about to have her first whodunit published, begins thus: The opening paragraph of Duchess of Death’s fourth chapter, in which its subject is about to have her first whodunit published, begins thus: September 25, 1919. John Lane was very pleased with

In and out of every dive

Robert Coover’s Noir is a graphic novel. Robert Coover’s Noir is a graphic novel. Not literally, in the contemporary sense in which the phrase is used to designate a highfalutin words-plus-pictures album; but figuratively, in that its language cannot help but be converted, in the reader’s inner eye, into a series of monochromatic images, images

A certain look

Just as there are people who are their own worst enemies, so there are books that are their own worst reviews. Mark Griffin’s A Hundred or More Hidden Things, a new biography of the Hollywood film-maker Vincente Minnelli, is one such. No review could possibly be as damning as a verbatim reproduction of its irresistibly

Cast a long shadow

Many years ago I invited a young student of mine to see Psycho, a film of which she had never heard, made by a director (Hitchcock) with whose name she was unfamiliar and shot in a format (black-and-white) whose apparent old-fashionedness so mystifed her she wondered aloud why no one thought to complain to the

Repeat that, repeat

When the Louvre invited me to organise for the whole of November 2009 a series of conferences, exhibitions, public readings, concerts, film projections and the like on the subject of my choice, I did not hesitate for a second and proposed the list. Thus Umberto Eco on the genesis of this book, published simultaneously in

The usual detectives

That very title prompted in me a little Proustian epiphany. I was abruptly transported back to the mid-Fifties when, a swotty little creep, I would stow away my completed homework, switch on what we called the wireless and tune in to the Third Programme. For readers too young to have known that august institution, a

Going through the motions

If book reviews in The Spectator were, God forbid, ‘starred’, this self-styled biography of James Bond would merit just two stars out of five. The rationale behind so mediocre a score, however, would not be, as you might expect, that Pearson’s book is a curate’s egg, good in parts. Rather, it would reflect the fact

When murderers knew their place

Was Agatha Christie a good writer? The American critic Edmund Wilson was one of the unhappy few who thought not. In 1944 he wrote a famous essay on Christie whose contentious (and contemptuous) tone can already be inferred from the rhetorical question which its title poses: ‘Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?’. That title, in