John Sutherland

The sage of age

Ashton Applewhite is a leading American ‘inspirer’ on how to make the most of being over the hill. She has followers to whom she dispatches her inspiration by blog, YouTube, TED, magazine column and talk-show interview. This Chair Rocks first came into the world, three years ago, as a ‘networked book’. It now presents itself

Love at first bite

Legends cling to Bram Stoker’s life. One interesting cluster centres on his wife, Florence. She was judged, in her high years, a supreme London beauty. She preserved her Dresden perfection by denying her husband conjugal access. Bram consoled himself with warmer but more dangerous ladies of the night; such satisfactions came at greater cost than

Burning passions

This is a book which, as one eyes its lavish illustrations and dips into its elegant prose, looks as if it ought to come with an option to buy a cut-price John Lewis coffee table. On the Burning of Books is, in fact, much more than that. It wears its scholarship lightly. A weightier treatment

The cavalier Michael

Michael Moorcock has put his name to more books, pamphlets and fanzines than, probably, even Michael Moorcock can count, but nothing ‘major’ over the past ten years. He’s now 75. But not, as this eruption witnesses, extinct. A cult has formed around him — Moorcockians who can discourse knowledgeably on the second aether and the

No sex, please, in the Detection Club

‘The crime novel,’ said Bertolt Brecht, ‘like the world itself, is ruled by the English.’ He was thinking of the detective story and the tribute was truest in the ‘golden age’, between the great wars; the period covered, hugely readably, by Martin Edwards. Edwards’s primary subject is the Detection Club, whose members included the giants

David Lodge: confessions of a wrongly modest man

This massive first instalment of a memoir starts in the quite good year the author was born, 1935, and ends with his breakthrough novel, Changing Places, in the rather better year, 1975. A master-practitioner of narrative, Lodge chooses to write with an artful flatness which recalls Frank Kermode’s similarly self-depreciative memoir, Not Entitled. Lodge’s career

A Beckett fagend rescued from a bin

Spectator readers of my vintage will remember their first encounter with Beckett as vividly as their first lover’s kiss. For me they happened around the same time, aged 18. The dramatic initiation was a Colchester rep performance of Waiting for Godot, in 1956. Twenty-five years after his first mature work was written Beckett had hit

Wilkie Collins by Andrew Lycett – review

In the outrageous 2010 press hounding of the innocent schoolteacher Christopher Jefferies over the murder of his young female tenant (of which a neighbour, Vincent Tabak, was later convicted and over which the guilty newspapers later shelled out punitive sums), the Sun produced, as suspicious facts, that Jefferies was ‘obsessed by death’, and ‘scared the

Looking at Books by John Sutherland – essay

The sexy thing this summer, as the TV ads tell us, is the e-book. Forget those old 1,000-page blockbusters, two of which would put you over Mr Ryan’s weight limit. Sand, sun, surf — and Kindle. The traditional ‘beach book’ is as obsolete as the Victorian bathing machine. The printed codex has had a long


One of the reprinted reviews which make up the bulk of this book opens: ‘I vividly remember when I first read George Orwell. It was at Eton.’ How would it sound, I mused, if I began a review: ‘I vividly remember when I first read George Orwell. It was at Colchester Grammar School.’ It would

The most inscrutable of poets

Where our great Victorian writers are concerned we live in an age of rolling biography and contradictory interpretation. I’ve read half a dozen lives of the poet since picking up, as a schoolboy, the Penguin paperback of Harold Nicolson’s Tennyson: Aspects of his Life, Character and Poetry, with its diagnosis of a crippling case of

Bloomsbury’s twin powerhouses

Rosemary Ashton has always been fascinated by the ways in which ideas ‘materialise’. Her first book, The German Idea, tracked the subtle filaments of Germanism in 19th-century British culture. In this, her latest book, she anatomises an area of London where more formative ideas have been conceived, and brought to fruition, than in any other

Man of mysteries

It was always William Wilkie Collins’s good luck — though in later life something of a humiliation — that he was dragged along on Dickens’s coat-tails — not least in this bicentennial ‘year of Dickens’. In December, the BBC will be showing a dramatisation of The Moonstone. T. S. Eliot (no less) called that tale

Among the ghosts

Does it matter who actually wrote a novel – or a political speech? What’s the most distinguished ghost-written book? John F. Kennedy, while still a postgraduate student, put his name to a book that went on to win the Pulitzer. Decades after his assassination it emerged that it was substantially ghosted. Should not the keepers