Philip Hensher

Philip Hensher is professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and the author of 11 novels including A Small Revolution in Germany.

The shame of Ian, the lockdown pup

The park we go to every day is Victorian – large, full of mock landscapes and extravagantly diverse settings, lakes, woodlands, formal gardens and tiny wildernesses. We went on a guided tour of Buckingham Palace’s gardens three years ago, and afterwards my husband said: ‘Well, it was very nice. But Battersea Park is nicer.’ Above

The brilliance of A.S. Byatt lives on in her writing

Dame Antonia Byatt, the novelist A.S. Byatt, has died after a long illness. With her goes part of the conscience of English fiction; its heart, its power to think, its capacity for feeling both wild and exact. She was one of the most generous people I ever knew.    One of the things you had

How Vegemite took over the world

Vegemite is 100 years old. The first yeast paste, Marmite, was introduced in the UK in 1902, named after the French cooking pot; New Zealand Marmite, currently a quite different product, emerged in 1919. The mite suffix had nothing to do with might, but the association was irresistible, and Vegemite was created in Australia in

The astonishing truth about 007

The novel as a form is a fundamentally capitalist enterprise. It was invented at the same time as capitalism – Robinson Crusoe tots up his situation in the form of double-entry bookkeeping. Its interests dwell on the disparate and unequal natures of human beings and feed off rivalry, social transformation, moneymaking, profit and loss. No

Click bait: confessions of a Lego addict

The empire of Lego has many dominions and protectorates, with every year, it seems, new territories to conquer. There are theme parks; there are films of excruciatingly ironic sophistication; there are competitions to make bizarre tableaux that grip nations; there are highly controlled TV documentaries about life at the heart of Lego in Denmark. I

The phoney mystics who fooled the West

In recent years when we’ve talked about the relations between India and the West, we’ve gone back to stressing the impossibility of interchange. A hundred years ago, E.M. Forster ended A Passage to India with the certainty that Aziz and Fielding could not be friends. Forster thought things would be different after Indian independence, but

Cheerful meanderings: Caret, by Adam Mars-Jones, reviewed

The novelistic tube or nozzle through which experience is squeezed in order to be bletted on the page in words, and in turn create the illusion of experience in the reader, is a slender one. Novelists have often perversely focused on the narrowest of lives. Xavier de Maistre wrote an entire travelogue in the 1790s

Philip Larkin, the Poet Laureate who never was

We’ll never know if Philip Larkin, one of the greatest English poets of the twentieth century, would have been a success as Poet Laureate. Larkin, as well as several other poets like WH Auden and Robert Graves, was deemed unsuitable for the role by Downing Street, according to documents released today by the National Archives. No.

Barbie’s world: the normalisation of cosmetic surgery

39 min listen

This week: Ahead of the release of the Barbie movie, Louise Perry writes in her cover piece about how social media is fuelling the cosmetic surgery industry. She argues that life in plastic is not, in fact, fantastic. She joins the podcast alongside the Times’s Sarah Ditum, author of the upcoming book: Toxic: Women, Fame and the Noughties, to

The changing face of the BBC Proms

There are two faces of the BBC Proms. The faces are somewhat at odds with each other. The one that everyone knows, whether they have an interest in music or not, is the Last Night of the Proms. It’s a concert consisting of a series of small musical items, or ‘lollipops’ as Sir Thomas Beecham

In memory of Martin Amis

37 min listen

In this week’s Book Club podcast, we celebrate the life and weigh the literary reputation of Martin Amis, who died at the end of last week. I’m joined by the critic Alex Clark, the novelist John Niven, and our chief reviewer Philip Hensher – all of whom bring decades of close engagement with Amis’s work

The confrontational genius of Martin Amis

Martin Amis had impeccable timing, as anyone who looks at his sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books ought to admit. He died 50 years exactly after the publication of his first novel, The Rachel Papers, and the beginning of this wayward, unflinching, confrontational genius’s hold on us, and on fiction expressed in English prose. Not many novelists,

The new elite: the rise of the progressive aristocracy

40 min listen

On the podcast this week:  In his cover piece for The Spectator, Adrian Wooldridge argues that meritocracy is under attack. He says that the traditional societal pyramid – with the upper class at the top and the lower class at the base – has been inverted by a new culture which prizes virtue over meritocracy. He

The attraction of freethinking humanism

One rather surprising fact emerges from a history of humanism: most humanists were nice people. This might, on the surface, appear a totally fatuous observation. There is not much value in debating whether, say, architects, chancellors of the exchequer, engineers, surgeons or gardeners have been obviously nice people, and we would roll our eyes if

The biography Noël Coward deserves

‘In the prison of his days,’ W.H. Auden wrote, ‘teach the free man how to praise.’ Noël Coward’s last performance, possessing, like so much of his work, a scene-stealing quality, was in the 1969 film The Italian Job. He plays the gangster Mr Bridger, masterminding a gold robbery in Turin from his prison cell. In

Who’s afraid of Keir Starmer?

41 min listen

This week: Who’s afraid of Keir Starmer? In his cover piece for the magazine, The Spectator’s Editor Fraser Nelson says that without a Labour demon to point at the Tories stand little chance in the next election. He joins the podcast alongside journalist Paul Mason, to discuss why Keir Starmer is so hard to vilify (01:10).  Also