Richard Davenporthines

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood – review

The two opening volumes of Margaret Atwood’s trilogy have sold over a million copies. One of them managed to be shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in the nadir year that D.B.C. Pierre’s Vernon God Little won. Entitled Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009), they depict planet Earth after humankind

The wilder shores of Wilde

In 1946, as a Princeton graduate, J. Robert Maguire was attached to the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. He befriended an elderly survivor of the Dreyfus Affair, from whom he acquired important unpublished documents, and ever since has been a quiet, discriminating buyer of archival material relating to sensational trials and miscarriages of

The French connection | 15 November 2012

When novelists write essays, they often boom through megaphones, aggrandise the importance of their views and inflate their stature.  Julian Barnes, however, seems to be a novelist who enjoyed feeling special when young, but now finds increasing rueful comfort in reminders of his own insignificance.  Certainly there is no swagger in his 17 essays about

Flaws in our national treasure

Charles Dickens remains in his bicentennial year as much a national treasure as Shakespeare, and just as deeply embedded in the English psyche as the Bard, declares Michael Slater, an Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of London. Among the innumerable Victorians who sanctified domesticity, sentimentalised hearth and home and idealised family love,

Philida, by André Brink

The location of Philida is a Cape farm which used to be named Zandvliet and is now the celebrated vineyard Solms Delta, owned jointly by Richard Astor and the eminent neuropsychologist Mark Solms. It was Solms who brought to André Brink the story on which the veteran South African novelist bases his 21st work of

Preaching to the converted

Jonathan Franzen is a pessimist with a capacity for quiet joy. In a revealing passage in this collection of essays, reviews and speeches he writes of his fellow novelist Alice Munro: ‘She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my

Hero or villein?

‘Not one word’, exclaimed Turgenev of Tolstoy, ‘not one movement of his is natural! He is eternally posing before us!’ The recurrent underlying theme of A.N. Wilson’s prize-winning biography of Tolstoy, now re-issued after a quarter of a century, is the novelist as grand impersonator. Wilson (a prolific novelist himself) believes that there is a

A lord of thin air

It is easy, especially if one is not American, to feel ambivalent about the fictions of John Updike. The immaculate clarity of his prose style, the precision of his vocabulary, the tenderness underlying his Wasp comedies of manners, the puckish wit rising above a sorrowful temperament — none of these can be gainsaid. But the

A polished fragment

One evening nearly 40 years ago the world’s press descended on Patrick White in Sydney: they rampaged outside his house, pounded its doors, shouted through windows, camped on the lawn. The reason for this hullabaloo was that White had beaten Saul Bellow in the race for the Nobel Prize for Literature of 1973. Yet in

Picking up the pieces

‘The World of Interiors’ might have been a better title for this novel. Its two chief protagonists, Catherine Gehrig and Henry Brandling, live a century and a half apart, but both are beset by circumstances that make them physically isolated and emotionally stunted. They rail in furious misery, and are sunk in interior communing. Commodities

Menace, mystery and decadence

It is fitting that Charles Dickens’s bicentenary coincides with Lawrence Durrell’s centenary, for the two novelists have crucial resemblances: both of them are triumphant in the intensity and power of their writing, but capable of calamitous lapses of taste; both of them are riotous comedians who sometimes plunge into hopeless melodrama. It is true that

A horrid story of intellectual corruption

The death of a great author often causes interminable displays of corrosive envy. Heirs, acolytes, interpreters and academics resent one another’s claims on the literary estate or cultural heritage. They try to engross the dead talent for their own. They claim privileges, and make spiteful stabs at people with whom they have the closest affinities.

Poison Ivy

‘Who was she?’, a browser might ask on finding three re-issued novels by Ivy Compton-Burnett, and ‘Why should I read them?’ Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett (1884-1969) was one of 13 children of a Victorian physician. After his death, his widow wrapped herself in anger and subjected her children to cruel, neurotic tyranny. Their verbal laceration continued

AfterWord edited by Dale Salwak

‘Conjuring the Literary Dead’ is the sub-title of this outlandish, sometimes beguiling book. Its editor, Dale Salwak, coaxed 19 writers — of the status of Margaret Drabble, Francis King, Jay Parini and Alan Sillitoe — to write essays in which they imagine speaking to dead authors who intrigue them. The resulting chapters are often inquisitive,


‘Oh no! I’m keeping it for an officer,’ said a girl called Irma when the 17-year-old Alistair Horne made his first determined moves. ‘Oh no! I’m keeping it for an officer,’ said a girl called Irma when the 17-year-old Alistair Horne made his first determined moves. A little later Horne was being trained as a

When the great ship went down

The looming centenary of the world’s most notorious shipping calamity, when the Titanic ruptured its starboard flank as it scraped the side of an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912, presents publishers with a tactical challenge. The looming centenary of the world’s most notorious shipping calamity, when the Titanic ruptured its starboard flank