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Muriel Spark – The Ballad of Peckham Rye

As with real sparks, Muriel Spark’s novels only sometimes catch alight for me. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) caught, Loitering with Intent (1981) too, but The Girls of Slender Means (1963) and The Driver’s Seat (1970) didn’t take at all, Spark’s famously firm narrative grip seeming firm to the point of inertia in

Susan Sontag – Notes on Camp

This is not so much a review as some notes on the Notes: “Footnotes on ‘Camp’”, I should really call it. Note the punctuation in the title: “Camp sees everything in quotation marks”, notes Sontag. “To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role”. The inverted commas capture Camp’s fugitive nature, for “to

Michael Henderson – That Will Be England Gone

T. S. Eliot wrote an essay called ‘To Criticise the Critic.’ Michael Henderson surely considered calling his book To Criticise the Cricket, but then he would have been limited to talking about cricket. That Will Be England Gone – a title cribbed from another poet, Philip Larkin – is a book with little concept of

Diana Athill – A Florence Diary

Diana Athill made her name in the publishing houses, and in 2016, at the age of 98, she decided that it was time the publisher became the published. The book in question was a slim diary that she had kept almost seventy years before, an account of her trip to Florence in 1947. She was

Violaine Huisman – The Book of Mother

A winner of several major prizes in its native France, Violaine Huisman’s now-anglicised debut has received predictably little coverage here. I picked it up on the strength of that half-eaten apple on its spine – Virago – but what about all those readers who aren’t so brand loyal or who need that thousand-word panegyric from

Ian McEwan – Black Dogs

Writers are rarely the best judges of their own books. Take Ian McEwan, who has expressed grave reservations about his obviously brilliant Cold War thriller, The Innocent (1990), while singling out his deeply flawed second crack at the Cold War, Black Dogs (1992), as his finest work. It’s the other way round, Ian! The fact

David Batterham – Dear Howard: Tales Told in Letters

Never was there an apter book for a blog about books than a book by a book dealer. Even aptlier, it was found behind my bookshelves, just a few days ago. I have no idea how it got there, nor who gave it to me: I certainly didn’t buy it. But if Dear Howard tells

Books of 2021

As 2021 draws to a close and this blog nears its first anniversary, I feel almost contractually obliged to do a round-up of my books of the year. So here we are: ten books, new and old (and ranked only by author surname), that I particularly enjoyed over the past twelve months. Not all of

James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…    His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had

Gwendoline Riley – My Phantoms

Gwendoline Riley’s short, scalpel-sharp novels may not be getting longer, but they are getting heavier. It must be the weight of expectation: her last novel, First Love, won a whole cabinet of awards; and over the past few weeks her latest, My Phantoms, has appeared on countless best-novels-of-the-year lists. But will it appear on mine?

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