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JULY 2007 £3.

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HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN


Richard Gray on James Fenimore Cooper
Alan Ryan on Dangerous Utopias
David Cesarani on the Himmlers
9 770144 436041

Gerard Baker on Reagan’s Diaries


The Fourth of July DEBUNKED
Adam Smith DIGESTED
The Story of the Bible ★ The Midwife’s Tale
07

The Birth of the Bomb


LOVE & LUST
Shelley on the Prowl ★ Hazlitt on Heat
Schumann gets Syphilis ★ Mata Hari gets Shot
FICTION: William Trevor ★ Pat Barker ★ Irvine Welsh ★ Susanna Jones...
FROM THE PULPIT

T IME WAS WHEN wr iters were K ATHRYN H UGHES come to unveil a plaque. There was
expected to write, and not much the ‘bohemian intellectual’ incarna-
else. The particularly confident or
clubbable might appear on the
occasional BBC radio show, but
FESTIVAL FROLICS tion which resulted in my disappear-
ing whenever I stood next to a beige
wall. And then there was the ‘Sky
mostly it was considered infra dig weather girl’ phase (personally my
to tart yourself around like a travelling salesman offering favourite), where I looked colourful but slightly common.
a nice line in printer cartridges or ladies’ underwear. Not that festival dressing is all about visuals – there’s audio
How different it is now. Over the next four months to consider too. Remembering to pick an outfit which will
any market town which can run to a marquee and a accommodate a radio mike is something I always overlook.
patch of off-street parking will be mounting a ‘literary Devoid of pockets, the only solution is for the brick-like
festival’ at which you, as a writer with a book just out, contraption to be stuffed into the top of your tights, from
will be expected to do a turn. Your publicist expects it, where a wire snakes up under your clothes until it reappears
your agent says it will do your ‘brand’ the world of in public, coyly clamped to your lapel. Inevitably there’s a
good. You tell anyone who will listen that you happen spasm of embarrassment as the technical person – always
to know that Alan Bennett confines himself only to the male – attempts to put the radio mike in place without
major gigs – Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Hay. The looks actually touching your person. Doubtless terrified of getting
you get back tell you that, frankly, Alan Bennett’s slapped with a lawsuit, the poor man stands at arm’s length
options and yours have little in common. and theatrically averts his eyes while fiddling perilously near
And while your spirits may sink as you board yet your cleavage. You, in turn, stare into the middle distance
another slow Saturday train for who-knows-where, you and remind yourself that you have endured far worse over
remind yourself sternly that, actually, it is quite flattering the years at the family planning clinic.
that a hundred or so strangers are prepared to pay up to Suitably ‘miked up’, as we like to say in the festival
£5.50 to spend an hour under canvas with you. And it’s business, it’s time to get on stage. What you do and say
not as if you’re alone. At the station, in the cab queue, during the next hour is pretty much up to you. Writers
hovering at the hotel check-in, you will see the same mostly want to fill the time by reading straight from their
faces over and over again, that cohort of novelists, histo- books, which everyone else secretly thinks is a terrible
rians, poets and biographers whose latest book happens waste. So, with this in mind, I try to do an apparently
to coincide with yours. off-the-cuff talk instead. I say ‘apparently’ because I
Immediately, though, a dilemma presents itself. Should come from a generation where it wasn’t cool to admit
you acknowledge your literary fellow-travellers with a that you’d done your homework, ever.
‘here we are again’ shrug and smile, or is it more digni- The truth is, of course, I practise like mad. I make a
fied to pretend you haven’t recognised them? And what particular point of marking up any difficult words on my
if they happen to be terrifically famous? Would offering script so that there’s no danger of mis-speaking or, worse
P D James a ‘had a good journey, Phyl?’ or ‘do you still, dissolving into helpless giggles. You’d be amazed
know if we get dinner thrown in?’ count as friendly ice- how easy it is to muff innocent words like ‘sect’ and
breaking or shameless brown-nosing? I was once in the ‘public’ when you’re under pressure. I once did a whole
ghastly situation of coming down late to breakfast and hour’s talk on my first book, The Victorian Governess, in
finding myself directed to the last remaining empty which I managed to use the phrase ‘male member’ half a
place, which happened to be directly opposite Salman dozen times before realising that I should really find a
Rushdie. Now what’s a girl to do? A. Chew slowly on happier way of describing the men who happened to
your Full English and fix your gaze determinedly several live in the same households as my governess-heroines.
inches above the Great Man’s left shoulder? B. Ask him And then it’s back to the Green Room, where you
to pass the marmalade and in the process throw in join your fellow performers. Those who’ve already
a clever, knowing reference to Midnight’s Children. done their turn are gulping down warm white wine,
C. Pretend you’ve choked on your kipper and run from even though it’s still only 11.30 in the morning. Those
the dining room never to return? waiting to go on look pale and tense and are scribbling
But if eating at literary festivals is difficult, getting dressed things on the backs of their hands. The place is heaving,
is even worse. You like to think, of course, that the audi- not just with authors but with organisers, journalists
ence has come to hear your words of wisdom but actually and publicity people from the various publishers. You’re
you know that there are plenty of beady-eyed ladies of a desperate to sit down, because those mile-high wedge
certain age who attend these events simply to decide heels which seemed just the ticket this morning are
whether they like your frock. Since I first started out ten now killing you. There’s just one problem. Only one
years ago I’ve been through several changes of image. seat is free in the whole room. And, yes, it’s next to
There was the ‘minor royal’ phase in which I favoured Salman Rushdie. There’s nothing for it but to totter
linen coats and matching court shoes and looked as if I’d over, slump down, and look straight through him.

1
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
CONTENTS

THIS MONTH’S PULPIT is written by PULPIT 1 K ATHRYN H UGHES


Kathryn Hughes, Professor of Life
Writing at the University of East HISTORY 4 GERARD BAKER The Reagan Diaries (Ed) Douglas Brinkley
Anglia. Her books include George Eliot:
The Last Victorian, and most recently, 5 D A V I D C E S A R A N I The Himmler Brothers: A German Family
The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs History Katrin Himmler
Beeton, both published by 4th Estate. 7 D A V I D K Y N A S T O N Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East
End in the 1950s Jennifer Worth Family and Kinship in East
A LAN R YAN is Warden of New
London Michael Young and Peter Willmott
College, Oxford, and has taught
philosophy for over forty years. 8 J O N A T H A N M I R S K Y The Fourth of July and the Founding of
America Peter de Bolla
JONATHAN SUMPTION is the author 10 PETER JONES The Day of the Barbarians: The First Battle in the
of a history of the Hundred Years Fall of the Roman Empire Alessandro Barbero
War, and a practising QC.

DAVID KYNASTON’s Austerity Britain:


BIOGRAPHY 11 JONATHAN SUMPTION The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of
1945–51 is published by Bloomsbury. England’s Self-Made King Ian Mortimer
13 JULIA KEAY Femme Fatale: A Biography of Mata Hari Pat Shipman
JOHN GRIBBIN is a Visiting Fellow 14 RALEIGH TREVELYAN The Rash Adventurer: A Life of John
in astronomy at the University of
Pendlebury Imogen Grundon
Sussex and author of Science: A
History (Penguin). 16 BRENDA MADDOX Max Perutz and the Secret of Life Georgina Ferry
18 CHRISTOPHER COKER George Kennan: A Study of Character
ALLISTER HEATH is Editor of The John Lukacs
Business and Associate Editor of The 20 SIMON HEFFER Robert Schumann: Life and Death of a Musician
Spectator.
John Worthen
E LISABETH L UARD , in addition to 22 HUGH MASSINGBERD Otherwise Engaged: The Life of Alan Bates
scooping the much coveted Donald Spoto
Glenfiddich Trophy, was named 23 DAVID ELLIS Biography: A Brief History Nigel Hamilton
Best Cookery Writer for her recipes
in The Oldie. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN 24 EDWARD NORMAN The Bible: A Biography Karen Armstrong
MARTYN BEDFORD’s latest novel, The 25 D AMIAN T HOMPSON God is Not Great: The Case Against
Island of Lost Souls, is published in Religion Christopher Hitchens
paperback this month by Bloomsbury.
LITERARY LIVES 27 RICHARD GRAY James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years
D AMIAN T HOMPSON is Editor-in-
Wayne Franklin
Chief of The Catholic Herald.
28 F RANCES W ILSON Death and the Maidens: Fanny
DAVID CESARANI is research professor Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle Janet Todd Being Shelley:
in history at Royal Holloway, The Poet’s Search for Himself Anne Wroe
University of London. His most recent 30 CHARLES ELLIOTT The Way it Wasn’t: From the Files of James
book is Eichman: His Life and Crimes.
Laughlin (Ed) Barbara Epler and Daniel Javitch Counterpoint:
DAVID ELLIS is emeritus professor of 25 Years of The New Criterion on Culture and the Arts (Ed)
English Literature at the University of Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer
Kent at Canterbury and has published 31 J E S S I C A M A N N Paper Houses: A Memoir of the 70s and Beyond
books on Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Michèle Roberts
D H Lawrence, and the art of biography.
32 EVELYN TOYNTON Hazlitt in Love: A Fatal Attachment Jon Cook

Editor: NANCY SLADEK


Deputy Editor: TOM FLEMING
Editor-at-Large: JEREMY LEWIS
Assistant Editor: PHILIP WOMACK
General Assistant: CASSIE BROWNE
Contributing Editors: ALAN RAFFERTY, SEBASTIAN SHAKESPEARE
Advertising Manager: TERRY FINNEGAN
Classified Advertising: DAVID STURGE
Founding Editor: DR ANNE SMITH
Founding Father: AUBERON WAUGH
Cover illustration by Chris Riddell
Issue no. 345
2
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
JULY 2007

33 THOMAS HODGKINSON Alfred Douglas: A Poet’s Life and His ALEXANDER MASTERS is the author
Finest Work Caspar Wintermans of the acclaimed Stuart: A Life
Backwards (HarperPerennial).
34 WILLIAM PALMER The Boy Who Loved Books John Sutherland
CHRISTOPHER COKER is Professor
GENERAL 36 A LAN R YAN Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the of International Relations at the
Death of Utopia John Gray London School of Economics and
37 G RAHAM S TEWART Globalisation, Democracy and author of several books on interna-
tional security.
Terrorism Eric Hobsbawm
38 J O H N G R I B B I N Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the RALEIGH TREVELYAN’s The Fortress
Soul of Physics Gino Segrè Doomsday Men: The Real Dr is the classic account of the Anzio
Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon P D Smith offensive; he also described his
40 ALEXANDER MASTERS Unknown Quantity: A Real and wartime experiences in Rome ’44
and A Clear Premonition. His most
Imagined History of Algebra John Derbyshire
recent book is a biography of Sir
41 ALLISTER HEATH On the Wealth of Nations P J O’Rourke Walter Raleigh.
42 C HARLOTTE A PPLEYARD Stealing the Scream: The Hunt
for a Missing Masterpiece Edward Dolnick GERARD BAKER is US Editor and
43 D IANA C LEE Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of a Assistant Editor of The Times.
Great British Dynasty Catherine Bailey
RICHARD GRAY is a Fellow of the
44 J ASON G OODWIN Tea: The Drink that Changed the World British Academy. His History of
John Griffiths American Literature was published by
45 ELISABETH LUARD ON THREE BOOKS ABOUT FOOD Blackwell in 2004. He is currently
47 N ICK G ARRARD ON G RAPHIC N OVELS working on the literary and cultural
relations between Europe and the
American South.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS 48 P HILIP W OMACK ON F IVE C HILDREN ’ S B OOKS
BRENDA MADDOX’s books include
FICTION 49 C RESSIDA C ONNOLLY Cheating at Canasta William Trevor Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of
50 J OHN D UGDALE Now is the Hour Tom Spanbauer DNA (HarperCollins).
51 P AMELA N ORRIS Life Class Pat Barker
EDWARD NORMAN is Emeritus Fellow
52 N IGEL J ONES Charlemagne and Roland Allan Massie of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and Curate
52 MARTYN BEDFORD The Missing Person’s Guide to Love Susanna Jones of the St James Garlickhythe Church
53 M ONI M OHSIN Insomnia Aamer Hussein in the City of London.
54 FRANCIS KING The Condor’s Head Ferdinand Mount
GRAHAM STEWART’s Friendship and
55 MATT THORNE If You Liked School You’ll Love Work Irvine Welsh
Betrayal: Ambition and the Limits of
56 L OUISE G UINNESS Consequences Penelope Lively Loyalty was published in April by
57 L INDY B URLEIGH Safe Houses David Pryce-Jones Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
58 R ACHEL H ORE Minding Chris Paling
FRANCES WILSON’s books include
Literary Seductions and, most recent-
SILENCED VOICES 59 L UCY P OPESCU
ly, The Courtesan’s Revenge, available
CRIME 60 J ESSICA M ANN in paperback from Faber & Faber.
POETRY 62
AUDIOBOOK 58 S USAN C ROSLAND PHILIP WOMACK’s children’s novel,
LETTERS 35 The Other Book, will be published by
Bloomsbury in January 2008.
CLASSIFIEDS 64 CROSSWORD 26 BOOKSHOP 16

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3
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
HISTORY

G ERARD B AKER opponents, as one of the more successful presidents.


The man dismissed as a bad B-movie actor by

SAINT RONALD Europeans led a demoralised Amer ica out of the


Vietnam-Watergate-stagflation nightmare of the 1970s
and laid the foundations for victory in the Cold War
T HE R EAGAN D IARIES and for long-term economic prosperity.
★ There is not much here that will cause the historians to
Edited by Douglas Brinkley rewrite their accounts of the 1980s. The diaries will sure-
(HarperCollins 767pp £30) ly come to be considered more as confirmatory of our
understanding of the fortieth president than revelatory.
SINCE RICHARD CROSSMAN first spilled the beans on his There are endless accounts of meetings with global lead-
Cabinet colleagues back in the 1960s, political diaries ers and US politicians, film stars and others, punctuated
have become a rich resource for historians and a potent with thoughts on the Soviet Union, free markets, religion
new weapon in the internal warfare that is modern and terrorism, but nothing that will cause a substantial
democratic government. revision of the judgement of historians. Even the tone of
For scholars and interested observers, subsequent pub- the entries seems to echo the same jaunty folksiness
lication of the contemporaneous observations of policy- Reagan made his public-speaking style. It is reflected in a
makers offers a chance to reconsider the context of simplicity, a spare writing style that can render even great
long-familiar political events. For the diarists, they serve events of state slightly banal-sounding, especially when
a much more important purpose. Like unexploded interspersed, as they often are, with references to everyday
bombs, timed to detonate life in the White House.
after their writers have left The entry for Monday,
office, diaries can excoriate 19 October, 1987 the day
critics, punish enemies and the US stock market
deride turncoats, while all recorded its largest one-
the time offering ringing day fall since the Great
self-validation of ever y Crash – but also a day that
decision made by the found Nancy Reagan, the
author in office. first lady, in hospital for
In the US the revealing surgery – gives the flavour:
political diary has played a Then a haircut, a meet-
smaller role in moder n ing with ten children
political history than it has from all over the country
in Br itain. Lyndon B who have been honored
Johnson famously taped all for performing heroic
his White House conversa- deeds. Then left (by
tions – and some of his helicopter) for Bethesda
own observational mono- and dinner with Nancy.
logues – for later release, B-list actor, A-list president She has astounded the
and so did Richard Nixon medical profession with
until the practice was curtailed by the little local difficulty her rapid recovery. She’ll be home soon.
called Watergate. By day’s end the news was a 508 fall in the Dow
It was Nixon’s unhappy experience that led his succes- Jones. Some people are talking of panic – the Dow is
sors to choose the discretion of literary silence over the down 800 points in just over a week.
valour of personal candour. So when a new trove of the Perhaps most striking about the entries is that, while
contemporary musings of one of the most important many critics may have thought Reagan’s style – opti-
political figures of the second half of the twentieth cen- mistic, homely, straight-arrow beliefs – was all part of the
tury emerges, it excites understandable interest. actor’s repertoire, it was in fact (at least if private diary
Ronald Reagan was the first US president since entries are a reliable guide) a picture of the real man.
Rutherford B Hayes in the 1870s to keep a detailed He comes across as the warm and upbeat man America
regular diary during his term of office. Now, painstak- knew from his TV commercials. The diaries are full of
ingly edited by the historian Douglas Brinkley from the stories in which the President has seen some item on the
original hardback notebooks Reagan filled in copious evening news – about a sick child or an heroic citizen –
longhand over eight years, they offer a glimpse into the and then insists his staff do something to help.
style of the man now regarded, even by his former The book is largely free of the malice that is the usual

4
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
HISTORY

currency of political dialogue. Very occasionally a critical through the bold assertion of uncompromising ideology.
journalist or politician will get Reagan irate. But his respect But, while it is true that Reagan held to core beliefs in
for the old-fashioned decencies of language are such that free markets and the essential moral superiority of
he will never fully spell out even the mildest swear words American-style democracy, the diaries remind us that he
such as ‘h—l’ or ‘d—n’. Foreign villains get slightly was also deeply pragmatic.
rougher treatment, but even then there’s something merely Though he hated communism and pledged to defeat
chiding in his descriptions of Saddam Hussein as a ‘no it, he was careful to avoid messy entanglements overseas.
good nut’ and Muammar Gaddafi as a ‘clown’. When 200 US marines were killed by terrorists in
The deep bond with his wife Nancy (rather cloyingly, Lebanon in 1983 he immediately withdrew the US
frequently referred to as ‘Mommie’) is clear throughout. force and never sent them back to the Middle East. On
A typical entry from 1981 reads: ‘Saw Mommie off for his watch America fought only one hot war (the inva-
the Royal Wedding. I worry when she’s out of sight six sion of Grenada), which lasted about a day and required
minutes. How am I going to hold out for six days?’ no long-term commitment. For all his genuine hatred of
Critics will be disappointed that Reagan has little new communism, he was ready and willing to sit down with
to reveal of what he knew about the scandal that could Mikhail Gorbachev to seek a constructive solution to
have unwound his presidency – the arms-for-hostages the problem of superpower instability.
exchange with Iran and the Nicaraguan Contras. The diaries confirm that Reagan possessed a rare
The main message from the diaries in today’s American political wisdom missing today. It propelled him to pur-
political environment is a lesson in who the real Ronald sue his broader goals, but always ensured he matched
Reagan was. Demoralised by their current plight under those goals to the political, military and economic
an unpopular president, American conservatives have resources available to him. If only Reagan’s would-be
revived the cult of Reagan, a saintly figure who defeated successors could be so wise.
communism and restored American pre-eminence To order this book at £24, see LR Bookshop on page 16

D AVID C ESARANI the new job at German Radio. This was no coincidence.
Correspondence showed that, far from having little to do
BLOOD RELATIONS with his siblings, Heinrich frequently helped them get
better jobs, bigger houses, and perks. They, in turn,
proved loyal and efficient servants of the Party.
T HE H IMMLER B ROTHERS : A G ERMAN Such cronyism is hardly surprising, and one wonders
FAMILY H ISTORY why the discovery that it applied equally well to her
★ family shocked Katrin so much. By contrast, the picture
By Katrin Himmler she paints of the family background and the brothers’
(Translated by Michael Mitchell) political formation is luminously informative. They were
(Macmillan 331pp £14.99) hardly misfits, failures, or sociopaths, and their gravita-
tion to the Nazis was typical of males in their social
WHEN SHE ASKED what grandpa Ernst did in the Third group and generation.
Reich, Katrin Himmler’s father used to tell her that he The Himmlers were Bavarian Catholics. The patriarch
was basically an apolitical man who was prodded into of the family, Gebhard Himmler, was the son of a minor
joining the Nazi Party by his elder brother, Heinrich, official who rose to become a tutor to the Bavarian royal
and took an innocuous job in German radio. Apart from family and headmaster of a prestigious school. His sons,
that, Heinrich, the powerful head of the SS, had little to Gebhard, Heinr ich, and Er nst, were raised in a
do with his brothers. For a long time this explanation respectable, prosperous family and taught the values of
‘sounded plausible’. ‘Industry, devotion to duty, pure morals, obedience’.
Then, in 1997, Katrin’s father asked her to look at the Gebhard senior also imbued them with German
Nazi Party files that had recently been returned to nationalism. So Germany’s defeat in the Great War
Germany by the Americans. For reasons she does not came as a crushing blow: ‘The Himmler family’s world
quite explain, he wanted to see if they shed light on collapsed.’ At odds with the new dispensation, both
what his father and uncle got up to while their brother Gebhard and Heinrich joined right-wing militias and
was achieving notoriety. Katrin quickly discovered that participated in the suppression of the Bavarian Red
the ‘plausible’ version was full of cracks. Republic in 1919. Diaries and correspondence from
Her grandfather had joined the Nazi Party in this period show that the entire family rejected the
November 1931, well before Heinrich became eminent Weimar Republic and, with varying degrees of vehe-
enough to inspire or bully his brothers into signing on. mence, subscribed to anti-Bolshevism, anti-Semitism,
Ernst joined the SS two years later, just when he landed and racial thinking.

5
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
HISTORY

While still a teenager Ernst Reich. Gebhard fought in


joined a right-wing militia, and Poland and trained Waffen SS
his older brothers both took technicians. He imposed strict
part in Hitler’s abortive putsch racial qualifications on entrants
in Munich in 1924. Although it to the Nazi-controlled associa-
failed, Heinrich was enthralled tion of engineers. Ernst joined
by Hitler. For relaxation in the a Nazi secret service outfit and
evenings he would read aloud to investigated a half-Jewish col-
his aunt and uncle from a book league at his brother’s request,
of Hitler’s life and speeches. with lethal consequences.
While the Himmlers experi- Their brother-in-law, Richard
enced straitened circumstances Wendler, presided over the liq-
during the 1920s, they always uidation of the Cracow ghetto.
remained ‘respectable’. The Katr in g ives evocative
brothers were able to complete accounts of the experiences of
university, although Heinrich Monsters in the making each brother’s family during
found it hard to get a decent job the heyday of the Reich and
as an agronomist. His parents disliked his unorthodox during the rigours of wartime. She devotes a chapter to
career as a Nazi party activist, but after Hitler came to Heinrich’s mistress, too, but not out of prurience.
power and Heinrich acquired high office their attachment Heinrich married in 1928 and had a daughter, but the
to respectability meshed with the Nazi hegemony. They birth was difficult and his wife could not have another
basked in Heinrich’s reflected fame and shared in his wax- child. He and his wife drifted apart and Katrin soberly
ing fortune. Gebhard was levered into a succession of jobs explains how her great-uncle regretted not having more
in vocational training, ending up as a department head in children. After much heart-searching he took his secre-
the Ministry of Education. Ernst prospered in German tary, Hedwig Potthast, as a mistress to fulfil his duty to
radio, working on the development of television. breed for the fatherland. The liaison was kept secret and
Both were implicated in the dark side of the Third the brothers closed ranks around him like honourable
SS men.
Overall, the women fared better. Heinrich committed
suicide after the collapse of the Third Reich. Ernst was
killed in the defence of Berlin. Gebhard spent several
years in Allied prison camps before he was freed to join
his wife and eke out a living in the shadow of their
infamous name. Ernst’s widow struggled to survive but
was helped and comforted by the network of ex-Nazis.
Her son seems to have revolted mildly against his Nazi
heritage but his cousin Gudrun, Heinrich’s daughter,
devoted herself to rehabilitating her father.
Katrin married an Israeli Jew living in Berlin and
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR WRITERS wrote this book partly to explain to their son about one
side of his heritage. It is a fine portrait of the Reichsführer
Grants and Pensions are available to and his circle and a splendid corrective to the clichés
published authors of several works who
about the ‘desk perpetrators’. While deeply informed by
are in financial difficulties due to
personal or professional setbacks. recent research, it is free of the leaden prose and jargon
that curse so much scholarship in this field.
Applications are considered in confidence by
the General Committee every month. More than that, it is a courageous work. Katrin
For further details please contact: Himmler is candid about her naivety while growing up
Eileen Gunn and the ‘belated recognition’ of her family’s grim story.
General Secretary
The Royal Literary Fund
She wrestles with her reluctance to accept her grandpar-
3 Johnson’s Court, London EC4A 3EA ents’ complicity and her equivocal feeling towards her
Tel 0207 353 7159 father, who, for decades, avoided confronting the crimes
Email: egunnrlf@globalnet.co.uk of his parents. Her book is a model of how those who
www.rlf.org.uk are not guilty themselves can nevertheless take responsi-
Registered Charity no 219952 bility for the crimes of their forebears.
To order this book at £11.99, see LR Bookshop on page 16

6
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
HISTORY

D AVID K YNASTON maddening, Delphic, poetry-writing nonagenarian Sister


Monica Joan, the apparently ponderous, humourless Sister

EAST END CHRONICLES Evangeline farting like a trooper to establish a bond with
her patients, the cruelly Amazonian but dogged Camilla
Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne (‘just call me Chummy’) –
C ALL THE M IDWIFE : A T RUE S TORY OF THE one is soon caring almost ridiculously much about these
E AST E ND IN THE 1950 S and the others.
★ At the heart of the memoir, though, are the pregnant
By Jennifer Worth women themselves. ‘Pale and haggard’ Molly, living in
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson 340pp £12.99) squalor with a brute of a husband, has her third child at
the age of nineteen; vulgar, brassy Lil, at the antenatal
FAMILY AND K INSHIP IN E AST L ONDON clinic in the church hall for her thirteenth pregnancy,

turns out on a home visit (at Stepney’s notorious
By Michael Young and Peter Willmott Peabody Buildings) to have syphilis, but is, the previously
(Penguin Books 210pp £9.99)
censorious Worth belatedly realises, a ‘heroine’ cheerfully
and uncomplainingly keeping her family together in
THE PUBLISHER’S HYPE for Call the Midwife does Jennifer appalling conditions; and, especially poignant, a fifteen-
Worth few favours. ‘Appeals to the huge market for nos- year-old Irish girl, Mary, fleeing from prostitution in
talgia … Jennifer is a natural-born storyteller. She’ll be Cable Street, is eventually almost destroyed by being for-
perfect for publicity … Misery memoir meets a fascinat- bidden to keep her baby. There is also a trilogy of ‘Of
ing slice of social history.’ Increasingly convinced that Mixed Descent’ chapters, in each case turning on the
sentimentality is the bane of writing about the recent mother’s fears about the colour of the baby and in each
past, I approached her book with distinct misgivings. case with a twist as good as any O Henry story.
I could hardly have been more Perhaps the most memorable of
wrong. Worth is indeed a natural all the mothers barely speaks a
storyteller – in the best sense of word of English. The ‘proud and
the term, with apparent artlessness beautiful’ Conchita, married to
in fact concealing high art – and the resourceful, talkative and lov-
her detailed account of being a ing Len, is Spanish, and on her
midwife in London’s East End twenty-fourth baby when we first
during the early 1950s is gripping, meet her. The delivery is fine, but
moving and convincing from a year or so later things are far
beginning to end. One knows in more dramatic when number
one’s bones whether one trusts an twenty-five coincides with a fear-
author, and I felt I could trust her, some London smog. Worth as
fortified by passing references to usual does not spare us the gory
Austen and Trollope. Call the details as ‘water, blood, foetus, pla-
Midwife is apparently the first in a centa’ all spill out at once, leaving
trilogy, and it will be fascinating to a tiny, premature baby of less than
see what follows. two pounds. An ambulance from
Jenny Lee is unmarried, middle- Great Ormond Street Hospital
class and in her early twenties when eventually struggles through the
in 1950 she starts work in Poplar at smog, but Conchita refuses to let
a convent of the Midwives of St the baby be taken away. ‘He’ll stop
Raymund Nonnatus, her pseudo- ’ere with us, and he’ll be chris-
nym for an order of Anglican nuns tened an’ if he dies, he’ll have a
devoted to bringing safer childbirth The Docklands: as it once was Christian burial,’ says the equally
to the poor – at a time when home obdurate Len. ‘But he’s not goin’
births were still overwhelmingly the norm. Worth herself is nowhere without ’is mother’s consent.’ Happily, the baby
not a believer, but by the end of the book things are start- lives and flourishes. ‘He had the warmth, the touch, the
ing to stir, so impressed has she been by the personal exam- softness, the smell, the moisture of his mother,’ Worth
ple of the nuns and the power of prayer. There are reflects afterwards. ‘He heard her heartbeat and her voice.
moments in the convent’s warm, human, often funny daily He had her milk. Above all he had her love.’
life that are reminiscent of Richard Gordon’s Doctor in the Call the Midwife is also a powerful evocation of a long-
House, though with more depth of characterisation. The gone world. Worth portrays grim, filthy, overcrowded

7
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
HISTORY

tenements, with washing perpetually flapping in the inner has had its sociological critics – mainly from the jealous
courtyard (despite the near-total absence of sunlight) and groves of academe; but this humane, pioneering study
women lugging huge prams up and down stone steps; of Bethnal Green in the mid-1950s, especially the all-
employment dominated by the docks, still very much a pervasive role of the extended family, still reads wonderfully
closed-shop affair and endlessly disputatious; marriages well, above all through its almost novelistic use of first-
where ‘rough indifference’ between husband and wife was person testimony. Kate Gavron and Geoff Mulgan, in their
(in public anyway) the norm; frequent pub brawls and stimulating introduction, point to how Young and
street fights, even knifings, yet an underlying decency that Willmott warned that ‘policies to relocate and scatter
meant no old people lived in fear of being mugged; and an existing communities to new blocks of flats and housing
almost complete lack of interest in life beyond the East on the edge of big cities were deeply flawed’ – and add
End, even beyond the next street, so that ‘other people’s that now ‘many cities around the world are repeating pre-
business was the primary topic of conversation – for most cisely the same mistakes’. Whatever the respective merits
it was the only interest, the only amusement or diversion’. of high density and dispersal, in the end there is no intel-
It was in every sense a world of its own – not necessarily lectual substitute for patient, empirical, non-judgemental
typical of working-class Britain as a whole – and in Worth observation, not least of how families really function and
it has surely found one of its best chroniclers. how they really interact with the rest of society. It is about
Coincidentally, her book appears hard on the heels of a time that the high-minded, modern-minded, big-picture
new edition of Michael Young and Peter Willmott’s wide- planners, policy-makers, opinion-formers and ‘activators’
ly acknowledged classic, Family and Kinship in East London, generally had the humility to recognise that.
first published exactly half a century ago. Over the years it To order these books, see LR Bookshop on page 16

J ONATHAN M IRSKY on the secret instructions of three men, one of whom was
George Washington.

CREATION MYTH I also believed that the huge painting hanging in the
Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC really depicts the sign-
ers, on 4 July 1776, of the Declaration of Independence.
T HE F OURTH OF J ULY AND THE F OUNDING And I believed that the original Liberty Bell that hangs in
OF A MERICA Philadelphia, with its celebrated crack, was rung on 4 July
★ 1776 to ‘proclaim liberty throughout the land’.
By Peter de Bolla Well, maybe Yes to Betsy Ross, but absolutely No to
(Profile Books 195pp £15.99) the painting and the Bell. I dare even the creationists to
challenge what Peter de Bolla has laid out here, as part of
MILLIONS OF AMERICANS insist that the earth was created a series from Profile Books that includes Et Tu Brute and
on a particular day thousands of years ago, that evolution Why Alfred Burned the Cakes. But while I bet few have
is rubbish, and that the Bible is the literal truth. But even ever imagined that Caesar actually said ‘Et tu, Brute’, the
haters of Darwin, who may include President Bush, Fourth of July debunking must undermine the convictions
would be surprised by the central contentions in The of many otherwise sceptical people – like me.
Fourth of July and the Founding of America. I was brought up According to De Bolla, who generously shows in his
in America, and every week in school, with my right notes that his main conclusions have long been known to
hand over my heart, I pledged American historians, ‘The
allegiance to the flag. Of story of the Fourth of July
course I sniggered at the presents a supreme fiction.
‘Guidelines for Displaying the That the nation came into
Flag’, which stipulate that the being on a particular day in
flag must never touch any- 1776.’ He makes this point
thing beneath it, and that often, sometimes in that
worn or soiled flags must be coded language so dear to
‘destroyed in a dignified man- some scholars. For instance:
ner, preferably by burning’. the belief that attracts so
But like the Darwin-bashers I many Americans, for whom
assumed that the first their independence is sacred,
Amer ican flag had been he describes as ‘not a meta-
designed and stitched in 1777 physics but what might be
by a simple Amer ican called an apodictic declaratory
woman, Betsy Ross, acting Portrait of a non-event act’. Apodictic, I find, just

8
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
HISTORY
“Wherever they go they
raise the roof - the
sheer joy flooding
across the footlights
means ‘clearly explained’. is irresistible”
Never mind: here are De Bolla’s big points. The artist TIME OUT
John Trumbull began his studies for the great painting of
‘the signers’ in Paris in 1785, and finished it in 1818.
Thomas Jefferson, who advised Trumbull and was, of
course, a key figure in the painting, ‘misremembered
many of the details’. No one signed on the 4th. When
they did sign, days later, they never came together to do
it. The agreement to publicise the Declaration was made
on 2 July, the day a local printer was instructed to print
the text. And, De Bolla claims, the decisions to call for
independence probably began in June. Jefferson seems to
have been the man who, in 1819, alleged the signing
had occurred on the 4th. De Bolla calls this, somewhat
awkwardly, the ‘punctual moment that never was’. For
Photo of Clifton Brown by Andrew Eccles
years, he writes, fervent Republicans who adored the JUDITH JAMISON ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
French Revolution and Federalists who abhorred it Masazumi Chaya ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
quarrelled over the meaning of 4 July, and it was only in Seen by 21 million people in over 70 countries the legendary Ailey
1870 that federal legislation decreed that 4 July should company returns to Sadler's Wells for a limited season.
be a national holiday.
Betsy Ross’s role in creating a national flag was alleged Tue 4 - Sat 15 September
in 1870 in a speech by her grandson, William Canby. London engagement supported by

There is ‘no evidence’ for this, says De Bolla. ‘It is a myth.’


Nor is there evidence, he adds, that Washington was a THE NEW SHOW BY THE CREATOR OF LA VEILLÉE DES ABYSSES
member of a committee that secretly arranged for Betsy
Ross to create a national flag. Why do Americans love
this story? Because Betsy Ross, an ordinary woman, ‘is
testament to the fact that each citizen has equal opportu- JAMES THIÉRRÉE
nity, equal rights, equal potential to become a significant
player in the history of the nation’. This explains why the & COMPAGNIE DU HANNETON
flag is treated with such bizarre veneration in the United Au Revoir Parapluie
States, and why on several occasions the Supreme Court
has had to strike down attempts to make damaging the “This circus-
flag a criminal offence. Nonetheless, on a single day after inspired show
9/11, De Bolla says, Wal-Mart sold 118,000 flags. One of
the leading flag manufacturers spoke of panicky people will ravish the
who ‘didn’t just want to buy flags, they needed flags’. eye, release
As for the Liberty Bell, the myth is simple: in 1750 your inner
three superintendents of the Philadelphia State House child, and
commissioned a bell from the foundry in London which send your
had cast Big Ben. When it arrived in Philadelphia and soul soaring”
was struck, it cracked. The bell was smashed, melted TIME OUT on
Photo: Richard Haughton

down, and recast – twice. This third bell also cracked. La Veillée des Abysses
The myth holds that it was rung on 4 July 1776. It
wasn’t. And it was not called the Liberty Bell until 1839.
The sound of the bell, on the rare occasions it was
struck, was ‘tinny and unimpressive’. It has not been
struck since 1846. One and a half million people visit it TUE 30 OCT
every year. As De Bolla says of such American stories, - SAT 10 NOV
‘the foundations … lie in the playful enjoyment of fabu-
lation’. Fabulation? Come come. Until I read this book
I thought the stories not only made sense but were true.
I’m glad to know the facts, but I have to say that Peter
de Bolla could have said all this in about twenty pages.
To order this book at £12.79, see LR Bookshop on page 16

LITERARY REVIEW July 2007


HISTORY

P ETER J ONES Rhine–Danube frontier since the first century AD, but
Rome itself had not attempted to deal with the threat by

THE TROUBLE WITH GOTHS conquering the country because (like Scotland then and
now) there was no advantage in it. So Rome attempted
to deal practically with the problem, resisting some
T HE DAY OF THE B ARBARIANS : T HE F IRST invaders, accepting others. This could have gone on for
B ATTLE IN THE FALL OF THE ROMAN E MPIRE ever, but in 376 came the turning point for Rome: the
★ Huns, a ferocious Mongolian nomadic people, attacked
By Alessandro Barbero from the east, driving hordes of panic-stricken Goths
(Translated by John Cullen) into the eastern Roman empire. Two factors made this
(Atlantic Books 192pp £17.99) incursion, ultimately, irresistible: the sheer numbers of
barbarians coming in over the ensuing years, and their
IT IS ALWAYS instructive to speculate on why any particular realisation that, unified, their otherwise scattered tribes
book should be produced at any particular time. There must could take on the Roman army successfully.
be some reason, for example, why the fall of the Roman At first the Goths driven over the Danube by the Huns
Empire is currently of such interest, and one contributing were allowed to settle under Roman supervision. But gen-
factor must surely be the parallels between the problem that eral bad faith and incompetence led to rebellion, and the
the empire faced and which eventually brought it down – catastrophic Roman defeat at Adrianople was the result –
massive, uncontrollable immigration – and the present the worst disaster since Hannibal wiped out Roman forces
situation in the EU; they are too good to miss. at Cannae in 216 BC, judged the historian Ammianus.
Not that Alessandro Barbero, who teaches medieval But was it a great turning point, as Barbero argues? It
studies at the University of Piemonte Orientale, draws was certainly significant, since the new eastern emperor
attention to the comparison. His is simply a narrative his- Theodosius had to rebuild his army from scratch, and the
tory, on the lines of Peter Heather’s brilliant The Fall of the Goths could now do, effectively, whatever they liked.
Roman Empire, though much narrower in scope. His focus But it was never going to be as easy as that, for three rea-
is the build-up to and after math of the battle of sons. First, the Gothic army at this time numbered, per-
Adrianople (AD 368), at which an army of Goths under haps, 50,000 out of 200,000 people, the Roman army,
their leader Fritigern wiped out a complete Roman army, across an empire of 70 million, about 500,000; second,
killing in the process the eastern Roman emperor Valens. they had no experience of building or laying siege to
This disaster, Barbero suggests, represented a turning towns, so could never defend themselves properly or get
point in the balance of power between Germanic immi- regular access to weapons and supplies (after Adrianople
grants/invaders and Rome and led, ultimately, to the end they marched straight on Constantinople, took one look
of the empire in the west. And a cracking tale it is too, at its mighty walls, shrugged their shoulders and depart-
well researched and beautifully paced. ed); and third, they could feed themselves only off the
As today, foreign immigration into the Europe of Rome land, and therefore had to spend most of their time
brought with it certain benefits, in particular new recruits roaming the country foraging.
into the Roman army. Ultimately, force was the means by The result was that Adrianople was a Pearl Harbor
which the huge empire – stretching from Iraq in the east moment: an absolute disaster, but never a foretaste of
to Britain in the west, and from the Rhine–Danube in the total military defeat. Negotiations eventually resolved
north to North Africa and Egypt in the south – was kept the situation: peace was agreed in 382, the Goths given
together, and Rome could never get enough manpower. settlements, the Roman army remanned and order re-
German immigrants were only too happy to oblige. Here established. Not every Roman was happy – arguments
was a steady career, with the possibility of advancement about letting immigrants/barbarians in were as heated
through the ranks and, if one reached the upper echelons, then as now – but it was to be many years before Rome
political power as well, in (arguably) the longest surviving, lost the capacity to compel. That it did so was not down
most successful and (broadly) beneficial empire the world to any particular defeat in any particular battle but to the
has ever seen. Its benefits can be gauged from the conse- long drawn out process of negotiating settlements with
quences of its collapse: when Rome lost power in the west barbarian groups in such terms as to deprive Rome of
and the empire split into numerous small, autonomous taxes, and remitting taxes on lands ravaged by barbarian
Germanic kingdoms, the highly developed economic, attack. Without taxes, Rome could not keep its army up
social, military and cultural infrastructure that went with it to size; without its army, it could not deal with those
folded completely, ushering in what could be said to be a who disobeyed it. In the end, the Roman Empire in the
European dark age that lasted for about two hundred years. west collapsed because, without fear of reprisals, no one
Goths and other Germanic peoples (barbarians) had needed to pay any attention to its commands any more.
been engaging sporadically with Rome over the To order this book at £14.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16

10
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

NationalTheatre
J ONATHAN S UMPTION

Necessitas non
TheHothouse
habet legem HaroldPinter
T HE F EARS OF H ENRY IV: T HE L IFE OF
At once chilling and deliriously
E NGLAND ’ S S ELF -M ADE K ING funny, Harold Pinter’s
★ The Hothouse was written
By Ian Mortimer in 1958 just before
(Jonathan Cape 480pp £18.99) The Caretaker.
THE GREAT DUKE of Marlborough, when asked what
was his authority for some historical statement, is said to
have answered: ‘Shakespeare, the only history of England
that I ever read.’ Shakespeare has cast a long shadow over
England’s late medieval history. Even today, when we
look for different things to admire in the great men of
the past, it is hard to think of Richard II or Henry V
except through the interpretations of Shakespeare and
the words that he gave them. If Henry IV seems emi-
nently forgettable by comparison, it is largely because
Shakespeare was not interested in him. Three of the plays FROM 11 JULY
cover the greater part of Henry’s public career. Yet

Philistines
Richard II is dominated by the complex and vulnerable
character of Richard himself. Bolingbroke appears in it as
a conventional man of action devoid of human interest,
the mere instrument by which Richard’s contradictions
destroyed him. In the two parts of Henry IV the principal

MaximGorky
characters are Hotspur and Henry of Monmouth, not
the King after whom the plays are named. He has reced-
ed into the background, a symbol of careworn kingship
with few great lines except in the famous scene when his
heir visits him on his deathbed. In a new version by Andrew Upton
The deposition of kings was a sensitive subject in
Elizabethan England, and Shakespeare’s discretion was no
doubt wise. Yet there is some justice in his portrait.
Before 1397 (when Richard II opens) Henry Bolingbroke Guardian, Sunday Telegraph, Financial Times, Time Out
had been one of the most admired men of his day. He
was charming and generous, a great horseman and ‘A rich vein of black comedy...
jouster, who had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and
fought with the Teutonic knights in Germany and a beautifully acted production.’
Independent
Poland. He matched the fourteenth century’s stereotype
of kingship far more closely than Richard ever had. He
was indeed the conventional man of action. Yet as King,
he never had the opportunity to be the crowned hero for
which his talents perhaps fitted him. His reign was over-
shadowed by disorder and rebellion, due largely to the
unresolved tensions generated by his usurpation of the
throne, as well as by the perennial financial problems of UNTIL 18 AUGUST
the Crown, and the mysterious wasting disease which
progressively disabled him in the last decade of his life.
Ian Mortimer’s is the fourth serious attempt in modern 020 7452 3000 No booking fee

nationaltheatre.org.uk
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

times to write the biography of Henry IV. The first was words: ‘We may well imagine...’.
that of Dr J H Wylie, a rather pedantic Victorian inspec- Mortimer’s treatment of the dispute between
tor of schools, whose four-volume work compiled most Bolingbroke and Richard II is perhaps the clearest illustra-
of the known facts, without ever really seeking to under- tion of the limitations of biography. Richard and Henry
stand them. J L Kirby’s competent and workmanlike life, were first cousins, who had been brought up together, an
published in 1970, is a trifle colourless, although a good experience which sowed the seeds of a lifelong antago-
deal better than one might gather from the rather ungra- nism. Richard loathed and distrusted many of the most
cious comments in Mortimer’s introduction. The most prominent noblemen of his realm, including Bolingbroke,
perceptive and readable account of the man and his reign, and at the end of his reign he worked to undo them.
although it is not really a biography, can be found in the Eventually, Bolingbroke struck back with the support of
brilliant lectures of K B McFarlane, the seminal figure in his fellow victims and dethroned him. It is a familiar story,
English late medieval studies, which were published in told here with style and dramatic effect. But was there no
1972 after his death. So where does Ian Mortimer fit in? more to it than that? Mortimer’s concentration on per-
He adopts most of McFarlane’s insights. But he also adds sonality obscures the fact that there were greater issues at
much of his own. He has made fuller and more effective stake than the feelings of these two men or indeed than
use than any other historian of the unpublished material the survival of either of them: issues of peace and war;
in the records of the Duchy of Lancaster. He has an issues of finance and governance; issues which survived to
instinctive sympathy for the men about whom he writes, disturb the peace for generations to come. Many of
a real understanding of the mentalities of late medieval Richard’s troubles were ultimately due to his attempt to
England, and a vivid historical imagination which lends make peace with France against the wishes of determined
colour and excitement to his pages, even if it sometimes vested interests among a part of the nobility, and to his
carr ies him well beyond the evidence. McFarlane assault on the great concentrations of aristocratic power in
observed in his lectures that if Shakespeare had focused on the north of England and the Welsh March and in
the personality of Henry IV, he would have come up Lancashire and the Midlands. These issues are certainly
with a more complex Macbeth. Mortimer has avowedly not dull. To contemporaries they were the stuff of poli-
set out to write about the more complex Macbeth that tics. Yet there is hardly an inkling of them in Mortimer’s
Shakespeare never gave us. tale of confrontation and derring-do. His account of one
Mortimer is a well-known advocate of biography as a of the most fascinating episodes of English history is all
route to historical understanding. The present book, about the clash of outsize egos.
coming after the author’s biographies of Roger Mortimer At least Mortimer resists the more extreme symptoms
Earl of March (no relation) and Edward III, is intended of hero-worship. He renounces the attempt to prove
to form part of a chain of lives through which he will tell that Henry was a nice man, at any rate once he had
the history of late medieval England. It exemplifies both embarked on his political career. It was just that his
the strengths and the weaknesses of the type. The advan- enemies were nastier. He accepts, for example, that
tage of biography is that it adds an immediacy to history Henry IV ordered the murder of his predecessor, but
by showing it through the experience of living people, excuses it on the ground that Richard had it coming to
with words, thoughts and emotions with which we can him. Necessitas non habet legem (‘necessity knows no
all empathise. The disadvantages are an inevitable ten- law’), as the new King minuted on a document in
dency towards speculation and hero-worship, and the 1403. The irony is that Richard, whom Mortimer
trivialisation of great issues by reducing them to the clash repeatedly castigates as ‘vicious’, could have cited the
of personalities. same maxim in defence of the tyranny of his last two
Like Aristotle’s force of nature, biographers abhor a vacu- years. It all depends on what one regards as necessary.
um. To achieve a continuous narrative, they are more or History has its own answer to that question. It is on the
less compelled to fill in the inevitable gaps with speculation. side of the winners. Richard’s problem was that he was
This is a particular problem in the Middle Ages, which has not a winner. Yet in terms of personality, vicious or
left few records of early lives, even of men born to great- not, he strikes one as uncannily like Henry VIII. The
ness. Almost nothing is known about Henry Bolingbroke Tudor King had the same self-obsession and narcissism,
before 1387, when he first emerged as one of the the same ruthless and duplicitous ways, was just as para-
Appellants who challenged the government of Richard II, noid about challenges to his authority and far more
except what can be gleaned from the accounts of his murderous in his suppression of them. Henry VIII has
household treasurer. Even what is known afterwards is gone down in history as a necessary evil, one of the
episodic and patchy. Unusually, Mortimer devotes about builders of the Br itish state. But then he had no
half his book to the period before Henry’s accession, which Bolingbroke to unseat him, and died in his bed. Of
is right in terms of its intrinsic interest and importance, but such things are reputations made.
requires him to write a lot of sentences beginning with the To order this book at £15.19, see LR Bookshop on page 16

12
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

J ULIA K EAY since her death, and it is not clear why she felt it was
needed. No matter how carefully researched or how

DANGEROUS LIAISONS meticulously annotated (and Femme Fatale is both), they


all come up against the same problem – fact is so much
more mundane than fantasy.
F EMME FATALE : A B IOGRAPHY OF M ATA H ARI Much of the fantasy is relatively harmless and attribut-
★ able to two largely fictional movies starring two of the
By Pat Shipman twentieth century’s most legendary filmstars, Greta
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson 375pp £20) Garbo (Mata Hari, 1931) and Jeanne Moreau (Mata Hari
– Agent H.21, 1964). But the motives of the French
ON 24 JULY 1917, in the darkest days of the First World authorities in muddying the waters of truth were less so.
War, Margarethe Zelle MacLeod (dite Mata Hari) was The war that had been expected to last only a few weeks
found guilty of espionage by the Troisième Conseil de was about to enter its fourth year with no end in sight;
Guerre in Paris and condemned to death by firing the few months prior to her trial had seen some 200,000
squad. Nearly three months later, just after dawn on the French lives lost in catastrophic fighting on the Western
morning of 15 October, in a clearing among the ancient Front; nearly half the army was threatening mutiny. The
oaks of the Bois de Vincennes, the sentence was carried Deuxième Bureau needed a success. The prosecuting
out. The mysterious and once beautiful dancer who had officer’s thunderous courtroom denunciation of this ‘sin-
captivated Paris with her exotic performances at the ister Salome who has been responsible for the deaths of
Trocadéro and the Folies Bergère, who had entranced more than 50,000 French soldiers’ opened the flood-
audiences in theatres and clubs and private salons gates. Every person who had been present at Mata Hari’s
throughout Europe, who had been trial had his own juicy snippet to
notorious for her wealthy lovers, her add to the fiction. Every official
glamorous wardrobe and her extrava- who had been involved in the
gant lifestyle, collapsed into a crum- preparation of the case against her
pled, bullet-ridden heap in a ditch. seized the chance to justify his
The crackle of rifle fire, followed by actions and enhance his own reputa-
the single shot of the obligatory coup tion by painting her as the very
de grâce delivered by Maréchal des incarnation of evil. Half a century
Logis Petay of the 23rd Regiment of later there were still those who
Dragoons, released a storm of myth believed that she was responsible,
and legend that has engulfed her among other things, for the death of
story ever since. Lord Kitchener and the success of
Press reports of the event the fol- Ludendorff ’s submarine campaign
lowing day were sensational: several against Allied shipping. Even the
claimed that she had not died at all – wildest rumours were sanctioned
an impassioned lover had bribed the by the French Militar y High
firing squad to load their rifles with Command. The more sensational
blanks and had then scooped her into they were the less chance there was
the saddle and galloped off into the that the truth would emerge –
morning mist; at the very moment of namely that her trial was a travesty
firing she had thrown open her fur of justice and that Mata Hari had
coat and the sight of her naked body been sacrificed to official expedien-
had caused every member of the fir- cy. Which is not to say she was
ing squad to miss his target. Mata Hari: danced with her whole body blameless.
Rumoured sightings of the famous Margarethe Zelle had marr ied
Mata Hari were still being reported more than ten years Captain Rudolph MacLeod of the Dutch Colonial
later when the Daily Mail of 3 September 1929 had Army in 1895. She was eighteen and he was forty. After
‘well-informed sources’ declaring that ‘the mysterious the birth of their son, the MacLeods (despite his name,
woman found unconscious on the seashore at Rudolph was also Dutch) had returned to the East
Montalivet near Bordeaux last week is in reality the Indies where, in the space of five years, a daughter was
Dutch woman spy Mata Hari’. born, the two-year-old son died, they moved from one
How can a serious biographer compete? Pat Shipman’s mediocre posting to another in Java and then Sumatra,
Femme Fatale must be at least the sixth full-length and their marriage fell apart. On their return to Holland
English biography of Mata Hari to have been published the couple separated. Rudolph kept their remaining

13
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

child and Margarethe found herself alone and broke. destroyed her.
Her only asset was her luscious, dark-haired beauty. Pat Shipman, a professor of anthropology at
Leaving strait-laced Den Haag for laissez-faire Paris, she Pennsylvania State University and a prize-winning sci-
reinvented her past, took lovers, joined a circus, changed ence writer, is strong on cultural and social tensions in
her name to Mata Hari and set herself up as an ‘exotic the Dutch East Indies and has an academic’s passion for
eastern dancer’. Soon all Paris was talking about ‘this statistics. We learn, for example, that 3.6 per cent of male
beautiful woman who has come to initiate us into the civilians over the age of nineteen in Sumatra in 1905
classical dances of her native Java’. ‘Unhampered by any were married, that 92 per cent of army officers were in
clothes,’ reported the breathless correspondent of La favour of keeping concubines, and that 14.4 per cent of
Presse, ‘Mata Hari does not only dance with her feet, men who did keep concubines were punished for drunk-
arms, eyes, mouth and crimson fingernails. Erect in her enness compared with 40.9 per cent of those who fre-
glorious nudity, Mata Hari dances with her whole body.’ quented prostitutes. Her insistence on reproducing every
For the best part of eight years ‘this beautiful woman’ shred of correspondence relating to Mata Hari that still
was the toast of Europe. But beauty is fragile and fashion exists, no matter how repetitive, likewise challenges her
fickle; a career based on these and little more could last readers’ powers of concentration. Her thoroughness is
only so long. Gaps started to appear in her social and commendable (and will surely discourage anyone tempt-
professional calendars. Rich lovers became harder to find, ed to write a seventh biography), but it is hard to see
as did prestigious commissions to perform. Addicted to such heavy-duty reportage delivering a coup de grâce to
excitement and seriously short of money, she blundered twinkle-toed fantasy.
naively into the murky world of espionage, and it To order this book at £16, see LR Bookshop on page 16

R ALEIGH T REVELYAN a mythical figure: immensely brave, handsome, with


incredible stamina, and above all the organiser of fiercely

THE CRETAN LAWRENCE loyal Cretan guerrillas. The Germans called him the
Cretan Lawrence. Leigh Fermor describes him as giving
a ‘wonderful buccaneer and rakish impression’, due in
T HE R ASH A DVENTURER : A L IFE OF part to his having a glass eye. ‘His presence filled every-
J OHN P ENDLEBURY one with life and optimism and a feeling of fun.’
★ At school at Winchester and then at Pembroke,
By Imogen Grundon, with a Foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor Cambridge, in the mid 1920s, Pendlebury was a cham-
(Libri 384pp £25) pion athlete. He competed in hurdles with Lord
Burghley, the inspiration for Chariots of Fire, and cleared
THE NAME JOHN PENDLEBURY will be familiar to admir- 6 foot in the high jump, ending up with a Blue for ath-
ers of Dilys Powell’s marvellous account of the Villa letics. Early on he developed a passion for Egyptology
Ariadne at Knossos, where for a while he was curator in and eagerly followed news of Bronze Age finds at
succession to Sir Arthur Evans. But the photograph on Mycenae, especially those with links to Egypt. That he
the jacket of this book shows him – inescapably English was also fascinated by the ideals of medieval chivalry
– proudly wearing a many-layered ancient Egyptian may sound bizarre, but one soon realises that it had a
necklace, acquired, as we learn, when he was director of bearing on his activities in Crete – on his version of
excavations at Tell el-Amarna, the city of Akhenaten himself (this time to cite Dilys Powell) as explorer, a fig-
and his wife Nefertiti. Amazingly he held both posts ure in continuing adventure; also on his willingness,
simultaneously, moving desire even, to drive himself
from one to the other, at to the point of exhaustion.
the age of twenty-five. He could drink hard, and
A foreword by Patr ick had a capacity for rough
Leigh Fermor is enough to Cretan wines that was no
suggest that here was a man hindrance to his being able
with a passion for Crete and to conquer the next moun-
Greece, most probably also tain range. He spoke Cretan
a war hero – and both turn dialects and loved wearing
out to be true. Pendlebury peasant costumes.
was killed a few days after Pendlebury met his future
the Ger man parachutists wife Hilda, somewhat older
had landed at Crete, but for but also an enthusiastic
long afterwards he remained walker and archaeologist,

14
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

when both were studying at the almost a second home.


British School at Athens. It becomes At the declaration of war
obvious that other women fell under Pendlebury, back in England, applied
his spell, and when Hilda was in to Military Intelligence for a return
England with the children some to Crete. First, however, he needed
were willing to join him on his vari- some basic military training. At last
ous arduous journeys. in June 1940 he and his friend Nick
Pendlebur y was from the first Hammond were accepted and flown
completely captivated by Tell el- to Athens. John’s first task in Crete
Amarna. His letters to his father was to find out which clans were
show his continuing excitement, a pro-British and which pro-German.
kind of running commentary: Officially he was honorary Vice-
We can look back on a really Consul, and he was in his element
wonderful season [1930–1]. A contacting kapetans or village leaders,
Mycenaean [merchant] house. gathering them under a single ban-
Gold and silver [stolen ingots?]. ner in spite of old feuds. He knew,
The Princess’s head [daughter of and they understood he knew, the
Akhenaten]. A splendid house age-old Cretan passion for freedom.
belonging to an already known One kapetan in particular was a spe-
official [found buried at Luxor] cial ally called ‘Satanas’ (Satan),
with a magnificent painted lintel. Antonis Grigorakis, a piratical-look-
Excellent small finds. Bronzes ing figure who had fought in Balkan
which should clean up as well as Pendlebury: inescapably English wars. Two others were Manolaki,
those Cairo [Museum] has kept. ‘the Old Wolf ’, and Kronis Bardakis,
A stone chapel with the second biggest house at ‘the Old Krone’, both with awesome physiques and large
Amarna. The finest wall paintings ever waiting till black moustaches. British commando units nicknamed
next year. A palace waiting likewise… Pendlebury the uncrowned king of Crete. Raids against
Imogen Grundon, herself an archaeologist who has the Dodecanese islands were planned. Attempts to get
worked at Amarna and Knossos, is well placed to write sufficient arms from Middle East HQ at Cairo were frus-
this book and has obviously spent many years in trated by bureaucracy.
research, even giving examples of Winchester slang The relentless advance of the German war machine
words or ‘notions’, though these are hardly relevant. But towards Greece does make gripping reading. John chose
her use of her subject’s letters and interviews with Satanas’s home village below Mount Ida for his centre of
friends splendidly conveys his exhilaration when digs operations. As British troops, with Nick Hammond,
reveal one fantastic discovery after another. She provides were evacuated from the mainland, guerrilla bands were
some historical background as war inexorably looms hurriedly formed, supply lines to ammunition hideouts
(Italians invading Albania, attempted assassination in arranged, wirelesses distributed. On 21 May 1941
Athens of the Cretan statesman Venizelos), but alas some Heraklion was heavily bombed; then scores of para-
of her asides are pretty flat: ‘They were further galva- chutists came raining down. Pendlebury is said to have
nized by the sorry sight of surviving soldiers returning killed three in hand-to-hand fighting. There are con-
from Dunkirk.’ flicting stories about how he died, but it does seem to
In contrast with Amarna, Pendlebury found work at have been from wounds. The Germans had expected a
Knossos monotonous, dating pottery and coping with friendly reception in Crete and soon learnt about this
students. The Villa Ariadne, which had to be repaired, wild Englishman who had been organising the resis-
had been built by Evans. The old man was completing tance, and there were claims and counterclaims about
his massive four-volume The Palace of Minos and on his atrocities. It was believed that he might still be alive. The
visits was inclined to be jealous of this young firebrand. rumour put about among mountain villagers was that
Eventually Pendlebury resigned his curatorship and was Hitler could not rest until John’s glass eye was on his
at last free to travel extensively. Again to quote Leigh desk. Orders were given by the Gestapo for corpses to
Fermor: ‘There was no part of the often harsh Cretan be exhumed in the search for this eye: an exceedingly
landscape that he would not or could not tackle; he cov- gruesome operation.
ered over 1,000 miles of the island’s wild and steep ter- Much later Leigh Fermor was one of the SOE officers
rain in a single archaeological season.’ A major site he landed by submarine in occupied Crete. At once they
discovered was at Karphi, 4000 feet above sea level, and were welcomed by the kapetans as friends of the great
the village of Tzermiado below the mountain became John Pendlebury.

15
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY
Literary Review Bookshop
B RENDA M ADDOX

YOU NEVER KNOW


M AX P ERUTZ AND THE S ECRET OF L IFE

By Georgina Ferry
(Chatto & Windus 352pp £25)

THIS BIOGRAPHY ENDS just the way I hoped it would,


with Max Perutz’s closing comment on Desert Island
Discs. When in June 2000 Sue Lawley asked the
Austrian-born Nobel laureate, then in his late eighties,
what luxury he would take to his desert island, he
replied: ‘A pair of skis. You never know – it might snow.’
Such mer r iment, with its Viennese overtones,
summed up the remarkable personality of a scientist
known for his niceness. Perutz was a Jew, born in 1914
to a family of textile manufacturers, who (like Gustav
Mahler) found it useful to be Catholic in an anti-Semitic
20% discount on all society. However, baptism did not save him from being
thought of as a Jew by his fellow students at the
University of Vienna, where he studied chemistry.
titles under review In October 1936 Perutz shifted to Cambridge, not as
a refugee but as a budding scientist in a search of better
training in organic biochemistry than could be had in
Vienna. He liked the place. As he later said, ‘It was
Call our Order Hotline Cambridge that made me, and I am forever grateful.’
He had trouble finding a college that would take him
and ended up at Peterhouse, not known for its scientific
0870 429 6608 leanings. He had difficulty also in finding girlfriends. As
Georgina Ferry suggests in this first full biography, perhaps
All major credit and debit cards his small stature or his unassuming manner were at fault.
His Cambridge studies, under the crystallographer J D
By email:
Bernal, were interrupted in May 1940 when ‘enemy
aliens’ like himself were interned. He was held first near
send your order to Liverpool, then on the Isle of Man, then shipped to
literaryreview@bertrams.com Canada. There, when prisoners were segregated by reli-
gion, Perutz chose to go with the Jews. By that time his
By post: father was interned too, having come to England with
send your order, enclosing a cheque made payable to his wife, fleeing the Nazis in Austria in 1938. During
‘BOOKS BY PHONE’ to: the painful months of separation, father, mother and son
Literary Review Bookshop, Bertrams, were not allowed to communicate.
1 Broadland Business Park, Norwich NR7 0WF Released, Perutz returned to Cambridge in January
1941, where, under the influence of Bernal and Lord
By fax: Louis Mountbatten, he worked on the (ill-conceived)
send your order, quoting Literary Review, to Habbakuk project to make floating airfields from ice. In
1942 he made a happy and lasting marriage which pro-
0870 429 6709
duced two children.
By 1944 he had shifted to what was to be his major
life’s work: the study of the structure of haemoglobin. He
£2.45 P & P acquired a colleague who never became a friend – John
Kendrew, a confident Englishman who achieved easily
No matter how many books what Perutz had longed for: a Peterhouse fellowship.
you order!
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

Perutz feared he would have to find a job in industry, but despite being plagued by ill-health from coeliac disease.
then the Medical Research Council provided funds to set Perutz was a good writer too. No one has put so
up a unit at the Cavendish Laboratory to study the mole- clearly the difference between artistic and scientific cre-
cular structure of biological systems. His ability shone ativity. Both activities rely on imagination, Perutz said,
through and grand papers on haemoglobin poured forth. but ‘while the artist is confined only by the prescriptions
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1954. imposed by himself and the culture surrounding him,
But Perutz was no saint: he could be churlish and bad- the scientist has Nature and his critical colleagues always
tempered. In 1958 a young (refugee) colleague, Michael looking over his shoulder’.
Rossman, raced ahead on the computer and saw what Ferry has captured her subject’s genial, uncompetitive
Perutz ought to have spotted: that haemoglobin looked personality well, and his constant love of mountaineer-
like four myoglobin molecules stuck together. When ing, skiing and rock-climbing. Her biography, with its
told of Rossman’s discovery, far from being exhilarated, long, detailed explanations of how X-ray crystallography
Perutz was incensed, and his face, according to Ferry, works, may have too much science for the general read-
‘darkened with fury’. But he went ahead and built a er. Scientific exposition, rather than narrative, is Ferry’s
three-dimensional molecule and got the Nobel Prize in forte, as evidenced by her fine 1998 biography of the
1962 anyway, ironically sharing it with his never-quite- crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin.
comfortable colleague Kendrew. One is left wondering whether Perutz was a great man.
He suffered enduring embarrassment over an episode Crick (whose move from Cambridge to the Salk Institute
revealed in 1968 in James Watson’s brilliant, tactless book in California in 1976 saddened Perutz) said, perhaps
The Double Helix showing that in 1953 Perutz had unwit- unkindly, perhaps accurately, ‘Max was a plodder, but a
tingly played a part in the Watson–Crick discovery of the very persistent plodder, and he had considerable insight as
double helix of DNA. Perutz had been a member of the a result of his plodding.’ Perhaps. But Georgina Ferry
British Medical Research Council visiting committee makes clear that Perutz was happy, in his family, his sci-
which went to King’s College London in December 1952 ence, and in his mountain-climbing and skiing. He took
to inspect the work being done there. Each member left what life brought. His philosophy to the last was, ‘You
with a report summing up the research results of members never know.’
of the King’s biophysics laboratory. These included those To order this book at £20, see LR Bookshop on page 16
of Rosalind Franklin, who at King’s had done the best
work on measuring the structure of DNA crystals. All her
calculations were in the MRC report.
In Januar y 1953, Watson, then a brash young
American working with Francis Crick at the Cavendish
The Society of Authors
Laboratory in Cambridge, was shown an X-ray photo-
graph taken by Rosalind Franklin at King’s College
London, and saw that the DNA molecule exists in the The Olive Cook Award 2008
shape of a helix. He rushed back to Cambridge and told
Crick, who asked Perutz if they could see his copy of £1,000 for a short story
the MRC report.
Perutz handed it over. The pamphlet was not marked The author must have had at least one
confidential but neither was it expected to reach greedy short story accepted for publication.
rival eyes. One look at Franklin’s results told Crick that The story submitted may be published
DNA had two anti-parallel chains and that one went up or unpublished.
and the other went down. The chains came apart and
copied themselves: the secret of life. Once Watson had
revealed Perutz’s gift to them, Perutz never forgave him- Closing date 31 October 2007
self and spent years justifying his unthinking action in
helping two Cavendish colleagues scoop the discovery For full details and entry form write with SAE to:
ahead of their rivals at King’s. Awards Secretary,The Society of Authors, 84 Drayton
Fittingly, Perutz got his Nobel Prize in the same year Gardens, London SW10 9SB,
that Watson, Crick and Wilkins got theirs. And no one or
begrudged it him. He was a fine administrator: the first email: info@societyofauthors.org
chairman of the MRC’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology website: www.societyofauthors.org
at Cambridge, opened in 1962, and later the first chair-
man of the European Molecular Biology Organisation and
the man who arranged its funding. He achieved all this

17
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

C HRISTOPHER C OKER that its interpretation depend-


ed on an intermediary, in this

How to Fight case the Soviet Union. And,


unlike Nazi Ger many, the
USSR was a country that
a Cold War could be contained. ‘Its truth
is not constant, it’s actually
created’, wrote Kennan: some-
G EORGE K ENNAN : A S TUDY OF C HARACTER thing that could not have been
★ said of Hitler and the Third Kennan: moral might
By John Lukacs Reich. Unlike Hitler too,
(Yale University Press 207pp £16.99) Stalin had no fixed timetable. He was in no hurry. He
could wait, confident that the ‘correlation of forces’
We are a nineteenth century people. Our minds are would result in a socialist victory. In the end, of course, as
our great, great mother’s minds. We aren’t a twentieth history played false so it would become frustrated. In time
century people. Our ideas are inherited ideas. frustration would give way to self-questioning about the
(Dean Acheson, This Vast External Realm) nature and the future of Communism itself.
In 1989 George Kennan was eighty-five years old. His In later years Kennan became increasingly disillusioned
prestige had reached its zenith. He was awarded the at the way in which containment was interpreted by
Presidential Medal of Freedom. The head of the Soviet Republican and Democratic administrations alike. He
Union recognised him as one of the architects of a Cold was harshly critical of the Eisenhower administration,
War order that was fast coming to an end. Kennan, mod- and John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State, who
est as ever, took little or no interest in this adulation. He talked of ‘rolling back’ Communism and ‘liberating’
saw something else, writes his biographer John Lukacs: Eastern Europe. He was also critical of those in both the
that he was a man of a century – the twentieth, which State Department and the Pentagon who were prepared
was now irredeemably past. ‘I was ten years old in 1914, to embrace some very questionable bedfellows, among
and eighty-five in 1989,’ he wrote at the beginning of yet them military dictatorships in Latin America and Asia,
another book, At a Century’s Ending. ‘While each of the on the understanding that they were members of the
last few centuries of European history seemed to have a ‘Free World’. In the Reith Lectures which he delivered
certain specific character of its own,’ the twentieth centu- in 1957 he referred to a moment of revelation, much
ry was a short one. It began with the First World War like Edward Gibbon’s in the ruins of the Palatine at
and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. dusk. Standing in the rubble of Hamburg a few years
Not that Kennan’s active life came to an end at that earlier he had realised that it represented ‘an unanswer-
point. He continued writing almost up to his hundredth able symbolism which we in the West could not afford
birthday. Except for some expected vicissitudes his body to ignore. If the West was really going to make valid the
remained by and large unbroken. His mind weakened pretence of a higher moral departure point, … then it
not at all. He wrote two entirely new books, a dozen had to fight its wars morally as well as militarily, or not
articles and several book reviews, and even gave a few fight them at all’. In the 1960s he was to conclude that it
public addresses. He kept writing a diary and letters to was not containment that had failed, but the intended
the end. follow-up, which had never taken place. The Soviet
Kennan will be forever remembered as the author of Union had been confronted, not engaged.
the article he wrote for the journal Foreign Affairs in 1947 What makes Lukacs’s study valuable is that he has a
under the pseudonym of ‘X’, at a time when he was still historian’s feel for what made Kennan such a distinctive
Director of Policy Planning in the State Department. figure. ‘He was a deeply private American who respected
Because it showed its author to be one of the few men in and venerated his ancestors. More than that: instinctive
the United States who had a knowledge of the Soviet elements of his character were formed by his ancestry’.
Union and an understanding of Marxism-Leninism, its In his memoirs, Kennan recalls how his father came
governing creed, the article had an immediate impact, from a long line of pioneer farmers, whose outstanding
even though only three pages were devoted to actual poli- characteristic was ‘an obdurate, tight-lipped indepen-
cy recommendations; the article was short on prescrip- dence’: a reluctance to become involved with people
tions, long on analysis. The doctrine of containment was outside their own community (the Church); a wish to
not without its critics at the time, especially Walter fight clear of any association that might limit their indi-
Lippmann, but Kennan’s analysis was in general accepted vidual freedom of choice. Kennan came to see the
by his colleagues. His premise was easy to grasp: while United States in a similar light – a country that had fool-
Marxist ideology might be important it was so ambiguous ishly lost its innocence by contracting into alliances with

18
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

despicable reg imes. One suspects, however, that


Kennan’s dislike of Third World dictatorships was
informed by his own dislike of the Third World. The
contrast between the post-colonial states with their mili-
tary regimes and corrupt officialdom and the early
development of the United States itself encouraged a
peculiar cultural chauvinism which made it possible for
Kennan to compare the history of other countries
unfavourably with that of his own:
‘I am moved to recall that Wisconsin [in the 1850s]’,
he wrote in one of his later books, ‘was very much
what we today would call an undeveloped country.
Well, those people worked hard … and Wisconsin
prospered under their administration. Had the
Wisconsinites been a lazy, violent people devoted
more to war than to industry – had we wasted what
little substance we had on civil strife of one sort or
another – … would we today be seen as the possessors
of a peculiar virtue vis a vis the less developed coun-
tries, entitling us to put claims on their beneficence
and to demand of them that they exert themselves to
promote their development?’
It was an analysis which justified him in making some
very critical judgements, in particular that the Third
World had largely itself to blame for its own underdevel-
opment. Unfortunately, he was not sufficiently rigorous
in his historical analysis to appreciate how irrelevant that
experience might be to Third World conditions. Much
of what he wrote, in fact, derived from a historical myth
that sat somewhat uneasily on the distinctly unhistorical
nature of his thinking.
The problem was that the more he anchored himself
to the past, the more detached he became from contem-
porary life. He remained a Calvinist in spirit to the end.
Indeed, his criticism of China in 1979 for ‘lacking a
capacity for pity and a sense of sin’ revealed the hold
that the Puritan tradition has on Americans, even now.
Earlier he confessed to being persuaded that the
Founding Fathers were right to dislike the great cities
for being ‘pestilential to the morals, the health and
morality of mankind’. In the 1960s he criticised the stu-
dent Left for being the product of an urban existence
which he considered both tragic and metaphysical. His
criticism seems to have been at one with a general
misanthropy that became more pronounced in later life.
For all his faults, Kennan was a major figure of his age,
even if his fate was very much in tune with that of all old
people who outlive the age that they once represented.
We are all separated from the past by two forces that go
instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting
(which erases) and the force of memory (which trans-
forms). We all have different memories of Kennan; John
Luckas’s is not my own. But he presents a compelling
picture of a remarkable man.
To order this book at £13.59, see LR Bookshop on page 16

LITERARY REVIEW July 2007


BIOGRAPHY

S IMON H EFFER Schumann stor y, in the way Worthen tells it, is


Schumann’s campaign to marry Clara once she reached

Lechery, Libel adulthood, and Wieck’s campaign to stop him. To be


frank, one can’t really blame the potential father-in-law
for feeling less than good about Schumann’s designs on
and Lieder his pride and joy. Schumann had all the dissolute charac-
teristics of young men in early nineteenth-century
Germany. He was a serious drinker, he had no money
ROBERT S CHUMANN : L IFE AND D EATH (his grandfather had been a Lutheran pastor, his father a
OF A M USICIAN bookseller in the small town of Zwickau in Saxony, and
★ he was the sixth child of his parents), and, although
By John Worthen Wieck was not to know this, he had contracted syphilis
(Yale University Press 496pp £25) from a bout of serious whoring around in the early
1830s. What is not in doubt is that Schumann had a
THIS IS AN odd book. Not a bad one: but odd. It isn’t real- serious passion for music, though it was hard to quantify
ly about Schumann’s music, which is the first oddity, since his abilities. It was clear he had a compositional talent,
his life without it is rather tiresome and not really the stuff but he was no musical genius, at least not to start with:
of a serious biography. Odder still, it isn’t really about Worthen calls him, with much justification, ‘a very late
Schumann’s life either, though all the key facts of that developer’. Stuck in Zwickau, he could find no one to
short and not always glorious career are contained within foster his talent, though his parents recognised it and
its pages. It is most concerned with his decline, and his encouraged him. As a teenager he was quiet to the point
death, and concerned about them to one particular end: to of sullenness, and soon started to have difficulties with
prove that Schumann, long portrayed as the ultimate girls; it did not help that he became an increasingly sen-
Romantic who died after a mental collapse brought on by sitive youth, and buried himself in Romantic literature.
melancholia, in fact died of tertiary syphilis. However, his father’s death, and the small legacy that
Thanks to the publication, for the first time in came his way as a result of it, allowed him to go to
English, of the post-mortem report on the composer Leipzig and study with Wieck. As a biographer,
and the recording of great details about his last eighteen Worthen is helped by Schumann’s obsessive diary-keep-
months or so, spent in an asylum near Bonn, John ing (once he marries, he even records the occasions on
Worthen more or less succeeds in proving his thesis. He which he has sexual intercourse with his wife), but it
exposes the Romantic myth of Schumann’s death for also helps us to understand what a confused and difficult
what it manifestly was: a Romantic myth, constructed person the composer himself became. In the 1830s
partly to satisfy the preposterous desire of the contempo- much of the diaries seems devoted to accounts of his
rary public for an element of soap-opera about great drinking, and the often violent intensity of his hang-
artistic figures, and partly to prevent offending the dom- overs. It is remarkable that, out of this, a composer of
inant prudery of the times by referring to something so such great merit should emerge; but he did. Indeed,
shocking as venereal disease. even when in the advanced stages of psychological
Even aside from the catastrophic nature of his demise, degeneracy just before his death in 1856, Schumann
Schumann’s life seems to have been of interest largely for found the strength to write music, so a few bottles won’t
what he encountered rather than for what he was. His have made much difference.
family seemed to excel at dying, and this is the earliest By the time he sought to marry Clara, Schumann had
cause of the accusation of started to make a reasonable
melancholia that was so fre-
quently, and promiscuously, NEW AUTHORS reputation for himself as a
composer, notably of Lieder
attached to him. He became PUBLISH YOUR BOOK – ALL SUBJECTS INVITED and of piano music. He had
a pupil in Leipzig of Have you written a book, and are you looking for a publisher? Athena also become notorious not
Friedrich Wieck, though he Press is a publisher dedicated to the publishing of books mainly by first
time authors. While we have our criteria for accepting manuscripts, we are
merely for his boozing but
was not the star pupil: that less demanding than the major blockbuster and celebrity driven publishing also for lapses into periods of
role was reserved for Wieck’s houses, and we will accept a book if we feel it can reach a readership. catatonic depression, many of
daughter Clara, a mere eight We welcome submissions in all genres of fiction and non-fiction; literary them sex-related. The autop-
years old when Schumann, and other novels, biography and autobiography, children’s, academic,
spiritual and religious writing, poetry, and many others. sy report shows that not all of
aged eighteen, first encoun- Schumann’s brain damage
Write or send your manuscript to: ATHENA PRESS
tered her, but already a was related to the possible
prodigy. By far the most QUEEN’S HOUSE, 2 HOLLY ROAD, TWICKENHAM TW1 4EG, UK.
e-mail: info@athenapress.com www.athenapress.com
effects of syphilis: he also had
interesting part of the some hereditary brain disease.

20
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

No surprise then that when he con- Schumann’s health was declining. His
fronted Wieck with the ghastly reality mental state became so erratic by
that he wished to make Clara Frau 1854 that he walked out in his dress-
Schumann, Wieck decided to leave no ing gown and slippers to a bridge
weapon unsheathed. He made them over the Rhine and threw his wed-
spend eighteen months apart, and that ding-ring into it. Worthen recounts
did not work. He took issue with in detail the hideous life in the asy-
Schumann’s financial predicament – lum, from which death manifestly
Clara was, by the age of eighteen, provided Schumann the proverbial
earning a reasonable living as a virtu- blessed release.
oso pianist, and her father manifestly This book is beautifully written and
did not want an undesirable such as meticulously researched and footnot-
Schumann leeching off her – and ed. But Schumann was a composer,
Schumann responded with what and here music is only ever incidental
turned out to be a wildly ambitious to the mental history of a troubled
claim about his own earning potential. man. John Worthen makes no claim
What Schumann could not counter otherwise: he says at the outset that
were Wieck’s ambitions for the cut he this will not be a work of musical
was going to rake in of his daughter’s analysis, and he is right. With the evi-
earnings, his rightful due, as he saw it, dence he presents, he has shown us
for all his years of hard work spent Robert and Clara: close harmony Schumann the man: Schumann the
turning her into the finest pianist in writer of music will have to be left to
Europe. So, even when Clara turned eighteen, her father someone else. Perhaps that is a fair division of labour,
would not hear of her becoming engaged to Schumann. though how one can entirely understand Schumann’s
Wieck threatened Clara with being disinherited, and psychology without linking it more directly to his main
tried other forms of moral and emotional blackmail. creative outpourings will be a mystery to many readers.
There then came a lower blow still. Schumann was trying To order this book at £20, see LR Bookshop on page 16
to break into the lucrative world of Viennese music, and
had for some years been assiduously cultivating contacts
there. Wieck feared this, for it might, if successful, give
Schumann the means to marry his daughter: so Wieck
wrote to some of the people in Vienna on whom
Schumann would be relying, badmouthing and generally
denigrating him. Schumann took Wieck to court, and the
court ordered that Wieck prove his slurs against Clara’s
suitor (under these attacks, Worthen shows, Schumann
started to write some of the finest music of his life, notably
Lieder, such as the Dichterliebe cycle). In July 1840
Wieck’s campaign finally failed; and on 12 September
1840 Robert and Clara finally married, in the absence of
her father, who was subsequently sent briefly to prison for
libel. As Worthen points out, it was an achievement of the
composer that he could have his father-in-law jailed while
retaining the undying love of his wife.
The Schumanns’ marriage, of only just over fifteen
years’ duration, provided eight children (Clara seemed
almost permanently to be pregnant). Although financially
stretched they regarded their offspring as a great blessing;
but life was a struggle. Whenever Clara was not with
child she was on a concert platform, maintaining their
cloudgatedance
standard of living; the great earnings from Schumann’s
music would mostly come after his death. They travelled
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– trying to earn money. From the late 1840s onwards

21
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

H UGH M ASSINGBERD as a leading man’, though,


in reality, ‘physically he was

BOUNTY BAR BATES a peasant, a Derbyshire


peasant’.
Bor n in a suburb of
OTHERWISE ENGAGED: THE LIFE OF ALAN BATES Derby in 1934, Alan
★ (whose second name was
By Donald Spoto indeed Arthur) was the
(Hutchinson 308pp £18.99) eldest of three sons of an
insurance salesman who
SERIALISATION, WHICH TENDS to be equally crass and had tur ned down the
sensational whether in broadsheet or tabloid form, opportunity of being a
often seems something of a mixed blessing. Certainly cellist with the Hallé
the treatment given to this book – which appeared to Orchestra. His dominating
aim at provoking the crude reaction, ‘Blimey! Batesy mother, who was keen on Bates: a generous heart
was a bender’, and to be stuffed with ‘exploded quotes’ elocution (but, according
along the lines of (I paraphrase) ‘The trouble with Alan, to one of Alan’s girlfriends, had ‘a negative attitude to
darling, is that he didn’t know whether he was Arthur sex’), encouraged the stage-struck boy’s acting ambi-
or Martha!’ – made me mutter, ‘Surely Sir Alan, one of tions. After RADA he soon found himself in the fore-
our most deservedly popular performers, deserved bet- front of the theatrical new wave with parts in Look Back
ter than this?’ in Anger and The Caretaker, as well as making an impact
To be fair to this ‘exclusively authorised biography’ in films like Whistle Down the Wind, Zorba the Greek,
by the prolific American writer Donald Spoto, it turns Nothing But the Best and Far From the Madding Crowd.
out to be an infinitely more serious and sympathetic Shortly before his death in 2003, Bates reflected that
study than the serialisation would have led us to believe. Simon Gray’s Butley (in which the playwright himself
Indeed, the tone sometimes veers towards the prissy felt that the actor’s career ‘actually peaked’) was his
(‘Protracted virginity has perhaps never been found in favourite play, and the classic television series The Mayor
vulgar profusion among worldly young men’), and the of Casterbridge his favourite screen performance. I would
critical lingo can be clunking. Spoto describes A Kind also put in a word for An Englishman Abroad and his
of Loving (Bates’s first big film ‘break’, memorably guyed later ‘character’ roles in Love in a Cold Climate and
by Peter Simple as ‘A Kind of Boring’) as ‘an explo- Gosford Park.
ration of a certain portion of authentic adult experi- As for Bates’s private life, rather too much is made of
ence’. There are also an ir r itating number of his need to deny his homosexuality. This was hardly sur-
Americanisms, and I simply don’t believe that Princess prising in view of the fact that the law against it was not
Margaret ‘delayed’ his knighthood because he snubbed changed until he was in his mid-thirties. Various friends
her advances, but on the whole the author has done a attest to his being ‘basically a loner’: ‘The minute some-
thorough and competent job. one got too close to him, he ran and the relationship
The title is taken from a play by Simon Gray, one of a ended.’ As Angharad Rees summed it up, ‘He was a very
dozen projects upon which he and Bates worked complicated man.’
together. Bates nicely described Gray’s plays as ‘sad The most painful part of the story is the account of
comedies’. Through them, he felt, ‘runs a tremendous Bates’s anguished marriage to a deeply disturbed ex-
sense of separation, of being alone’. Gray, in turn, Barnardo’s girl, Valerie (‘Victoria’) Ward, with whom he
recognised Bates as ‘the most human actor of his gener- had twin sons. Asked once why he had married Victoria
ation’ with ‘a gorgeous vulnerability about him’. The (who died in 1992), Bates replied: ‘I thought I could
director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who worked with help her.’ As Felicity Kendal observed, ‘Victoria was
them both, considered that ‘there was in Alan’s nature a very, very strange and very, very sick.’
kind of passivity … there was something passive about Although they never divorced, eventually Bates had to
his acting – he listened, he responded, he reacted, and take care of the boys himself. Tragically, Tristan died in
in that lay his great power’. Tokyo in 1990. Benedick carries on the theatrical tradi-
Among the lovable, humorous Bates’s endearingly tion of his father – who, as Spoto says, was ‘one of the
human foibles were his sweet tooth – nicknamed ‘Bounty most articulate and best-informed actors of his or any
Bar Bates’, he was fond of saying, ‘I’ll just straighten the generation’, capable of making audiences ‘aware of
edge of this cake’ – and the vanity which led him to go enormous depths in a character’, and, above all, a man
on dyeing his hair well into his sixties. As Gray affection- of ‘a generous heart’.
ately observed, ‘he still saw himself, too late in his career, To order this book at £15.19, see LR Bookshop on page 16

22
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
BIOGRAPHY

D AVID E LLIS the most successful life story in Western culture was
written by that canny quartet of biographers, Matthew,

Chronicles of Mark, Luke and John.


Hamilton’s approach is often exhilarating, making you
feel what it might have been like to be a Victorian
A Life Story matron taking off her stays at the end of a long day. But
the pleasure provided by the loosening of restraints can
easily give way to anxiety. One of his organising ideas is
B IOGRAPHY: A B RIEF H ISTORY the ‘age-old tug of war between idealisation and critical
★ interpretation’ in life writing. He refers scornfully to the
By Nigel Hamilton failure of ‘mealy-mouthed’ Victorian biographers to be
(Harvard University Press 360pp £14.95) critical and claims that in the nineteenth century real
biography migrated to the novel in texts such as David
BIOGRAPHY IS A difficult genre to define. Some have Copperfield or Madame Bovary. This is a heady extension of
tried to simplify matters by excluding from it any auto- his subject which threatens to make it unmanageable and
biographical writing, on the loosely Freudian ground may well give the impression that, in a field so vast, any
that the accounts which people give of themselves can choice Hamilton makes of works to discuss can only ever
never be accurate. Others have insisted that texts such as be arbitrary. What is obviously true is that a satisfactory
the often cited but rarely read Lives of the Saints should history of biography as Hamilton defines it would have to
not be regarded as biographies because almost all the run into several volumes and that, in making it brief, he is
details they contain are invented and the aim of a biog- condemned to painting with a very broad brush.
rapher should be historical truth, however hard or even Given his general topic, the effect is particularly
impossible that may be to attain. A third limitation painful when he claims that Dr Johnson wrote his Lives
comes from those who say that no genuine biography is of the English Poets because his own attempts at verse had
possible until its subject is dead. One reason here is that proved such ‘miserable failures’, or that Henry James
only at the moment of death does the pattern of a life gloried in the downfall of Oscar Wilde because he had
become clear. ‘Call no man happy until he is dead’, a not been able to write successful plays himself. But these
Greek once insisted, but, when there is always a chance biographical simplifications are perhaps inevitable when
of impoverished eighty-year-olds winning the lottery, there is so much ground to cover, and detail is in any
he presumably meant that we ought to call no man case secondary to a writer who is not only in a hurry
unhappy either. but also on a mission. What he wants to demonstrate is
This last method for restricting the definition of biog- that biography is ‘integral to the Western concept of
raphy is one of which Nigel Hamilton has deprived him- individuality’ and a ‘mainstay of democratic practice’.
self by recently publishing the first volume of a life of Bill The story he tells is of how, in the West, investigations
Clinton, a biographical subject whose life journey would into the more personal aspects of a life were hampered
seem to reserve many more twists and turns (especially if by various aspects of State power so that it was not
his wife is elected President). It is a deprivation Hamilton until the 1960s that biography could really ‘come into its
will hardly regret since his ambition is not to limit but to own’, as one of his final chapter headings has it. It was
enlarge the definition of biography. He describes the only then that it could become ‘the new symbol of
moment in British history when the term was coined democratic freedoms’ and an ‘expression of a defining
and simultaneously applied to a written account of a life borderline separating East and West’ (Nigel Nicolson’s
as ‘an epistemological misfortune whose ramifications revealing biography of his parents in Portrait of a
would continue to the present day’. In his view the word Marriage, Hamilton bizarrely notes, ‘found no favour in
‘biography’ should cover all ‘real-life depictions’ of what- the Middle East’). There are no doubt connections to be
ever length and in whatever medium. He therefore made between democratic processes in Western coun-
begins his history with drawings in the caves of Lascaux tries and what now amounts to an obsession with
(‘self-portraits of Paleolithic men’) and ends it with the private lives of their citizens, especially the more
diaries on the Internet. In between, attention is paid to celebrated ones. But to suggest, as Hamilton does, that
the usual suspects – Plutarch, St Augustine, Dr Johnson, the relation is one of mutual dependence is certainly
Rousseau, Lytton Strachey – but he also asks his readers chancing one’s arm. It risks implying that anyone chron-
to consider as biography many works not usually seen in icling the life of the Beckhams is taking part in the war
that light: the epic of Gilgamesh, for example, Walter on terror, or that fascism would be one step nearer were
Raleigh’s History of the World, Shakespeare’s history plays, it not for the latest investigator into the private life
Rodin’s statue of Balzac, or Leni Riefenstahl’s film The of Madonna.
Triumph of the Will. He also usefully reminds them that To order this book at £11.96, see LR Bookshop on page 16

23
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

E DWARD N ORMAN be unconsecrated by verbal inerrancy was inspired by the


nature of religious tradition itself. God was seen as having
WHAT NEXT FOR GOD? delivered his revelations to a community of believers, and
it was those people – the gathered, the ‘ecclesia’ – whose
collective authority selected the texts which constitute
T HE B IBLE : A B IOGRAPHY the Bible, the canon of Holy Scripture. Thus it is tradi-
★ tion, as much as it is Scripture, that secures the authen-
By Karen Armstrong ticity of religious truth. And since the divine revelation is
(Atlantic Books 160pp £14.99) progressive, and develops over time in a dialectical
exchange with shifting human culture, it is tradition, the
IT IS NOW generally assumed, as part of modern intellec- mind of the ‘People of God’, which determines the
tual culture, that the Bible was always interpreted literally nature of Christian understanding at any given time.
until scientific knowledge and historical relativism began One of the merits of Karen Armstrong’s book is that it
to dispel its authority. Then people of reason, and points to the modern origin of literalist interpretations
Biblical scholars themselves, began to subject the sacred of Scripture, and then revisits the preceding centuries of
texts to the same kind of critical analysis as other reposi- Biblical scholarship to bring its considerable diversity to
tories of traditional knowledge received in the Age of the notice of modern readers. The idea of ‘an Open
Enlightenment. In fact, a ‘fundamentalist’ reading of the Bible’, accessible to everyone, is now a reality. It has
Bible, and the concept of verbal inerrancy, are largely become a sacralised principle of Protestantism and seems
modern: a fruit, indeed, of mass literacy and populist natural to modern readers. But it is as well to remember
choice. For most of its existence – a point brought out that ‘the people’ who were to read the text in the ver-
well in Karen Armstrong’s ‘Biography’ of the Bible – nacular, at the time of the Reformation, and for three or
there was never a single interpretation of the way in four centuries afterwards, were an educated elite. Once
which the texts were to be understood. Minds were less the masses had learned to read, it was they who opted
troubled than they have since become by apparent incon- for fundamentalism. Armstrong uses American examples
sistencies in the Scriptural passages, or by how events to show this. It is not a major feature of her study, but
which plainly followed the deaths of the authors (Moses, an indication of the general balance which describes
for example) could have been recorded by them. There much of the book.
were several reasons for this. For a start, believers were Most of the survey transports the reader through two
innocently unaware of that species of relativistic thinking and a half centuries of Jewish and Christian biblical schol-
which modern attitudes impose upon us; their sense of arship. The methods and conclusions of individual
reality lacked the harsh rationalism which makes the peo- scholars are summarised between occasional paragraphs
ple of today sceptical of recognising the authority of the explaining cultural features of the periods in which they
past. More significantly, the Bible texts were interpreted worked. The knowledge offered is accurate but unorigi-
allegorically, not only by Philo and Origen and the nal, and the cultural summaries are often rather trite. But
Alexandrian school of the second and third centuries, but the sequence of interpretation is splendidly achieved, and
by probably a significant majority of Jewish and Christian makes hugely differing exegeses available. It is also an
scholars until the end of the Middle Ages. enormous advantage, and a rewarding one, to have Jewish
Allegory is now so out of fashion as an interpretative and Christian scholarship displayed side by side. This is
tool that it has virtually passed from the scene (and has actually the best sort of popularising: there is no sacrifice
become lodged in New Age speculations), but it is as of integrity and no dumbing down. What is achieved is a
well to remember that such a helpful vade mecum to scrip-
method accepted the diversi- tural understanding.
ty inseparable from human There is another dimension
agency in the composition of of the book which becomes
texts, and allowed a single explicit towards the end, but
verbal construction to con- which is actually present
vey multiple meanings – a MA Degree in Biography throughout. Armstrong does
Starting January 2007
correct pointer to the com- Appreciate the art of biography while learning the skill in this one or not write objectively. Her
plexity of things. Flor id two-year taught MA. The Buckingham MA in Biography was the first agenda is a familiar one: it
excesses were no worse than postgraduate programme in this field to be offered in the UK. projects the inclination of
in the conclusions of the Course director: Jane Ridley modern liberal culture, both
later Fundamentalists. Above Contact: jane.ridley@buckingham.ac.uk or write to her at inside and outside the Church
The University of Buckingham, Buckingham MK18 1EG
all, however, the general cus- Tel: 01280 814080 and Synagogue, to favour the
tom of allowing the texts to reinterpretation of religion as

24
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

‘spirituality’. This is an age in which knowledge of the Judaism, Christianity and Islam are to free themselves
Bible is becoming rare; there is no longer a common basis from ‘the danger of raging orthodoxies’, and to devise
of shared scriptural narrative which educated people can new canons of Scripture which will ‘moderate the reli-
recognise. Copies of the Bible are not usually found in the giously articulated hatred of our time’. There ‘are good
classroom, and ‘religious knowledge’, where it is imparted things and bad in the Bible’, Armstrong declares, and
at all in education, tends to follow the study of ethicist lit- the Bible should be interpreted by direct reference to
erature and television ‘docu-drama’. In place of orthodox the issues of the modern world. By what principles are
religion comes ‘spirituality’ – a derivative of individual the good things and the bad things to be differentiated?
sensation and concern about the state of everything. The It would seem they are self-evident in the moral sense of
ground is prepared by the demoralisation of the Christian the present times – a conclusion which surely involves
past. The reader will find, tucked away amidst the exegesis, some hazards. But in her antipathy to Fundamentalist
all the usual, and now conventional, assaults upon uses of Biblical texts she is on more secure ground, and
Christianity: for the Crusades (which ‘baptised violence’), is right to indicate that these practices are contrary to
for anti-Semitism (‘a thread of hatred runs through the much that occurred in preceding religious custom. She
New Testament’), for slavery and the slaves (to whom calls for ‘the principle of charity’ in understanding
Christianity was ‘grossly hypocritical’), and for ‘the diversity. It might well be applied to the events of the
Western destruction of the environment’. past as well as the present.
The favoured agenda for the future is clear too. To order this book at £11.99, see LR Bookshop on page 16

D AMIAN T HOMPSON Hindus, for example, do not recognise the linear concept
of time implicit in apocalyptic belief; nor is there any
OH LORD! close equivalent in Shinto, African religions or shaman-
ism. As for Judaism, apocalypse and the day of judgment
do not make an appearance until Daniel, the last book of
G OD I S N OT G REAT: T HE C ASE the Old Testament; they were almost certainly borrowed
AGAINST R ELIGION from Zoroastrianism, they sit uneasily with the teaching
★ of the Pentateuch and the prophets, and therefore they
By Christopher Hitchens
(Atlantic Books 320pp £17.99) MENTORING : FICTION : NON-FICTION : POETRY

:
:

CHILDREN’S
MEMOIR

The Literary Consultancy


T HIS BOOK ABOUT the pernicious effect of religion
throughout history has shaken my faith – my faith, that
is, in my journalistic idol, whom we believers know by
the name of ‘Hitch’. In God Is Not Great, Christopher The UK’s leading manuscript assessment and editorial advice service
:

Hitchens transubstantiates his erudition into lovingly


LIFE WRITING

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crafted but cheap jibes, which he directs at his targets in An unsurpassed team of professional editors,
SCRIPTWRITING
an unfair and tasteless manner. So far, so good. That is
why we lesser hacks worship at his shrine. It can be huge readers, and mentors
fun watching an intellectual landing a really low blow.
The moment when I began to entertain what Recommended by top publishing houses and
Catholics call ‘Doubts’ was when Hitch strayed into my literary agents
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religion: enough, anyway, to spot basic errors of fact, of


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which there are plenty in God Is Not Great. Helping writers since 1996
‘Perhaps aware that its unsupported arguments are not
entirely persuasive,’ writes Hitchens, ‘and perhaps uneasy
about its own greedy accumulation of temporal power www.literaryconsultancy.co.uk
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and wealth, religion has never ceased to proclaim the


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Apocalypse and the day of judgment.’ There are so many


Diorama Arts, 1 Euston Centre, London, NW1 3JG
MEMOIR

untrue assumptions knitted into this sentence that it’s


hard to know which strand to pull out first. Tel/Fax: 0207 813 4330
‘Religion’ has not preached these things ‘unceasingly’, email: info@literaryconsultancy.co.uk
for the good reason that many religions do not believe in
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POETRY : NON-FICTION : FICTION : MENTORING


an apocalypse or a day of judgment. Buddhists and

25
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

have never been embraced by rabbinical Judaism. Hitchens does, that the late and almost entirely fictional
Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, genuinely was an Gnostic Gospels are ‘of the same provenance and period’
apocalyptic prophet whose teachings about an impending as the canonical ones. Nor is it true that all four Gospels
Kingdom of Heaven was so threatening and difficult to were based on a possible lost book known as ‘Q’: that
interpret that the Church did the very opposite of what letter is used to signify only those passages in Matthew
Hitch claims, and ‘ceased to proclaim them’ as soon as and Luke that are not borrowed from Mark.
was decently possible. Not for nothing do we associate Hitchens thinks that the existence of the historical Jesus
Bible prophecy with sweaty televangelists sporting orange is disputed by scholars; it isn’t. And if Jesus was actually
hair-weaves: respectable Christianity long ago pushed born, he says, then ‘even the stoutest defenders of the
millenarian belief to the margins. There has not been a story now admit that it wasn’t until at least 4 AD’. Oh,
major apocalyptic panic in Christianity since 22 October for Christ’s sake – believers and non-believers are unani-
1844, when the followers of William Miller, a farmer mous in agreeing that Jesus couldn’t have been born later
from upstate New York, expected the Second Coming than 4 BC, because that was when Herod the Great died.
and suffered a ‘Great Disappointment’ when it didn’t hap- What about Hitchens’s main contention, that ‘religion
pen; Hitchens’s version of the story has them all gathering poisons everything’? I think it’s an unarguable point, not
on mountaintops to await the returning Jesus, a claim for because it is true, but because he does not bother to tell
which there is not a single contemporary source. us what he means by religion. A case against something
A section of God Is Not Great is devoted to the unreli- that you don’t attempt to define is not worth worrying
ability of the Gospel narratives. Fair enough: they are about – and certainly not worth taking offence at.
unreliable, in so far as they contradict each other, put God Is Not Great is Hitchens at Speakers’ Corner: an
words into Jesus’s mouth and were written decades after entertaining spectacle but also – given the shocking
the events they describe. But Hitchens is a fine one to carelessness of his research – an unexpectedly sad one.
talk, given that almost everything he tells us about the As a member of the cult of Hitch, I vote that we treat
New Testament is misleading. The four Gospels are the it like the Gnostic Gospels and quietly exclude it from
only records of Jesus based (very loosely in the case of the canon.
John) on eyewitness accounts; it is nonsense to state, as To order this book at £14.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16

P R I Z E C R O S S W O R D
ACROSS
4 Friend gets excellent service at royal residence (6)
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 Exam success I’m seeing regularly in text (6)
8 Good vegetables outside - Shandy’s were booked by
7 Sterne? (8)
8
9 Comprehensive extra (4)
10 Play badly mistaking it for ‘Sturm’ (5)
9 12 English retreat in Paradise (4)
18 Watery with plenty of space, we hear (6)
10 11 12 13 14
19 At university retain maintenance (6)
15 16 17 20 Bundle of money to secure release, it’s reported (4)
23 Part of book may be linked with chiller? (5)
18 19
27 Sign top British sportsman (4)
28 Parable, one on the banks of the Nile according to
Mrs Malaprop (8)
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
29 Distance of confederation (6)
27
30 Twice set out to find African fly (6)

28
DOWN
29 1 Demonstrated lustrous fabric (5)
2 Remains to see cricket tournament (5)
30
3 University in Roma upset by affair (5)
4 I enter carriage to see king of Troy (5)
Thames & Hudson has generously decided to sponsor the prizes for this 5 The Spanish carry port up French river (5)
month’s crossword. Five winners will be selected from the correct puzzles 6 Ocean-going vessel? (5)
received by noon on July 12th 2007. Each will receive a copy of The 11 Weighty volume given to yours truly (4)
13 Regimen of legislative assembly (4)
Proms: A New History, a beautiful book that should prove indispensable 14 Pinches 17 turning up (4)
to fans of one of the most famous of all British institutions. 15 Crustacean caught by poor rower (4)
The winners of our June competition are Alan Shean from Astley, Leics, Marianne Chalmers from Reading, 16 Joiner might use it to distribute cards (4)
Douglas Price from Petworth, W. Sussex, Eileen Clifton from York, and Andrew Porter from London W8. 17 Politician’s slant on revolution (4)
Each will receive a copy of William Wilberforce by William Hague, published recently by HarperPress. 21 Finally failing to conclude book of maps (5)
Answers to the June competition: 22 Happening taking place during the seventies (5)
ACROSS: 1 Female, 4 Beggar, 9 Offenbach, 10 Gamin, 11 Anon, 12 Nadir, 14 Drier, 15 Chico, 17 23 Good person to be indebted to US novelist (5)
Aping, 19, Atom, 21 Orbit, 23 Number Ten, 24 Tundra, 25 Osprey. 24 Idly stirring having left picturesque location (5)
DOWN: 1 Flagon, 2 Maim, 3 Leonardo, 5 Etna, 6 Graffiti, 7 Rehear, 8 Afoot, 13 Dairyman, 14 25 Regal variation composed by him (5)
Diamonds, 15 Cygnet, 16 State, 18 Gatsby, 20 Lear, 22 Bier. 26 It’s fashionable to be in this magazine (5)

LITERARY REVIEW July 2007


LITERARY LIVES

R ICHARD G RAY his mother’s name, to his patronymic, usually signing


himself thereafter J Fenimore Cooper – an act of piety

HOW TO WRITE A HERO towards his mother, perhaps, but also a measure of the
ambivalent feelings he had about his authoritarian father.
The ambivalence of those feelings was compounded
JAMES FENIMORE COOPER: THE EARLY YEARS when ‘like his father’s other heirs … Cooper watched as
★ the large inheritance they had been promised simply
By Wayne Franklin evaporated’. His father’s estate proved to be so encum-
(Yale University Press 708pp £25) bered with legal claims that Cooper found himself
unable to live up to his social position. With increasing
IF ANY SINGLE person was the creator of the myth of urgency, he indulged in a series of speculative ventures –
the American West, it was James Fenimore Cooper. opening a general store with an incompetent cousin,
But he was far more than that. He was the founding buying a ship and fitting it out for a series of whaling
father of the American historical novel; he helped voyages – before hitting on the idea that writing and
develop and popularise such widely diverse literary self-publishing might be the answer. According to some
forms as the sea novel, the novel of manners, political accounts, Cooper was encouraged to try writing by his
satire, and the dynastic novel. He reflected, in all his wife. His first novel was begun, so the story goes, after
fiction, on themes and issues of vital concern to the he complained about an English novel he was reading
new republic: the destruction of the wilderness and the and was challenged by Susan to write something better.
American Indian in the name of ‘settlement’, the The outcome of that challenge was Precaution, a
competing priorities of freedom and social conventional novel of manners set in genteel
order, and the potential conflict between English society. So faithful was it to its
the creed of self-reliance and the need influences – Jane Austen, among them –
for a communal ethic. ‘Cooper set the that, when it was published anony-
ter ms of Amer ican dreaming,’ as mously in 1820, even British review-
Wayne Franklin puts it in this first ers were persuaded that the author
volume of a major new biography. was female and English.
Moreover, as Cooper struggled to Far better, and more indicative of
see his books into print at a time the direction Cooper’s literary
when the publishing industry was in career would take, was his second
its infancy, he helped establish the novel, The Spy: A Tale of the
material as well as the imaginative Neutral Ground (1821). Set in
foundations of American writing – Revolutionary New York State, on
not just the modes in which the ‘neutral ground’ of Westchester
American books might be written, County, its hero is Harvey Birch,
but also the means by which they who is supposed to be a Loyalist spy
could be produced, distributed and read. but is secretly in the service of General
In short, he stands at the beginning of Washington. Birch is faithful to the
American literature as both a great tradition Revolutionary cause but a convoluted plot
and a marketable commodity. reveals his emotional ties to some of the
Using archival mater ial previously Fenimore Cooper: self-published Loyalists. What the reader is presented
unavailable to biographers, Franklin traces with here is a character prototype that
the first thirty-six years of Cooper’s life, up to the Cooper learned from Sir Walter Scott and was to use in
moment of his departure with his family to Europe, his later fiction, notably in his portrait of Natty
where he was to find his international fame confirmed Bumppo, the hero of the Leather-Stocking tales. The
as ‘le grand écrivain américain’. Cooper grew up in hero is himself a ‘neutral ground’ to the extent that he,
Cooperstown, we learn, a frontier settlement established his actions and his allegiances provide an opportunity
by his father, Judge William Cooper. After his expulsion for opposing social forces to be brought into human
from Yale for a dangerous prank, he went to sea as a relationship with one another. The moral landscape he
sailor before the mast and then as a midshipman in the negotiates is a place of crisis and collision that are
US Navy. His naval career was cut short by two events: expressed in personal as well as social terms, as a func-
the death of William Cooper, which promised a life of tion of character as well as event.
genteel leisure for his heirs, and his betrothal to Susan With The Spy, Cooper had found his subject, the his-
De Lancey, whose condition for marrying him was that tory of his own country; and he had found a template
he leave the navy. It was then that he joined Fenimore, for his fiction, with the hero who wavers between

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LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
LITERARY LIVES

opposing forces. He had also found success. Over the he hovers there, too, when Thoreau laments the
next few years he compounded that success with two destruction of the wilderness, or a later American
books that effectively invented the modern sea novel, writer such as Norman Mailer casts doubt on the unin-
The Pilot (1824) and The Red Rover (1827), and the first hibited exercise of freedom. The power of Cooper’s
three books in the Leather-Stocking series, The Pioneers frontier hero, in short, is that he incorporates the differ-
(1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Prairie ent warring possibilities that constitute the founding
(1827). It was a remarkable feat, made all the more so myth of the nation. The figure of Natty Bumppo may
because, as Franklin shows, before 1826 Cooper had no have crept up on his creator almost unawares; there is
publishers as such. He produced his first books com- certainly no direct correlation between a well-read
pletely at his own risk, employing New York booksellers country gentleman and the illiterate scout he invented.
as his agents. The agents made all the practical arrange- But at the core of both the writer and his greatest
ments with paper suppliers, printers, binders, and fictional creation, as this magnificent biography shows,
wholesale and retail merchants: but they did none of the was an obsession with the immense promise, and equal-
editorial work that would normally be part of a publish- ly immense danger, of the democratic experiment. In
er’s role. Only when Cooper was about to embark for all his work, but particularly in his creation of Natty
Europe did he finally negotiate a deal with one of the Bumppo, Cooper returned compulsively to problems
nation’s pioneering publishers that placed him on more that were the driving force of the infant republic. They
solid ground, and it was a measure of his success that are the problems that still haunt America; and, for that
they paid him the princely sum of $5,000 for The Last of reason alone, both Cooper and this definitive account
the Mohicans. With that advance, Franklin suggests, of his early years deserve to be read.
‘“American literature” had been created as a cultural and To order this book at £20, see LR Bookshop on page 16
economic reality.’ More prosaically, although he was
never to enjoy complete financial security, Cooper was F RANCES W ILSON
at last beginning to keep the wolf from the door.
This first volume leaves Cooper at the earlier stages of
his lifelong struggle to establish not only his own finan-
cial and imaginative independence but also the cultural
HARDLY HUMAN
and intellectual independence of his country. No char- D EATH AND THE M AIDENS : FANNY
acter in his fiction was more crucial in that struggle WOLLSTONECRAFT AND THE S HELLEY C IRCLE
than the hero of the Leather-Stocking tales, Natty ★
Bumppo, an uneducated wilderness scout whose life By Janet Todd
from adolescence to old age is traced backwards and (Profile Books 304pp £17.99)
forwards over the course of the five Leather-Stocking
novels (the other two are The Pathfinder (1840) and The B EING S HELLEY: T HE P OET ’ S S EARCH
Deerslayer (1841)). What Cooper did, perhaps without FOR H IMSELF
realising it, was to write the epic of the American west- ★
ward movement. Natty Bumppo – also called Hawkeye, By Ann Wroe
Pathfinder and Deerslayer – gravitates towards the con- (Jonathan Cape 464pp £25)
dition of an American Adam during the course of the
Leather-Stocking series: in his allegiance to nature, in THERE IS A short story by Henry James called ‘The
his comradeship with another man (a Mohican called Pr ivate Life’, in which a celebrated wr iter, Clare
Chingachgook), in his virg inity (women are an Vawdrey, is invited to a weekend house party. His com-
uncharted territory for him), in his reliance on action pany, it turns out, is less illuminating than his writing
and instinct rather than thought and reasoning – and in and one evening, while Vawdrey is boring his fellow
his indebtedness not to education or convention but to guests downstairs, the narrator goes upstairs and sees
natural wisdom and morality. Natty stands at the start of through the author’s bedroom door, which is slightly
a long line of Western and other American heroes who ajar, that Vawdrey is also sitting at his desk, scribbling
are practical rather than intellectual, full of an innate away at his latest play. There are two Clare Vawdreys, it
and usually unspoken integrity, bold in their defence of transpires: the dreary public figure and the brilliant pri-
freedom – and possessed of a belief in themselves and vate writer, and Vawdrey inhabits, quite comfortably,
their own judgement that is only matched (a sceptical both parts at the same time.
European might say) by their inability to construct a Apart from the fact that Shelley was never thought a
coherent sentence. He hovers there, a familiar, guiding bore by anyone who knew him, the brilliant new
presence, whenever John Wayne – or George W Bush – biographies by Janet Todd and Ann Wroe give us,
invokes the special destiny, the mission of America; and respectively, the material being downstairs in company,

28
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
LITERARY LIVES

and the ethereal creature upstairs with his pen. They are her own rootless existence …
approaches of which Shelley would approve: ‘The poet of not belonging where she
& the man’, he wrote, ‘are two different natures; though was.’ She had wr itten to
they exist together they may be unconscious of each Shelley the day before, asking
other, & incapable of deciding on each other’s powers & him to pay for her burial, but
effects by any reflex act.’ In Death and the Maidens, Janet even though he knew more
Todd describes the idealist whose Godwinian notions of than anyone else the reasons
sexual freedom managed to wreck the lives of those for her suicide, he thought it
women who were doomed to love him. In Being Shelley, more prudent to have Mary
Ann Wroe gives us an interior picture of what it was Wollstonecraft’s daughter
like to have poetic power. thrown in a pauper’s grave
Janet Todd takes as her focus not Shelley himself but where no one would question
his role in the suicide of Fanny Wollstonecraft/ her identity than to place her
Imlay/Godwin, illegitimate daughter of Mary under a stone. Two months
Wollstonecraft and her inconstant lover, Gilbert Imlay. later, Shelley’s heavily preg- Shelley: heartless
The least written-about member of the Godwin clan, nant wife, Harriet, drowned
Fanny was the first of Godwin’s young household to herself in the Serpentine.
meet Shelley when he ar r ived at the house in Ann Wroe makes no attempt to defend the poet; what
Somerstown, and the first to be dazzled by him. She was concerns her in Being Shelley is to understand her subject
no doubt in love with him, not only because most from the inside rather than place him in a moral con-
women Shelley met fell in love with him, but because he text, and taking responsibility for his effect on people
spoke to her as no one had done before. What Todd like Fanny was not part of being Shelley. Wroe describes
pulls off in this gripping and heartbreaking book is an her book as ‘an adventure story of Shelley’s search to
understanding of what it was like ‘Being Fanny’, a girl discover, in his words, “whence I came, and where I am,
‘disgracefully brought into the world’ (as one publication and why”’. The task she sets herself seems dauntingly
put it), whose notorious mother had died after giving difficult: to write a biography in which there is no
birth to Fanny’s legitimate sister Mary, whose feckless chronology, no linear narrative, no political context; to
father Fanny had never known, who lived with her path- give us Shelley not only in his own words but – take a
blazing stepfather, William Godwin, and his ghastly new sharp intake of breath – through the elements of earth,
wife, Mary Jane Clairmont, along with her two children water, air and fire.
and the child Godwin and Mary Jane then had together. What initially saves Being Shelley from becoming a
It was a household in which, as Fanny’s half-sister Claire journey into a basement of scented candles and kaftans is
Clairmont later put it, ‘If you cannot write an epic that the structure works: once you have read the book,
poem, or a novel that by originality knocks all other it makes perfect sense to think of Shelley in terms of the
novels on the head, you are a despicable creature not elements and to read his life as a series of themes rather
worth acknowledging.’ Not only did Fanny never write a than events. Water, in which he would eventually
poem or a book, but she was also the only child in the drown, obsessed him; the poet, he believed, lived on
family without a parent of her own, and the only one of light and air; earth was where he came from; and flames
the girls not invited to run off with Shelley into the mar- burned through his poems long before they cremated his
vellous philosophical world he kept talking about. ‘Her dead body, leaving only his heart for Mary to take back
emotions were deep when she heard the sad fate of the to England. But the other reasons why Ann Wroe is
two girls. She cannot get over it,’ her stepmother wrote able to pull off such a feat are that she is a marvellous
of the morning Fanny heard that Shelley had absconded and poetic writer herself, and because she has an uncan-
with Mary and Claire. Mrs Godwin had, as usual, missed ny grasp of Shelley’s metaphysical thought. Like a
the point of Fanny’s reaction; it was her own fate and not method actor, she has worked her way into her troubled
that of her sisters which seemed sad to her. subject and merged her voice with his.
From being the child so lovingly described in her Read together, Death and the Maidens and Being
mother’s Letters from Sweden, Fanny became the Shelley give a good idea of what it was like to know
Cinderella of Godwin’s house, the hard-working and Shelley and what it was like to be him, and how vertig-
loyal daughter left behind while her sisters went to the inously divided is the man who suffers – or in this case,
ball. Her exclusion from the Shelley ménage eventually makes other people suffer – from the mind which cre-
led to her journey to Swansea, where she took a room ates. Read separately, they provide utterly convincing
in an inn and swallowed enough laudanum to kill her. readings of the poet who said of himself, ‘I fear that I
‘Death in a staging place,’ Janet Todd writes, ‘simply en am hardly human’.
route to somewhere else, fits … with Fanny’s sense of To order these books, see LR Bookshop on page 16

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LITERARY LIVES

C HARLES E LLIOTT reading A la recherche, that Proust and Joyce both copied
their books from her Making of Americans; Jean Cocteau’s

LETTERS FROM AMERICA taking Laughlin to lunch at the Grand Véfours in the
Palais-Royal, where he ‘explained clearly all about flying
saucers. He understood mechanical things. He would
T HE WAY I T WASN ’ T: F ROM THE F ILES OF advise me. He was amiable’; W C Williams on T S Eliot:
J AMES L AUGHLIN ‘I distrust that bastard more than any writer I know in the
★ world today. He can write, granted, but it’s like walking
Edited by Barbara Epler and Daniel Javitch into a church to me’; ‘There was not much “gracious liv-
(New Directions 344pp $45) ing” in Pittsburgh, where at one house the butler passed
chewing gum on a silver salver after the coffee’; Ezra
C OUNTERPOINTS : 25 Y EARS OF T HE N EW Pound’s tennis tactics, which were ‘based on force, not
C RITERION ON C ULTURE AND THE A RTS speed. He would position himself at half-court, scowling

fiercely at his opponents, and wait to unleash a powerful
Edited by Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer full-body-pivot forehand which was quite unreturnable’;
(Ivan R Dee 500pp $35)
how and why New Directions turned down Lolita.
It’s possible that Laughlin might have been able to
The Way It Wasn’t is a very strange object. Grossly over- transform this debris into a proper autobiography. He
produced, printed on glossy stock so heavy it could be could, after all, write; he had several volumes of poetry,
used to shingle a house, filled with gulfs of white space essays and stories published, and not just by his own
amid a disorienting collection of typefaces, snapshots, press. And even in its fragmentary state the material does
reproduced documents and book jackets, it seems to be convey some sense of what the man was like, although
a gesture towards new-style autobiography (or, as James the picture is not especially flattering. It is necessary to
Laughlin was wont to call it, ‘auto- keep reminding oneself of what he
bug-offery’). With all due respect to a achieved, against considerable odds
man who published many of the most over a long period, on behalf of the
important books of his time, spend- avant-garde in American letters.
ing a good part of his considerable Needless to say, there is no men-
fortune in the process, The Way It tion of Laughlin or New Directions
Wasn’t might better be classed as the in Counterpoints, an anthology cele-
giblets of a memoir. brating twenty-five years of the
We shouldn’t blame Laughlin. He right-wing intellectual monthly The
may have been a spoiled rich kid – heir New Criterion. Founded in emulation
to a Pittsburgh steel fortune, educated of T S Eliot’s Criterion, it is the flag-
at Choate and Harvard – but in his bearer for a peculiarly Amer ican
sixty years of running New Directions, brand of highbrow conservatism,
which brought into the world writers marching in defence of ‘true judge-
ranging from Vladimir Nabokov to ment’ in the face of horrors like
Ezra Pound, Tennessee Williams to postmodernism and other forms of
William Carlos Williams, Dylan radicalism. What this means in prac-
Thomas to the Beats, he proved more tice can be seen in the essays the edi-
than adequately that he was a man of tors have chosen to include here,
taste and proportion. The present col- which span the gamut from Robert
location is the work of his son-in-law Bork (the man who was famously
and the editor-in-chief of New Laughlin: avant-garde tur ned down for a seat on the
Directions, who apparently discerned Supreme Court) on judicial activism
potential in the heap of bits and pieces Laughlin left and Roger Scruton on Enoch Powell, to Hilton Kramer
behind without completing his autobiography when he (one of the founding editors) on the death of abstract art
died at eighty-three in 1997. In this they were more or less and Gertrude Himmelfarb on why Lord Acton deserves
wrong, because most of what they offer here – quotes, our admiration. There are rehabilitations of F R Leavis,
fragments from letters, some diary entries – would have John Buchan and Simon Raven, and a few totally pre-
done better to stay in the files. When it’s not mysterious dictable demolition jobs on such despicable characters as
out of context, it’s banal in. There are, however, some nice Noam Chomsky and Eric Hobsbawm. The tone is gen-
moments. Here are a few: Gertrude Stein’s conviction, erally serious, occasionally sour, and speaks mainly to
expressed heatedly to Laughlin when she caught him the converted.

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J ESSICA M ANN brought about change.


This autobiography is designed around the numerous

BOHEMIAN GIRL homes in which Roberts perched during two decades of


flitting between extremes – from luxury in Holland Park
stucco to squats and squalor in slums, from collectives
PAPER H OUSES : A M EMOIR where privacy was anathema and the lavatory door had
OF THE 70 S AND B EYOND been removed to lonely garrets. She would not compro-
★ mise by getting a steady job (she had qualified as a
By Michèle Roberts librarian) but remained determined to concentrate on
(Virago 337pp £16.99) writing, earning a hand-to-mouth living as poet or play-
wright in residence, teaching evening classes, working in
WHAT FUN THE young activists had during the early day centres. The downside was being broke and always
years of women’s lib. Michèle Roberts, poet and novel- having to live in somebody else’s house as a guest or
ist, describes ‘heady, astonishing, exuberant times’. roommate or lodger. ‘When you write you need to let
Political agitation was exciting, sex even more so – talk- go and flow out, losing your boundaries, so that lan-
ing about it and having as much of it as you possibly guage can dance up and change itself about, but if other
could, both gay and straight. Roberts belonged to a people are nearby you can’t let go.’
street theatre group in which she enacted scenes from When she met and married an academic who owned
The Sensuous Woman, startling shoppers in Chapel Street a flat in Bayswater and wore a suit, it felt like entering a
market by doing ‘a mime of using a vibrator to achieve new world, light years away from life down among the
the multiple orgasms necessary to flatter chaps in bed’. poets. It was easy for Michèle to fit in, having been at
She even managed to get herself arrested and charged Oxford herself. ‘I was a multilingual chameleon. Adapt
with insulting behaviour – a gratifying achievement for a and survive.’ Her husband was selfish and overbearing,
young woman whose melodramatic desire to rebel was but she seems to have effectively invited him to be just
based partly on a desperate need to force her parents to that. ‘I treated his needs as more important than mine.’
understand what she was doing and approve of it, but So much for feminist principles.
equally strongly on an obsessive determination to defy The bad marriage with an art historian was followed
the Catholic Church in which she was brought up: the by a good one with an artist, a book shortlisted for the
Church twists children’s minds, manages them; celibate Booker Prize, and an income one could live on; by the
male priests, scared of their own feelings and desires, time this memoir finishes, Roberts has achieved her
have created a theology that splits body from soul; and dream house in France and lives in the pattern of her
so on, and on. Reacting as violently as possible, Roberts own childhood, zigzagging between her father’s England
became a lesbian, ceased to be a lesbian, had kind lovers and her mother’s France, between town and country.
and unkind ones, went into therapy and left therapy, all Roberts’s sensuous, uninhibited, often beautiful writing
the while industriously shocking the bourgeoisie. is filled with lush and lavish descriptions of food and places
In a way this is the record of an era, or an aspect of it. and people and love affairs. But the subject that she keeps
Roberts’s experiences were very different from those of returning to is that of childhood religion and its impact on
most of her contemporaries. She kept outside the job her life. ‘I had grown up, thanks to Catholicism, fearing
market and had no children, so she already had many of my own body, distrusting my own feelings and thoughts; I
the rights and opportunities demanded by the women’s feared and resented authority.’ It took a long time to dis-
movement. But she discovered that the personal is politi- solve the ‘Catholic-induced sexual guilt and sexual terrors
cal, that few men dreamt of of childhood and adolescence
doing or discussing house- which, I came to see, had
work or childcare – though shaped and afflicted my adult
that bedrock fact of feminism life.’ Describing her image of
hardly impinged on her own creativity, Michèle Roberts
life. Holding events ‘satiris- does not sound like the one
ing the hypocrisy surround- who got away. ‘A dark dead
ing the bourgeois family’ body becoming illuminated,
sounds more self-indulgent becoming golden, alive ...
than effective. It was the hard writing the novel means that
grind of pressure, persuasion the dead body sits up on the
and conventional politicking bier and speaks.’
that achieved the legislative To order this book at £13.59,
refor ms which actually see LR Bookshop on page 16

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E VELYN T OYNTON more reprehensible. Robert


Louis Stevenson abandoned
LIBER AMORIS his plan to write a biogra-
phy of Hazlitt because of
Liber Amor is; Augustine
H AZLITT IN L OVE : A FATAL ATTACHMENT Birrell called it ‘vile kitchen
★ stuff ’. Now, in Hazlitt in
By Jon Cook Love, Jon Cook re-evaluates
(Short Books 214pp £12.99) the book for the modern
age, eschewing any such
I N AUGUST 1820, at the age of forty-two, William moral judgements.
Hazlitt moved into a lodging house on Southampton Yet even today, when
Row. Three days later, the nineteen-year-old daughter of confessions of every sort of
the house, Sarah Walker, brought him breakfast in his vice and folly are a staple of
room and turned in the doorway to look at him; in that publishing, and we are all to
instant, Hazlitt fell desperately in love. Over the next few some degree voyeurs, Liber Hazlitt: unlucky
months, Sarah sat on his knee, kissed him, allowed him Amoris is embarrassing stuff.
certain ‘liberties’ – though never the ultimate one – and Nobody really wants to hear every intimate, appalling
somehow made him feel, though she would make no detail of someone else’s irrational obsession; we might
avowals, that for the first time ever his love was returned. put up with such tales from our closest friends, but even
He abased himself before her, called her a goddess and then we wish to God they’d stop. Still, our very embar-
his ‘soul’s idol’, showered her with gifts. When she rassment is a testament to the strange power of the book,
became cool towards him, as she frequently did, he tor- as well as to the familiarity of the feelings Hazlitt
mented himself with memories of her every word and describes: his wild swings between hope and despair,
silence, and appearance and absence, trying to find their abject worship and bitter rage; his sense that he literally
hidden significance; he wheedled and ranted and grovelled cannot bear life without her (‘the universe without her
and seethed with suspicion and jealousy. Having separated is one wide, hollow abyss’); his tortured attempts to
from his wife a few months before, Hazlitt persuaded him- convince himself, in the teeth of all the evidence, that
self that Sarah’s reluctance would melt away if he could she cares for him after all. We may not all have made
offer her marriage, and went to enormous trouble and such spectacular fools of ourselves as he did, but few of
expense to get a Scottish divorce (English ones being vir- us will be complete strangers to the experience. All the
tually unobtainable for any but the upper classes). But agonies he so minutely dissects – for he was above all
when he returned to London, his beloved was colder to things a writer – are painfully recognisable, as is his
him than ever, and would not even listen to his proposal. inability, even when he knows the worst, to rid himself
Shortly afterwards, he discovered – though Sarah would of his longing:
not admit it directly – that all along she had been carrying When shall I burn her out of my thoughts? Yet I like
on an identical flirtation with another of her parents’ to hear about her. That she had her bed gown or her
lodgers (a younger, handsomer one), whom she had now ruff on, is to me a visitation from heaven – to know
chosen as her lover. that she is a whore or an idiot is better than nothing.
It is, of course, the stuff of farce: the middle-aged Were I in hell, my only consolation would be to
man who makes a complete fool of himself over a learn of her.
young girl, and thereby wrecks his life. When Hazlitt Though one has to feel sorry for Sarah, forced to endure
published Liber Amoris, his overwrought account of the those ferocious onslaughts of adoration and reproach, it
affair, in 1823 (it was published anonymously, but is nevertheless impossible not to sympathise with Hazlitt.
everyone knew who the author was), his enemies in the Even when he finally understood that everything he had
conservative press, who had been reviling him for years believed was taking place between them had really hap-
for his radical politics and his ‘ludicrous egotism’, were pened only in his fevered brain, he would not entirely
beside themselves with glee: here was final proof that disown the glimpse he had had of his own capacity for
the vile Jacobin, the Cockney who ecstasy, the sense of his deepest
had been lambasting them in self coming to life in a way it
print, was as degraded and disgust- visit Literary Review online never had before.
ing a human being as they had The problem with Hazlitt in
always suspected. To the
Victorians, Hazlitt’s depiction of
www.literaryreview.co.uk Love is that, despite (or because of)
his careful neutrality, Jon Cook
an unseemly passion seemed even does not add much besides a bit of

32
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
LITERARY LIVES

historical background to Hazlitt’s own emotionally raises the possibility.


charged account. He lays out the facts in one flat declara- In fact, though he has devoted a book to it, Cook
tive sentence after another and makes observations that seems to minimise the significance of the Sarah episode.
don’t tell us much we couldn’t figure out for ourselves Whereas A C Grayling, in his moving biography, tells us
(‘Liber Amoris is a book about illusions, about the way that that ‘after the Sarah Walker debacle something in Hazlitt
love makes us see things that aren’t there’; ‘Hazlitt did not – some silent spiritual part of himself, broken and dissi-
want a society based on secrecy … He would say what he pated by the emotional disaster – in effect turned its back
thought even if other people wanted him to be discreet’). on life’, Cook assures us that ‘Sarah ceased to dominate
Nor does he explore what could have been interesting his imagination and his hopes for a new life’. He even
areas for speculation. For example, he mentions in passing dismisses the idea that the changes Mary Shelley noted in
that Hazlitt’s much-loved father had died shortly before Hazlitt’s appearance a year later – ‘his smile brought tears
he met Sarah Walker, but leaves it at that. Mightn’t all that into my eyes, it was like a sun-beam illuminating the
ecstatic, quasi-mystical feeling for Sarah have been some most melancholy ruins’ – had anything to do with Sarah.
sort of defensive transmogrification of Hazlitt’s pain? It No one can say for sure, of course. But it’s hard to see
seems a possible explanation, at least, for the mystery of why anyone should read Hazlitt in Love instead of Liber
why a 42-year-old man was behaving like a crazed adoles- Amoris itself … unless, of course, he cannot cope with
cent, working himself up into emotional states that much embarrassment.
seemed to have no objective correlative. But Cook never To order this book at £10.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16

T HOMAS H ODGKINSON the author himself, of a


biography he published in

AFFAIR TO REMEMBER Amsterdam eight years ago,


entitled De boezemvriend van
Oscar Wilde. The author’s
A LFRED D OUGLAS : A P OET ’ S L IFE AND H IS English is excellent, as sec-
F INEST WORK ond languages go. However,
★ I can’t help wondering if, in
By Caspar Wintermans his native tongue, he was
(Peter Owen 384pp £19.95) more successful in control-
ling the fruitiness of his
YOU CAN LEARN everything you need to know about prose. Either way, we are
Alfred Douglas by reading a decent biography of Oscar pretty sure in what kind of
Wilde. Well, almost everything. From a glance at the pho- biographer’s hands we find
tographs in Richard Ellmann’s book, for example, you can ourselves, when the sentence
see that Douglas, in his twenties, had a kind of boyish, opening the passage on the Bosie: petulant
petulant prettiness. (It still isn’t immediately obvious to me subject’s university years
what it was about his physical appearance that the play- consists of the single word: ‘Oxford!’ Similarly, I was
wright found quite so appealing. Is it possible the young struck – and, despite myself, rather charmed – by the
Lord Alfred was at his most attractive with his clothes off?) way Wintermans, after quoting Oscar’s words to ‘Bosie’ a
Other, and weightier, minds than Caspar Wintermans’ few days before he was sentenced (‘What wisdom is to
have provided accounts of the first fatal meeting in 1891 the philosopher, what God is to his saint, you are to
between Wilde, then thirty-seven, and Douglas, still an me’), observes simply: ‘Holy ground.’ Single-sentence
undergraduate; of their subsequent passionate affair; and of paragraph. End of Chapter One.
how Wilde got dragged into the even more passionate Stylistic matters aside, the defence of Douglas offered by
feud that raged between Douglas and his whip-wielding, his biographer is, first, that he has been unjustly dealt with
half-mad father, the Marquess of Queensberry, which was by Wilde-worshippers over the decades. This is probably
to lead to the playwright’s incarceration and, ultimately, valid – the temptation to cast Wilde as a gentle Aesthetic
death in 1900. Douglas lived on for another forty-five giant, betrayed by his poisonous pupil, has been too strong
years. The question is: was there anything he did, or for some to resist. Nevertheless, the injustice has perhaps
suffered, during that time which merits serious attention? not been as great as Wintermans claims. His second point is
Wintermans’ answer is evidently yes. This book is nei- that Douglas is a ‘first-rate poet’, worthy of consideration
ther the first homage he has paid to his lordship – he in his own right. I’m not so sure about that. Douglas had
made a documentary, Two Loves, about him in 1999, and an ear for fine-sounding phrases, true, and he rarely wrote a
edited his wife’s diaries in 2005 – nor the most recent. It bad poem – but on the other hand, he wrote remarkably
turns out that the work under review is a translation, by few over the course of his life, as is demonstrated by the

33
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
LITERARY LIVES

way Wintermans manages to fit most of them into the Catholicism, and become a rabid moral conservative and
back of this book, along with his copious notes (the biog- law-suit addict. It may be the case, as Wilde said, that all
raphy itself, which proceeds at breakneck speed, occupies a women grow up like their mothers, but Douglas was in
mere 170 pages). Moreover, in several cases, Douglas’s staid, serious danger of turning into his father. The most unex-
stately verse seems to ask to be assessed in the context of pected pleasure provided by this unusual biography is the
the affair for which he is remembered. In ‘The Dead Poet’, sketch it gives of its subject’s final years, as – to everyone’s
for example (a sonnet composed in ‘Paris, 1900–1901’), he surprise – he mellowed into a curiously detached, avuncu-
describes having a premonition of the death of a great lar figure, befriended by the likes of John Betjeman and
writer, whose ‘golden voice’ could ‘conjure wonder out of Wyndham Lewis. The former described Douglas as ‘a
emptiness’. No prizes for guessing who he’s referring to. vastly entertaining man who gave one a sense of holiday
And when Douglas, like Wilde, ended up in gaol (for and exaltation whenever one was in his company’; the lat-
libelling Winston Churchill), he, like Wilde, decided to ter remembered that nothing made the once irascible
pass the time writing about the experience. Wilde had nobleman lose his cool, ‘except the poetry of Mr T S
called his work De Profundis. So what did Douglas choose Eliot’. Once you have learned that his wife, with whom
as the title for his sonnet-sequence inspired by prison life? he had been reconciled, predeceased him by a year, that
In Excelsis – a kind of snide riposte, surely, to Wilde’s mel- his son fell prey to schizophrenia, and that Douglas himself
lifluous apologia. died peacefully in his sleep on the morning of 20 March
The six-month term Douglas served in Wormwood 1945, you really do know more or less everything you
Scrubs in 1924 was the low point of his life. His wife, and need to about the life of Oscar Wilde’s lover, post-Wilde.
his looks, had left him. The various magazines he had That said, you might be interested to have a quick look at
worked for had either folded or found someone else to ‘The Dead Poet’. It isn’t at all bad.
edit them. He had disowned his son, converted to Roman To order this book at £15.96, see LR Bookshop on page 16

W ILLIAM P ALMER Luxembourg, the dance hall, and the record shop. The
countryside had not yet been dismantled fully and the

TEN-SHILLING NOTES author went fishing as a boy with his grandfather.


Sutherland led the disjointed and varied childhood
that may be important in breeding a writer or artist but
T HE B OY W HO L OVED B OOKS : A M EMOIR is rather more painful as experienced by the child. His
★ memories of his father are few, and one, of sucking his
By John Sutherland father’s nicotine-stained thumb, toxically Proustian. The
(John Murray 261pp £16.99) photographs show his father as a handsome, strapping
man; a policeman who, despite being in a reserved
EVERY GENERATION THINKS that it has a monopoly on occupation, joined the RAF at the start of the war. He
virtues that were sadly and pathetically absent in previ- was killed in 1941, burned to death after crashing in a
ous times. The baby-boomers are perhaps more guilty training flight. In her photographs, Sutherland’s mother
than most, with their smug assumption that the world Liz looks outrageously glamorous, with a blonde,
was born anew in 1963. John Sutherland, the writer and Veronica Lake hairdo. The portrayal of Liz is full of
critic, has the advantage over most other memoirists of vivacity, humour, and sometimes a hint of bitterness.
the period because the early part of his life was lived After his father’s death, the boy and his mother moved
before the Sixties Enlightenment, and his story is told to her home town of Colchester. The Americans arrived
with vividness, wit and, sometimes, anger. soon after, in the form of the Eighth Air Force: ‘the
Sutherland was born in 1938 and lived both through biggest thrill for Colcestrian womanhood since the
the war and through changes in British society that have Roman legions marched in’. Liz, shrewdly and ambi-
left the world of his childhood looking as exotic and dis- tiously, made the most of the opportunity; she used ‘her
tant as ancient Crete. Until the mid-Fifties, Britain wits, her body, her native intelligence and the openings
remained far more like the Britain of a century before which the huge shake-up of war had fortuitously offered
than that of the decade ahead. Sutherland reminds us of her’. She took American lovers, and settled on one, the
the soot used as a toothpaste substitute, of the weekly kindly, generous and shell-shocked Major Hamilton.
bath, and of the Monday washday that lasted all day and John was often parked on his grandmother or other
employed sinks and mangles and much physical labour. relatives while his mother was on duty as a WPC. It is
The boyhood games were marbles and fag cards, football from these days that Sutherland dates both his love of
and cricket in their seasons, and complex games of skip- reading – a way of being at the same time quiet and self-
ping and chanting for the girls. America shone its sunlit absorbed – and the repression that found a later outlet in
vision through the cinema and its songs through Radio drink and eventual alcoholism. As he says, ‘Mischief,

34
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
LITERARY LIVES

like murder, will out.’ University. Sutherland chose instead, in the dying days
John suffered also the usual depredatory raids by adults of National Service, to join the Army. He ended up as a
on children: circumcision, tonsillectomy, sadistic and second lieutenant in the Suffolks doing guard duty at
incompetent dentistry, and a single sexual molestation. Spandau prison in Berlin. Here again, mess life was very
Although he was spared the horrors of diphtheria, scarlet much on the boozy side. By one of those ludicrously
fever, and polio, there were other afflictions that seem now recurring ironies of life, he found when he left that all
to have disappeared from modern life: cold and hunger. that was on offer was that same place at Leicester.
Worse than any of these was his evacuation to Edinburgh In the summer before joining his course, Sutherland
after the last German bombing raids on London, as his worked as a manual labourer laying rails. His account of
mother went off to Argentina with Uncle Ham. his work makes up one of the most valuable parts of the
In the junior preparatory department of Colchester book. Such work, he says, is literally ‘back-breaking’. As
Grammar School, Sutherland first fell in love – with the one of the Poles he worked with said scathingly, ‘This is
Victorian novel. He read omnivorously: Ainsworth’s Old not a job for children.’
Saint Paul’s, Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, Captain Marryat, And so, on to Leicester University – with a bit more life
Biggles, William, and the Wizard, Hotspur, and Rover, under his belt than most students had racked up and an
rightly named ‘boys’ papers’ until they became increasing- intense and often bitter recognition of the social vindic-
ly pictorial and turned into comics and died in the 1960s. tiveness and waste of the British class system. The penulti-
Liz returned three years later, clad in a chinchilla fur, mate chapter is a fast-forward through academic jobs at
tanned, and most unlike the average Colchester lady. He Edinburgh, and UCL, and through rivers of drink. The
compares her to a character in a Patrick Hamilton novel, Afterword is a harsh and unself-pitying examination of his
which is not very flattering when we think of Netta in alcoholism, from which he emerged after thirty years.
Hangover Square or Jenny in The Midnight Bell. This is, at the least, a most entertaining book. At its
The ten-shilling notes his mother left for him financed best it brings to life the world through which its author
Sutherland’s adolescence. Jazz and books were constant has lived, a rueful survivor, admitting that we have
companions, joined, early on, by booze. He became and hardly worked or suffered at all when compared with
remained a very heavy drinker. It took its toll early. Poor our forebears.
exam results elicited the offer only of a place at Leicester To order this book at £13.59, see LR Bookshop on page 16

LETTERS
B LOOD R IVER though Blood River explained I am British born and was
Sir, sent to Johannesburg as a reporter, your reviewer said I
Of course – unfortunate but true – we all make mis- am a ‘product of Johannesburg and presumably of part-
takes, and if any factual errors are in my book, Blood settler inheritance’.
River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart (LR, June) then I Yours faithfully,
am responsible and will make sure my publisher corrects Tim Butcher
them. But I believe your readers should be aware of the Middle East Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph
factual mistakes made by your reviewer, Tom Stacey.
He got his dates wrong. Mobutu fell in 1997, not 1994. WIDE THIGHS
Independence came to the Belgian Congo in 1960 on 30 Sir,
June, not 1 July (a fact commemorated by ‘Boulevard 30 No translation was given of A E Housman’s letter in
June’ in the country’s capital). I crossed the Congo in Paul Johnson’s review (LR, June), so I thought that, fol-
2004, not 2002. And your reviewer’s dates for Stanley’s lowing on William Goodman’s letter in the same issue
Congo expedition in 1876–77 were both out by a month. about Bad Sex, non-Classically-inclined readers might
As for the errors your reviewer attributes to me, a few are like to have one available: ‘I have never been able to
debatable and the remainder are not errors at all. He said I stomach “big” [magni], because culus is “rectum”
was wrong to write ‘within a year of 1958’ the Congo was at [proktos], not “thigh”, and there seems to be little point
war when, in fact, the violent civil unrest that caused in accusing the lady of “having a wide rectum”
Belgium to leave the Congo began in 1959. He said Conrad [euruproktia].’
‘never rose to be skipper’ of a boat on the Congo River A E Housman didn’t know all the circumstances; there
when, in fact, he was given command in 1890 of a steam- might well be a reason.
boat, the Roi Des Belges, after its original skipper fell sick. Yours faithfully,
And there was also an incorrect and inexplicable pre- H J S Whitfield
sumption about my South African connections – even St Ives.

35
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

A LAN R YAN sixty or so years has been


infected by Wester n ideas
THE DANGERS OF UTOPIA picked up in the United
States by Sayyid Qut’b, or
that all children of the Book
B LACK M ASS : A POCALYPTIC R ELIGION AND are vulnerable to utopian
THE D EATH OF U TOPIA aspirations. The point is not
★ desperately important, since
By John Gray the deeper point is that
(Allen Lane / The Penguin Press 256pp £18.99) utopias are dangerous.
Gray is by no means the Gray: invigorating
F OR A BOOK that consists so largely of summary first person to observe this.
accounts of political madness and murder, Black Mass is The thought is simple enough. If we are going to
surprisingly exhilarating. That may be the result of its achieve the earthly heaven, it is permissible to inflict a
almost equally surprising organisation. Two or three few casualties on the way. Indeed, things may well be
very large and very general claims frame the book: that more lethal than that; one of the apparent oddities of
politics is a form of religion, that apocalyptic fantasies Stalin’s show trials was the prosecution’s passion for
have been the stuff of Western politics since the Middle extracting confessions from the Old Bolshevik victims
Ages and continue to be so now, that the restoration of that they had conspired in impossible ways to do
peace requires a combination of political realism on the inconceivable amounts of damage to the Soviet Union.
one hand, and on the other an acceptance of the need to Why did it matter to Stalin and his henchmen? The
accommodate in public life the non-rational needs that obvious thought is that if the utopian impulse is essen-
religion satisfies. tially religious – in some sense of that slippery term –
Within that framework, Gray takes aim at a wide range the political opponent embodies pure evil, and in
of targets. By no means everything he says is plausible, much the same way that the Inquisition sought to have
but even at his most unpersuasive, he is invigorating. the heretic condemn himself out of his own mouth, so
Readers of a certain age will be reminded of Norman Stalin’s prosecutors sought confessions with about the
Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, but where Cohn same evidential likelihood as a confession to sexual
wrote in detail about the Anabaptist revolt led by congress with the Devil.
Thomas Müntzer to draw parallels with Communist What Gray brings to this familiar story is tremendous
totalitarianism, Gray skates lightly over not only medieval narrative verve. But narrative verve is not the only thing
millenarianism but also twentieth-century Communism he brings. His second concern is to raise the stakes yet
and Nazism in order to concentrate on our present dis- again in his long argument with the Enlightenment.
contents. Not the madness of George III, but the utopian One might think that whatever else Hitler stood for, it
follies of Bush, Blair and Rumsfeld provide the main was not the values of the Enlightenment. Gray says
focus of the book. (though it is not clear how far he really means it) that
The proposition that human beings have always been Hitler was the product of the Enlightenment; ‘scientific
prone to kill large numbers of other human beings in racism’ was, to the extent that it borrowed the prestige
pursuit of a vision that can broadly be described as ‘reli- of science, an Enlightenment doctrine.
gious’ is one that invites several pinches of salt. The Old To square the obvious fact that many Enlightenment
Testament certainly describes a good deal of ethnic and writers were decidedly cool towards religion in any
religious cleansing on the direct instructions of God, but established form with his insistence that the natural con-
the massacres that were a common feature of intercity dition of politics is religious, Gray has to borrow from
strife among the Greeks seem mostly to have resulted Carl Becker’s wonderful essay The Heavenly City of the
from the exasperation of the victors at the intransigence Eighteenth-Century Philosophers to argue that the
or treachery of the defeated. Gray’s interest lies in two Enlightenment was a religious movement. There is per-
other places. haps too much dazzle for real illumination in this claim;
First, he thinks it is a characteristic of ‘Western’ polit- and in any case, it is a somewhat roundabout route by
ical attitudes to engage in fantasies of a utopian recon- which to launch the assault he really has in mind – on
struction of earthly life, though he readily admits that the follies of the war on Iraq.
‘Western’ is a somewhat loose term, embracing as it This, of course, has all the hallmarks of a utopian pro-
does Judaic, Islamic and Christian modes of thought. It ject. Gray fastidiously observes that it was not, as many
is therefore not always easy to see whether the case is have claimed, a ‘Manichean’ project in the shape of a war
that Islamic political thought, say, was for most of its between good and evil in which good was to triumph;
history non-utopian and quietist, and only in the past Manicheanism has no room for the triumph of good on

36
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

earth, and even as a piece of Christian utopianism, it was the disasters of the world stem from one flaw in human
heretical – God’s reign on earth is to come at a time of nature? Human beings all end up dead, but they do not
His choosing, not that of Dick Cheney and Donald all die of a fatal something called death; the world is
Rumsfeld. If there is anything to be said against Gray’s sadly full of political disasters, as also of larger and
attack on the so-called neo-conservatives – so-called smaller successes, but it is not obvious that they all stem
because, as he says, there is nothing conservative about from the taste for apocalypse, as distinct from assorted
their millenarian aspirations – it is that it is too easy with miscalculations. Nor can Gray himself quite believe
hindsight to see that the combination of an intoxication some of his larger claims; after all, if we were such hap-
with American military power and an astonishing inno- less victims of the utopian – or dystopian – impulse as
cence about the realities of utterly different societies was he sometimes implies, we would be hard put to it to
a recipe for the disasters we have seen. follow the eminently sensible advice he offers about
Still, one ends Black Mass with the anxiety that works how to avoid the disasters he describes.
of this sort always induce. Why should we think that all To order this book at £15.19, see LR Bookshop on page 16

G RAHAM S TEWART strikes, and regime change. But the prospects for democ-
racy’s making a better world are not as obvious as ‘the

GLOBAL BREAKDOWN crazies in Washington’ might like to maintain. Far from


creating order, ‘“Spreading democracy” aggravated eth-
nic conflict and produced the disintegration of states in
GLOBALISATION, DEMOCRACY AND TERRORISM multinational and multi-communal regions after both
★ 1918 and 1989’.
By Eric Hobsbawm In any case, he argues, capitalism and globalisation are
(Little, Brown 184pp £17.99) not only fuelling separatism, they are even undermining
the concept of the nation state. Across the Western
‘THERE ARE WORDS nobody likes to be associated with world, electorates are disillusioned with voting.
in public, such as racism and imperialism. On the other Turnouts on polling day are low and getting lower
hand, there are others for which everyone is anxious to (except, seemingly, in France). Meanwhile, entities like
demonstrate enthusiasm, such as mothers and the envi- the European Union demonstrate that they can legislate
ronment. Democracy is one of these.’ So writes Eric effectively without any clear electoral mandate at all.
Hobsbawm, who has spent much of his long and distin- Hobsbawm maintains, ‘it is not electoral democracy that
guished life circumscribed by the title ‘Marxist historian’. necessarily ensures the effective freedom of the press,
It seemed a bit cocky back in 1989 when Francis citizen rights, and an independent judiciary’.
Fukuyama postulated that Communism’s collapse meant The breakdown of religious or ethnic consensus with-
that, ideologically speaking, the world had ‘reached the in nations subjected to globalisation, consumerism and
end of history’. And it would be surprising if Professor mass immigration undermines the legitimacy of their
Hobsbawm had now, upon his ninetieth birthday, sud- governments. Hobsbawm suggests that
denly concluded that liberal democrats had indeed won Over the past thirty years or so, the territorial state
the argument. Rest assured that one of Britain’s most has, for various reasons, lost its traditional monopoly
celebrated left-wing thinkers has not taken historical of armed force, much of its former stability and
determinism as far as embracing the neo-cons. Even power, and, increasingly, the fundamental sense of
Professor Fukuyama does not hug them any more. legitimacy, or at least of accepted permanence, which
Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism is a slim but stim- allows government to impose burdens such as taxes
ulating volume of recent Hobsbawm lectures. It is a sign and conscription on willing citizens. The material
of how fundamentally the Bush administration’s policies equipment for warfare is now widely available to pri-
have shaken apart old certainties that even some natural vate bodies, as are the means for financing non-state
conservatives will find much to agree with here. We warfare. In this way, the balance between state and
have indeed reached a peculiar moment in world affairs non-state organisations has changed.
when one can read some passages and not know instinc- But it is not just a case of hunting rifles being swapped
tively whether the author is Professor Hobsbawm or Sir for Kalashnikovs. According to Hobsbawm, ‘the idea
Peregrine Worsthorne. of market sovereignty is not a complement to liberal
Hobsbawm compares the United States to revolution- democracy, but an alternative to it. Indeed, it is an
ary France and the Soviet Union – a nation whose sense alternative to any kind of politics, since it denies the
of ideological self-certainty fosters a desire to go forth need for political decisions, which are precisely deci-
and reshape the rest of the world in its own image. This sions about common or group interests as distinct from
has led to ‘the imperialism of human rights’, pre-emptive the sum of choices, rational or otherwise, of individuals

37
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

pursuing their private preferences’. This seems to be J OHN G RIBBIN


something of a bold statement, unless one assumes
there was no ‘need for political decisions’ in the free-
trade age of Palmerston and Gladstone. Since when
was setting price and incomes policies a prerequisite of
QUANTUM LEAPS
liberal democracy? FAUST IN C OPENHAGEN : A S TRUGGLE FOR
Despite the three elements in the book’s title, it is the THE S OUL OF P HYSICS
fate of democracy and government legitimacy that draws ★
Hobsbawm’s clearest focus. The economic effects of By Gino Segrè
globalisation are dealt with briefly, with the statement (Jonathan Cape 310pp £20)
that they are fostering inequality. Islamism is not really
his special subject, although – unlike some commenta- D OOMSDAY M EN : T HE R EAL D R
tors who hold that terrorism is the by-product of Third S TRANGELOVE AND THE D REAM OF THE
World poverty – he does concede that actually most of S UPERWEAPON
the terrorists come from the relatively prosperous and ★
educated strata of their societies. At any rate, many will By P D Smith
share his belief that the ‘War on Terror’ represents a dan- (Allen Lane / The Penguin Press 552pp £20)
gerous reaction that overestimates the punch terrorists
can pack. Where previously governments sought to Gino Segrè has found a new way of telling the story of
deny terrorists the ‘oxygen of publicity’, now they build the pioneers of quantum physics, a way that is gripping
them up into being a greater menace than they have yet and absorbing. Faust in Copenhagen is written with a style
to prove themselves. Even the horror of 9/11 did not and skill that make it the early contender for science book
put New York City out of action for long, and as for of the year. In truth, it is a book about scientists rather
Britain: ‘a country that never quite lost its cool during than science, and all the better for that. He has chosen
thirty years of Irish troubles should not lose it now’. one moment in time – a meeting of the cognoscenti in
There is much to be said for this insouciance. At any Copenhagen in 1932 – as the kernel of his story, which is
rate, until a dirty bomb takes out Islington. constructed around the lives of six people present at the
Yet it must be hoped that Globalisation, Democracy and meeting and one who should have been there. For the
Terrorism will not preach to the converted alone. Those reader, looming over everything is the knowledge that
who – like this reviewer – hold markedly different this was just a year before Hitler seized power in
views to Professor Hobsbawm will still find much that Germany, with consequences that would lead to the
is interesting and thought-provoking. The lectures are development of nuclear weapons, using the ideas inno-
all the more lucid for being short and to the point. The cently being developed by those experts; but the bomb
reader should not look for a comprehensive survey in a itself is scarcely mentioned by Segrè.
collection of this kind, but one unfortunate omission is His Faustian conceit derives from a skit written by one
a discussion of Putin’s Russia and its faint whiff of of the younger participants at that meeting, Max
embryonic fascism. Here, surely, is a manifestation of Delbrück, and performed at the end of the week of
elective dictatorship that should not be left out from an intense scientific work, parodying the physicists and the
overview of modern trends. strange new world of quantum physics as a struggle
Having continued to cherish hopes for communism between the old guard and the new, in the style (sort of)
long after most Western intellectuals backslid towards of Goethe. This could have been toe-curlingly awful,
social democracy, Er ic Hobsbawm has lived long but in Segrè’s hands works surprisingly well as a way of
enough to have had his optimism checked. He fears that leading in to the lives of the individuals.
– in contrast to the British Empire – the United States, And what individuals! In 1932, the Old Guard was
with its messianic zeal, does not know its own limits. represented by Niels Bohr, the man who made quantum
Yet one wonders if this view is not already being over- physics respectable; Paul Ehrenfest, regarded as the
taken by events. Democracy and the rule of law are not greatest teacher of the new science; and Liese Meitner,
so traduced that the American people will fail to get who later came up with the idea of nuclear fission but
round to electing a new President in 2008. Whether was scandalously ignored by the Nobel Committee. The
Democrat or Republican, how long will Bush’s succes- Young Turks were, or would be, all Nobel Laureates:
sor be in office before taking the decision to bring the Werner Heisenberg, of uncertainty principle fame;
boys home and curtail efforts to make the Middle East Wolfgang Pauli, whose exclusion principle explains the
conform to Minnesota? Even ideologues and dreamers chemical elements; and Paul Dirac, who came up with a
are occasionally overpowered by reality. complete mathematical description of the quantum
To order this book at £14.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16 world while still a PhD student. Delbrück represented

38
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

the next generation, ‘Wigner’s sister’ rather


who would take the than as ‘my wife’. To
ideas of quantum him, this was logical; he
physics and turn them knew her as Wigner’s
to practical use. Lasers sister before she became
and computer chips are his wife, so that was a
two obvious examples more fundamental fact.
of the way in which Another family rela-
such applications tionship partly explains
changed the world; less why this book is so
familiarly, but no less good. Gino Segrè is the
importantly, quantum nephew of another
ideas transformed the Nobel Laureate, the
field of molecular biol- physicist Emilio Segrè,
ogy, and Delbrück, and grew up hero-wor-
more than anyone, was Copenhagen: meeting of minds shipping the quantum
responsible for taking pioneers. The book, he
these new ideas into biology. says, has been ‘a labour of love’, and it shows.
You do not, though, need to know anything about Another labour of love, but of a different kind, comes
science to enjoy and be infor med by Faust in from Peter Smith. It is an impassioned account of every-
Copenhagen. It is as much about the society of the times thing from the discovery of radioactivity to plans for a
and the way in which lives were transformed by the Doomsday Device (yes, there really were such plans)
upheavals in Europe as it is about science. But if you do from an author who feels that to the generations grow-
know a little of the science, it is fascinating to see the ing up who see the Cold War only as something in his-
names behind things like the uncertainty principle and tory books, the true horror of nuclear weapons has been
quantum exclusion come alive. The people who forgotten. While politicians talk glibly of ‘weapons of
changed our world for ever were a unique group of mass destruction’, nobody has any real feeling for what
undoubted geniuses; they were also undoubtedly dis- it means to experience intense machine gun fire, the
tinctly odd, as Delbrück later recalled: kind of bombing that destroyed Dresden, or a nuclear
I found out at an early age that science is a haven for holocaust. Nor do many people know that there are still
the timid, the freaks, the misfits. That is more true about 30,000 nuclear weapons still ready for launch
perhaps for the past than for now. If you were a stu- around the world. Doomsday Men aims to address that
dent in Göttingen in the 1920s and went to the gap, focusing on nuclear weapons, but also looking at
seminar [of] David Hilbert and Max Born, you other forms of mass destruction. It is no coincidence
could well imagine that you were in a madhouse as that one of Smith’s chapter headings is ‘Faust and the
you walked in. Every one of the persons there was Physicists’; but his Faustian bargain is more chilling than
obviously some kind of severe case. The least you Segrè’s light-hearted skit of scientists working at just
could do was put on some kind of stutter. about the last moment before their lives and work
The oddest of the lot was probably also the cleverest – would become part of politics.
Paul Dirac. He clearly had some kind of obsessive disor- The juxtaposition of the two books makes Smith’s
der, one manifestation of which was that when asked a story more chilling, and Segrè’s more poignant. Faust in
question he would not Copenhagen is a better book,
respond at all unless the one of the best I have read
question had been logically in a long time, and which
phrased to require an answer can be wholeheartedly rec-
(so the comment ‘I don’t ommended; Doomsday Men
understand that point’ is more important, and,
would be met with silence) depressingly, there is a need
and then only to give a pre- for it – people, especially
cise answer to the specific younger people than me,
question. He married the ought to read it. Whether it
sister of another physicist, will make a difference,
Eugene Wigner, and baffled though, is another matter.
new acquaintances by intro- To order these books, see LR
ducing his wife to them as Bookshop on page 16

39
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

A LEXANDER M ASTERS come equations called the quintic, sextic, heptic, etc etc.
Why should it ever stop? Why should anyone but the

IGUM AND IGIBUM very peculiar – or those who live in the fifth, sixth and
seventh dimensions – bother? Because equations with
these sorts of terms crop up all the time in physics, and
U NKNOWN Q UANTITY: A R EAL AND in finance and computing and making car engines and
I MAGINED H ISTORY OF A LGEBRA aeroplanes and, no doubt, the assembly lines needed to
★ produce this copy of Literary Review and the knife and
By John Derbyshire fork with which you ate your breakfast. Mathematicians
(Atlantic Books 382pp £22) pursue algebraic results for the fun of the chase, in the
same way that commuters pursue sudoku puzzles; the
JOHN DERBYSHIRE’s Unknown Quantity is everything a rest of us depend on them for the survival of our com-
popular mathematics book should be: gentle, chatty, fortable way of life.
anecdotal and full of mind-aching equations. It is a his- The quintic is the Snark of mathematics. It was hunt-
tory of algebra – the study of number systems, things ed across Europe until it was finally killed off by a 26-
such as quadratic equations, and of everything that is the year-old Norwegian called Niels Abel, who starved to
bane of schoolchildren’s lives. death shortly after. But the quintic was a Boojum, you
Babylonian tax inspectors liked quadratic equations, see. Unlike the equations that had gone before, Abel
which are useful for finding areas of things. The more proved that it has no general solution. The reason why
you could determine about the land a man owned – not this is the case, as the French student Everiste Galois
just its total area but all its little shapes – the more effi- showed, is infinitely more important than the failure of
ciently you could dun him for Sodom-and-Gomorrah the result. A day after he wrote down the explanation
era VAT. Derbyshire includes a blissful problem in qua- for this boojumish fact, he was shot dead, in a duel, aged
dratics (written in cuneiform, but to be chanted in twenty-one.
hoodoo) found on a clay tablet from 1800 BC, the time Historians of mathematics are always complaining that
of Hammurabi: mathematicians are a dry and uninteresting lot; but it’s
The igibum exceeded the igum by 7 not so. Algebra has been powered by numerous aston-
What are the igum and the igibum? ishing characters and absurd situations. The beautiful
12 is the igibum, 5 the igum. virgin Hypatia, the first known woman mathematician
Algebra is filled with Lewis Carroll-ishness and poetry. (there are only three, in this book), was pulled from her
What’s the volume of that minaret? How can we make chariot by an enraged mob and had her flesh scraped
another even fatter/taller/more thrusting one, without from her bones with oyster shells. (Women and algebra
using more stones? For this you need a cubic equation. have not always been kind to each other. George Boole,
The Persian poet Omar Khayyam, author of the who developed an algebraic system for logic, died
Rubaiyat, began the first serious investigation of exam- because his wife threw buckets of icy water over him
ples of these, but what mathematicians wanted was a when he was in bed with a chill.) Alexandre
general solution to all cubic questions. Then, instead of Grothendieck is the most recent curious fellow: in his
having to agonise through every particular case, which prime he knocked down policemen and won the top
might take days of effort, they could mathematics prize, the Fields Medal.
simply slot the basic information into Now he lives in total retirement in
a standard formula and out would the Pyrenees, pondering how to sur-
pop the answer. Thousands of years vive on dandelion soup.
later, a swinish Italian called Cardano The best parts of Unknown
published the solution. A gambler Quantity are not the anecdotes, but
and diviner (one of his insights was the sums. In asides throughout the
that ‘a woman with a wart upon her text, and in special chapters he titles
left cheek, a little to the left of the ‘Math Primers’, John Derbyshire
dimple, will eventually be poisoned cleverly chooses one or two simple
by her husband’), he also worked out mathematical examples to illustrate
the general formula for the quartic – horridly difficult ideas and, using
useful for those odd people who want metaphor and fine writing, investi-
to investigate volumes in the fourth gates them closely. Vector spaces,
dimension. algebraic geometry, imaginary num-
There’s a sense of remorselessness bers, group theory, field theory,
about the process after this: next will matrices … These sections are worth

40
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

reading twice just for the pleasure of being able to say Now that I’ve finally finished this distracting review,
covenish phrases like ‘the ideal of a polynomial ring’ I’m going to re-puff the pillows on my bed, and study
without feeling you’re turning into a dotty about to the formulae in the book properly.
bother people on buses. To order this book at £17.60, see LR Bookshop on page 16

A LLISTER H EATH tabloid-style: ‘imports are


Christmas mornings; exports are
ECONOMICAL READING January’s MasterCard bill’. Far
from being of any inherent use
to a country, exports are the
ON THE W EALTH OF N ATIONS price it pays to be able to buy
★ imports; it would be far better
By P J O’Rourke never to have to export anything
(Atlantic Books 242pp £14.99) and simply be able to consume
as many free imports as possible. O’Rourke: wisecracks
IT IS THE question all modern economists dread. Every Many of the big issues of
couple of months we are asked, usually by a well-mean- Smith’s time were strikingly similar to today’s, from law
ing colleague, what we think of the Wealth of Nations. and order to a burgeoning national debt, runaway public
To which, if we were honest, we would reply that we spending and a failing education system. O’Rourke is at
never really managed to plough through the entire 900 his best when he highlights how Smith’s views are relevant
pages of Adam Smith’s sometimes dense, occasionally to today’s debates. He reveals that Smith even chipped in
brilliant and often mind-numbingly boring prose. to the great house-price debate, warning against betting
We have all dipped in and out, marvelled at Smith’s too much on a red-hot housing market and dismissing the
bursts of lucidity, devoured his famous passages on the idea that investing in property is inherently a good thing.
division of labour, whilst making sure we skipped his He provides support to the side of those who believe that
67-page ‘Digression concerning the Variations in the Tesco and Wal-Mart should be allowed to open more
Value of Silver during the Course of the Four last stores, arguing that ‘[shops] can never be multiplied so as
Centuries’. The new generation of economics gradu- to hurt the publick, though so as to hurt one another’.
ates, reared almost exclusively on advanced calculus and As O’Rourke rightly argues, Smith was not a modern
econometrics, are even less likely to have read Smith or free-market libertarian but he was certainly a libertarian
any of the great founding texts of their discipline. critic of capitalism, or at least of the mixed economy
So it is entirely to be welcomed that P J O’Rourke, the that prevailed as much in the eighteenth century as it
American satirist, has turned his piercing mind to Smith’s does today. Social problems were usually to be solved
work; his latest book manages to be a surprisingly sophis- not by increased regulation, but by increased freedom.
ticated and comprehensive guide to Smith’s economic and Wages might be too low, but as Smith wrote, ‘law can
moral philosophy, whilst retaining the author’s trademark never regulate them properly, though it has often pre-
wit. It made me laugh out loud more than once, though tended to do so’. Greater equality can only properly be
I’ll admit to being more partial than most to the kind achieved with increased equity capital, which would
of right-wing wisecracks O’Rourke specialises in. The boost workers’ productivity, so that ‘in consequence of
second chapter, entitled ‘Why is The Wealth of Nations so the flourishing circumstances of the society, the real
damn long?’, is truly brilliant (though O’Rourke’s some- price of labour should rise very considerably’.
what disappointing answer is that Smith’s health was flag- The Left, needless to say, has always found much to
ging and he had a lot to get off his chest). disagree with Smith about, though it ought to be able to
Much of Smith’s energy was spent trying to rebut the find common ground in his rejection of feudalism,
doctrine of mercantilism, an ultimately doomed attempt which stands at the heart of his liberalism and which
at rationalising and justifying the protectionist and com- O’Rourke rightly applauds. The Right, meanwhile, has
mercial restrictions of the time. Mercantilists held that long detested his labour theory of value, which inspired
the best way to increase a country’s prosperity was to Karl Marx’s version, and has often suspected him of not
maximise its exports while minimising its imports; many being especially sound on tax.
of today’s arguments against allowing Western consumers But as O’Rourke puts it, if this is to be an intelligent
to import more Chinese goods share in that defective squabble, we need to understand Smith’s many arguments
intellectual heritage, as does the media’s obsession with in full. For those without the stomach to read the real
trade deficits between East and West. thing, P J O’Rourke’s book will provide an unusually
While Smith spent many pages demolishing the mer- enjoyable starting point.
cantilists, O’Rourke sums up his argument superbly, To order this book at £11.99, see LR Bookshop on page 16

41
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

C HARLOTTE A PPLEYARD the most dramatic example


being the one he used to

All You Need recover the Russborough


House paintings, which
included Ver meer’s Lady
Is a Ladder Writing a Letter. In a rather
long supplementary chapter,
clearly intended to illustrate
S TEALING THE S CREAM : T HE H UNT FOR A Hill’s credentials as a skilled
M ISSING M ASTERPIECE art cop, we see him dis-
★ guised as a middle man for a
By Edward Dolnick fictitious Middle Eastern
(Icon Books Ltd 272pp £12.99) sheik interested in purchas-
ing the stolen pictures. Over
IT’S EASIER THAN you think to steal a masterpiece. Edward the course of several tense
Dolnick’s Museum of the Missing would include over five meetings with Martin
hundred Picassos, forty-three Van Goghs, and nearly a Cahill, the criminal godfa-
couple of hundred Rembrandts, with guest appearances ther of Eighties Dublin, Hill
from Vermeer, Caravaggio, Van Eyck, Cézanne, El Greco convinces the crook that he
and Titian. But the centrepiece, according to Dolnick, is the real deal and manages
would be Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Not because it is to retrieve the canvas, con- How it was done
any better than the other lost works but because the story cealed in a bin liner, from
behind its theft is so much juicier. the back of a Mercedes in Antwerp.
Dolnick’s story is one of ‘art crooks and art cops’, cen- The Scream’s retrieval did not go quite so smoothly. A
tred on the Philip Marlow-esque figure of Scotland Yard lack of funding for the ‘Art Squad’ meant that Hill could
detective Charley Hill, a former soldier and Fulbright not afford the necessary books to bone up on Munch
scholar who seems to spend as much time reading and ended up in the corner of a bookshop, much to the
Gombrich as he does catching crooks. The strategy annoyance of its manager, reading but never buying.
clearly works, as he is personally responsible for the Then, when the much anticipated first undercover meet-
recovery of over one hundred million pounds’ worth of ing with a shady art dealer with connections to the
art; ‘The first thing you have to understand about the art thieves took place, in a hotel crawling with vice-squad
world is that, with very few exceptions, including me, policemen attending their national conference, naturally
everyone’s a crook’, claims Hill. the dealer got cold feet.
The theft of The Scream was worryingly simple. The Dolnick writes with journalistic vigour and the story
painting was neither alarmed nor chained to the wall of races along. Interspersing his narrative of Hill’s search
the Norwegian National Gallery – it hung merely on pic- for The Scream with earlier art thefts results in a full and
ture wire. The thieves struck early in the morning, amusing history of this relatively low-risk crime; Irish
climbed a ladder to the first-floor gallery, smashed the gangster Cahill was never actually charged over the
window and swiped it. No one saw the two men on the Vermeer, as so many policing authorities were involved
street. The limited CCTV footage showed them to be that none of them wanted to be the prosecuting party.
masked, and they left behind them only a lot of broken Add to that the general apathy of the author ities
glass and a hastily scribbled postcard saying ‘Thanks for towards theft as opposed to murders and fraud cases,
the poor security’. What followed was an international and we find that art thieves tend to get away with rather
treasure hunt. After failed attempts to find the painting a lot. Indeed, Dolnick estimates that the criminal art
through conventional routes, our hero Hill was called in world could have a turnover of as much as six billion
to masquerade as a fixer from the Getty who was advertis- dollars a year. One cannot help but like Hill as he
ing a substantial reward for the work’s recovery. This was a simultaneously fights the stinginess of the Establishment
crucial point: the Getty is the only museum wealthy and the ruthlessness of the criminals. The moral of
enough to convince a dodgy dealer Dolnick and Hill’s story seems
or art thief that the reward might to be that, consider ing The
make it worth giving up the noto- visit Literary Review online Scream was stolen again a few
rious prize. Hill, it seems, is a mas- years later, art crime pays – all
ter of disguise. He regularly
assumes false identities in order to www.literaryreview.co.uk you need is a ladder.
To order this book at £10.39, see
infiltrate the criminal underworld, LR Bookshop on page 16

42
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

D IANA C LEE footman taking a long walk down the corridors of


Wentworth to deliver a letter from one feuding member

COAL AND CALAMITY of the family to another. Of course, Bailey has no more
idea than any of the rest of us of what actually happened
on some of these occasions, especially of the more pri-
B LACK D IAMONDS : T HE R ISE AND FALL OF A vate aspects of them: her imagination has supplied the
G REAT B RITISH DYNASTY minutiae, and that is why her book does at times seem
★ so novelistic.
By Catherine Bailey It could also have benefited from some judicious
(Viking 544pp £20) pruning. There are long accounts of the squalid and
appalling conditions in which mineworkers lived in the
RICHES-TO-RAGS tales of the British aristocracy in the West Riding coalfields a century ago; but, by Bailey’s
socialistic twentieth century have been a staple of own account, the miners who worked for His Lordship
romantic fiction for the last fifty or sixty years. The were astonishingly well treated – well housed and paid
themes are constant: death duties, heirs killed in the when injured, with their widows looked after if they
world wars, penal taxation and confiscation by Mr died at work – and their conditions had no bearing on
Attlee, a shortage of rich heiresses to shore up the family the eventual fall of the dynasty. Why then write about it
from without, quarrelling and recriminating relatives here? Certainly it is a colourful and, even now, disturb-
and, finally, the loss of the stately pile. With certain vari- ing story, but it is irrelevant.
ations and modifications, this is the stuff of Catherine Similarly, when the Eighth Earl – a war hero who
Bailey’s new book. died when the private plane in which he was flying
It is both a good book – highly readable, in a way that with his mistress to the South of France crashed, killing
much romantic fiction is – and an odd one. It tells the all on board, in 1948 – comes into the picture, his liai-
story of the Fitzwilliams of son with that mistress creates
Wentworth, which was and still another enormous diversion.
is the biggest privately owned She was Kathleen ‘Kick’
house in the country. The last Kennedy, daughter of the
Earl Fitzwilliam died over a repulsive Joe, sister of the
quarter of a century ago, since future president of the United
when the pile has passed into States, and widow (when
other hands. The Fitzwilliam Lord Fitzwilliam met her) of
family fortune (and what a for- the Marquess of Hartington,
tune it was: there are tales here heir to the Dukedom of
of an Edwardian opulence that Devonshire, who was killed as
would put even Mr and Mrs he headed for Germany after
David Beckham’s extravagances the Nor mandy landings of
in the shade) was built on coal: 1944. We are given a pile of
hence the title of the book. very familiar (and again, in
They were quite fabulously rich terms of the Fitzwilliams’ for-
on the back of it; and yet, with- The house that coal built tunes, ir relevant) mater ial
in a few decades, the Earls and about the ghastliness of the
their fiefdom disappeared. Kennedy family and Kick’s marriage to Hartington, to
Bailey says repeatedly that the family was secretive, warm us up for the very brief part she played in the life
and much paperwork that might have told a more com- and death of a dynasty.
plete story of the dynasty was burned during the last 100 For this reader, the real story that emerges from the
years. It is surprising, therefore, that she appears to know book is one the author seems slow to bring out. It is
so much, and in some cases in such detail. Taking her precisely how benevolent and proper the Fitzwilliams
cue, perhaps, from Carlyle in his dramatic reconstruc- were in running their business, and how respected they
tion of the French Revolution, she offers an extraordi- were by ordinary working men and their families. The
narily vivid series of descriptions of life at Wentworth, story of the way the family concerns operated gives the
and minutely described accounts of such events as the lie to the received wisdom about an oppressive aristocra-
funeral of the Sixth Earl in 1902, the visit of their cy whose cruelty and callousness almost caused revolu-
Majesties King George V and Queen Mary in 1912, a tion, and the confiscation of whose assets would have
tense meeting between the Seventh Earl and Earl Haig been the least that social justice demanded. It makes it
at Wentworth just after the Great War, and even of a all the more revolting to read of the deliberate vandalism

43
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

of the ornamental gardens at Wentworth after the war, monoliths – the National Coal Board, as the arm of the
on the orders of the Minister of Fuel and Power, Manny Government, and the National Union of Mineworkers –
Shinwell. Shinwell, despite representations from local had to meet to settle any differences, with frequently
miners pointing out the futility of the exercise, insisted hideous results.
on open-cast workings being established in the grounds Some of the episodes in this book would be deemed
to help avert a fuel crisis. As experts pointed out to him, too fabulous for a novel: but they did happen. There was
it would do nothing of the sort, but that would not a long dispute about whether the Seventh Earl, born in
deter him from taking the opportunity to extend the a hut in Canada, was actually of the family’s blood at all,
workings almost up to the doors of the house itself. or had been substituted at birth. Another heir, who had
Lord Fitzwilliam had always allowed local people to sons of his own to carry on the line, was deemed to
walk in his grounds, a pleasure Shinwell therefore have been born out of wedlock himself, the line then
denied them in what was, by any standards of spite, a continuing to a man with no sons to inherit. The line
spectacular own goal. died out but the family’s huge wealth remained, and was
Coal was, of course, an old technology even then, and dispersed through the female line.
was soon to be superseded, not least by nuclear power. This book would have benefited from being shorter,
The other lesson of the nationalisation of the mines in and from the author’s avoiding the apparently irresistible
1947 is that the process put them on a much more pre- urge to end every chapter with a soap-opera-style
carious footing than they would have been had they cliffhanger. It is not, though, so much a story of the
stayed in private ownership. Lord Fitzwilliam froze out inevitable effect of the twentieth century on the British
the union in negotiations, not because he was a blimpish aristocracy as an everyday story of the effects of time and
right-winger, but because he felt it a matter of honour chance. It will fascinate many who read it, but its out-
to talk directly to his men and to respond to their needs, come should not be misinterpreted as any sort of tragedy.
and other coal owners felt the same. After 1947 two To order this book at £16, see LR Bookshop on page 16

J ASON G OODWIN illegal diamonds. In his day the British drank around 30
million pounds of it a year. Later in the century, the
STORM IN A TEACUP price had fallen and consumption had risen to 250 mil-
lion pounds. The wretched Cutty Sark, with its revolu-
tionary hull, was built to race China teas to London; but
TEA: THE DRINK THAT CHANGED THE WORLD by then we were mostly drinking tea grown, through a
★ combination of remarkable effort and muddle, in India
By John Griffiths and Sri Lanka. Griffiths charts the development with
(André Deutsch 384pp £17.99) exhaustive patience.
But all the same, Tea: The Drink that Changed the World
WHAT’S SO GREAT about tea? The surefooted William is fighting an uphill battle. It’s not just that the whole
Cobbett saw nothing in tea beyond idleness and ruin; he genre has become a publisher’s cliché (Tree: The
described its effects in the 1820s as similar to dependency Vegetation that Changed the World?) which this book,
on foreign oil. Thousands of tons of dried leaf were being in its dinky hand-held format, apes so slavishly. It’s not
shipped around the world; governments grew fat on tax- even that John Griffiths, whose father Percy wrote the
ing it, smugglers were lured into criminality to supply it, estimable The History of the Indian Tea Trade, is frequently
housewives dissipated their looks and time to produce it, revisiting territory well-tramped by others – not least
men were enfeebled by sipping it. One bloated monop- William Ukers, whose two-volume All About Tea, pub-
oly, the East India Company, sponsored a trade in illegal lished in 1935, lives up to its title (and includes a mag-
drugs, corrupted governments at home and abroad, nificent scale drawing of the Queen Elizabeth floating in
fought wars, and swallowed empires to keep it coming. a giant cup to illustrate the amount of tea per annum we
The tea tax – reduced almost to nothingness – led to the used to drink). And it’s not entirely that planters’ tales,
American War of Independence, via the Boston Tea without a Kipling or a Maugham to contextualise them,
Party; Oliver Wendell Holmes’s ballad reported that: ‘The are often dull.
waters in the rebel bay / Have kept the tea-leaf savor; / Cobbett himself must have been aware that his splen-
Our old North-Enders in their spray / Still taste a Hyson did polemic against the celestial leaf would seem like a
flavour…’, hyson being the fanciest green tea of the time, storm in a teacup. The tea trade might have been the oil
as bohea was the cheapest black tea. business of his day, but Big Oil has a certain va-va-
Tea really was the first global bulk commodity, and voom. Diamonds are more glamorous. Even coffee
Cobbett was undoubtedly right to make the same sort of suggests samba, revolution, curtains stirring in the vis-
fuss over it that campaigners now make about SUVs or cous afternoon heat, men with stubble. Alexander

44
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

McGowan, in the 1860s, described served breakfast on the back of


the perfect tea planter: the pick-up.
Those who, possessing but a But there, in a nutshell, you have the
moderate sum of money, wish, attraction of tea as a drink and the
nevertheless, to maintain the problem of writing about it. I did it
position in life to which they in the disguise of a travel book about
have been educated, to whom China and India, and the book itself
trade or the professions are is now out of print, which goes to
obnoxious, who, having no mil- show you. Tea is an essentially
itary tastes or nautical tenden- bathetic drink. If you’re tired, deeply
cies, are still anxious to use that thirsty, working late: tea’s the thing.
energy and enterprise which are It gives you caffeine, but in longer,
said to belong to the British – to lighter doses than coffee. It demands
such, tea planting offers peculiar the ritual care Cobbett fumed about,
inducements. which is why our brasher, ruder
Coffee is grown on plantations. Tea nation drinks half as much tea as it
is grown in gardens. ‘I shouted at did fifty years ago. Griffiths has all
the mob that they could recross the the statistics, but André Deutsch
bridge after 2pm,’ Griffiths quotes should have given him bigger pages
from a planter’s account: and more pictures. ‘Mechanical
If they tried to cross before then, I would shoot them, rolling,’ Griffiths writes, ‘could be said to have started in a
and I meant it. My poor driver … was dispatched to pair of planter’s trousers.’ You could do worse than take
fetch me some breakfast and get himself something. this book into your hammock, with maybe a cup of
The head servant … shortly arrived on a bike with a Darjeeling first flush, and nod comfortably over his tales of
carrier on the back, with breakfast. He was dressed in Mazzawattee, teabags and rogue Chinese.
immaculate white with his normal black cap and To order this book at £14.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16

IT SAYS MUCH about the spirit mammalian, including (when


of the times that these three E LISABETH L UARD DINES OUT ON circumstances demand) our-
fine books sing from the same selves? Wit and elegance are
hymn-sheet: the need to take a T HREE B OOKS ON F OOD not usually the hallmarks of
long hard look at how and professorial punditry. Don’t be
what we eat by examining the put off by the forty pages of
lessons of the past. scholarly footnotes – this is a mould-cracker of a book, as
Making the case for the ancestral hearth is Martin readable as any thriller.
Jones, author of Feast: Why Humans Share Food In The Last Food of England: English Food, Its Past,
(Oxford University Press 364pp £20) and George Pitt- Present and Future, Marwood Yeatman delivers an ency-
Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at clopaedic, stylish, appropriately eccentric account of the
Cambridge. Anyone heading for a career in Food state of our nation’s gastronomic health (Ebury 488pp
History would be well advised to stick to the professor £25). Divided somewhat arbitrarily into thirty-four chap-
like glue. His speciality is ‘the study of the fragmentary ters – among them ‘The English Clearances’ (in earnest,
archaeological remains of early food’. His book is a pas- George III onwards), ‘Green Top’ (a discussion of milk),
sionate plea for a return to our ancestors’ animal ‘Freshwater Fish’ (skinning eels, personal stuff) – this is not
instincts: ‘The world’s human community, by gathering an easy book to pigeonhole. Chapter Four gives us the
around meal tables, hammers planet earth, day by day, general drift of Yeatman’s autobiography: ‘I was baptised in
with an environmental force comparable with the move- a robe of Honiton lace during the big freeze of 1948.’ He
ment of glaciers, the eruption of major volcanoes, and continues: ‘My father and stepfather were both “gentle-
the impact of comets.’ Absolutely. Jones likens the for- men farmers” ... there were tiger and leopard skins in my
mality of a hierarchical dinner at High Table with the bedroom, toads in the cellar, swords in the hall ... I did not
behaviour of our forefathers round a kill – women live in a fantasy world, but a fantastic, magical and vestigial
excluded of course, lest there be sexual trading. And did one, with giant wind-blown twisted trees, wild ponies and
you ever think, when – ahem – exchanging oral intima- home-made pasties wrapped in napkins and eaten on the
cies with your beloved, that you were simply mirroring beach in a secret cove.’ Now, he keeps house with his pho-
the kiss-feeding technique practised by most of the avian tographer wife in a former pub in Fordingbridge,
and reptilian species on the planet and several of the Hampshire, in an enviable state of self-sufficiency, growing

45
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

their own veg, brewing their own beer examine the roots of how we live now.
and baking their own bread. Thirsk’s previously published work
What’s clearly an obsession for all includes Alternative Agriculture: A History,
things gastronomic – good or bad, live or which explains why some sixty years’
dead, delicious or disgusting – does not study led the author to ask herself how
mean, Marwood is careful to point out, changes in farming affected people’s diet.
that he’s a chef or a ‘foodie’. Ingredients, ‘As time went on, I became increasingly
common and uncommon, from mutton dissatisfied with my shadowy image of
to salt-fish to famine rations, are exam- women cooking in the kitchen and serv-
ined chapter by chapter in detail. Need ing their families at the meal table ... and
to know the difference between cut- found my knowledge of farming and
rounds and kissing-edges? Marwood’s food in the past constantly confronting
your man. His wife took the illuminating current daily news items about food fads
pictures: a pork-salter cuddling ham; a and fashions.’
gloomy tripe-stirrer; a granny holding a The gorgeous cover picture – three
jar of pickled cucumbers; a big man rins- adorable, overdressed infants guzzling
ing gulls’ eggs – all things seldom seen grapes – sets the scene for an examination
today. A labour of love, if ever there was Parsnip vendor of class differences. While ‘poor folk did
one. Take it to bed with you and dream. not write their life stories or describe their
Joan Thirsk’s Food in Early Modern England: Phases, daily foods’, the arrival in the countryside during her cho-
Fads and Fashions 1500–1760 (Hambledon Continuum sen period, 1500–1760, of an increasing number of newly
350pp £30) reaches well beyond what the title suggests – prosperous gentry created ‘an exchange of knowledge and
a bloodless history of irrelevant domesticity – into a from- skill ... between the classes that made everyone familiar
the-heart examination of lessons to be learned from the with new foods and tastes’. The distinguishing characteris-
agricultural practices of our ancestors. In academic terms, tics of upper-class provisioning were ‘rarity and expense’.
fifty pages of footnotes and bibliography is modest Circa 1600, among the ‘exotic ingredients that had to be
enough back-up for 350 pages of scholarly text that fetched from far away’ for a modest country household in
expectation of distinguished visitors were 2lb capers, 3lb
anchovies and 2 gallons of olives, all of which had to be
shipped from Mediterranean ports and arrive in perfect
England’s condition. Fascinating insights include a method of ten-
derising a cow carcass for immediate consumption by
inserting a swan’s quill into the navel and blowing up the
First stomach ‘till the whole skin swelled like a bladder’. Not
for the squeamish. But nor is calf ’s head, sweetbreads, beef
marrow or pig’s cheeks – meats which dropped out of
Family “A riveting and major work.
England’s First Family of Writers
fashion through sheer snobbery.
In addition to such moral considerations as why the
witnesses the rare mix of creativ- rearing of veal calves should be considered so much more
of Writers ity and philosophical rigor that
Carlson brings to scholarly writing
inhumane than slaughtering them at birth, Thirsk makes
a strong case for regional diversity as a promoter of health
MARY and thinking about Romanticism (bread, for instance, used to be made with a wide variety
and the larger set of relations of grains), blaming the proliferation of cookery books
WOLLSTONECRAFT, (Mrs Beeton et al) for introducing uniformity into the
between living and writing in
WILLIAM GODWIN, public culture.” modern kitchen. The period under study marks the end
MARY SHELLEY —Theresa M. Kelley, of the medieval kitchen (pretty much the ancestral diet,
University of Wisconsin–Madison give or take a handful of spices), and the start of the
modern (whatever you can afford, from wherever you
Julie A. Carlson £33.50 hardcover
can get it, whenever you want it). And if advances in
husbandry and horticulture during the period, including
THE JOHNS HOPKINS the botanical riches of the New World, led inexorably to
UNIVERSITY PRESS the crammed shelves of modern supermarkets, it may
Distributed by John Wiley well be time, the author suggests, to consider turning
Tel: 1243 843291 • www.press.jhu.edu back the clock, if only just a little.
To order these books, see LR Bookshop on page 16

46
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
GENERAL

WILL EISNER’s Contract With N ICK G ARRARD LOOKS AT A B ATCH humour are a winning combi-
God trilogy, reprinted in one nation.
volume (W W Norton 544pp OF R ECENT G RAPHIC N OVELS Two further examples both
£18.99), is the foundation of embrace biography and person-
the modern graphic novel. First published nearly thirty al experience. The latest book from the award-winning
years ago, the three books have been celebrated for their Marjane Satrapi, Chicken with Plums (Jonathan Cape
literary ambition and autobiographical sincerity: John 96pp £12.99), recounts a painful episode from her fami-
Updike is a fan, as was Kurt Vonnegut, and with good ly history. Here, Satrapi imagines the inner turmoil
reason. While Eisner’s artwork betrays its origins in the experienced by her uncle, a passionate and depressive
square-jawed realm of Saturday serial heroics, his narra- musician who decides one day to turn his back on life
tives are imbued with a broad and satisfying moral and to lie in his bed, waiting to die. Satrapi’s artwork,
vision. His focus is upon the immigrant communities with its blurred figures and stark black-and-white out-
living along the fictional Dropsie Avenue, a world of lines, perfectly handles the subject matter. Her uncle’s
Dickensian squalor and violent upheaval. With verve journey is presented with grace and sympathy, and
Eisner relates the fortunes of the various communities, although we know from the outset how the story will
tragedy and romance coming and going as often as the end, there is still a powerful, redemptive quality about its
endless waves of tenants. inevitable progression.
Whilst the first two volumes (A Contract with God, A Mar tin Lemelman’s f amily memoir, Mendel’s
Life Force) suffer, as all progenitors do, from teething Daughter (Jonathan Cape 240pp £14.99), is a fractured
pains and experimental failures, it is with the last volume series of images and recollections. In what is less a
– simply titled Dropsie Avenue – that Eisner really hits his g raphic novel than a semi-realised scrapbook,
stride. Starting from the very first cultivation of his Lemelman records his family’s experiences during the
avenue territory, he charts the rise and fall of each suc- Second World War through a combination of pho-
cessive inhabitant, deal- tographs, images and words, themselves taken from a
ing them their fates series of video diaries the author recorded with his
with a sympathy and mother, now deceased. However, adrift as it is between
delicacy that never fail scrapbook and conventional comic narrative, the piece
to move. never quite settles. We are never as fully immersed as
A glimpse at recent we should be. A shame: Lemelman has much of value
releases shows that to say.
Eisner’s pioneering spirit Perhaps the most peculiar and invigorating of these
remains; new authors releases is Andrzej Klimowski’s Horace Dorlan (Faber &
continue to experiment Faber 240pp £12.99), a hallucinatory marriage of prose
with the graphic form. and image. The protagonist, an unassuming university
As a leading example, professor, suffers a mysterious accident and his life begins
Simone Lia’s Fluffy From ‘Fluffy’ to unravel. Reality frag-
(Jonathan Cape 186pp ments and a chorus of voic-
£12.99) is an eccentric piece, delivered with emotional es emerge and entwine, but
realism and a playful dose of humour. Lia tells the story while the text suggests
of Michael Pulcino, a disappointed architect charged much, posing questions at
with raising Fluffy, a talking bunny convinced that every tur n, the author
Michael is his biological father. Their life together is fur- steers clear of a solution.
ther complicated by Michael’s interfering family and the We emerge as muddled and
attentions of Fluffy’s nursery school teacher. lost as our hero, but no
Lia’s simple narrative is marked by a surprising degree matter: this is very much a
of emotional poignancy. She intersperses the flow with a work in which form takes
series of bizarre interludes, such as chapters guest-narrat- precedence over content.
ed by a dust particle and, at key points, diagrammatical It’s presented in banks of
depictions of her protagonists’ thoughts. All this is offset text and a series of glorious
by her wonderful artwork, which combines a scruffy black-and-white pr ints,
sensibility with detailed architectural realism, a style in which draw on references From ‘Horace Dorlan’
keeping with the contradictory nature of the story itself. as diverse as the conven-
What might at first seem a slight piece, drowning in wry tions of film noir and the works of Lewis Carroll. An
self-awareness, swiftly becomes an experience in which enigmatic read, but one to savour nonetheless.
the reader is deeply involved. Lia’s candour and goofy To order these books, see LR Bookshop on page 16

47
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
CHILDREN’S BOOK ROUND-UP

F RANCES H ARDINGE ’s second P HILIP WOMACK RECOMMENDS F IVE 192pp £9.99) is the closest thing
novel, Verdigris Deep (Macmillan that he has written to an adult
327pp £10.99), is complex, C HILDREN ’ S B OOKS FOR THE S UMMER novel. Usually concerned with
well-wrought and unsettling. vampires and clairvoyants, here
Three children, all unpopular at school, become the he turns to solid fact. It concerns the author of Old Peter’s
unwilling agents of a terrifying, ancient wishing-well Russian Tales. Arthur Ransome is in Russia during the
sprite after they steal coins from her well. Each coin has a First World War and the Revolution as a journalist; what’s
wish attached to it, which must be fulfilled at all costs. more, he’s in love with a Bolshevik – Trotsky’s secretary,
Ryan, our hero, is timid and clever. Chelle can’t stop talk- no less. Suspected by both sides of being an agent, he must
ing and ‘looks as if she had been through the wash too wade through the murky waters to find happiness. Based
many times, losing her colour and courage in the rinse’. on documents released by the secret services, Sedgwick’s
And then there is Josh, brave (or stupid), whom the other novel is challenging, stark and uncompromising, a thor-
two worship. oughly satisfying read for older teenagers – and it might
Each is given a power by the Well Witch reflecting even give them a taste for history.
their personality: Ryan grows eyes on the back of his Flora Segunda of Crackpot Hall by Ysabeau Wilce
hands with which he can penetrate a different layer of (Scholastic 432pp £16.99) is crazy and original, although
reality; Josh becomes able to manipulate electricity; and somewhat overlong. Flora Segunda lives in the shadow of
Chelle acts as a psychic radio, picking up the wisher’s her dead older sister. There are four ‘great’ houses in Califa,
thoughts – and transmitting them, whether she likes it each inhabited by a ‘denizen’ – a Butler with supernatural
or not, in her own voice. powers. The Fyrdraacas were once the glory of their coun-
Hardinge is a mesmerising writer. She is as comfortable try; now they moulder, their eleven-thousand-room Hall
with the bizarre as she is with the ordinary: shopping empty. By mistake Flora stumbles across Valefor, the Butler
trolleys stalk the children; posters move and talk. Her of the house whom her fearsome mother has imprisoned;
description of the Well Witch sitting enthroned whilst ‘a in trying to restore him she and her kilt-wearing friend
hundred cigarette butts smoked gently like incense sticks Udo become entangled with perilous matters.
in a church shrine’ and ‘A bent bicycle wheel spun slow- Unfortunately, Flora is mildly irritating. It feels rather
ly and unevenly behind her head, a halo for a strange like an American high-school girl playing at being an
saint’ conjures up a Spenserian monster. English aristocrat. The world of Califa does not ring
Initially the three friends carry out simple wishes – for true, either. There is an uneasy mixture of Mexican and
a Harley Davidson, or a boyfriend. But then Chelle Germanic mythologies, and the city never becomes
picks up a killer’s thoughts, Josh becomes crazed with alive. But Flora’s adventures are wild and exciting, and
power, and Ryan discovers the story of three men who, the boisterous exuberance of the writing will carry girls
also entrapped by the Well Witch, murdered a baby to (and some boys) away for the whole holiday.
fulfil somebody’s wish. Things fall apart, and Hardinge Here, There Be Dragons by James A Owen (Simon &
chillingly draws the story out to a startling conclusion. Schuster 336pp £12.99) made me wonder why publish-
This fantastical, folkloric and truly wonderful novel will ers don’t bother changing Americanisms into English. It is
both frighten and enchant children of twelve and up. very annoying to read supposedly English people saying
There are also elements of the folktale and the fairy story ‘skeptical’ and ‘pleased to make your acquaintance’, espe-
in Tim Lott’s Fearless (Walker Books 267pp £9.99). cially when they are meant to be mid-twentieth-century
Although his novel treads familiar ground, he can be for- Oxford men who turn out to be famous fantasy writers
given, since his heroine, Little Fearless, is appealing and (there are three – guess who). John, Jack and Charles
courageous. The setting is an Institute for delinquent girls (Jack is a nickname) are entrusted with the ‘Imaginarium
in a totalitarian city. The inmates are enslaved and deprived Geographica’, an atlas of all the imaginary worlds (Lilliput
of their identities, so they give each other nicknames like and so on) which exist in ‘The Archipelago of Dreams’.
Beauty and Stargazer. Little Fearless escapes – three times, In a Da Vinci Code-style ‘twist’ it turns out that every
in traditional fairy tale style – to spread the word that the ‘fantasy’ writer worth his or her salt (Shakespeare, Mary
Institute is not what it seems. The citizens are led by The Shelley) has guarded this atlas from evil influence; the
Boss, and fed a diet of propaganda on their vidscreens; three fledgling writers must continue their guardianship
Little Fearless aims to break them out of their torpor. and defend both the real and the imaginary worlds,
Lott comes slightly unstuck with his MESSAGE, especial- whilst dealing with dogmen, The Winter King and far
ly when he starts talking about the endless war on terrorism too many elves for my liking. I disapprove of the idea
that the city is engaged upon. You can all but hear the that writers can’t make things up on their own, and the
creaking of the allegory wheels. That said, this is an engross- novel is slightly too obsessed with referring to other
ing, if a little worthy, book. books, but it will suit boys with a taste for adventure.
Marcus Sedgwick’s Blood Red, Snow White (Orion To order these books, see LR Bookshop on page 16

48
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

C RESSIDA C ONNOLLY to be turned into a golf course, in a story which begins,


characteristically: ‘“Well, at least don’t tell him”, their

CREVICES OF THE SOUL mother begged. “At least do nothing until he’s gone.”’
In another, a clergyman withholds his crisis of belief
from his sister, so that she can die in peace. Elsewhere,
C HEATING AT C ANASTA silence must be paid for: a priest must pay his tormentor
★ not to broadcast an invented, long-past abuse, so as to
By William Trevor protect the reputation of the wider church; a longed-for
(Viking 232pp £16.99) marriage cannot take place because the groom, a wid-
ower, has a child who is unable to articulate her grief for
IF THERE IS a theme running through William Trevor’s her dead mother.
brilliant new collection, it is reticence. Again and again, All of the stories in this book are good, but two of
lives are altered, or ruined – or, less often, saved – by them are outstanding. These are the first story, ‘The
things that are left unsaid. Such silence goes against the Dressmaker’s Child’, and the last one, ‘Folie à Deux’.
grain of a culture obsessed by disclosure and personal Even if you do not as a rule enjoy short stories, I beg you
revelation, but that is not to say that Trevor is old-fash- to read these. Again, they are concerned with terrible
ioned, much less squeamish. Within these twelve stories acts and their consequences; with keeping silence and
are many crimes: the murder of a prostitute, a child hit losing faith. The final tale, in particular, is a work of per-
by a car whose driver does not stop, a youth beaten to fect control and balance, moving back and forth across
death in a suburban garden. Terrible things happen, or almost forty years, from rural Ireland (‘when secrets
threaten to happen. Two nine-year-old boys push a dog became deception’) to the empty streets of Paris in the
out to sea on a lilo; a paedophile takes a young girl – ‘her early morning. This is the twelfth story in Trevor’s
bare, pale legs were like twigs stripped of their bark’ – for twelfth collection: an almost magical number for what
a walk by a canal; a tramp blackmails an innocent priest. could be his most mesmerising and haunting story.
I was reminded of Werner Herzog’s gruelling master- William Trevor is the greatest living exponent of the
piece Grizzly Man, a documentary about an eccentric form, able to conjure from a few pages an entire world
wildlife cameraman who was torn to death by bears. of desire and loss and pain. His work is seldom cheerful,
Towards the end of the film, Herzog puts on a pair of but that scarcely registers, for he is writing about things
headphones and listens to the actual soundtrack of the that matter; about the deepest and most secret crevices
man’s death; the cinema audience are obliged to look on, of the human soul.
watching him listening to this terrible thing, without the To order this book at £13.59, see LR Bookshop on page 16
sound. Many were shocked by the film’s violence, even
though they had neither seen nor heard anything more
violent than footage of bears gambolling in a Canadian
stream. Defending the work, Herzog said: ‘The artist
must not avert his gaze.’ In other words, it is only if the
artist does not look away from the abyss that the audience
(or viewer, or reader) receives an authentic experience.
William Trevor is doing something similar here. He
does not flinch from horror and darkness, yet nor does
he sensationalise these things. Evil may be inadvertent,
or clumsy: it is never elegant or just; or even, of itself,
very interesting. Its purpose, in his stories, is to test the
moral limits of his characters. What is of interest to him
is not the crimes themselves but the way in which they
affect, change and damage people. He gives no easy
answers. Redemption is not the point; a sort of desper-
ate, unspoken atonement is more likely. Only love is
noble, but it lacks the power to save a life. A husband
plays cards with his wife, who is in a home, with
Alzheimer’s: tenderly, he cheats in order to let her win;
it is her one remaining pleasure.
In some of these stories, love makes people silent.
What you don’t know can’t hurt you: an elderly wife
does not tell her ailing husband that his beloved farm is

49
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

J OHN D UGDALE combining In the City’s confused country boy with The
Man Who’s sexually liberated Native American.
BOY’S OWN STORY It is set in Idaho in the 1960s, and opens with Rigby
John Klusener, the narrator, escaping to San Francisco
towards the end of the decade. The rest of the novel then
N OW I S THE H OUR unfolds chronologically in flashback, covering his child-
★ hood and teenage years. The Kluseners are Catholics
By Tom Spanbauer who own a farm next to an Indian reservation. Bullied at
(Jonathan Cape 459pp £17.99) school, Rigby John finds life equally fraught at home,
where Dad is macho and hidebound while Mom has an
TOM SPANBAUER’S LITERARY career seems back to front. artistic and potentially more tolerant side but has been
The natural sequence for a gay writer from the baby- mentally fragile since the early death of a younger son.
boomer generation, you’d imagine, is a thinly disguised ‘Now Is the Hour’ is a song she plays on the piano,
autobiography, followed by an Aids novel, then an explo- and it comes to symbolise his bond with her when the
ration of homosexual history. Yet he started with the household atmosphere is relatively tranquil. Most of the
period piece and has only now, sixteen years later and time, though, he’s in disgrace, and punished with a mix-
aged sixty, got round to producing a work that has the air ture of beatings and emergency confessions to a priest as
of a fictionalised misery memoir. His second novel, The Dad and Mom battle to defend their 40s time-warp
Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (1991), which made from the 60s values that either seep in via the radio or
his name in his forties, was a late outgrowth of the are caught like germs through his mingling at school
60s/70s trend for portraying the American past as much with kids from less conservative households.
more like the turbulent, raunchy present than you’d guess Friendships are the usual source of trouble. There’s
from sanitised conventional accounts of, say, the frontier Billie, Rigby John’s platonic girlfriend, who is not
era, or the literature of the relevant period. The film of viewed as good marriage material as she comes from a
Little Big Man, for example, implied a parallel between broken home and resembles a Greenwich Village
nineteenth-century Indian wars and Vietnam; while bohemian inexplicably airlifted into the Midwest. Flaco
McCabe and Mrs Miller, also adapted from a novel, showed and Acho, two young Mexicans hired to spend one
a turn of the century mining-town brothel as not unlike summer transporting baled hay from field to farm with
a multicultural commune. Rigby John, prompt a recognition that he can be attract-
Fiction that was part of this movement made margin- ed to men when the trio go skinny-dipping. George,
alised figures its heroes and heroines: Indians, blacks, gays, maintaining the triple-tick tradition as a gay Indian alco-
hookers, outlaws, proto-feminists, dissidents, dwarfs, hallu- holic (four ticks if you add his weekend transvestism),
cinatory drug-takers, outrageous artists or performers, and replaces them the following year and continues the
so on. By 1991, every individual option had long ago teenager’s sexual education. While The Man Who
been snapped up; where Spanbauer scored was in perming revived the 70s vogue for history reinterpreted, Now Is
several. Shed, the narrator of The Man Who, ticked three the Hour resuscitates the same decade’s love of recreating
boxes as a bisexual Native American male prostitute. Set in writers’ small-town boyhoods: in crude terms, it’s
an alternative Wild West, the story he told centred on the American Graffiti and The Last Picture Show given a gay
clash between a small-town whorehouse and the small- twist and transplanted to Idaho. This may sound promis-
minded Mormons trying to close it down. ing, but the novel disappoints. Given the mainstream
When Jonathan Cape naughtily describe Now Is the roles now occupied by gays, and the plethora of gay
Hour as Spanbauer’s ‘first major novel’ since this break- memoirs and autobiographical fiction in recent decades,
through book, they airbrush In the City of Shy Hunters an account of growing up lusting after men no longer
(2001) out of his oeuvre – though how a 560-page por- possesses the allure of novelty or transgression (describ-
trayal of New York in the early years of Aids can tacitly ing a same-sex, different-race affair might do, if only
be dismissed as piffling is not very clear. Breaking a ten- Spanbauer himself hadn’t done that twice before).
year silence, In the City followed a sexually mixed-up And although some scenes stay in the memory, the
Midwesterner to the Big Apple. There, an affair with a writing never does: the prose is uniformly pedestrian,
black homosexual drag queen (three ticks again) liberates and its appeal is not enhanced by a wearying penchant
him, but he witnesses Aids turning from rumour to gay- for the kind of single-sentence paragraphs used in the
slaying plague. One disadvantage of the back-to-front thrillers of James Patterson and Jodi Picoult, which pre-
CV is that, when Spanbauer at last feels ready for his suppose readers with limited attention-spans.
Bildungsroman, what should come across as fresh and The main flaw of this overlong, stylistically barren
heartfelt seems instead a lazy recycling. Much of Now Is novel, however, is that it’s simply way too late: had it
the Hour could be seen as a synthesis of the previous novels, appeared around the time Edmund White published A

50
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

Boy’s Own Story, it would have seemed excitingly daring problem – its real hour was twenty-five years ago.
and original. With hapless irony, the title points to the To order this book at £14.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16

P AMELA N ORRIS can paint in peace. Here, he finds


his voice as an artist by recording
BEARING WITNESS the realities of wounded men.
When he himself is wounded
and returns to London, his future
L IFE C LASS with Elinor seems uncertain.
★ Like Barker’s earlier, highly
By Pat Barker praised trilogy of novels about
(Hamish Hamilton 248pp £16.99) the 1914–18 war (The Ghost
Road won the 1995 Booker Barker: vivid
PAT BARKER’S NEW novel begins in the life class at the Prize), Life Class is a compelling
Slade School of Art in London, where a young artist, Paul read, invigorated by a vivid use of language. Once again,
Tarrant, is struggling to draw a naked female model to the Barker is fascinated by class, and by the possibilities of sex,
exacting standards of Henry Tonks, a teacher obsessed by love and intimacy. In a novel that is marked by violence
anatomy. It is spring 1914, a few months before the out- (eruptions of male aggression in the first half of the book
break of the First World War. By the end of the novel, and, later, the organised carnage of war), she asks difficult
Paul will have become closely acquainted with the bones, questions about the representation of atrocities, a problem
nerves and arteries that, as Tonks insists his students raised in previous novels. In The Ghost Road, Billy reflects
remember, animate the smooth surface of the skin. that words are inadequate to express what happened at
Paul is able to study at the Slade because his grandmother, Mons, Loos and the Somme; only the names of the bat-
a working-class landlady with a talent for rent-collecting, tles have any resonance. In a more recent novel, Double
has left him a legacy. When Tonks points out that he Vision, set in the period after Bosnia, Afghanistan and
appears to have nothing to say, Paul consoles himself by his 9/11, Barker worries away at the capacity of photographs
passion for Teresa, an artist’s model who is being stalked by to tell the truth about rape, brutality and suffering. And
her violent estranged husband. At the same time, he is when does witness become dissemination? The debate is
attracted to Elinor Brooke, a fellow student struggling to continued by Paul and Elinor. Why would anyone want
liberate herself from her conventional, well-to-do family. to exhibit paintings of damaged men, she asks, and any-
Beautiful but sexually wary, Elinor is also pursued by Kit way, wouldn’t this be voyeurism, ‘an arty freak show’? For
Neville, an artist building a reputation by painting indus- Elinor, the ‘proper subject’ for art is ‘the things we choose
trial landscapes. Elinor’s closest relationships are with her to love’. But Paul has watched a desperate patient pouring
girl-friends, particularly Catherine Stein, whose surname out meaningless scribble on sheet after sheet of paper. For
leads to persecution when anti-German fever grips him, bearing witness is essential if non-combatants are to
England. As the action flits from Teresa’s basement behind understand the suffering of war.
St Pancras station to the polished dining tables of Kit and The relationship between Paul and Elinor is central to
Elinor’s family homes, Barker traces the volatile relation- Life Class, but it doesn’t quite convince. The difficulty
ships between the group. may lie with Elinor. Perhaps because Barker takes such
The second half of the novel takes place after the war has pains to give her depth and nuance, her denial of the war
begun. Working first in a makeshift hospital near Ypres and seems obtuse rather than reasonable, and her arguments
then as an ambulance driver, Paul helps to patch up the with Paul come across as staged and naive. There is a
wounded, cauterising stumps left by amputated limbs and general problem of credibility with the artists in the
bandaging bodies that are frequently damaged beyond novel. Someone is always whipping out a sketchbook,
recovery. His infatuation with Teresa is over. Instead, his but I had little sense that these people were truly engaged
tentative courtship of Elinor has deepened into friendship with the challenge of putting images on paper. More
and, eventually, when she pays a fleeting visit to Ypres, they persuasive are Barker’s subliminal references to works by
become lovers. But their affair is compromised by their dif- real-life artists. There is a glimpse of Gertler’s The Merry-
fering histories and their opposing views of the war. As Go-Round in the scene at the fair on Hampstead Heath,
their letters reveal, they lead increasingly parallel lives. C R W Nevinson’s Returning to the Trenches seems to lurk
Elinor refuses to be deflected from her commitment to art, behind Paul’s description of his journey to the front line,
and joins the circle of defiant anti-warmongers who flock and Goya’s desolate hanged men in the Disasters of War
to Ottoline Morrell’s weekly parties. Paul, immersed in his sequence are disquietingly echoed by the straw-filled
work with the wounded and his new friendship with a ‘corpses’ used for bayonet practice in Russell Square.
Quaker, Richard Lewis, rents a room in Ypres where he To order this book at £13.59, see LR Bookshop on page 16

51
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

N IGEL J ONES the Great and his knightly nephew Roland. Old Charles
is a much more complex creation than his heroic nephew,
HOT AND GOLD who rides towards Roncesvalles to his death. Whilst
showing him to be cruel, cunning, brave in battle but
astonishingly mean-spirited and boringly vindictive at
C HARLEMAGNE AND ROLAND times, Massie leaves us in no doubt of Charlemagne’s ulti-
★ mate greatness. For all his faults, he is, Massie convincing-
By Allan Massie ly suggests, one of the titans of history, a true father of
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson 256pp £12.99) Europe who carried the burden of Christian chivalry and
passed it on to the next generation, represented by
THE LONG PERIOD of turmoil that enveloped Europe in Roland. He, however, was not destined to see its fruits, as
the wake of the fall of Rome was so devoid of recognis- he died, stemming the influx of the Eastern infidel on a
able written records that historians lazily dubbed it the lonely mountain pass.
‘Dark Ages’. Modern archaeological discoveries, and a Massie’s narrator throughout the trilogy is a man from
reassessment of the scanty written evidence that does his own country: Michael Scott, a Merlin-like figure,
survive from Europe’s big sleep, have, excitingly, enabled half wizard and half scholar, who died around 1230 and
contemporary historians to confirm what the myths and whose body lies in Melrose Abbey. Scott’s audience and
the legends suggest: that the ‘barbarian’ cultures that pupil is the boy who would grow up to be one of
succeeded Rome were richer, more complex and more Charlemagne’s successors, the Holy Roman Emperor
‘civilised’ than the Rome-worshippers allowed. And the Frederick II, who is clearly to be the next link in the
Arthurian legends, it seems, were more than likely binding chain of civilisation. Allan Massie manages to
grounded in a thick mulch of verifiable fact. pull together his disparate myths and legends – of battle,
Even so, the Dark Ages still spawned many myth- sorcery, intrigue, eroticism, suffering and cruelty – into
makers. Allan Massie, in his trilogy of Dark Age novels a coherent, enthralling whole. He can even get away
(The Evening of the World, Arthur the King and now this, with writing a sentence like this: ‘I warn you that if you
the culminating volume), proves himself a modern play me false I shall split the pair of you from guts to
Malory, producing enchanting fiction from a mix of gizzard.’ A perfect book for those who like their history
historical truth and his own informed imagination. hot and gold.
The chief characters are the Frankish Emperor Charles To order this book at £10.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16

M ARTYN B EDFORD her disappearance. Isabel suspects Owen of killing her, but
no body was found and no one has ever been charged.

MISTRESS OF DISGUISE Returning to her native Yorkshire from Istanbul, where


she has made a new life with her Turkish husband and
their young daughter, she sees Owen’s funeral as her
T HE M ISSING P ERSON ’ S G UIDE TO L OVE opportunity to rake over a case that the police have long
★ since consigned to the files of unsolved crimes.
By Susanna Jones This might read like the set-up for a straightforward
(Picador 282pp £16.99) murder mystery, but anyone familiar with Jones’s two
previous books will know that, in her deliciously disorien-
WHEN A CHILD dies, the bereaved torture themselves with tating fictional worlds, nothing is ever quite as it seems. In
asking: Why did someone so young have to die? What her debut, The Earthquake Bird, the subtle unravelling of
kind of life might they have gone on to experience? If the the heroine’s true nature from the version of herself she
child has disappeared, presumed murdered, there is yet offered the reader was a model of unreliable narration.
more speculation: How did they die? Where is the body? Water Lily, meanwhile, evolved into a game of psychologi-
Who killed them? On such questions Susanna Jones’s new cal chess between two people whose misrepresentations of
novel turns. Julia has been gone nearly twenty years when themselves and misreadings of one another left us
her one-time best friend, Isabel, revisits their childhood enthralled and disturbed in equal measure. Jones is a
town determined to piece together the puzzle of her mistress of disguise, not just in her characterisation and
death once and for all. For Isabel, in addition to the tor- plotting, but in her blurring of the divisions between right
ment of ‘not knowing’, there is the guilt of the survivor: and wrong. Hers isn’t quite the deliberate amorality of
two fifteen-year-olds set off on their paper rounds that Patricia Highsmith, but she similarly denies us any easy
morning in 1982, but only one came home. The catalyst options when it comes to taking sides for or against her
for her quest is the death in a car crash of Owen, the girls’ protagonists. With Isabel, in The Missing Person’s Guide to
classmate and Julia’s newly jilted boyfriend at the time of Love, Jones has fashioned her most complex, involving

52
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

heroine yet and by far her most audacious sleight of hand in husband Mete, and a sequence of short italicised sections
terms of a storyteller. To call it a twist would be to devalue narrated by Isabel’s Aunt Maggie, a famous novelist, who
what is really a hidden undercurrent of the whole narrative; provided a refuge for her niece when she became
nevertheless the revelation, when it comes, is breathtaking. derailed by the loss of Julia. More than one story is being
From the outset, there is an unsettling quality to told here, and their authorship and trustworthiness are as
Isabel’s tale that both invites readers to accept, and causes uncertain as Isabel’s own pursuit of ‘the truth’. What
us to question, her reconstruction of the events sur- begins as an inquiry into the apparent murder of a friend
rounding Julia’s disappearance. Set in the two days either gradually turns into a process of self-examination. Back
side of Owen’s funeral, the novel is assembled around a in the place where she grew up, immersed in memories
series of Isabel’s conversations (with a policewoman; with that don’t seem to cohere, estranged from her loved ones,
Owen’s mate John; with Owen’s mother and sister; with Isabel struggles to square the girl she was with the
an old school friend) as she attempts to make sense of woman she believes herself to be. In trying literally, at
what happened all those years ago. These edgy, almost one point to dig up Julia’s corpse, she risks burying her-
surreal dialogues are intercut with flashbacks to 1982, self in the collapsed excavations of her own past.
increasingly odd text messages between Isabel and her To order this book at £8.79, see LR Bookshop on page 16

M ONI M OHSIN Hussein’s protagonists are self-aware, haunted souls,


who often question their right to personal happiness, as

HAUNTED SOULS if writing enforces a primary responsibility to their read-


ers. In ‘The Angelic Disposition’ a female novelist living
in the tumultuous years leading up to the partition of
I NSOMNIA India observes: ‘But to sing so blithely of love in a time
★ before siege?’
By Aamer Hussein At times bleak, Hussein’s stories are nonetheless tinged
(Telegram Books 133pp £8.99) with hope. Armaan dies alone, but his book of poems
goes on to achieve cult status. Murad finds, if not happi-
IN THE TITLE story of this, Aamer Hussein’s fourth collec- ness, then solace in the realisation that ‘happiness and
tion of short stories, one writer asks another: ‘Why don’t despair partake of each other; are the interplay of leaf and
you write a story about all that – regrets, fears, loneliness shadow, sun and its reflection on water’. ‘The Lark’ is a
and joy?’ The book is just that: a delicate exploration of simple, lyrical story of joyous homecoming. ‘The Angelic
the effect of despair – arising from personal loss and public Disposition’, the most beautiful story in the collection, is
upheavals – on a writer’s sensibility. ‘Insomnia’ features a an unequivocal celebration of the resilience of the creative
writer called Murad who attempts to compose a piece on spirit in the face of calamity. A childless widow looks
happiness but doesn’t get beyond ‘an allusive opening pas- back on a life of quiet, unassuming industry and, despite
sage about dead poets’. Triggered by news of a devastating her husband’s murder and her exile from her home, finds
earthquake in Pakistan, his own personal sadness over- peace and accommodation through her work. Creativity
whelms him. It robs him of sleep and stifles his creativity. becomes its own justification.
Unable to find comfort in the company of others, Murad Hussein’s fiction is informed by a multitude of influ-
reflects how, ‘in dark places, the world’s grief and our own ences, prominent among them his knowledge of Muslim
could melt into one another and become the same’. poetry and philosophy. While this enriches his work with
Hussein writes about writers and the wellsprings of layers of meaning, it also runs the risk of rendering it
their creativity. In this gem-like collection he asks the inaccessible for readers not familiar with his unexplained
question that lies at the very heart of storytelling: why references. In ‘The Book of Maryam’, for instance, the
and for whom do we write stories? In ‘Hibiscus Days’ he meaning hinges on a Quranic quotation about the birth
queries the obligation of a writer to engage in political of Jesus. For those who do not recognise it as such, the
struggle. Set in the 1980s, when Pakistan was in the grip story is at best laconic, at worst, incomprehensible.
of a savage military dictatorship, the story charts the Aamer Hussein is a consummate stylist, though. His
dilemma of Armaan, a poet. After a brief stay in London, prose is restrained, precise and yet deeply moving. He is
Armaan returns to Pakistan, aflame with political pur- a sensuous writer in whose stories nature acts as a balm
pose. But the firebrand activist soon abandons ideological on even the most weary of sensibilities. The detached,
theatre and finds succour in the local folk songs and tra- cool narrator of ‘Nine Postcards from Sanlucar de
ditional fables that touch him more profoundly than Barrameda’ observes the play of sunlight on a woman’s
dialectical materialism. In vacating the political arena, he face: ‘Sunlight dapples my sister’s cheekbones, flickers
loses his many Marxist fans but asserts his ‘right to live in on her fine drawn features. She dances with her face.’
peace in a troubled land’. To order this book at £7.19, see LR Bookshop on page 16

53
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

F RANCIS K ING allows his ambition to take


precedence over both the tragedy

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS engulfing France and the career


of his adopted son.
From the moment Short first
T HE C ONDOR ’ S H EAD : sees his Rosalie, he becomes
A N A MERICAN ROMANCE infatuated with her. But even
★ after the Duc has been killed, the
By Ferdinand Mount lovers are only intermittently
(Chatto & Windus 325pp £17.99) prepared to make the sacrifices
that a marr iage will demand.
T HOUGH THE MAIN narrative of this novel is set in Short has had other, transitory Mount: piquant
the closing years of the eighteenth century, two near- relationships, even contracting
contemporary chapters bracket it. These – afterthoughts gonorrhoea (the chief symptom of which Mount oddly
I should guess – are effortful and leaden in comparison imagines to be the chancre of syphilis) while on a tour
with the confident vigour of the rest of the book. of Italy with two libidinous fellow countrymen. When,
The initial chapter presents us with four people holed having been separated by the Terror, the couple are at
up together in the wilds of Idaho: an English male last reunited, sex is listless and perfunctory. Short
writer, an English girl, and two American men. One of returns to America and six days later Rosalie marries
the American men is in love with the other, who in another French aristocrat. Throughout, Mount keeps
turn is in love with the girl. As though the chapter is a teasing the reader with the question of whether the
summary of a novel or at least a long short story, we are relationship has been genuinely powered by love or
offered far too much information about these people merely by sexual obsession.
and their doings in far too cramped a space. When the Jefferson, who talked and wrote so much about human
straight American asserts that his countrymen ‘are great rights but possessed some hundred slaves, took a sixteen-
at saying “Hi!” to new people but have no gift for inti- year-old black girl, Sally Hemings, to Paris with him to
macy’, this leads to a discussion of how Western culture look after his two daughters. In recent years DNA tests
has ‘segued from the idea of giving yourself totally to have shown it to be highly probable that she had six chil-
Jesus to one of giving yourself totally to love’. dren by him. Mount contests Jefferson’s parentage of the
The next day, the gay American suggests that an ances- first of these children, for reasons too complex to be given
tor of his, William Short, might be a good subject for the here. In his novel, Sally’s first child is by Short – who
Englishman’s next book. In 1876, Short went to Paris to takes her virginity and then, after a period of intermittent
serve as secretary to Thomas Jefferson, recently appointed dalliance, breaks with her out of fear for his reputation,
as American minister to France. Seduced by the sugges- without learning of her condition.
tion, the Englishman embarks on producing the narrative I prefer Mount’s contemporary novels to his historical
that eventually constitutes most of the novel under review. ones. However, apart from its wretched first chapter and
At its centre Mount places Short’s protracted, tortuous its lamely facetious and therefore even more wretched last,
love affair with Rosalie (who is already married to her this is a highly accomplished work. Whether he is describ-
elderly uncle, the Duc de la Rochefoucauld), and in ing a visit that Short makes to the mansion in which
doing so puts under scrutiny the hypothesis, advanced by Mesmer, magic rod in hand, receives the patients who will
the straight American, that his compatriots are incapable submit to his treatment by animal magnetism, evoking the
of sustaining a loving relationship. neoclassical architecture of C N Ledoux, or describing
Since Short is related to Jefferson (who regards him as Short’s meeting with the bewildered, incompetent Louis
an adoptive son), he meets through the great man a host XVI and Marie Antoinette, he has the ability to make one
of people whose lives of power and privilege will all too see everything with extraordinary clarity. The coolness of
soon be consumed by the flames of revolution. Mount his irony has a way of distancing one from the passions,
brilliantly evokes this doomed world, as his hero now delights and horrors that so constantly succeed each other;
enthusiastically humps his way through an extravagant but the overall picture is a memorable one.
orgy in one of the architectural follies of the Désert de The writer with whom Ferdinand Mount has most in
Retz, now listens to the mathematician and philosopher common in his historical novels is the Gore Vidal of
Condorcet hold forth at awesomely tedious length, now Burr, 1876 and Lincoln. There is the same erudition, the
admires Houdon’s ubiquitous portrait busts, and now same wit, and the same remarkable ability to imagine in
continues to carry on his secret liaison. Mount convinc- every detail a society in some ways so uncannily like our
ingly depicts Jefferson as a man of remarkable gifts, but own and in others so piquantly different.
also demonstrates how, as a consummate politician, he To order this book at £14.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16

54
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

writers inc.
Funded by the Arts Council
M ATT T HORNE
CELEBRATION
THE MEXICANS ARE COMING Friday 6 to Sunday 8 July
at the beautiful medieval Abbey at Sutton
I F YOU L IKED S CHOOL YOU ’ LL L OVE WORK Courtenay, Oxfordshire

By Irvine Welsh
(Jonathan Cape 320pp £11.99) This will be the thirtieth writers inc. residential
writing weekend held to be held at the Abbey. To
‘RATTLESNAKES’, THE OPENING story in Irvine Welsh’s If mark the occasion on the Saturday night (7.30pm)
You Liked School You’ll Love Work, his first collection since there will be a writers inc. party (in aid of the
1994’s The Acid House, is an extended dirty joke. Eugene, Abbey Restoration Fund) with readings from DAVID
Scott and Madeline, three young Americans, are out in CONSTANTINE, SUE HUBBARD, BERNARD O’DON-
the desert after frying their brains at Nevada’s notorious AGHUE, and MARIO PETRUCCI with music from
Burning Man festival. Eugene is surreptitiously mastur- TOM BUTTERWORTH (guitar)
bating in their shared tent when a snake bites his penis.
Eugene, who has lusted after Madeline for weeks, is des-
perate for her to suck the poison from his member, but There are four places still available for the resi-
dential writing
she’s too scared of catching a disease. Scott offers to do it
weekend (from £169) Call 020 8305 8844
instead, but Eugene is reluctant, suddenly afraid that his
To book for the party (tickets £15) ring the Abbey
friend is a closet homosexual. Realising he might die if
on 01235 847401
he refuses, he gives in. Then the Mexicans show up.
No other literary author could get away with this sort
of silly material. But when he’s operating at his best,
Welsh’s narrative control is so expert that he can elevate ******
anything, and ‘Rattlesnakes’ is scary, erotic and extreme-
ly funny. He performs a similar trick with the title story,
which initially seems like an over-familiar Sexy Beast IS JOURNALISM PROPER WRITING?
style tale of an expat English bar owner on the Costa Sunday 15 July 1.15 to 5.00 pm
Brava who fears his daughter is being drawn into a at the Barbican Library in the City of London
crime ring, with Welsh building up a powerful sense of
menace before revealing that the gangsters are actors, A writing workshop led by SUE HUBBARD and
and letting the dread collapse into comedy. His comedy ANDREW GILLIGAN
is based on knowing exactly when to subvert stereo- explores the skill of writing in journalism.
types, and the way he manages to do this is masterful.
A running joke in Welsh’s early novels was that every Tickets from the Barbican Box Office 020 7628 2326
book would have a scene in which a dog met an unfor- (capacity: 14 participants)
tunate end. So at first, the third story, ‘The DOGS of
Lincoln Park’, seems like a double play on this theme.
The ‘DOGS’ are ‘depressed, obsessive girl snobs’, a gang
of Chicago socialites. Kendra Cross, the leader of the ******
gang, has a papillon named Toto, and when a Korean
chef moves into her apartment and the dog disappears,
she becomes convinced that he has killed and eaten it.
Welsh maintains the possibility that the chef may have THE TOWNHOUSE AT TORROX
done exactly that and, furthermore, that he might also Two places still remain available for the writers
have killed Kendra the (human) DOG, reversing the inc. week long residential writing holiday in
structure of a horror story for humorous effect. Illegal Andalucia (from £350 – includes day trip to
dog-fighting also shows up elsewhere in the book. Granada)
Less good is ‘Miss Arizona’, a straightforward ‘Tales of To book ring writers inc. 020 8305 8844
the Unexpected’ story about a struggling hack writer and
wannabe director who has moved on from porn films to
writing a biography of an independent film director. After
tracking down the director’s widow, he finds her story so

LITERARY REVIEW July 2007


FICTION

inspiring it transforms the screenplay he’s writing and for showjumper, it’s essentially a rewrite of The Loneliness of
the first time in years his agent starts returning his calls. the Long Distance Runner (acknowledged in the story
But the widow comes up with a sinister way of making itself) and wears out its welcome long before the end.
sure he doesn’t leave her. Welsh works hard but his narra- At nearly four hundred pages, this is a generous col-
tor doesn’t convince, and although the ending may be a lection, and alongside last year’s The Bedroom Secrets of the
deliberate Roger Corman homage (the original Little Shop Master Chefs serves as proof that in spite of his burgeon-
of Horrors, maybe, or A Bucket of Blood), it feels predictable ing screenwriting career Welsh remains as committed to
compared to the plot twists in the rest of the collection. prose fiction as ever. If the success of Trainspotting has
While these four stories see Welsh expanding into new overshadowed much of his career so far, with recurrent
territory (his characters have always enjoyed travel, but it characters, reoccurring themes and stylistic connections
seems likely that his recent marriage to an American evident between his debut and much of his subsequent
woman may have inspired the three US-set stories), the work, If You Liked School You’ll Love Work feels like a
long, final tale ‘Kingdom of Fife’ is closer to his previous fresh start, and may usher in a new wave of appreciation
work. His use of Scottish vernacular here makes the story for an author who, whilst enjoying enormous commer-
his most demanding fiction yet, and while there are cial success and a cultural impact beyond most writers,
bright moments in the account of a relationship between has never quite received his critical due.
a jockey-tur ned-Subbuteo player and an aspir ing To order this book at £xx, see LR Bookshop on page xx

L OUISE G UINNESS When hearts are broken the women do the damage, but
gently, extricating themselves with apologetic grace.
THREADS OF LIFE Lively’s characters do not go in for histrionics.
This is a thoughtful, calm and enthralling book. Lively
examines the reality of human existence mainly through
C ONSEQUENCES Ruth. Is love all just a matter of biology, she ponders? Is
★ breeding forced on us by pheromones? And even if it is,
By Penelope Lively does that matter? ‘Suppose we just mated’, Ruth says,
(Fig Tree 305pp £16.99) ‘like animals. Sensible genetic behaviour.’ Death too
casts its long shadow over all the characters, and the
IN HER LATEST book, which tells the stories of three gener- grief seeps through the pages, almost agonisingly so at
ations of women, and the men who love them, Penelope times; and yet the atmosphere is far from sombre, not
Lively presents us with a wholesome vision of England. It least because Lively allows her characters the intelligence
begins in 1935, when a debutante called Lorna elopes with and courage to spurn the urge to define themselves by
a wood engraver, upsetting her mother’s plans to make a the tragedies they experience. They have the ability to
brilliant marriage. In a remote cottage in Somerset Lorna deal with sorrow and the imagination to appreciate all
learns to skin rabbits, grow vegetables and keep chickens. that is precious in life: happiness is described as ‘a sheer
Lively excels on the subject of tenderness, and this love relish for what’s on offer. An animal sort of feeling.’
affair is finely drawn; Lorna and Matt treat each other with As the novel unfolds, Lively deftly draws the fragment-
kindness, humour and wonder. They have a daughter, ed past together. The threads that bind Lorna, Molly and
Molly, but then war breaks out; by the time Matt volun- Ruth together are as strong and as fine as silk. Ruth
teers and is sent to Crete, the reader has a sense of forebod- makes a pilgrimage to Crete, where her grandfather was
ing. The tension, and Lorna’s heart, is broken in 1941 killed in action, and visits the graveyard where she even-
when the postman approaches ‘neither smiling nor waving, tually locates a little white headstone engraved with his
… the man is beyond apology; he is felled by what he has name, one among thousands. She has been taken to the
to do, made speechless. He simply holds out the telegram.’ spot by an impossibly good-looking guide called Manolo,
This is the prelude to the stories of Molly and, later, of and for one perilous moment the poignancy of this scene
her daughter Ruth. The women share a dogged bohemi- is threatened: is Ruth going to have a Shirley Valentine
anism and reject conformity in order to live in remote experience? Luckily Lively is too canny a writer to opt
cottages or tall, crooked houses inhabited by a motley for such an obvious ploy. I think it was just a tease.
collection of eccentrics. They organise poetry readings or Consequences shows Penelope Lively at the top of her
work in little art galleries. It is refreshing to read a book game. She writes beautifully about people doing their best,
by a female writer in which all the male characters have about generosity and compassion. She is prolific, having
an almost noble decency. They’re not interested in the now produced forty novels and short story collections,
material world. They run the little art galleries or anti- but she is never less than vigilant in her impeccable style
quarian bookshops; they mend motorcycles and write and in her pursuit of probing the heart of what matters.
poetry in their spare time. Some of them have beards. To order this book at £13.59, see LR Bookshop on page 16

56
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

L INDY B URLEIGH meets his soulmate, Francis Winham, and together they
indulge in muscular, militaristic fantasies, both deeply

DARK YOUNG THINGS ashamed of their parents’ effete liberalism and pacifism.
When the truth about his father is revealed to Charles
in a brutal fashion, his friendship with Francis is also
S AFE H OUSES destroyed, and his unease with his parents crystallises into
★ the rage that defines him. Edie’s brusque exculpatory
By David Pryce-Jones words – ‘if it doesn’t bother me, I don’t see why it should
(Sinclair-Stevenson 186pp £12.99) bother you’ – haunt his adult life and he remains ‘in
thrall to the past’, for ever emotionally trapped by the
SAFE HOUSES is a novel but it is written so convincingly greater drama and adventure of Adrian and Edie’s lives.
as a memoir, an unusually unsettling and poignant one, He is left private means by Edie’s brother killed in the
that it reads like thinly disguised autobiography. David war, gets through a couple of unsatisfactory marriages,
Pryce-Jones, an eminent historian, novelist and com- and travels in postwar Germany, where he uncovers more
mentator, keeps the reader guessing how closely the nar- dark secrets to indict a morally compromised generation.
rator’s unconventional childhood, spent before and dur- While David Pryce-Jones’s characters may be fictional,
ing the Second World War, resembles his own. The the anger he expresses, albeit in poised, measured prose,
intermingling of imaginary and real characters, as well as towards the intellectuals and artists who flirted with
the acutely observed period detail, brings a particular alternative lifestyles and radical politics in the aftermath
authenticity to the author’s vivid evocation of an era. of the First World War is genuine. The charge made
The steely and furious contempt with which the subject against them is that they are ‘wreckers, immersed in illu-
of the story, Adrian Maingard, is introduced sets the tone sion and flattery and mimicry, blurring every distinction
of the novel, and when it emerges that the incriminatory between right and wrong’, and that their careless social
narrative voice belongs to Charles Maingard, Adrian’s only and sexual experiments inflicted moral chaos and inse-
child, it seems, intriguingly, that this book is going to be curity on succeeding generations. At the end of his life
an elegantly written anatomy of a dysfunctional family. Charles’s vituperation subsides, but while there is regret
Adrian is a famous, but not quite brilliant, concert pianist, and sadness there is no spirit of forgiveness.
and he and his wife Edie are contemporaries of the elite To order this book at £10.39, see LR Bookshop on page 16
Bloomsbury circle (though firmly consigned to its fringes).
The critic John Middleton Murry, husband of Katherine
Mansfield and friend of D H Lawrence, is a visitor to their
house, but that’s as illustrious as it gets. Charles, a watchful,
solitary child, is mildly neglected by his parents, who
devote their energies to ‘art’ and the pursuit of Adrian’s
musical career. His early years, if lonely, pass comfortably
in Primrose Hill, where the Maingards live in a beautiful
Regency house which – like their prized possessions, a
Venetian chandelier and a painting by Guercino – has
been paid for by Edie’s parents, who bankroll their
Bohemian lifestyle. Among other things, working-class
Adrian stands accused of marrying for money.
Charles’s grievances against his parents seem to start –
rather unfairly perhaps – in earnest when their house is
hit by a stray bomb during the Blitz, leaving the family
homeless. He is evacuated to Wales to stay with his
mother’s parents as a result. Conservative by instinct and
taste, he immediately feels at home in the ordered, solid-
ly upper-middle-class world of his grandparents, and he
happily embraces the narrow conventionalism and cul-
tural philistinism which Edie was so desperate to escape.
Towards the end of the war the dispossessed Maingards
rent a cottage in the grounds of a grand estate in Kent,
giving Charles an insight into aristocratic life against
which his parents’ er ratic existence is, again,
unfavourably compared. At his progressive school he

57
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
FICTION

R ACHEL H ORE It frequently occurs to the reader that hardly any char-
acter in Minding earns the epithet ‘normal’. They are

Problems with certainly needy, most of them, from Billy’s obsessively


clean foster mother Fiona to lonely Maude, Jane’s next-
door neighbour, who tests the bed springs with wizened

Parenting old Alf from downstairs. Paling knows when to draw


lines, though – Jane’s confidante, a fellow hospital
inmate known for her wacky dress sense as The Sugar
M INDING Plum Fairy, might dole out wise advice, but she turns
★ out to be dangerously crazy.
By Chris Paling Chris Paling’s talent for wry observation saves his
(Portobello 192pp £7.99) novel from ever becoming depressing, earnest or dull.
And often he stirs us to r ighteous anger. Whilst
CHRIS PALING gives a voice to the powerless in this deli- acknowledging that Jane does need psychiatric treat-
cate and intimately drawn portrait of a mentally ill ment, one can’t help sharing in her vilification of some
woman who has been separated from her young son. of the professionals on her case who patronise her, make
Jane Hackett lives every day very carefully, taking her decisions without listening to her, and deny Billy suffi-
medication, keeping her flat clean, rarely going out, try- cient access to his mother. Like a rebellious citizen in a
ing, not always successfully, to appear ‘normal’ so that totalitarian state, Jane is old and savvy enough to play by
she’ll be allowed to see nine-year-old Billy once every their rules. Billy is too powerless even to insist that his
three months. Her beauty makes her the target of preda- foster parents call him by his correct name.
tory men, and her over-formal style of dress marks her To order this book at £6.40, see LR Bookshop on page 16
out to the casual observer as ‘odd’. Whereas her friend
Patrick at the second-hand bookshop (where she’ll buy
a book and sell it back to him when she’s read it) nods AUDIOBOOK
to her when she enters ‘as a compliment to her individ-
uality’, his less sensitive partner Fergus interprets the nod T HE P ORTRAIT OF A L ADY
as an indication that a loony has come into the shop. ★
This either/or approach to Jane becomes a shibboleth By Henry James
for the reader. We value most those characters who (Read by Gayle Hunnicutt)
accept her as she is. (Hodder & Stoughton Audiobooks 3 CDs Abridged £14.99)
Billy is a clear-sighted child. He recognises his moth-
er’s faults, remembers her tendency to lose control easily THE BEST THING about the first of these three CDs is the
– once after she failed to read the small print of a special reader, Gayle Hunnicutt. Her accents for the various
offer at a photographer’s studio; another time when a types of Americans transplanted abroad are spot on: they
school mate’s parent wouldn’t allow her child home to bring to life each character in Henry James’s masterpiece,
Billy’s for tea. Still he loves his mother and wants only to first published in 1881. Like most Jamesian plots, it is slow
be with her. The powers that be, however, have decided to get going, but Hunnicutt’s skill keeps us patient as the
they know better and have placed him with unsuitable large cast is assembled. The action and characterisations
foster parents whose infertile marriage is probably head- that follow are worth the wait. Isabel Archer is the ‘Lady’
ing for the rocks. Practically all he has to remember Jane of the title (‘well-born for an American’) who has all the
by is an elderly bar of chocolate she once gave him, on gifts except judgment. Her charming invalid cousin,
the wrapper of which she scribbled an address. When Ralph, lives at Gardencourt, a delightful English country
she misses an appointment with him because she’s in house, with his old banker father whom Ralph persuades
hospital again, he runs away to find her. to give half his legacy to Isabel: ‘I want her to be rich so
Billy’s got a raw deal with his parenting. So had his she will not have to marry for support,’ he explains –
mother before him, which goes some way to explain her adding, with unconscious foresight, ‘The risk is she may
mental instability. Her father abused her in some unspeci- fall victim to a fortune-hunter.’ A popular English noble-
fied fashion, then both parents abandoned her – we learn man, Lord Warburton, proposes, but as Isabel tells her
more of this in Paling’s plausibly redemptive ending. As other suitors, she prizes her liberty. Then without warn-
an adult she longs for the stability of a loving partner, ing to the reader, she marries another American abroad
keeps precious mementos of her fleeting relationship with unlike anyone she knows. What does this remarkable lady
Billy’s father, a married man named John. A newspaper do when she then discovers he is vile and has married her
story about John’s demise engenders the breakdown that for her money?
wipes out her longed-for appointment with their son. Susan Crosland

58
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
SILENCED VOICES

A S THE U NITED Nations, the L UCY P OPESCU because the authorities refuse
European Union and America all to divulge information regard-
seek to re-engage with Syria on M ICHEL K ILO ing numbers or names of those
Lebanon and Iraq, it is worth detained on political or security-
remembering the situation for writers and human rights related charges. It is virtually impossible for local human
activists working in Syria. Exactly a year after his arrest rights groups to function in Syria, which makes it hard to
on 14 May 2006, a prominent Syrian writer was jailed gather reliable information on political prisoners.
for his dissident writing and pro-reform activities. According to SHRC, all media sources in Syria are
Michel Kilo is one of ten Syrian civil-society activists ‘owned by the ruling regime, and reflect its view exclu-
who were arrested last year for their support of the sively, whilst celebrating its achievements and attacking
‘Beirut–Damascus Declaration’ of 12 May 2006, which and criminalising its opponents’. The authorities continue
called for the establishment of diplomatic relations to ban various Internet websites, including those owned
between Lebanon and Syria based on respect for each by the Syrian opposition and human rights organisations.
country’s sovereignty. According to Human Rights In September 2006 in these pages I wrote about
Watch, the declaration ‘called on Syria to recognize Professor Aref Dalila, former Dean of the Faculty of
Lebanon’s independence, highlighted the importance of Economics at Damascus University, arrested during the
improving economic ties on the basis of transparency, ‘Damascus Spring’ for a lecture in which he alleged offi-
rejected attempts to impose economic sanctions on the cial corruption and called for democracy and transparen-
Syrian people, and condemned attacks on Syrian workers cy. Like Kilo, he was charged with ‘weakening national
in Lebanon’. It was signed by several hundred Syrian and sentiment’. In October 2004 I focused on Dr Abdul
Lebanese nationals and was released the day before a draft Aziz Al-Khayer, sentenced in 1992 to twenty-two years’
resolution produced by America, Britain and France imprisonment for his membership of the non-violent
went before the United Nations Security Council calling Party for Communist Action. Al-Khayer was released in
on Syria to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty. November 2005, under a presidential amnesty, but
On 13 May 2007 Kilo was finally charged with Dalila remains in prison, in very poor health, recent
‘spreading false news, weakening national feeling and information suggesting that he has suffered a stroke.
inciting sectarian sentiments’ and sentenced to three Kilo has been a vocal critic of Syria, particularly dur-
years in prison. He was convicted by the Damascus ing the UN inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese
Criminal Court. Kilo is a writer and journalist who has Prime Minister Rafiq Hairiri, and has suffered persistent
written for the leading Lebanese daily Al-Nahar and the harassment from the Syrian authorities over the years as
London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi a result of his work in support of democratic rights.
(http://www.alquds.co.uk). He is also a widely respect- There has been an international outcry about his recent
ed member of Syria’s domestic opposition. sentencing. Human rights organisations believe his impris-
Many see his sentencing as part of a wider crackdown onment is solely for his legitimate and peaceful pro-reform
against pro-reform activists and government opponents activities and therefore in violation of his internationally
in Syria in recent months. This includes the twelve-year recognised right to freedom of expression. Amnesty
prison sentence with hard labour handed down on 11 International point out that in pre-trial detention Kilo was
May 2007 to Dr Kamal al-Labwani, a physician and held in poor conditions, at times without adequate bed-
founder of the Democratic Liberal Gathering; while on ding or bed. He was reportedly prohibited from attending
25 April 2007 Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent human his mother’s funeral, although it is an established practice
rights lawyer and another of the ten civil-society activists in Syria to allow prisoners to attend their parents’ funerals.
arrested for their support of the declaration, was sen- Amnesty also believes that the fact that Kilo is detained in
tenced to five years in prison on politically motivated ’Adra prison, with suspected and convicted common
charges. In fact the London-based Syrian Human Rights criminals rather than with political prisoners, is a further
Committee (SHRC) cite the period beginning May attempt to de-legitimise his peaceful pro-democracy work.
2006 as the lowest point for human rights in Syria since Readers may like to send appeals calling for the release
Bashar Al-Assad became President in 2000. of Michel Kilo in accordance with Article 19 of the
However, these arrests are nothing new. Syria has a his- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to
tory of imprisoning outspoken writers and critics of the which Syria is a signatory, to:
regime. Political prisoners frequently face unfair trials or His Excellency President Bashar al-Assad
are detained for long periods without charge or trial. President of the Republic
They are often held incommunicado, where they may be Presidential Palace
subject to torture or ill-treatment. SHRC estimated at Abu Rummaneh, Al-Rashid Street
one point that about 4,000 political prisoners were Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
detained in Syria. It is difficult to know exact numbers Fax: 00 963 11 332 3410

59
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
CRIME

C HRISTOPHER ’ S G HOSTS J ESSICA M ANN indefatigable, and always able to


★ spring back as good as new from tor-
By Charles McCarry ture or endurance tests.
(Duckworth 272pp £16.99)
T HE O NE FROM THE OTHER
EVEN if you haven’t come across any ★
previous episodes in this series about her baby – and then two more By Philip Kerr
a family of spies, Christopher’s Ghosts young women are found dead, the (Quercus 384pp £12.99)
would be worth reading for its con- scenes of the crimes horribly remi-
vincing portrayal of an American niscent of the unforgotten past. This BERNIE Gunther was an honest cop
family in Berlin in 1939. Sixteen- is a very sophisticated and compe- in a dishonest place and time, pre-
year-old Paul understands more of tent first novel to join the expanding war Berlin. We meet him again in
what’s going on around him than his brigade of Glasgow police procedu- 1949. He’s been in the SS and he’s
novelist father, who cannot believe rals: at once humane, horrifying and been a Russian prisoner of war, and
that American immunity won’t pro- exciting. now, in Munich, finds it’s a place
tect his family. But his wife is a bubbling with conspiracy and cor-
German, endeavouring in desperate G ONE W ITHOUT T RACE ruption, the war’s shadow
secrecy to make a bargain with the ★ inescapable. Bernie is setting up as a
authorities; and meanwhile Paul is By Caroline Carver private eye and is offered a simple-
playing but losing the undefined bat- (Orion 320pp £18.99) sounding job: is his client’s husband
tle with the Gestapo major who has dead? His investigation gets him
discovered his secret: he has fallen in AN exciting adventure, centered on involved with people who commit-
love with the daughter of a Jewish the horrible legacy of the Balkans ted crimes during the war, and vic-
doctor. The second half of the book War. Jay McCauley, formerly a cap- tims on the lookout for revenge. The
jumps to postwar Europe, when Paul tain in the army, has not been in a relatively innocent but irredeemably
is a CIA operative and is running a war zone for five years but she still remorseful Bernie is a good compan-
private operation to track down the dodges plastic bags in the road ion for visiting the horrors of the
Gestapo major. No happy outcome because they might contain a bomb past.
to the love affair was possible, but and still retains all her hard-won
revenge is sweet. For McCarry fans physical and intellectual skills. She T HE S NAKE S TONE
the story fills in some gaps in the certainly needs them as she confronts ★
career of one of espionage fiction’s the worst kind of gangsters, all By Jason Goodwin
most interesting heroes and inciden- involved in people-trafficking, drug- (Faber & Faber 308pp £12.99)
tally explains some of the tantalising dealing and putting the frighteners
hints in the previous volume. But on; but Jay is something of a super- IT’S a pleasure to meet again the infi-
you don’t need to be familiar with woman –multilingual, multiskilled, nitely civilised and intelligent Yashim,
the characters to read this beautifully eunuch of Istanbul and amateur
written book. detective. In this second adventure he
has been commissioned to find out
A BSOLUTION more about a French archaeologist
★ who has arrived intending to uncover
By Caro Ramsay a lost Byzantine treasure. Yashim finds
(Penguin 416pp £12.99) himself investigating the archaeolo-
Enrobe your copies in a gist’s murder instead. The vivid por-
I N 1984 a young police cadet, trait of the lost world of the Ottoman
recently bereaved, is assigned the
handsome black binder Empire seems to carry with it the
apparently easy job of sitting beside with smart gold lettering faint whiff of the mysterious East.
the hospital bed of the nameless, on the spine. There is the Sultan, (in theory all-
unrecognisable victim of an acid powerful, in fact constrained like a
attack. When we meet him again in jewel in a box), there is the melting
Chapter Two, twenty years later, the
£10 UK/£12.50 elsewhere pot of races, the temptation of trea-
(inc. postage & packing)
young cadet has become a happily sure, the voice of reason and the cries
married Detective Chief Inspector, Tel: 020 7437 9392 of prejudice – a rich mixture adding
but his dreams are still haunted by Email editorial@literaryreview.co.uk up to an excellent and enjoyable
the long-dead young woman and crime novel.

60
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
CRIME

T HE Y IDDISH P OLICEMEN ’ S N EW E NGLAND W HITE A ND D ON ’ T M ISS :


U NION ★
★ By Stephen L Carter Die With Me by Elena Forbes
By Michael Chabon (Jonathan Cape 556pp £17.99) (Quercus 352pp £12.99). A very
(Fourth Estate 432pp £17.99) well-written, cleverly plotted first
THIS is an enthralling literary thriller novel about one bad man, a series of
TWO million of the ‘frozen Chosen’ based on two murders: one, thirty deluded young women, and a suicide
live in Sitka, Alaska, the homeland years ago, which was covered-up, and pact that leads to murder.
lent to European Jews in 1939. Now one, contemporary, of a celebrated Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith
the lease is up and the Jews are about professor of economics who was a (Pan Macmillan 352pp £17.99).
to be evicted from their cold home- notorious lothario. Suspicion falls on Investigator Renko finds himself
land. This is alter native history his former lovers, one of them this increasingly at odds with the new
(Roosevelt really did plan to settle book’s heroine. The plot is gripping; right-turning Russia. Relentlessly
Jews in Alaska) combined with a but the description of ‘the darker depressing, but brilliant all the same.
murder mystery when a junkie chess nation’ in ‘the heart of whiteness’ is Slip Knot by Priscilla Masters (Allison
master, son of an influential rabbi, is the most interesting feature. The & Busby 282pp £18.99). A vivid story
found dead. One good man, a drunk author is an African-American profes- of contemporary life. School bullying
and disobedient cop, whose ex-wife sor at Yale, and the principal characters ends in tragedy – not so much a who-
is his boss , plunges into an under- are an African-American power cou- dunnit or a whydunnit but a ‘how can
world of orthodox gangs with rabbi ple: the president of a university in we prove it’. The investigator is a single
bosses. The detecting is spiced up New England and his wife, a dean at mother with a social conscience who is
with wisecracks, lavish black humour its Divinity School. These clever, dis- also the local coroner.
and rather too much Yiddish word- tinguished, rich people may be best End Games by Michael Dibdin
play. Chabon’s energetic, expansive friends with the President of the (Faber & Faber 356pp £12.99),
style and originality make this well United States, but in their minds they which sadly appears just after the
worth reading, but it’s a rich dish; are suspicious and insecure, perpetual author’s death and must therefore be
only choose it if you’re feeling strong. outsiders; it’s a dangerous combination. Aurelio Zen’s last bow.

61
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
N IGHT & DAY G RAND P OETRY P RIZE

IAIN COLLEY wins first prize R EPORT BY T OM F LEMING each. Next month’s topic is
this month. The subject was ‘Home’. Please send your
‘The Gift’. He gets £300; Shirley Curran, in second entries to arrive by 25th July. Poems should rhyme,
place, gets £150; and everyone else printed gets £10 scan and make sense - harder than it sounds.

FIRST PRIZE When he gave her that bird in a tree and some doves,
TIMEO DANAOS ET DONA FERENTES But then came the hens and the swans and the geese
by Iain Colley And she hoped his obsession with poultry would cease.
They’ve got a word – ‘hubristic’. That was us.
We thought they’d done their worst and gone away, Half-buried in guano, she had to confess
stymied by Trojan resolution. Plus She’d have liked him the more if he’d given her less.
they’d left this wooden horse as if to say But he kept right on giving and, after the birds,
‘you win’ – dirty great thing, we never thought Except for some rings, it got really absurd.
we’d get it through the gate. Although we did,
and what a dumb move that was. We got caught, She got maidens who milked and ladies who danced
just when we were rejoicing we’d got rid. And lords who were leaping right out of their pants
The doom-and-gloom Laocoön was right And pipers apiping and drummers a-drumming
(much good it did him, though). The bloody horse And then, on day twelve, the presents stopped coming.
was packed with squaddies armed and fit to fight.
That’s Greeks for you – low cunning and brute force, By now she was sure that the man was insane
a deadly combination. Bid adieu, And vowed that she’d never come near him again
then sneak back in mobhanded. Rotten sods. Which shows beyond doubt, that it would have been nice
I figured ‘nemesis’ (that’s their word too) If, when shopping for gifts, he had asked for advice.
and legged it pronto, praying to the gods
those hoplites wouldn’t catch me, spent a week FORETELLING by G McIlraith
holed up in someone’s cellar. We were stiffed, ‘She has the Gift,’ they said. ‘You are doubly blest.’
and no mistake. So never trust a Greek, They took her away from me, from the sheltering clachan,
even when he is handing you a gift. Off to that holy isle in the rainswept west,
Roars of an alien ocean, no lulling lochan.
SECOND PRIZE
PROMETHEUS by Shirley Curran Sheep are still lambing and I am barren, bereft
Oh yes, you prized my gift, you wretched men, Of the consolation she gave, that chosen child.
shivering in winter caves. You thanked me when ‘She will be happy with us,’ they promised, and left
boldly I brought you fire. A glowing coal, Me with the pain she will know when her dreams are
hidden in my fennel wand, rashly I stole wild.
from the fierce Titans’ hearth. In that bleak night
you welcomed blazing logs. With wild delight Peewits are nesting, gorse is in sunny bloom.
you stewed the stringy flesh: no need to gnaw Where is the black-haired girl with deep strange eyes,
on frozen mammoth bones, to rip and claw She who sees death-marked men and cannot reverse
the raw and bloody meat. My gift of fire their doom,
roused Zeus whose injured pride and vengeful ire Hearing the warning notes in the seabirds’ cries?
chained me on Caucasus. Now here I lie;
daily Ethon devours my liver. ‘Why’ Far in the west, where the dying sun bleeds rays
I fiercely ask, ‘suffer this torment when Into amassing clouds, they will train her soon
I witness the perversity of men?’ How to forget her past while she learns their ways,
I gave you a good servant for your needs. Nurses her gift and watches the waxing moon.
Now angrily I watch the violent deeds
of your proud master, fire: the ravaged earth, GIVING by D A Prince
whole forests burned, vast greed, an ashy dearth I like to give, she tells me, peering at the tin,
of fuel. Awash with grief, I sadly learn but mainly animals. A man slips in a pound
to rue my gift of fire. Long may you burn! and winks. As though he knows it’s easier getting in
small change to help a donkey sanctuary, or found
JUST WHAT SHE ALWAYS WANTED another cats’ home. Even in the rain it’s tough
by J Garth Taylor to coax the cash for homeless, or the refugees,
In the first days of Christmas, she thought it was love or the depressed and hopeless, finding life too rough

62
LITERARY REVIEW July 2007
N IGHT & DAY G RAND P OETRY P RIZE

and needing someone listening, just a voice to ease CHANGE OF HEART by Alanna Blake
them back. And I’m the smile, and all the thank you-s here I smiled at his brash denial,
behind the tin. It isn’t only money, but the apology that was sent
a twoway thing, a small exchange – It’s not much, dear – with the gift-wrapped, gold-boxed phial
but it adds up. A few words, and the coppers put of grossly expensive scent –
more weight into the tin. How often it’s the old that fragrance my self once fancied
stretching their pensions, giving small scrapings of in its confident middle years;
their tightly-managed budgets – Thank you – and no cold the spiciness now turned rancid
shrug, but a generous smile. You’re welcome, love. reduced me to smarting tears.

PETRARCH Next week came the white carnations,


by Paul Griffin the lilies whose graveyard smell
In Avignon, one far Renaissance spring, impugned all his protestations
A sudden flood of verses filled the town that everything now would be well.
As Laura walked, and Petrarch set it down Oh, no, I won’t share the present
How female beauty made creation sing with her, I won’t toe their line.
And set an age of darkness glimmering; In future I won’t be complaisant –
His sonnets on the swinging of her gown, the rose-tinted past stays mine.
Made all hearts rise, and published her renown
As larks leave earth to carol on the wing. I willingly now bequeath her
what I pray she may find too much:
The gift of speech is lost: so many a year the fulltime, vacant possession
Poet and his adored have slept away of a man with a tenuous touch.
Their memory dies as well: we write in vain. The gift I’ll arrange to deliver
Come soon along some empty road, my dear, quite soon is designed to enforce
Laura, our lady, beautiful as day, my role as a generous giver –
And Petrarch too, to raise our hearts again. the papers that sue for divorce.

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