MixedAir MailAfter its treatment of Dahl’s childhood, Dennison’s biography becomes over-compressed ... It lacks the warm texture of Jeremy Treglown’s 1994 biography and doesn’t have any revelations. Yet it makes you feel grudging admiration for a bully whose self-belief was, in a way, heroic.
A N Wilson
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)The cover of Confessions shows him in arch-fogey mode at 32, with his natty attire, midwife’s bicycle and meek demeanour — but this memoir, which takes us up to his mid-thirties, wants to demolish such an image. From the start Wilson presents himself as a shameless badass ... Wilson is a torrentially readable autobiographer, capable of howlingly funny paragraphs, desperately sad scenes, gay slapstick, literary analysis and gossipy name-dropping in the same chapter. His pen portraits of his parents don’t express loathing but hard-won, slightly exhausted understanding. His rampant showing-off (the languages he speaks, the breadth of his reading, his chats with the Queen Mother) seem driven more by glee than conceit. Although I don’t want to read another word about his fight with God, I look forward enormously to reading more about this talented eccentric’s grapple with the flesh.
Clare Mac Cumhaill
RaveAir MailInvigorating ... The authors don’t try to present their heroines as proxy males; on the contrary they emphasize their femininity ... This fascinating work of historico-logico-feminism shows what led to that moment: how women fought their way on to the world stage of philosophy and turned its spotlight away from an analytical desert on to what was really important — moral clarity, wisdom and truth.
Elena Ferrante, tr. Ann Goldstein
MixedThe Sunday Times (UK)... pickings are slim ... There is, however, one real revelation in this book; it’s not a personal but a literary one ... You may have gathered that In the Margins will be most enjoyed by Ferrante completists. The rest of us may think that, however sublime her fiction, the Neapolitan recluse in reflective mode is a little too precious and opaque to be much fun. We may also suspect that, were Ms Ferrante to hand over the till receipts from a recent trip to a Naples supermercato, an Italian publisher would be perfectly happy to bring them out in hard covers, pronto.
Paul McCartney, Ed. by Paul Muldoon
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)... a gravity, reverence and sense of occasion that hasn’t been seen since the Levites rolled out the Ark of the Covenant ... Do the words alone bear scrutiny? Lyrics shorn of music can seem very flat, unless they’re written by WS Gilbert or Cole Porter. McCartney’s elicit a variety of responses. Some, from the Sgt Pepper or Abbey Road albums, are so familiar...that the music plays in your head as you read them. Others are dully prosaic ... His accompanying commentary, McCartney admits, is the closest to an autobiography we’ll get ... There are indeed many genuine insights ... Sometimes [Muldoon] strives for an implausible resonance ... One can perhaps detect Muldoon’s hand here, guiding a song towards significance ... We’re given some lovely details about McCartney’s family ... he sometimes writes as if naivety is his default setting. This vast, absorbing book is studded with McCartneyisms that make you rub your eyes[.]
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)This book is a luxuriant trawl through the recovered past. It’s an invigorating, if breathless, ride. Film stars and fascists, dukes and dinosaurs, beauties and monsters, aesthetes and queens...Sad to report, many are negative, bitchy and contradictory ... The most interesting parts of this book, however, are those in which Vickers becomes snugly embedded in the milieu that mostly rejected Beaton ... On page 44 of this extraordinary book, Vickers reveals (in a footnote): \'I had spent much of my teenage years making models of living figures\'. You may wonder if, in publishing these diary entries, he isn’t so much celebrating the monstres sacrés he met in the 1980s as cutting them down to the size of his figurines.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... winningly brisk. We positively gallop through Fyodor’s youth ... Reducing such a crazily eventful life to 240 pages can make it seem farcical, like a speeded-up film, and sometimes Dostoevsky in Love strays into novelettish scenes and dialogues. Christofi gratingly mix’n’matches different registers of narrating voice ... By the end, though, when The Brothers Karamazov is published to acclaim and Dostoevsky’s coffin is cheered through the St Petersburg streets by thousands of fans, you feel you know pretty well the texture of his life and the rhythm of his obsessions. Forced to choose between Christofi’s patchwork quilt and the vast cathedral of Joseph Frank’s five-volume intellectual biography, modern readers might be forgiven for picking the former.
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)Richard Greene skilfully teases out the political backgrounds of these dismal locations, and the real-life people whom he transformed into fictions. He shows Greene’s amazing knack of turning up when trouble is rumbling ... Less successful is his treatment of the knotty religious cruxes that hover over Greene’s key novels ... The trouble isn’t Richard Greene’s grasp of metaphysics; it’s that, to 21st-century readers, discussions of damnation and God’s mercy sound redundant ... As Greene’s rate of book and film production increases, the narrative becomes a dizzying merry-go-round of travel, publication, sex, alcohol, religion, money, adultery, self-loathing, intrigue and betrayal. Sometimes these elements overlap so dramatically, you feel you’re reading a parody ... The book, elegantly sliced into 78 chapters, bounds along with fluency, clarity and wry humour. It doesn’t deliver startling revelations to eclipse Norman Sherry’s three-volume authorised life, but its agenda is clear. Greene concentrates on his namesake’s emotional involvement with victims of oppression in the world’s poorest countries and the Cold War, celebrating his vigorous defence of dissidents, from his old boss Kim Philby to his friend Chuchu Martinez, who ran arms to Nicaraguan rebels. He rescues Greene from seediness and coldness.
RaveThe Times (UK)Anyone expecting an uplifting tale of collaborative striving for artistic purity is in for a shock ... The film shoot yields many good stories ... This is a densely textured, well-researched, lushly overwritten portrait of a time when Hollywood film-makers behaved with passionate individualism and artistic boldness — and of all the massive rows, betrayals, sexual excesses and general badassery that entailed. Film fans will love the behind-the-scenes access to movie town legends, and buffs will relish the details. If you need to know the typewriter brand used by Towne, the reason Nicholson was called \'the Weaver\' when young, or the designer frock worn by Anjelica Huston at the Oscars, this is the book for you.
RaveThe IndependentThe 500-plus pages of Life throb with energy, pulsate with rhythm and reverberate with good stories. It\'s a chronicle that takes the only-child Keith, with his shifty eyes and sticky-out ears, from wartime Dartford to the furthest shores of stardom, as the living essence of rock \'n\' roll, the walking spliff, the human riff ... He tells it with complete, reckless, disclosure. Sometimes it sounds like a man ranting into a tape machine; sometimes, in the tidier and more reflective sections, you can detect the hand of his co-writer, James Fox. But the watchwords of this book are honesty, confessionalism, telling it straight.
PositiveThe IndependentHitch-22 is a 420-page apologia pro vita sua in which the personal and the political are constantly entwined. The early chapters offer wonderful evocations of his parents ... \"Suave\" is perhaps the best word to describe his prose style. No matter how noisy the buzz of the late-1960s revolutionary movements, no matter how passionate the warring ideologists, Hitchens always contrives to sound detached, loftily appreciative, self-admiring, as much at home fondling a leather-bound wine list as a Marxist tract ... Initially mortified by the moral burden, Hitchens links up with Daily\'s family and evokes the soldier\'s life with heartfelt tenderness. It\'s the emotional highlight of an extremely beguiling book - by turns passionate and defensive, argumentative and seductive – from a man who stood several times at the gate of history and was never satisfied with what he saw.
PositiveThe Times (UK)The first shy overtures between writers and their future publisher are the most enjoyable bits of this history of Faber, told through letters, memos, news stories and catalogue entries ... We also read about profit forecasts, cash-flow problems, stock options and takeover threats — fascinating to some, but about as intrinsically riveting as the boardroom memos of a double-glazing firm in Uttoxeter. What stays in the mind are some brilliant vignettes: Monteith writing to the Travellers’ Club secretary to apologise for his lunch guest Thom Gunn’s fringed leather jacket and cowboy boots ... CP Snow’s insufferable conceitGeoffrey Faber, fire watching in the 1940s and, from the Faber roof, seeing London ablaze.
RaveThe Sunday TimesNicolson is himself a sublime and word-intoxicated nature writer ... This is a book of wonders. The 46 woodcuts by the artist Tom Hammick, vividly elemental studies of trees, skies, horses, pathways, homes and figures in landscapes, in glowing poster-paint colours, are a treat. Nicolson’s prose swoops and sings all over the landscape; his poets’ embeddings in nature and interconnections of thought are richly evoked, and his enjoyment of their (and his) journey into understanding is utterly infectious. Wordsworth and Coleridge, were they able to read his fabulous tribute in some Parnassian glade, would surely tip their hats to a kindred spirit.
RaveThe Times (UK)\'People mutht be amuthed,\' says the lisping Mr Sleary in Dickens’s Hard Times. \'They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they ain’t made for it.\' Palaces of Pleasure demonstrates in dazzling multiplicity the truth of this view, as Lee Jackson investigates the 19th-century \'invention\' of the public house, the gin palace, the music hall, the dancing-room, the palace of varieties, the exhibition ground, the seaside resort and the football field ... The author is a serious academic, his researches oceanic and his arguments exhaustive, his subject as much economic as social history. But he delights in examples of Victorian idiocy ... A giddy delight sometimes breaks through Mr Jackson’s sober researches, as if he is personally entranced by the Victorians’ passion for amusement ... Readers of this scholarly but intoxicating book will share the author’s glee.
Jean Moorcroft Wilson
RaveThe Times (UK)Jean Moorcroft Wilson, the veteran biographer of First World War poets, devotes 10 of her 24 chapters to Graves’s wartime experience, from his joining the army a week after Britain declared war, to his exemption from service with damaged lungs in 1918 ... an exemplary biography and a terrific entertainment. Moorcroft Wilson knows the territory of war inside out, and explores Graves’s peculiar psyche with sympathy but a sharp eye for his failings. She brings this difficult, unlovable but strangely impressive man yelpingly to life.
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"Balint fascinatingly examines how much was at stake for Germany and Israel in claiming Kafka as their man ... Balint... has minutely researched every twist and turn of this politico-legal saga, and tells it with even-handed seriousness. Although his ceaseless namechecking of all the participating librarians and lawyers can become tedious, he is astute in presenting the action in Kafkaesque terms ... This is the story of the cultural struggle between two nations obsessed with the past, for possession of a literary saint. It is also a fascinating study of the saint himself, whose sense of his own ambivalence gives the book a lovely epilogue.\