20th Century


It happened one summer

For those unfamiliar with Martin Amis’s short story, ‘What Happened to Me on My Holiday’, written for The New Yorker in 1997, it was a purist exercise in autobiographical fiction; not even the names were changed.


Not cowardly enough

Nobody who reads Nigel Farndale’s The Blasphemer is likely to complain about being short-changed.


Continuity under threat

This handsome and encouraging book is perhaps unfortunate in its title.

A lost masterpiece?

These long anticipated literary mysteries never end in anything very significant — one thinks of Harold Brodkey’s The Runaway Soul, falling totally flat after decades of sycophantic pre-publicity, or Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, emerging in fragments in 1975, after 17 years of non-work, to scandal but no acclaim.

Disunited from the start

Twice in the 20th century, men have sought to create a new world order.

Chic lit

First, I must declare an interest.

Facetious or scandalous?

Very funny guy, John O’Farrell.

Was he anti-Semitic?

Letters give us the life as lived — day-to-day, shapeless, haphazard, contingent, imperfect, authentic.

Engrossing obsessions

With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy.

Nothing succeeds like excess

In 1975, admitted to an institution for inveterate alcoholics, John Cheever alarmed and scandalised the staff by what they called inappropriate laughter:

Rural flotsam

Notwithstanding’s suite of inter- linked stories draws on Louis de Bernière’s memories of the Surrey village (somewhere near Godalming, you infer) where he lived as a boy.

Voices of change

Not every writer would begin a history of the 1950s with a vignette in which the young Keith Waterhouse treads on Princess Margaret by mistake.

Spies and counter-spies

The origin of this unique publication is the 1990s Waldegrave open government initiative, encouraging departments to reveal more.

Jim’s especial foibles

As a young man in the 1970s Michael Bloch was the architectural historian and diarist James Lees- Milne’s last (if, we are assured, platonic) attachment, and later became his literary executor.

Cries and whispers

Strange Days Indeed, by Francis Wheen