Book reviews

Kill or cure

Frederic Raphael was the first man to use a four-letter word in The Spectator: the work of his fellow playwright Stephen King-Hall, he wrote in 1957, made him ‘puke’.


Rather in the lurch

Will it ever end? The romantic interest in the architecture, history and life lived in the country house is as alive today as it was in 1978, when Mark Girouard wrote his seminal Life in the English Country House.

Whatever next?

Philip Hensher’s King of the Badgers is set in Hanmouth, a small English coastal town described so thickly that it is established from the outset as effectively a character in itself.


The wisdom of youth

‘You must write it all down’ is the age-old plea to elderly relatives about their childhood memories.


Bookends: Murder in the dark

When the Observer critic Philip French started writing on the cinema in the early 1960s, he once explained in an…

A world of her own

This book, written by someone whose husband was for three years prime minister of Britain, is impossible to review.


Haitian horrors

Twenty years ago, in 1991, I was shown round the National Palace in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.


The trail goes cold

For centuries, the history of the far North was a tapestry of controversies and mis- understandings, misspellings, dubious arrivals and equally dubious departures.


In the pink

In 1988 Katherine Swift took a lease on the Dower House at Morville Hall, a National Trust property in Shropshire, and created a one-and-a-half acre garden in what had been a field.


The passionate friend

Sam Leith explores H. G. Wells’s addiction to free love, as revealed in David Lodge’s latest biographical novel

Bookends: Capital rewards

London has been the subject of more anthologies than Samuel Pepys had hot chambermaids. This is fitting, as an anthology’s appeal — unexpected juxtaposition — matches that of the capital itself. But it does mean that any new contender has to work hard to justify its publication.


The masters in miniature

Jeremy Treglown finds something for everyone in Penguin’s new Mini Modern series

A clash of commerce and culture

Other People’s Money — and How the Bankers Use It by Louis D. Brandeis was a collection of articles about the predatory practices of big banks, published in book form in 1914. Nearly a century later, it remains in print. In 1991 Danny de Vito starred as ‘Larry the Liquidator’ in the film Other People’s Money. The wanton boys of banking sport with us in life and art and in Justin Cartwright’s latest novel.


Iron in the blood

How curious that such an outsize man, in physique as well as personality, should be remembered today mainly for giving his name to a small fish.

Glutton for punishment

With its vast areas of barely explored wilderness, and its heady mix of the sublime, the bizarre and the lushly seductive, South America would appear to have all the ingredients to attract the travel writer.


A grief ago

The cautionary slogan ‘less is more’ has never been the American writer Joyce Carol Oates’ watchword.


Sins of the fathers

The papacy is in good shape and looks set to last another 2,000 years, says Paul Johnson; but too few popes in the past have been pious or clement or innocent

A chorus of disapproval

At more than 700 pages including appendices, Guardian writer Dorian Lynskey’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs…

Triumph and disaster

The title of this first novel refers to a version of childhood as a magical kingdom where evil can be overturned and heaven and earth remade at the whim of a power-crazed infant.


Nostalgie de la boue

In the late 1960s I grew up in the London borough of Greenwich, which in those days had a shabby, post-industrial edge.

Design for living

The first thing to be said about this remarkable book is that it has nothing to do with animal rights.


‘We’ll always have Paris’

The long war between France and the US has its liveliest consequence in the world of film: Hollywood does movies, the French do cinema.


Rogues’ gallery

The distinguished writer Brian Masters in his handsomely produced book on the actors of the Garrick Club has set himself a formidable task.


The missing millions

Victor Sebestyen is haunted by some newly translated eye-witness accounts, written by both captor and captives, detailing the horrors of the Gulag


About 80 per cent of books sold in this country are said to be bought by women, none more eagerly than Joanna Trollope’s anatomies of English middle-class family life. Her 16th novel, Daughters-in-Law (Cape, £18.99), is sociologically and psychologically as observant as ever, showing how not to be a suffocatingly possessive mother-in-law.