• Books,  Television

    The Boxing Day Murder

    This is the time of year when pundits make predictions. I have one. I am going to be furious on Boxing Day evening. The reason? Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie is showing on BBC1 at 9pm, and I bet it’s going to be a travesty. She has form. Phelps’ version of Ordeal by Innocence was shown back in April. I have written about the damnable lurid mess that Phelps made of one of Christie’s best novels with its theme of corrosive suspicion and a fifties atmosphere of Sputniks and bubble cars and evacuees grown up. Phelps turned it into a Gothic melodrama, dragged in the…

  • Books

    The Norman Geras Reader

    A collection of writings by our much-missed friend Norm Geras has been published by Manchester University Press. I was fortunate to meet Norm when he visited Washington, DC, some years ago, and I was among the Harry’s Place authors honored with one of his profiles.

  • Books,  Obama

    Obama the reader

    Let me stipulate that Barack Obama’s avid book-reading did not necessarily make him a better president (or a worse president, for that matter). Nor does the fact that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to read many books (although he has published several ghost-written books) necessarily mean that he will be a bad president. (There are plenty of other reasons to expect that.) That said, The New York Times’s chief book critic Michiko Kakutani conducted an interview with Obama about his reading (and writing) preferences. Among the revelations: • He gave his daughter Malia, a college freshman, a Kindle with Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred…

  • Books,  Zeitgeist

    2016 on its death bed

    As the old year of 2016 is now dying, here are some of my favourite pieces of writing about death. This came to mind because of the very recent death of Richard Adams. The death scene which ends Watership Down – well, there must be a German word which describes knowing something is sentimental, yet still being moved by it. Disneyschmerz perhaps? The nature-loving agnostic imagines an afterlife with as false a comfort as angels escorting the departed to heaven yet a rabbit soul eternally scampering through the beech woods has great charm. By now the reader has come to like and respect Hazel and enjoy the rabbit’s eye view…

  • Books,  History,  War etc

    War Stories

    For years afterwards in the 1950s, the war remained an inexhaustible subject with a huge audience. The memory thus transmitted to later generations is a fragmentary one. An obvious reason is the unparalleled extent and complexity of Britain’s war. For Russians, arguably the war can be encapsulated by the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad, the core of Vasily Grossman’s… Life and Fate. For Americans, memory seems to focus on Pacific islands and D-Day. For the French, on the “syndrome” of occupation, collaboration and resistance. But for Britain, the only European country to have fought the whole war, it cannot be easily abbreviated. Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the…

  • Books,  War etc

    The World Federation

    One reason I like John Wyndham’s sci fi novels is that they happen in a recognisable political world.  A disaster happens, the Triffids take over and society falls apart, and when the world floods in The Kraken Wakes the government shows itself to be believably ineffectual. I’m not up with sci-fi  so don’t know how true this is:- In optimistic visions of the future, there is a liberal and democratic world government, or perhaps an interplanetary federation. In dystopias, there is a single global tyranny. In post-apocalyptic novels and movies set in the aftermath of a nuclear war, nuclear bombs seem to off gone off everywhere in the world, even…

  • Books,  Freedom of Expression

    The Unread Guards

    So there’s Lionel Shriver mischievously addressing the Brisbane Writers Festival about cultural appropriation through the sillier examples of sombreros and sushi and, more seriously, making the old cry for artistic freedom and the play of the imagination. Although what she said was not startling it did inspire performance art. One was from Yassmin Abdel-Magied who staged a walk out and whose article on why she did so the Guardian cruelly published. She was duly minced in the comments. What did Shriver say in her keynote that could drive a woman who has heard every slur under the sun to discard social convention and make such an obviously political exit? Her…

  • Books

    John le Pilger

    Guest post by Sackcloth & Ashes At the conclusion of John le Carre’s 1974 spy-thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the donnish spook George Smiley confronts ‘Gerald’, the Soviet mole within British intelligence (in case anyone has yet to read the novel or see the TV series or 2011 film, I won’t name ‘Gerald’ immediately so as to avoid a spoiler). ‘Gerald’ is now in custody, having been exposed as a traitor after an investigation by Smiley, and during the course of their conversation the latter asks him why he became an agent for ‘Moscow Centre’. ‘Gerald’ responds with a self-serving and extended diatribe about American imperialism, and Britain’s disgraceful subservience…

  • Books,  Christmas,  Dress Down Christmas

    Have yourself a dreary little Christmas

    Christmas is the season for potted histories of the festival. Bolted on to the pagan solistice, celebrated for twelve feasting days in the middle ages, half stamped out by the Puritans under Cromwell, which caused pro Christmas riots.  Christmas was fading from the scene under the Georges and then revived by the Victorians.  Prince Albert brought the Germanic Christmas with him, the emphasis being on a family celebration.  Charles Dickens turned it into the season of “hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness” via A Christmas Carol and the country Christmas among snow in The Pickwick Papers. The commercialising civilisation of the Victorians invented crackers and Christmas cards and left us with the mish-mash…

  • Book Review,  Books

    Dear Infidel

    Tamim Sadikali’s Dear Infidel explores the dynamics of two British Muslim families, cousins, as they prepare for Eid ul-Fitr and look back on the events which have shaped them. I found it both absorbing and unsettling. Aadam, a software developer, is preoccupied with Iraq and the War on Terror (the novel is set in 2004).  Initially I could sympathise with his irritation at the gung-ho news coverage, and apparent indifference to Iraqi deaths, but some of his thoughts were more challenging: 9/11. 9-fucking-11. Would he live to see another day, Aadam wondered, when he wouldn’t have to see, hear or read about someone, somewhere, still bleating on about it? (p. 22)…