Joy through weakness

There is an excellent article by Neal Ascherson in the current issue of The London Review of Books (17 November 2016) which chimes with some of the ideas I started to put down in my last post here. “England prepares to leave the world” (such an apposite title) reminds me of something I’ve been thinking, in a rather inchoate way, over the last few months: all of the current shenanigans over Brexit are the result of weakness, not strength. The government is weak, and all of the political parties in Britain are weak, and everything that is happening in British politics at the moment is the result of a desperate effort to hold on rather than anything serious, thought-through and controlled. Continue reading

Electors and elected

In the deep dark hours of the morning, in despair at the results coming out of America, I began to think that democracy is broken. Then I thought again. No, democracy isn’t broken, it worked perfectly over Brexit and over Trump. We may not like the results, but the machinery (and that’s all that democracy is, a machine) worked exactly as it was intended to.

But what is broken is the system powered by that machine. And that system is politics; not government, not the will of the people, nothing like that, just politicians. Voters are the motive force that turns the machine, and politicians are what is spewed out at the end of the process. When commentators talk blandly about the Whitehall bubble or the Washington bubble, as they do with ever greater frequency, what they are saying, without ever examining it, is that there is a growing disconnect between the two ends of the process. Continue reading

The Moving Toyshop


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‘Let’s go left,’ Cadogan suggested. ‘After all, Gollancz is publishing this book.’

the moving toyshopI knew about this novel long before I read it, or indeed anything by Edmund Crispin. Maureen kept quoting the line about turning left at a junction because Gollancz was publishing the book. It was a knowingness that amused me. But not enough to make me pick up any of his novels and read them.

Then Maureen re-read this book, and said it might amuse me. So I read it, and there was the famous scene. But by then the self-referentiality of the book was well established. Not long before, when Fen and Cadogan had been locked inside a cupboard, Fen spends the time loudly proposing titles that Crispin might use for his next novel. Indeed, before the story even starts, there’s a note:

None but the most blindly credulous will imagine the characters and events in this story to be anything but fictitious.

Continue reading

Reprint: (Mis)Representing Wells


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A few years ago, McFarland republished, in a uniform edition, The Annotated H.G. Wells, nine of Wells’s novels with extensive annotations by Wells expert Leon Stover, books that had crept out piecemeal over the preceding several years. I was asked to review the set for Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. The review appeared in Volume 24, Issue 1, 2013. As you can see, I wasn’t overly impressed. Continue reading

Reprint: Europe at Midnight


Personally I think that Europe in Autumn should have picked up at least a few awards last year, and Europe at Midnight should be doing the same this year. Dave Hutchinson has done good steady work for some time, but all at once he has stepped up a gear and is producing really powerful, beautifully crafted work. My review of Europe at Midnight was first published in Vector 282, Winter 2015/16. Continue reading

Gaudy Night


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I said some time ago that Dorothy L. Sayers’s mysteries were at their worst when they concentrated on the mechanics of the crime, and at their best when the crime was an incidental way of focussing upon some social or cultural issue. Gaudy Night, which now completes my reading of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, is the exception that proves the rule. Continue reading

Swift’s Atonement


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Of that generation of mainstream writers who were brought to prominence by the first of Granta‘s Best Young Writers promotions, I steadily lost interest in most of them over the years. Amis fils fell away after just a couple of books, I managed four by Pat Barker before losing interest, it was pretty much the same with Julian Barnes, and the last few novels by Ian McEwan were so dull that the most recent has been sitting on my to-be-read pile for a couple of years without me ever feeling like opening it. Only William Boyd and Graham Swift have, for rather different reasons, stayed the course: I enjoy the historical sweep of Boyd’s novels at his best, and the narrow focus of Swift’s at his best. Continue reading