Patrick Leigh Fermor is rapidly turning into the sort of writer who is more prolific in death than in life. Between his first book, The Traveller’s Tree in 1950 and his death in 2011 he produced ten books, four of them in the first decade. But after Roumeli in the mid-60s the gaps between books grew ever longer, and there are numerous reports of publishers and commissioning editors tearing their hair out trying to extract something, anything from him. It is notable that the last three books published in his lifetime were all at least partly the work of someone else. Three Letters from the Andes (1991) was precisely that, three long letters that he had written during a visit to South America some years before and that someone else shaped into a book. Words of Mercury (2003) was a collection of previously published pieces edited by Artemis Cooper. And In Tearing Haste (2008) is a collection of the letters PLF and Deborah Devonshire exchanged throughout their long friendship, again put together by someone else. Continue reading
Aleksandr Sokurov, Alice Rahon, Anton Chekov, China Mieville, Franz Wolff-Metternich, Grace Pailthorpe, Jacques Jaujard, James Joyce, Jindrich Styrsky, Jo Baker, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Beckett, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil
Sometimes, connections come at you in completely unexpected ways. By chance, you read something that sticks in the memory; months later, you see something more or less unrelated; then a little after that you read something else and an unlikely (if frail) bridge seems to be formed tying all three together. Continue reading
On Saturday evening we finally got to see Arrival (insert usual and deserved superlatives here). On Saturday afternoon, I came across a review of the film; I haven’t sought it out again, I haven’t linked to it, because something so wrongheaded doesn’t deserve the link. At one point the reviewer said, in so many words, the subplot about the daughter is unnecessary but at least it’s not sentimental.
Well, he’s right about it not being sentimental. Otherwise … Continue reading
‘Let’s go left,’ Cadogan suggested. ‘After all, Gollancz is publishing this book.’
I 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.
Alexander Korda, Arnold Bennett, Auguste Comte, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Hayek, Fritz Lang, George Bernard Shaw, George Griffiths, H.G. Wells, Jean-Pierre Vernier, Joseph Conrad, Leon Stover, Oswald Mosley, Paul Johnson, Saint-Simon, Thomas Carlyle, William Morris
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
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
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
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