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Showing posts from February, 2010

LRB, Must You Go, and Guilt About the Past

The current issue of the London Review of Books has a great diary piece by Will Self that revolves around a walk on Clapham Common with the dog. Following on from the last issue, in which Toril Moi performs a devastating critique of the new translation of de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, this issue's Short Cuts section has Jenny Diski offering a scathing comment on Antonia Fraser's memoir of life with Harold Pinter, Must You Go? It is very funny. And quite right, in my mind. My publisher, Beautiful Books, has just published a slim book of essays by Bernhard Schlink, he of The Reader. It is called Guilt About the Past and I'm looking forward to delving into it. I have little else to report in this post. There's a theme in this post. Must you go, guilt about the past... I'm thinking of moving away from Hampstead. Everything has, for a while now, felt quite samey and homogenous and claustorphobic. Maybe I'll find somewhere cheap enough in Richmond. Maybe not.

Tribune review - The Last Great War - Adrian Gregory

This review is featured in the current issue of Tribune Magazine.

The Last Great War by Adrian Gregory by Belinda Webb

Gregory’s is a combative voice and many would say that was rather apt for a revisionist account of any war, never mind the particularly futile First World War. However, in the rather dense introduction, Gregory claims that his book is intended as an argument and an interpretive synthesis, and not as a textbook. Yet, argument aside, for the most part, a textbook is what this book felt like. A combative voice also ties in with the author’s intention, in what is still a timely book in the wake of the not so distant death of Harry Patch, ‘the last Tommy’, to provide an ‘interpretation of the course of the First World War for the civilian population of Britain.

Gregory begins with an attempt to understand why the population consented to war in the first place, which only led to my wondering since when does any population consent to war, save for those in politics? Accordingl…

Review - The Virgin Warrior - Joan of Arc

Review of 'The Virgin Warrior - The Life and Death of Joan of Arc' by Larissa Juliet Taylor (Yale University Press) - for Tribune Magazine - subscribe here.

Joan of Arc is one of those figures about whom it cannot be said that little is known. Not only has she been mythologised from Shakespeare to Shaw and onwards, the process of turning her into an icon begun in her own lifetime, mainly by herself. Joan was certainly a pivotal figure in my own childhood – like many Catholic girls she was singled out as patron saint upon my confirmation. Most Saturdays, when I went to church for choir practise, I would stop at her statue and light a candle at her stone feet. I have long since turned my back on Joan and indeed, on religion itself. Yet I still went to see the 2007 play at the National Theatre with the marvellously powerful Anne Marie Duff in the starring role. It seems as if there is just no escaping Joan of Arc - the girl who victoriously led the French to battle against the Eng…


There is a good debate going on over at Charlotte Higgins' Guardian culture blog, who asks what is the greatest British post-war novel. The usual suspects come to mind, but for me it would have to be my own personal favourites (how can these things ever be definitive if even a fraction of the whole of the post-war output hasn't been read!?) like The French Liutenant's Woman, even more recently Georgina Harding's debut The Solitude of Thomas Cave and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, Kazuo Ishigaru's The Remains of the Day would also need to be a contender but who else? I also got quite angry when Sam Jordison and Pongothecat (!) from GU claimed that Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, could be considered a serious contender. Pah! I replied, how on earth could anyone think such a thing of this much over-rated piece of flabby pseudo-angry lad-lit crap?

And if anyone has spotted pieces of yellow note paper on their travels today (wit…