Plugging the God-shaped hole Premium26 May 2016 | by Nicholas Murray
Terry Eagleton’s readers are the grateful beneficiaries of what might be called “The Eagleton Paradox”. On the one hand he has mastered the field of literary theory and squeezed the last drip of dullness out of even the most deadening Marxist or theoretical tract.
Some readers might rush to label The Revolution of Tenderness as one of those books that divide the history of the Church into the “bad old days” before the Second Vatican Council - when reading the Bible was the preserve of the clergy, the laity were voiceless, and Catholicism tended to be formulaic and infantilising – and the less deferential and more participative and theologically enlightened period since.
Treachery and snobbery Premium26 May 2016 | by Anthony Quinn
The hugely entertaining account by John Preston of the Jeremy Thorpe affair is a strange tale of furtive liaisons, fraudulent deals, blackmail plots and conspiracy to murder, rendered more extra- ordinary by the the man at the centre being, for a while, leader of the Liberal Party.
On the way out Premium19 May 2016 | by Alvin Jackson
Remarkably few political issues in modern British history have generated thoroughly widespread popular passion and sustained public engagement. The 2014 referendum on Scottish independence was one such episode: so, too, was the great crisis over Irish Home Rule, whose centenary coincided with the Scots debate.
Blood brothers Premium19 May 2016 | by Anthony Gardner
Is there such a thing as a clear-cut crime? Kate Summerscale’s enthralling account of a murder which became a cause célèbre suggests not. Apparently indisputable facts are called into question; social attitudes, scientific theories and politics all muddy the waters.
Nicola Barker usually picks her casts of huge, bizarre characters from odd corners of contemporary southern England. In her new novel she travels to Bengal during the back end of the nineteenth century, in pursuit of a legendary “one”: a guru, saint, madman and irritating relative with exceptionally long arms.
Performer in exile Premium12 May 2016 | by Fergus Kerr
Yves Congar, the French Dominican scholar who played a key role in drafting texts for the bishops at the Second Vatican Council, died in June 1975 in the Hôpital des Invalides, the hospital in Paris for disabled war veterans. A few months earlier, he had been made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II – “Trop tard”, as Congar reportedly said.
Journey’s end Premium12 May 2016 | by Michael Glover
Seamus Heaney suffered a long, long haunting by the ghost of Virgil, and especially by one particular book from the Aeneid , of which this is a translation on which he was still working when he died in 2013. In an introductory note, he refers to the fact that the compulsion to render the entire thing seized hold of him in 2007, when he wrote a sequence of poems entitled “Route 110”.
Frozen north Premium12 May 2016 | by Patrick West
Set between the swarming, dingy alleys of late-eighteenth- century Copenhagen and the craggy, windswept wilderness of Greenland, this vast, visceral tale relates the efforts of a Danish expedition to bring civilisation to the uncivilised – and challenges us to tell the difference between the two.
Arabian knights Premium12 May 2016 | by Marcus Tanner
For most Britons, the First World War is synonymous with Flanders mud – that or Verdun – while Australians and New Zealanders remember Gallipoli as a defining moment in their history. The Ottoman front is largely forgotten here. It is Flanders that our war poets wrote about and where our ancestors died – almost half a million at the Somme.
The infernal genius Premium05 May 2016 | by Ian Thomson
People of all faiths and backgrounds are moved by Dante Alighieri’s medieval epic of sin and salvation, the Divine Comedy. Samuel Beckett, an avowed atheist, kept a copy by his bedside as he lay dying in a Paris hospice in 1989.
Found in translation Premium05 May 2016 | by Ian Bradley
When a religion is transmitted beyond its homeland and its beliefs are translated into another language, new “passwords to paradise” have to be issued.
Clever is as clever does Premium05 May 2016 | by Selina Mills
I wondered if the first novel by a distinguished retired writer and the author of acclaimed studies of Mary Wollstonecraft, Aphra Behn and Jane Austen might be a daunting read.
The intractable battle Premium28 April 2016 | by Richard Gaillardetz
A righteous anger reverberates from the Irish theologian Gabriel Daly. He has witnessed sundry abuses at the hands of an authoritarian Church and now, in the autumn of his life, he speaks out.
Urban sprawl Premium28 April 2016 | by James Feerguson
London may be the capital of the UK, but it is no longer an English city. More than half of its inhabitants were born abroad, and most of those have arrived in the last decade.
What is a man? Premium28 April 2016 | by Emily Holman
Goethe, widely (and mistakenly) credited with coining the phrase “world literature”, or Weltliteratur, remarked that “like all things of supreme value, [art] belongs to the whole world”. I don’t know about the whole world, but David Szalay’s new novel certainly has a stronger claim than most to being a “European novel”.
Stalin was a liberal Premium28 April 2016 | by Robert Carver
In Enver Hoxha’s Albania everyone was potentially guilty of everything. As the laconic joke went: “Three men are in prison. One asks, ‘What are you in here for?’ ‘I supported Popoviç. And you?’ ‘I opposed Popoviç. And you?’. ‘I am Popoviç’.”
The royal Scot Premium21 April 2016 | by Geoffrey Scott OSB
It covers barely two years, and is over 600 pages long. So what prompted Jacqueline Riding to compile what is the most comprehensive account in modern times of the ’45 Jacobite rebellion? As she perceptively demonstrates, Jacobite concerns reflect three hugely contentious issues: Scottish opposition to the Union, Britain’s economic competition with the rest of Europe, and the ways an invading rebel army might maintain its hold on occupied territory.
David Hepworth has started something. Mixtapes and personal playlists are nothing new, but the man who once fronted The Old Grey Whistle Test and co-founded Q magazine (and so needs to be listened to) has thrown down a gauntlet and done so with the airy erudition that has always characterised his rock writing.
Over the water Premium21 April 2016 | by Julian Margaret Gibbs
It is the early fifties and Eilis lives in south-west Ireland with her widowed mother and older sister Rose. Life is narrow: she works as a part-time assistant in the grocery shop of the tyrannical Miss Kelly and her brothers have had to go to England for jobs.
Master of the dark arts Premium21 April 2016 | by Jonathan Wright
For a man who ruled over 1530s Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici left frustratingly little reliable evidence for his future biographers. “In many cases”, Catherine Fletcher admits, “I have only a single source, and cannot check the facts.
Sacred landscapes Premium14 April 2016 | by Peter Davidson
This remarkable new book by Ann Wroe is an extended meditation on light, especially as it plays on the chalk landscape behind the south-coast towns of England, where she has walked since childhood. Like all her work, there are felicities of phrasing and cadence on every page, and each of the six chapters offers something of the taut coherence and closeness of the structure of musical variation.
Minding the gap Premium14 April 2016 | by Jane O’Grady
A centuries-old assumption held throughout Christian Europe was that we have, indeed are, souls. But what is a soul, and how can it be fitted into a scientific world view? George Makari, a historian of psychiatry, charts the “hybrid” philosophical and scientific attempts from Descartes onwards to make this accommodation.
Irish gothic Premium14 April 2016 | by James Moran
Here is an eerily mesmerising debut novel that revolves around three fascinating characters: a mute girl called Clara, her epicurean guardian, Mr Crowe, and his mannered servant, Eustace. They live in a large country estate, in a setting that is geographically and chronologically ambiguous, able to enjoy a library full of treasures, including a Shakespeare First Folio.
Fanning the flames Premium14 April 2016 | by Marcus Tanner
A mark of lazy journalism is a tendency to say one war is just like another, better-known war. Journalists descending on Bosnia in the 1990s were fond of venturing that the Yugoslav War resembled the Spanish Civil War – with which it had almost nothing in common.
A reign in Spain Premium07 April 2016 | by Andrew Breeze
Alfonso the Wise was a ruler, warrior, lawgiver, poet, scholar and patron of arts and sciences.
The great trailblazer Premium31 March 2016 | by John M. Rist
Robin Lane Fox, though no fellow Christian, admires Augustine’s literary skills and his perceptiveness about human social life – and therein are this book’s strengths and weaknesses.
If you are female, then you’re a daughter. Of course you might also be a sister, wife, mother, aunt, niece, grandmother or mistress, but you have to be a daughter. No escape. This seems to be the notion behind the title of a book that dwells on the lives of seven generations of the lonely daughters of the House of Sackville-West.
In the soup Premium31 March 2016 | by Robert Carver
“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river … fog down the river ... fog in the eyes of Greenwich pensioners … fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin: fog cruelly pinching the toes of his shivering ’prentice on deck.
Cold comfort Premium31 March 2016 | by Madeleine Minson
It seems such a promising prospect. Finland-Swedish author Ulla-Lena Lundberg’s novel has an intriguingly remote setting, on a small island in the Finnish archipelago, where the fishing and farming community is tight-knit.
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