Review: A Spy Among Friends

Ben Macintyre’s account of Kim Philby’s long friendship with the MI6 spy Nicholas Elliott is “an unputdownable postwar thriller whose every incredible detail is fact not fiction”. The two men’s relationship “scaled Olympic heights of denial”, as Elliott, blinded by friendship and class loyalty, refused to see that Philby might be a KGB double agent, and, when confronted with the facts, allowed Philby to escape (980 words)

The 100 Best Novels: Middlemarch

George Eliot’s masterpiece about “the place of women in a changing but still patriarchal society” has a “didactic realism” worlds away from Thackeray or Dickens. Its characters learn to compromise in pursuit of “a temporary happiness”. Middlemarch “looms above the mid-Victorian literary landscape like a cathedral of words in whose shadowy vastness its readers can find every kind of addictive discomfort” (915 words)

Hanif Kureishi

Somewhat dismaying portrait of a writer in decline. Kureishi found fame at 31 with his script for My Beautiful Launderette. Now approaching 60, he is applauded as “a kind of post-colonial Philip Roth” by the New York Times; as one of “50 greatest British writers since 1945″ by the London Times. But his recent work has been “feebler” and “unfocused”. What he once did well, Zadie Smith has long since done better (3,200 words)

Clive James — A Life In Writing

Sad sketch of poet and critic approaching death. “Almost everything in the life of this great literary polymath is edged with darkness. James dwells in a kind of internal exile: from family, from good health and from convivial literary association, even from his own native land. His circumstances evoke a fate that Dante might plausibly have inflicted on a junior member of the damned in one of the less exacting circles of hell” (2,100 words)

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