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Writing Worth Reading

Why We Love To Hate Martin Amis

Fair-minded discussion of Martin Amis, his life and work, on the eve of publication of his latest novel, The Zone of Interest, described as “an office comedy set in Auschwitz”. He is “the possessor of a staggering – by which I mean both impressive and lopsided – talent”. His prose is superb and distinctive; his sensibility can be a problem. We still approach his books in the hope that he will “light up the sky” (3,400 words)

Odd Job Man

Portrait of “the world’s foremost slang lexicographer”, Jonathon Green, who has spent 30 years compiling dictionaries of slang. “When he finds an instance of the word ‘fuckadoodle’ somewhere predating the Oxford English Dictionary‘s, one imagines him doing a little air-punch in his lonely room”. His achievement is “incoherent but also magnificent: a cathedral of bin lids built on foundations of quicksand” (1,500 words)

George Orwell’s Schooldays

Orwell’s essay on his prep-school days, Such, Such Were the Joys, is “sodden with self-pity”. The tales of squalor and violence are straight out of Dickens. Indeed, they are hard to credit — perhaps because Orwell made them up, for literary or political purposes. “There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that Orwell’s account of his prep-school days was – how to put this? – a load of utter bollocks” (2,800 words)

Benjamin Disraeli, “Unscrupulous Charlatan”

Review of two new books on Disraeli, flamboyant 19C British prime minister — “A bizarre, overdressed, bankrupt novelist” who ran for parliament to gain immunity from arrest, and so avoid debtor’s prison. He treated politics as a game; and, once he had won it, he “dismissed as humbug the idea that a prime minister should do anything, let alone concern himself with the details of policy or the drudgery of departmental work” (1,300 words)

The Manly Loaf

You may balk at the title, but the tongue-in-cheek contention here is that bread-making is indeed a guy thing: “Putting a loaf on the table in front of your family — this beautiful, aromatic, crusty, porous, individual-as-a-snowflake hunk of sustenance — is Neolithic stuff. Our hunting fathers weren’t faffing about with orechiette and tenderstem broccoli. But they were making bread, and making it in exactly the same way” (1,800 words)

Joys Of A Hungover Hack

Affectionate profile of Horace Rumpole, the fictional lawyer created by John Mortimer. “Rumpole is a paladin disguised as a rogue: a trickster hero. He is part barrister, part stage actor; delighting in the courtroom coup de théâtre. His raffishness is a form of generosity, a marker of his wide and perpetually amused tolerance of human folly. Adulterers, pornographers and honest villains don’t disturb him half so much as do prigs, punishment junkies and whited sepulchres” (1,921 words)

Doctor In Distress

Jonathan Miller ranks among most brilliant men of his generation. Enviable life from teenage prodigy to doctor, psychologist, television presenter, theatre and opera director. So why does he always seem dissatisfied, frustrated?

The Spy Who Loved

On the amazing life of Christine Granville, “dissolute Polish aristocrat and a Jewish banking heiress” who spied for Britain in WW2. Infiltrated Poland on skis. Parachuted into France. Stabbed by seaman in South Kensington

Speech! Speech!

The best public speakers play with local, cultural memes: “Barack Obama sailed to power using rhetoric that would have had satirists sharpening their pens and the electorate laughing had it issued from the mouth of David Cameron”

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