Spring Cannot Be Cancelled by David Hockney with Martin Gayford (Thames and Hudson)

“I have known David Hockney for a quarter of a century now…”

WHEN you look at the fabulous new paintings from David Hockney in a Normandy farmhouse, there is often a tiny detail – a ladder, a bird, a van, a chair – somewhere in there that reminds you that these are not simplistic daubs but the work of the master craftsman. They are static, but perhaps you could view them for as long as a film, maybe longer.

This is not so much a biography as an audience with, the artist transcribed through conversations and emails with the critic Martin Gayford. Contemplative, inspirational, inquiring, even the reference works included from other known artists take second place to the new works. A last great spurt of creative energy from Hockney, now aged 82, determined that he still has something to say, a legacy to be fulfilled from a lifetime literally of scratching on paper.

This is a refreshingly intelligent book, a visual existentialism transferred to the easel, a living in the present, enjoying moments the better for seeing them through Hockney’s eye, an art junkies dream. Van Gogh in Arles. Gaugin in the south seas, Hockney in Normandy with the freedom (and money) to paint plus lunch with a bottle of wine and a slice of pate. A garden re-ordered in his own style like Monet and Giverny.

Hockney is up at six each morning for the dawn light. The works he is doing are his last great statement. That the apparent abstractness is steeped in the work of other artists, secret homages to a lineage of art back to the Middle Ages. That Hockney is not just the draughtsman, but also in awe of the joy of colour. However much some of the paintings may seem to be just fantastical from the imagination, they are all drawn from life.

There are elegant arguments such as why seeing the original canvas can have more value than a photograph, the meditative power of the craft, how opera and writers can be explained in oils, or how what we see is constantly shifting and changing.

There is an argument that art has always sought to capture life in a moment. The decisive moment the photographer Cartier Bresson said. Hockney is busy reminding us that that moment is an illusion, in reality landscapes are always in motion, changing hour to hour as the light changes, nature is not still, life is not a still life.

Posted in Biography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Heritage by Miguel Bonnefoy (Gallic)

“Lazare Lonsonier was reading in the bath when news of the outbreak of the First World War reached Chile.”

A NEW novel from Bonnefoy! A treat. We are in Chile, imagine a large wood table, the aviary next door, tropical leaves shading the room, a whiff of engine oil, a discarded trumpet or two, the smell of freshly baked communion wafers, a magnum of uncle’s wine, Bonnefoy is regaling us with a family history, pulling strands together from the French vineyards being decimated by phylorexa, from conscription in the first world war, fighter planes in the second, a French world history in miniature. The humour is not quite Gallic, not quite quite south Atlantic. Even in translation the descriptions dance lightly:

“His eyebrows were as wild as caper bushes, his hair smooth and very black, and his lips so wide that when he smiled, his mouth stretched as wide as a concertina.”

The witch doctor Aukun apart, we are all arriviste in the new world like the rather lovely umbrella salesman who disembarks to find himself blessed in the rainiest city in the world.

Bonnefoy has that rare gift of being able to roll through new imaginations, his plots going off like firework displays of the unexpected, his family being people you might want to spend more time with. But this is a tale with a dark message, the more abrasive when it arrives for being wrapped in such rich tapestries. He tends his tell his story backwards, so it is effect before cause. Any other writer might have told this saga rather differently.

His hero Ilario is also a writer whose zeal is manifest. “Characters began to throng in to the cathedral of his mind, as if arriving for a party, forming an entire land of fables and battles.” There is a very writerly touch where the paragraph on page 11 repeats itself in page 149, to complete a cycle.

His revenge is in his pen, mightier than the electric wrack. The shock is detonated. You might almost say it is so perfectly formed that when the fable runs into reality, it hurts.

Posted in 101greatreads, fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Silverview by John Le Carre (Penguin/Viking)

“At ten o’clock of a rainswept morning in London’s West End, a young woman in a baggy anorak, a wooden scarf pulled up around her head, strode resolutely into the storm that was roaring down South Audley street”.

THE imagery is already set. The woman might be a Russian doll. We know the territory. The great JLC leaves us with this small mystery masterpiece, an intrigue told with an exact, easy rolling grin. The plot is so carefully assembled that any clues might give too much away, suffice we are in London, that we are in East Anglia, shades of the Middle East, of Bosnia. What is amiss now?

Some of it is delightfully bonkers. The secret green phone. The war medal, also green, which must never be worn. The secret letter from a man who can only speak in riddles, the whole family models of the British stiff upper lip. Yet this letter runs to six pages? And the 60 odd folks who appear at a funeral for someone supposedly so supposedly secret herself that you wonder how any of them knew her at all. And all these chaps who seem so modest, so self effacing, so dedicated are also quite well heeled, quietly affluent thank you very much, familiar with expensive burgundies, safe jobs for dangerous territories.

The Waterstone’s edition includes a sign off from JLC’s son Nick Cornwall aka a writer himself as Nick Harkaway which set off rumours that Cornwall finished off the book. Not so, but he does offer an explanation as to why this might have been the great man’s final missive.


Posted in Biography | Leave a comment

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (Penguin/Viking)

“The King is dead. Long live the Queen. The announcer’s voice crackles from the wireless and winds around the rapt patrons of Berlin’s Milk Bar, as sinuously as the fog curls around the mournful street lamps, their wan glow barely illuminating the cobblestones.”

I let the opening sentence here run longer than usual because the quality of Nadifa’s prose is so rewarding. A writer’s writer perhaps. Here is the next sentence:

“The noise settles as milkshakes and colas click against Irish coffees, and chairs scrape against the black and white tiled floor.”

Three drinks, not one, the colour of the floor a hint at divisions. This is the sequel to her admirable first book Black Mamba Boy, not exactly but atmospherically. We have disembarked from East Africa at the traders and military front door of colonial empire, Cardiff. The book was short listed for the Booker Prize and you might think not so dissimilar to the winner The Promise, but perhaps less in tune with middle class sensibilities, not apartheid in South Africa, but discriminations from less remarked Somalia.

Spoiler alert: the New Yorker review gave away the punchline, which is a pity because not many people, I suspect, know the back story, but also the real irony here, in a glorious pathos on which the story pivots, is tossed off in a single short sentence just before the final denouement.

The Fortune Men have gambled their lives for a better world just as they gamble on the poker, the dogs, the horses, their own existences just a stake and a hope. Their arrival in Tiger Bay is as random as any ship’s crew new into a city shattered by war and influxes of generations. There is a stark image of Somali sailors wearing placards around their necks with the address of their lodging house so they can ask their way home at hight.

Nadifa’s great triumph is to somehow bring her great themes down into the characters themselves, to normalise the travails of circumventing the globe, of a black man marrying a white woman. To deal with the intersections of race, of generations and of continents (we know from Black Mamba Boy, her father was in fact very pro British, albeit for pecuniary reasons). She does this with painterly, unpolemic description:

“Violet…wears a simple navy calf-length dress and her father’s silver war badge pinned to her brassiere for courage.”

Courage because Violet also escaped to the sanctity of Cardiff, but her flight was from the Nazis. All round it feels an uncannily accurate portrayal of time and place, of people caught up in things they can hardly conceive…Nadifa may not be as fashionable as others, her subject less populist, but she is surely among the foremost women currently being published.

Posted in 101greatreads, fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Saraband)

“Before the end of 2019, I received an email from a Mr Martin Grey of Clacton-on-Sea.”

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s published books split into two – on the one hand we have the quasi French detecto entertainments of M. Gorski, here and here, and then we have the deeper psychology of his acclaimed Bloody Project and now this: We have moved south from Scotland to Primrose Hill, we have shuffled a century onwards to the 1960s, not quite so swinging as it turns out, here the cafe‘s sole customer is “a young woman in a pillbox hat gazing sadly at a half eaten chocolate éclair”.

There are lovely opposites and contradictions here.

As in the other books Burnet has distanced himself from the usual position of author, he tells us his proposal to write a profile of the extraordinary, disgraced, mad psychologist has been knocked back by his agent, but then he receives a cache of private papers. In a quiz show sense, you the reader have to decide whether they are worth publishing, or whether the mystery is worth the telling. His primary confidant quickly admits that she has “little talent for composition” which is, of course, inaccurate because she is being ghost written by Burnet, the composition here is as finely finished as a Wedgewood chest of drawers, not so much a whodunit as a wasitdunnit? and if it was whyonearth? or whatoneearth??

Little touches – mentions of familiar figures of the time like teh actor Dirk Bogarde showing up at a party, the mother with her Woolworth’s moment, the children who read Biggles – make it feel very real and particular.  

Even if you didn’t believe, you do because it is so precise – “the library is on Crown Street… he is reading in the Denes, an area of parkland adjoining Cocker Beck…a few minutes walk from Westlands Road”. Got it? You might hop on a train and find that spot.

As with Project we are dealing with the notion of sanity. Or not. The imagery is very much of growing up or growing old. The plot is secondary to the characters who bloom in their own way, so you might want to stop and spend some more time with them, each in turn has a slight query hanging over them, they are incomplete in the same way as the story is as messed up as a jigsaw puzzle.

As carefully described as are the rest of the cast, even the victim and raison d’etre, even the grand inquisitor, even the loving father, the would be boyfriend, the mysterious housekeeper etc, there is only one diva emerging out of a chrysalis here…

Posted in Biography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Sleeping Car Murders by Sebastien Japrisot (Gallic)

IN translation we get a cottage garden style of English not the sprawling, homogenizing white sauce of the ruined mansions of quasi English language. The cathedral once constructed by Dickens is reduced to a semi in suburbia, a bungalow on a beach, a portakabin.

And yet translation has the one advantage: it is foreign; to us English speakers, English readers. We are travellers. We explore.  Part of the charm of this French crimo is just simply the being in France, the glass of beer in a café, the waiter who wants paying so he can go home, the fading film star eyeing up the young policeman, the ugly man with a conscience, the girl anxious to monogram her own clothes like she is at boarding school, the young detective who believes everyone is guilty. Small Gallic traits, definably French or rather NOT English NOT British NOT even politically correct. Abroad. It feels like writing without boundaries but local rules do apply: there is a story to tell, an entertainment, there is a certain back to basics. This story is told by someone, by a witness, by a policeman, a suspect, a guilty conscience, a record of an overheard conversation on the stairs of a hotel. We slip into the consciousness of the time, not just Paris, but France pre 1962, when this was first published, and in fact set a little earlier yet in an era where policemen could not afford their own phones.

The Saturday night event is a boxing bill, sometimes the women too move like boxers…A woman is strangled on the night train…enter the cast of the local precinct…

The world freezes for a moment in search of justice and truth.  In the pantheon of euro-detectives Japrisot is closer to Simenon, this is Maigret without the vindictive ego, in this case a loose canon…this was a first crime novel, apparently written to pay off a tax bill. In fact his first book, published under his real name Jean-Baptiste Rossi – an anagram for his later pseudonym – The Awakening about a 14 old boy at a Jesuit school who has a passionate affair with a 26 year old nun – sold nearly a million copies in America. He translated among other things Hopalong Cassidy westerns and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye into French, then moved into advertising and film (where his credits also include The Story of O, although he said he preferred to write his novels to make his own films). This new edition may go some way way to resurrecting an interesting reputation.

He is a rare beast having won across 50 years of writing a Golden Dagger for crime writing, a Prix d’Honneur, the prix des Deux Magots and four Cesars for a film version, the French equivalent of the Oscars. I plan to read him some more….

Here is the poster for the movie starring two other French stalwarts Simone Signoret and Yves Montand…

Posted in Biography | Leave a comment

Bleak House by Charles Dickens, part three (Penguin)

BY page 593 this gargantuan torture wheel of a plot is starting to turn.  The perimeter is on the horizon. We have a literary variation on a Swiss watch with all the little interlocking wheels starting to spin. Beyond the frivolity we have passages of dark horror, even fear, naked drama.

Perhaps its sheer length and scale have mitigated against its reputation; in a pantheon of English writing, this is King Lear writ large, even you might argue Lady Dedlock herself is a Queen Lear, the femme fatale.

Trying to keep all the twists and turns of the plot across the equivalent of say binge watching half a year of East Enders or Coronation Street is a small feat in itself. Jo’s story could almost be self standing on its own, the parallel constellation to Esther’s. One LA professor tried reading just the tale of Esther alone to opinionate on its validity; he declared it did work well enough, but that is to align this more with the social works of Jane Austen or the pilgrimages of Thomas Hardy’s women without giving it the full grandeur of its social commentary as setting. Esther’s virtues actually need the gloom around for her to be that candle in the dark. The perniciously respectable Mr Vholes is needed to demonstrate that “the one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself.”

And then we have the parts that are untold. The key role played by someone who is hardly otherwise mentioned at all as in Ms Bucket. And the whole back story which could be another novel, a prequel of the young John Jarndyce meeting with the Barbery sisters, the love affair with captain Hawdon, the escapades of the estranged Mr George…

In messing with the story telling TV gave us an empty crossword with just a few visual clues which perhaps might only be read by a university don.  The 1985 BBC version starring Dianna Rigg and Denholm Elliott opened with the plot very much to the fore, the detective story unfolding the Secret. Poor Joe is sweeping the streets in the opening scene, pushing away the horse dung so Mr Guppy can cross the road. The perfidy of the court of chancellor is rammed home. It is a bleak plot with fine horses, fine rooms, fine bewilderment from the would-be benefactors. It lacks humour and casts the pot as so much bubble on the back burner.  Arthur Hopcraft’s script careful tweaks the original but in doing so loses the many veils of disguise on which the original thrives. None of Rosa’s backstory survives as if censored out by Lord Dedlock himself. It is Victorian noire or more accurately Victorian pea soup foggy. The main case to remake it 20 years later was possinly an admission that this series might have put a great many people off Dickens completely.

There is also a 1959 version, which I have not unearthed as yet, but I suspect there is more drama in Mr Bucket’s finger than all those episodes combined. This novel has been abused by TV.

On the page the plot is still whirling around and around to the last page and the mystery of who, male or female, Esther is writing this for at all? Glorious reading.

Posted in Biography | 1 Comment

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (part two) Penguin

IN the hands of a more radical director than the BBC employ, say someone Asian, Bleak House might have been less boisterous and bleaker still. Grandpa Smallweed, Guppy and Tulkinghorn might be even more mendacious, the latent sexuality as headed up by Lady Dedlock herself more pronounced.  The sexual currents are not today’s emancipation of say a Sarah Waters romance but of deliberate Victorian enfranchisement. In this context sex can be fatal.

Of course the names might put off anyone Asian completely – they are fabulously Falstaffian middle England – Mr Turveydrop, Mrs Jellyby, the Smallweeds, the Snagsby family, Lady Dedlock, Guster, Phil Squod. And our heroine Esther Summerson, each one an onomatopoeiac marvel, signposts to the coming drollery.

You need a little courage to be reading these weighty paragraphs, but they are richly rewarding in their complexity, a dive into the psyche of the time to unmask Mrs Snagsby’s jealousy; the sad plight of Mr Grindley, the preface assures, was a real enough case. Each of these boulders of sentences might contain all the DNA needed for a TV sitcom of their own.

The language rarely slows up the flow. This is Dickens shoving an oyster knife into the shell of old London and slicing it open. Soap operas may hark back to this granddaddy of them all, but this, as a novel, is more opera than soap, the grand sweep, a front row seat at the comings and goings of a cast of eccentrics, a geologist’s strata sample revealing the different social classes of the old city, top to bottom, how they rub along, how they were set up, down and aside, against a backdrop burnished in history. In a Japanese expression these might all be mini samurai, battling, no this is England, batting for their causes.

Above all, Dickens is telling a story, the revelations from someone who has travelled further afield, met more people. The missive travels robustly down the years, a little parcel of history.

Technically you might feel an Orson Wells drawl in the scene setting; the camera voraciously (because this is before cameras) picking up on every detail, the first repartees ranking the conversationists in the social order, move to the dialogue for sub plot one, pass on to clues from major plot two, finish with a point, a chuckle, a wry grin, a grimace, an aside. On to next week’s episode, out of a total of 67.

Some parts are remarkably modern, here the prose is more a note to actors:

“Mrs Bagnet turning about from her saucepans (she is cooking dinner) with a bright flush face.”

Parallel descriptors shift the emphasis between different thoughts crammed together and an afterthought for parenthesises.

I love Mrs Bagnet. As her husband confides:

“Wait till the greens are off her mind. Then we’ll consult”.

A sentence that is respectful, domestic, diffident, instructional, with a touch of affectionate humour. Her children are named after the places they were born. Quebec and Malta. There is more to this saga than Leicester Square.

I am not about to accuse James Ellroy of plagiarism but this may sound familiar if you have read or seen the movie LA Confidential:

Wintry morning, looking with dull eyes and sallow face upon the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, finds its inhabitants unwilling to get out of bed. Many of them are not early risers at the brightest of times, being birds of night who roost when the sun is high and are wide awake and keen for prey when the stars shine out. Behind dingy blind and curtain, in upper story and garret, skulking more or less under false names, false hair, false titles, false jewellery, and false histories, a colony of brigands lie in their first sleep. 

Writing to a magazine deadline provides a little extra zip perhaps, no more so than the exquisite descriptions like that of Lady Volumnia through which vicariously Lord Dedlock first discovers that “the country was going to pieces”.

Lady V has become “a little dreaded elsewhere, in consequence of an indiscreet profusion in the article of rouge….” ends an introduction of no less than 18 lines of sheer joy and brilliance. The disdain is not from Dickens but from Lord Dedlock himself who sustains it with the “constancy of a martyr”. If there is such a thing as British humour, then here it is, at its very cradle, the kernel, a necessary antidote to the mud and splash of the alley, to the deceit and machinations of the courtroom, to foppish cousins lounging on mansion sofas, to opium exhaustions, to Lady Dedlock herself who keeps the lovely Rosa beside her as her “anything; pet – secretary – messenger. Her :  I don’t know what.”

The same Rosa who is so beautiful, bashful and blooming that Lady Dedlock’s maid Hortense is let go.

For all the qualities for which Dickens is regarded, perhaps the most enduring is his good humour…Maybe he was instrumental in showing us, as in the national psyche, how to laugh at ourselves.

Somewhere here there lies a thin thread that you might say inspired vaudeville and was picked up again by comedians like Morecambe and Wise. The employeees of Are You Being Served? could be the descendants of these same characters. Discuss? Disagree?

Here he is poking fun at himself via his namesake, Charley, a young waif taken in to the Bleak House who is struggling to learn to write:

“every pen  appeared to become perversely animated, and to go wrong and crooked, and to stop, and splash and sidle into corners, like a saddle donkey. It was very odd to see what old letters Charley’s hand made; they, so wrinkled, and shrivelled, and tottering; it, so plump and round….the letter o was represented as square, triangular, pear-shaped and collapsed in all kinds of ways.”

From the heart on suspects, but the pathos is underlined in the plot. To be able to read….

If you just want to dip in for free, there is an online version here:

Posted in Biography | Leave a comment

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (Penguin) part one

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather.”

EVEN in the opening lines above, the style is strikingly modern, almost casual, just taking aim as it were, Hemingway might have approved. The linocut is from the brickmaker’s house.

Spurred on by the 2005 BBC TV drama of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, inspired by its cameos of overacting, its period settings and costumes, its sprinkling of dialogues from another time, its sense of intrigues, I sought out the original novel, curious to see what had been altered and adapted. Had it been improved? Could it still be relevant? Or is it now just a milestone on the journey of British writing? Has TV triumphed over literature and buried it? The answer, for me, is a big no.

It is an epic of nearly 1000 pages. The TV adaptation runs to 15 episodes even so I was expecting chunks to have been set aside and left on the cutting room floor. Of course TV being TV, the plot has been reworked and re-focused. The order of revelations changed. Most crucially it managed to miss the social satire, the whole point really of the novel itself which contemporaries would have read with huge guffaws and bravos like an Elizabethan theatre audience. I read, as they would have done, in small extracts, like a magazine episode. It was helpful to know the direction of travel in broad terms from the TV, a bit like taking a train journey a second time when you get more of a chance to check the changing view outside and meet other travellers.

The central point is in the title. It is a Bleak House. The book is not about a house but a nation, Albion herself, a point in empirical history. England and the home countries are mired in a fund of hopeless stasis, the rich unaware, the middle class aspirants strangled in legalities, the poor very poor, the whole sorry mess summed up by the foppish Harold Skimpole who maintains his innocence as being like a child, unable to grasp his own responsibilities, a leach on others, clueless to the enormity of what is going on around him. Or Richard’s befuddled understanding of money.

Affections run through on different scales between Esther and Ada and Richard and Maddy and platonically in the distant warmth and compassion of their guardian. The deeper theme is hereditary, loss and gain. Families in hovels and families in mansions. Those who know their histories and those, like poor Joe, who don’t.

We have a need of a guardian to take us through this madness, “the crowning confusion of this great confused city”. We have cousin John Jarndyce to help, always there with endless patience and money but also secretive, nervous of any east wind, generous but hardly unmarked.

We are on page 296 before we get to the nub of the plot, or not so much arrive at, as have it shuffle in quietly and politely around the edges, a wall flower at the ball. A storm breaks:

“…the wind awoke, and bent the trees, and drove the rain before it like a cloud of smoke; and to hear the solemn thunder, and to see the lightning….and seemed to make creation new again”.

As it will.

It is 170 years since that sentence was written, in its entirety 83 words long, it includes seven ands, seven commas; plus two semi colons. Conspicuously Dickens rarely uses adjectives. A leaf is a leaf, it is not red or brown, although sometimes it is large. The descriptions of buildings and countryside are like a painter giving himself the time to include chimney, breast, smoke, brick, a cat on the roof, his descriptons are as expansive as a man blowing out a long draw on a cigar… So too with his characters, no one is allowed in who does not get a minimum of a chunky paragraph of description.

“The apt old scholar of the old school, with his dull black breeches tied with ribbons at the knees, his large black waistcoat, his long sleeved black coat, and his wisp of limp white neck-kerchief tied in the bow the Peerage knows so well….”

The drama is subtle, brooding, it wells up, you know it is coming even before you know it is coming, you fear and hope for everyone concerned. There is menace.

The TV plot throws a lot of those toys out of the pram. It made a pantomime out of a satire, caricatured the cartoon, denied the drama.

The main joke on TV was who was playing what part and how far would they camp it up – most regally with X-Files Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, soberly with Holby City’s Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce, while Jed from East Enders turns up as Burn Gorman as Guppy. Little wonder our narrator Anna Maxwell of Motherland is confused as Esther

And this is a brave book for a male author with female characters to the the fore, their destinies prescribed by their sex, where the men are prescribed, corsetted even, by their buildings.

This is accurate social history of attitudes and mores, it wells up to talk to us of what it really was like in those days, here is the guts, the blood, the sinews of 1852….Lord Dedlock’s descendants, for all I know, still rise in the House of Lords

Feel the full horror in Esther’s staccato delivery on the poverty in the brickmakers house, as sharp and poignant as Hogarth’s Gin Street cartoon of 100 years earlier, the more so coming from the innocence of adolescence.

“Beside ourselves in this damp offensive room – a woman with a black eye, nursing a poor little gasping baby by the fire, a man, all stained with clay and mud, and looking very dissipated, lying full length on the ground…a  powerful young man fastening a collar on a dog: and a bold girl doing some kind of washing in very dirty water.”

And visual too: Hortense storms off barefoot in a huff into the rain to wade across the sodden grass. What is her secret, what is the French connection? And humour as in Guppy’s disastrous first proposal. Or Mr Chadband’s eating habits.

Scholars enjoy picking out Shakespearian references but those would mostly have been part of the vernacular to a book buying, theatre going circle. There is one totemic Shakespearian figure who looms large, adopted in a way by Dickens as his voice. And that is Falstaff. Dickens is telling his story as if in Falstaff’s voice. It is Dickens’ stage. He is moving people around, shifting scenes, poking endless fun. Each paragraph has the tone and construction of telling a joke or anecdote, not perhaps so much in today’s sense of leading up to a punch line – often the point is half way through and the rest of the paragraph is just rolling in the aisles at how funny that was. There is an intimate shared camaraderie of lifting up the lid on life’s eccentricities, the fun of the reveal.

Imagine this being read in weekly episodes in a gentleman’s club, or aloud in a drawing room with large roaring wood fire. The architecture and ambition of the sentence construction – like an opera singer who has trained her voice to reach heights others cannot – casts a long shadow over much of what is published today.

To say this is fine writing is to belittle it. How many others have matched it? Dickens is the genius of a chronicler, a reporter at large (which in a sense he was) our confidante reporting back to us now on Victorian eccentricities.

If you don’t want to embark on the whole massive odyssey, I might urge you to read just one chapter – perhaps 20 The New Lodger which is free here.

Guppy is meeting an old pal Mr Jopling for a Slap-Bang lunch with Smallweed.

“His hat presents at the rims a peculiar appearance of a glistening nature, as if it had been a favourite snail-promenade”.

Is this one of the best chapters in English literature?

Posted in Biography | 2 Comments

Coming soon…a masterpiece

Been quiet for a while; re-discovering a masterpiece, review coming soon…watch this space…

Posted in Biography | Leave a comment