Tag Archives: Writing

Life under the Islamic State

Review – The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from ‘Islamic State’ by Samer

The Syrian war has produced a great deal of writing, but little of real permanence. Most of its derivative works are journalistic accounts and dry geopolitical analyses. It has yet to produce a new novelist, poet, or memoirist of note, rather than simply providing new material for old hands. Some day, a great book about the Syrian civil war will be written – something that draws deeply from the conflict and sets the tone for a changed nation, region, and world. Such an era-defining conflict will have that effect. Continue reading

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Hack Work

Review – The Prose Factory: Literary Life in England Since 1918 by D. J. Taylor

Is there such thing as a presiding literary culture today? Such is the implicit question of the final chapters of D. J. Taylor’s The Prose Factory, a history of literary life in this country since the end of the Great War. Surveying the ruins of the contemporary publishing industry, where technology has aided the self-publisher and self-publicist and little else, he concludes that there is not. Instead, there could soon be two competing literary cultures – one distinctly and deliberately highbrow, a culture of expensive hardbacks and fashionably small circulations, and the other a culture of genre fiction, ghost-written autobiographies and discounted bestsellers. Continue reading

Unmasking Elena Ferrante

I imagine you have heard of it already, billed as both a great piece of investigative journalism and a terrible crime against literature: the presumed unmasking of the hitherto unknown Elena Ferrante, an Italian writer of style whose essential feature, whose animating influence, had been anonymity. She could have been anyone. That was the thrill; that was a serious attraction. Continue reading

Bilingual Writing and Britain’s Place in the World

In the aftermath of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, a fairly momentous event in the history of the United Kingdom, it seems important – or at least valuable – to look at some reasonably basic things about our country. Many of the assumptions and fundamental preconceptions which we in Britain exhibit can be traced to two things: how we see ourselves, and how we view the rest of the world. In reality, those two issues are really one – the global and the national inseparable in an age of increasing and inescapable interdependence, in economic terms, with regard to political realities, and even in matters cultural. Continue reading

Samuel Johnson and the Vanity of Human Wishes

Samuel Johnson, the Dr Johnson of national memory, is primarily known for his wit. His epigrams are hardly common currency, but they do have a certain appeal – and a certain constituency. Who has not heard ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ or ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ (a particular favourite of Boris Johnson) deployed in conversation by someone altogether too keen on appearing intelligent? Continue reading

William Gerhardie: The Beauty of Futility

Certain novels and novelists remain unknown for a reason. They lack the basic skills required to hold the attention of readers; they are too pedestrian ever to say anything of value; they lack originality, verve and everything else which can make the written word transcend the ordinary. In rare instances, however, obscurity is simply undeserved, but it has still come to pass. In one particular case, that of William Gerhardie, this fate is – at least initially – somewhat surprising. He had a fortuitous start: his work was acclaimed by critics and esteemed by fellow writers (he was famously praised by Evelyn Waugh); and his work, perhaps more importantly of all, had real vitality, genuine energy and poise. Michael Holroyd highlights the following endorsement: ‘“For those of my generation,” wrote Graham Greene, “Gerhardie was the most important new novelist to appear in our young life.”’ Continue reading