Flaubert, the Parrot and Me

Julian Barnes

Is it possible – let alone proper – for a novelist to feel grateful to a book he or she has written? Even if the self that wrote the book is forty years away, isn’t there something creepy or self-satisfied about it? I could pretend that it’s Flaubert I am grateful to, for without him my novel Flaubert’s Parrot could not have existed; but the truth is that I mainly feel gratitude to that book.


What's up, Maggie Nelson?

Emily Witt

Whyis Maggie Nelson writing this way, I wondered, after reading the first pages of her new book, On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint. Nelson has written cultural criticism before, but she is better known for her memoirs The Argonauts and The Red Parts, existential inquiries that describe her experiences of sex, childbirth and violence while also drawing on cultural theory and...


On Omicron

Rupert Beale

We have seen​ plenty of viral variants, some with Spike genes of sufficient interest to merit a Greek letter. Spike is the virus’s entry weapon, and the bit of the virus that’s targeted by vaccines. If your antibodies block Spike, you block the virus – and if Spike has mutated, it may have become better at dodging those antibodies. Delta has been the most vicious variant so...


As the Lock Rattles

John Lanchester

It is simple common sense that failing to lock down early enough or hard enough causes a longer, harder lockdown later – a bias towards liberty logically involves earlier lockdown. But that was, and is, too much for many Tories to grasp. ... It isn’t always possible to draw a straight line from someone’s personal life to their public works. Johnson’s private life is his business. But one thing you can say about a man responsible for at least nine pregnancies by at least four different women is that he is prone to wishful thinking. That wishful thinking is the common theme in the government’s failures from spring 2020 to autumn 2020 to now. Johnson doesn’t want certain things to be true, so he acts as if they can be ignored. That strategy has worked for him in domestic politics. It was at the heart of his advocacy for Brexit. But it doesn’t work in economics, and it doesn’t work in dealing with a pandemic.



Erin Maglaque

It was good​ to be a butcher in Antwerp. The Butchers’ Guild was one of the oldest in the city and membership was hereditary: the names of the 62 old butchering families were inscribed in the guild’s Lineage Book. Turned out in blood-red tunics, the butchers spent the morning trading cattle at the Ossenmarkt, or selling sausages and offal in the Vleeshuis, the butchers’...


Wrestling Days

Tom Crewe

Noone could understand. My dad used to come in, glare at the TV and stalk off. My mum was bemused. My brother detested it. Once it was no longer cool, the other kids mocked me, and eventually I stopped mentioning it. I didn’t mind the secrecy – my passion acquired a pure intensity this way, stoppered up like a gin. But where did it come from? I liked reading, hated sports, was...

Short Cuts

State Capture

Abby Innes

The UK has the third largest lobbying industry in the world. When ministers and prime ministers with no experience in corporate governance retire into jobs in sectors they were once supposed to regulate, at pay rates beyond the wildest dreams of the average voter, are we really meant to believe that they are recruited for their good judgment? There remains a near total lack of legal regulation around some of the most serious systemic risks in the ‘self-regulation’ principle held by MPs.


At the Panto

Andrew O’Hagan

At​ the rehearsals for Cinderella, the choreographer was clapping out the beat while ten young dancers jumped and twirled. It was a festival of Nike socks, North Face joggers, Calvin Klein T-shirts and scooped up hair. It wasn’t a Glasgow I’m accustomed to seeing. The hall was littered with pumpkins, baskets of apples, a trolley with three geese sticking out of it. There was a...

It’s thought that counts

It’s thought that counts

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In Stoppardian Fashion

Susannah Clapp

Tom Stoppard wrote​ Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead while listening to ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. He would like to have written Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Threaded into each of his plays is a coded tribute: an MP in Dirty Linen, a clerk in The Invention of Love and two characters in Leopoldstadt are all called...


Rose Macaulay’s Pleasures

Rosemary Hill

‘Abroad … is it worth the trouble of getting there?’ So begins Rose Macaulay’s alphabetical journey through the mixed pleasures of existence. First published in 1935, this reissue comes at a moment when Abroad is once again hedged about with difficulty. The bureaucratic obstacles ‘that crouch and snarl before you’ like dragons no longer include...


‘Harlem Shuffle’

Paul Mendez

Colson Whitehead​ planned Harlem Shuffle as a comic relief project after the trauma of writing The Underground Railroad (2016), his novel of captivity and escape set in the 19th-century American South. Following Trump’s election, however, he felt unable to detach himself from the reality of institutional racism in the US. The Nickel Boys (2019), the book he began instead, was inspired...

Recipes from the Cake Shop 2: Winter

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