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He had it all

Alex Harvey: Fitzgerald’s Decade, 5 July 2018

Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald 
by David S. Brown.
Harvard, 424 pp., £21.95, May 2017, 978 0 674 50482 0
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‘I’d Die for You’ and Other Lost Stories 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Scribner, 384 pp., £9.99, April 2018, 978 1 4711 6473 6
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... next train.’ Under contract as a screenwriter to MGM to pay off his debts and his wife Zelda’s medical bills, Fitzgerald became fixated on a golden-haired British gossip columnist called Sheilah Graham, who had, he said, the look of ‘a young Zelda’. The creator of Jay Gatsby wasn’t slow to see through her persona. Sheilah Graham was actually Lily ...

What was it that drove him?

David Runciman: Gordon Brown, 4 January 2018

My Life, Our Times 
by Gordon Brown.
Bodley Head, 512 pp., £25, November 2017, 978 1 84792 497 1
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... Like many​ recent political memoirists, Gordon Brown begins his story in medias res. Given his rollercoaster time in Downing Street, punctuated by the gut-wrenching drama of the financial crisis, there should have been plenty of arresting moments to choose from. Some, though, are already taken. Alistair Darling, for instance, starts Back from the Brink, his 2011 account of what it was like being Browns chancellor, on Tuesday, 7 October 2008, when Sir Tom McKillop, the chairman of RBS, called him to announce that his bank was about to go bust and to ask what the government planned to do about it ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: David Davis v. Miss Great Britain, 3 July 2008

... When David Davis, the shadow home secretary, announced his resignation as an MP on 12 June – in order to fight a by-election for his own seat on an issue about which he was in total agreement with his party’s line, on which in fact he was his party’s line – the media nearly choked with delight ...

Miss Lachrymose

Liz Brown: Doris Day’s Performances, 11 September 2008

Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door 
by David Kaufman.
Virgin, 628 pp., £29.95, June 2008, 978 1 905264 30 8
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... pants that her mother, Alma, had sewn for the kindergarten pageant were quick to betray her. It’s tempting to see this as a primal scene for Doris Day, the moment from which her longheld stage fright sprang. ‘This shy goddess,’ John Updike once wrote, ‘who avoids parties and live audiences, fascinates us with the amount of space we imagine between her ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: When is a planet not a planet?, 18 August 2005

... When is a planet not a planet? When it’s a warrior princess. On 29 July, astronomers at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory announced the discovery of an object larger than Pluto in the outer reaches of the Solar System. It’s currently known only as 2003 UB313, because it was first seen – or, rather, ‘the data from which the object was discovered were obtained’, as one of its discoverers, Michael Brown, carefully puts it – in the second half of October 2003 (the 21st fortnight of the year; U is the 21st letter of the alphabet ...

Was it a supernova?

Frank Kermode: The Nativity, 4 January 2007

The Nativity: History and Legend 
by Geza Vermes.
Penguin, 177 pp., £7.99, November 2006, 0 14 102446 1
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... there are received ideas about the Nativity narrative that have no warrant in either version. So, it may be asked, who cares? Yet to look into these matters is to come on problems both interesting and intractable and, to some people, important. The trickiest, the best known and perhaps the most important of these is the Virgin Conception, of which more ...

The Destruction of the Public Sphere

Ross McKibbin: Brown v. Cameron, 5 January 2006

... That the next general election will be fought by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Leader of the Opposition David Cameron we do know; but how it will be fought we don’t, in part because the present prime minister will not disclose when he intends to go. Furthermore, both Cameron and Brown are in some senses, but for different reasons, unknown quantities ...

Who was David Peterley?

Michael Holroyd, 15 November 1984

... David Peterley’s Peterley Harvest was first published on 24 October 1960. The book had a curious history and, shortly before publication, stories began to appear in the press declaring it to be an elaborate hoax. The jacket of the book contained the information that David Peterley was the only son of an old Quaker family that had ‘lived in the Chilterns and been neighbours of Milton and the Penns ...

Two Poems

David Morley, 23 February 2006

... not to bark at bears, but slyly, gently, slink, big-eyed as children behind their shepherd’s greeting. Ambling, bears, always ambling … mooching to Mi-develeskey Tem, My God’s Town, and the God for all bears too, God of paws and padding, of Polar, Kodiak and Koala; sniffing superiorly through Dinelo Tem, the ...

Fergie Time

David Runciman: Sir Alex Speaks (again), 9 January 2014

My Autobiography 
by Alex Ferguson.
Hodder, 402 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 0 340 91939 2
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... Conspiracy theorists are often simply nuts. Ferguson may be a conspiracy theorist as well, but if so he isn’t letting on. In this, his fourth autobiography, he has a chapter about his interests outside football. One of his passions is the Kennedy assassination, to which he has devoted a lot of time and a fair bit of money, collecting documents, videos and ...

This Way to the Ruin

David Runciman: The British Constitution, 7 February 2008

The British Constitution 
by Anthony King.
Oxford, 432 pp., £25, November 2007, 978 0 19 923232 1
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... of all-seeing sufficiency, leaves a great deal out, including the rules governing the country’s electoral system: the principle of first past the post is an integral feature of the constitutional order, but nowhere is this actually specified. In fact, it is rare for modern constitutions to fix the details of the electoral system. This is perhaps because ...

Nostalgia for the Vestry

James Buchan: Thatcherism, 30 November 2006

Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts 
by Simon Jenkins.
Allen Lane, 375 pp., £20, October 2006, 0 7139 9595 5
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... Dispair [sic]-Hope. These are the bones of the prayer attributed (not very plausibly) to St Francis of Assisi that Margaret Thatcher quoted on the steps of 10 Downing Street on her first day as prime minister, 4 May 1979: ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.’ Thatcher had just called on the queen and no doubt wrote the words as an ...

This Charming Man

Frank Kermode, 24 February 1994

The Collected and Recollected Marc 
Fourth Estate, 51 pp., £25, November 1993, 1 85702 164 9Show More
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... leaving it; and then, without serious intermission, he became and remained famous in London. And so, throughout his life, he was unwittingly acquiring eulogists. The blurb of this book calls him ‘irresistible’, and the contents concur. They include a lavish visual celebration of Marc as cartoonist and caricaturist, and a collection of pieces by eloquent ...

Thatcherism

Gordon Brown, 2 February 1989

Thatcherism 
edited by Robert Skidelsky.
Chatto, 214 pp., £18, November 1988, 0 7011 3342 2
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The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left 
by Stuart Hall.
Verso, 283 pp., £24.95, December 1988, 0 86091 199 3
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... achiever in government, also went happily without. Across the Channel, de Gaulle had one but so, it is salutary to recall, did Poujade and, in an earlier era, Boulanger. Nevertheless, for the moment, we have Thatcherism, seen variously by admirers and by the less convinced in terms of both style and ideology. Mrs Thatcher’...

Secretly Sublime

Iain Sinclair: The Great Ian Penman, 19 March 1998

Vital Signs 
by Ian Penman.
Serpent’s Tail, 374 pp., £10.99, February 1998, 1 85242 523 7
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... folds in the map, is that Paul Schrader, the director of a sassy remake of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, admired Penman’s review so much that he invited him over to Los Angeles to talk product. Penman in California was truly the vision of a man who fell to earth, a pale alien in ...

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