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... It should now be generally agreed except possibly in the Fens that Evelyn Waugh was the greatest English novelist of his generation. Certainly Graham Greene, Henry Green and Angus Wilson thought so, although they and not he won the worldly honours Waugh would dearly have loved. On the other hand, that redoubtable holder of the Order of Merit, J.B. Priestley, did not think so ...

Redheads

Gabriele Annan, 25 March 1993

Alias Olympia: A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model and Her Own Desire 
by Eunice Lipton.
Thames and Hudson, 192 pp., £14.95, March 1993, 0 500 23651 8
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... The blurb says that Eunice Lipton is ‘a distinguished art historian’, but don’t be misled by that or by the alluring reproduction of Manet’s Olympia (head and neck only) on the dust-jacket. Read the health warning beside it: ‘A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model and Her Own Desire’. This is not art history, but part autobiography, part historical sleuthing and part feminist consciousness-raising ...

Mad John

Gabriele Annan, 28 June 1990

McEnroe: Taming the Talent 
by Richard Evans.
Bloomsbury, 216 pp., £14.99, June 1990, 0 7475 0618 3
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... This is Richard Evans’s second book on McEnroe. The Struwwelpeter of tennis is now 31 and No 4 in the international ratings. The first book, McEnroe: A Rage for Perfection, came out eight years ago when McEnroe was 23 and rated No 1. The new book belongs to the genre of defensive biography. It is as though Oliver had written a life of Roland: the wise, steady friend standing up for the brilliant, wayward hero ...

The Bart

Gabriele Annan, 10 December 1987

Broken Blood: The Rise and Fall of the Tennant Family 
by Simon Blow.
Faber, 224 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 571 13374 6
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... And yet, could the age of the conquering bourgeoisie flourish, when large tracts of the bourgeoisie itself found themselves so little engaged in the generation of wealth, and drifting so rapidly and so far away from the puritan ethic, the values of work and effort, accumulation through abstention, duty and moral earnestness, which had given them their identity, pride and ferocious energy ...

Too vulgar

Gabriele Annan, 13 February 1992

The Last Empress: The Life and Times of Zita of Austria-Hungary 
by Gordon Brook-Shepherd.
HarperCollins, 364 pp., £20, November 1991, 0 00 215861 2
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... Queen consorts usually have their lives written by the Barbara Cartlands of biography, romantics like Joan Haslip whose life of the famous fascinator Elizabeth of Austria, the last empress but one, was as spirited as its subject. Gordon Brook-Shepherd is not that kind of writer at all (nor was his empress that kind of empress). A former foreign correspondent and deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph, he is a specialist in modern Central European history who munches informatively through the events on his plate ...

Lyris, Clovis, Nat and Candy

Gabriele Annan: Shena Mackay, 16 July 1998

The Artist's Widow 
by Sheila Mackay.
Cape, 288 pp., £12.99, July 1998, 0 224 05134 2
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... Shena Mackay’s latest novel invites you to observe the Zeitgeist of 1997 addling the brains and hearts of quite a large number of Londoners. They seem an incongruous lot, but with her usual ingenuity she manages to portion out the action among them and to make them connect (not necessarily in the Forsterian sense). They tend to come in pairs locked in ideological conflict, which doesn’t have to be verbal: it can be expressed in their behaviour, their domestic arrangements, their clothes ...

Diary

Noël Annan: On Ralph Dahrendorf, 27 September 1990

... I see that Ralph Dahrendorf has given us his reflections on the revolution in Eastern Europe.* Burke wrote his on the French Revolution to ‘a very young gentleman in Paris’ in order to damp his enthusiasm and instil some doubts in his mind; Dahrendorf his to a considerably older gentleman in Warsaw to dispel some fashionable muddles about the future in our minds as well as in his ...

Not nobody

Gabriele Annan, 24 October 1991

Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia 
by Marion Countess Dönhoff.
Knopf, 204 pp., $22.95, November 1990, 0 394 58255 1
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... The Red Countess’ – die rote Gräfin – is well-known in Germany. More green than red now, and never any redder than the SPD, she is 81, still an active political journalist and still publishing Die Zeit, her country’s most prestigious political weekly, which she edited from 1968 to 1973. At one time she was asked to stand for Bundespräsident ...

Count Waller’s Story

Gabriele Annan, 24 November 1994

Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz 
by Irene Dische.
Bloomsbury, 147 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 7475 0835 6
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... The hero of Irene Dische’s first novel was Adolf Hitler, alive and well and living in New Jersey. The hero of her second is Benedikt August Anton Cecil August Count Waller von Wallerstein. As a boy, he was obsessed with drawing. He always drew the same thing: stick figures battling each other with swords, spears, truncheons, whips. He held the pencil in his fist, and pressed so hard that the point pierced through the paper ...

Royal Anxiety

Gabriele Annan, 9 June 1994

The Queen 
by Kenneth Harris.
Weidenfeld, 341 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 297 81211 4
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Divine Right: The Inglorious Survival of British Royalty 
by Richard Tomlinson.
Little, Brown, 357 pp., £17.50, June 1994, 0 316 91119 4
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... My favourite recent book about the Queen is called The Queen’s Knickers by Nicholas Allan. It is a picture book for small children. The centre spread presents several rows of knickers for every royal occasion: Union Jack knickers for state visits, black knickers for state funerals, tartan for Balmoral, knickers printed all over with corgis for home, and appliquéd with real holly for Christmas, ‘which is why she keeps her Christmas message very short ...
Lost 
by Hans-Ulrich Treichel, translated by Carol Brown Janeway.
Picador, 145 pp., £10, January 2000, 0 330 39093 7
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... We all have at least one terrible friend. Each one of us is someone’s terrible friend.’ The epigram was coined by a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge called Jack Gallagher, You could adapt it to the present mood in Europe by saying: ‘Asylum seekers are a menace. Each one of us is someone’s menacing asylum seeker.’ It doesn’t even have to be a Gypsy; it could just be the retired couple fleeing from Guildford who have bought the Tuscan farm across the valley from yours ...

Two Mishas and Two Sergeys

Gabriele Annan: Andrey Kurkov, 7 June 2001

Death and the Penguin 
by Andrey Kurkov, translated by George Bird.
Harvill, 228 pp., £9.99, March 2001, 1 86046 835 7
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... The penguin is called Misha and lives with Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov in his bachelor flat in Kiev. His eyes are small and melancholy. Viktor adopted him the year before the story begins, when the zoo was giving hungry animals away to anyone able to feed them. That must have been in 1994: the novel was written between December 1995 and February 1996, so the events in its short course presumably occurred in 1995 ...

Conversions

Gabriele Annan: Ivan Klíma, 13 December 2001

No Saints or Angels 
by Ivan Klíma, translated by Gerald Turner.
Granta, 267 pp., £14.99, October 2001, 1 86207 448 8
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... A parable, says the OED, is ‘a fictitious narrative (usually about something that might naturally occur), by which moral or spiritual relations are typically set forth’. Klíma’s new novel fits the description exactly. There are three main characters, who take it in turns to tell the story and do a lot of thinking about ‘moral or spiritual relations’, each in his or her own voice and idiom ...

Flights of the Enchanter

Noël Annan, 4 April 1991

A Traveller’s Alphabet: Partial Memoirs 
by Steven Runciman.
Thames and Hudson, 214 pp., £16.95, February 1991, 9780500015049
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... At the end of the First World War a schoolboy at Eton had come to the conclusion that people could be divided into the stupids (the hearties) or the sillies (the clever trendies). Nor did his teachers escape censure. He thought them ill-informed, and one wrote wistfully in his end-of-term report: ‘I wish this boy were kinder to me.’ Steven Runciman was already beginning to see history in a different perspective from his mentors ...

Outfits to die for

Gabriele Annan, 10 February 1994

A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-60 
by Jeanine Basinger.
Chatto, 528 pp., £14.99, January 1994, 0 7011 6093 4
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... You could call this a post-feminist work – ‘post’ even the new-wave feminism-with-a-smile of writers like Naomi Wolf. Jeanine Basinger seems out not so much to deconstruct Hollywood as to defuse the horror myth of its patriarchal Weltanschauung. The patriarchalism is there all right, but riddled with subversion. Her attitude is most clearly seen when she deals with Shirley Temple ...

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