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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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Maria’s Mystery

Gabriele Annan, 6 November 1980

Maria: Beyond the Callas Legend 
by Arianna Stassinopoulos.
Weidenfeld, 329 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 297 77544 8
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... Maria Callas died almost exactly three years ago. Two months later Arianna Stassinopoulos was commissioned to write her biography. She was half-way through when she made the discovery that there were two Callases: La Callas, the diva of the legend, and Maria, the living suffering woman ‘beyond’. ‘And just as she was in danger of disappearing into a shimmer of ordinariness – of insecurities, of snobbery, of fears, of common humanity – I rediscovered her without illusions in all her real rather than her public greatness … It is this passion for life, for her art and for something unknown beyond both, that was compelling her and driving her forever on ...

A Resonance for William Styron

Gabriele Annan, 7 November 1985

Savage Grace 
by Natalie Robins and Steven Aronson.
Gollancz, 473 pp., £10.95, October 1985, 0 575 03738 5
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... In 1972 a 26-year-old American schizophrenic, Anthony Baekeland, killed his mother Barbara with a kitchen knife. They had been sleeping together. It was her idea: she thought it would cure his homosexuality. An earlier cure by means of a French girl had not been completely successful; Tony’s father, Brooks Baekeland, had gone off with the girl he married after Barbara’s death ...

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 ...

Lament for the members of a class of masters

Gabriele Annan, 6 December 1990

The Snows of Yesteryear: Portraits for an Autobiography 
by Gregor von Rezzori, translated by H.F. Broch de Rothermann.
Chatto, 290 pp., £16.99, November 1990, 0 7011 3666 9
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... Gregor von Rezzori was born on his mother’s estate in Bukovina in 1914. Bukovina was Austrian in those days, Romanian after the First World War, and Russian after the second. The Rezzoris were minor Austrian gentry administering the outposts of empire, more like the British in India than like the magnates who entertained Patrick Leigh-Fermor when he passed through the Balkans ...

Poor Jack

Noël Annan, 5 December 1985

Leaves from a Victorian Diary 
by Edward Leeves and John Sparrow.
Alison Press/Secker, 126 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 436 24370 9
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... In the Berlin restaurant Baron Kuno von Pregnitz, ignoring Mr Norris, suddenly asked the young Englishman: ‘And, excuse me, how are the Horse Guards?’ ‘Still sitting there.’ ‘Yes? I am glad to hear this. Ho! Ho! Ho! ... Excuse me, I can remember them very well.’ They had in fact been sitting there for longer perhaps than Christopher Isherwood knew ...

Seriously ugly

Gabriele Annan, 11 January 1990

Weep no more 
by Barbara Skelton.
Hamish Hamilton, 166 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 241 12200 7
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... This, say Barbara Skelton’s publishers, is the ‘second – and some people will be relieved to hear, final – volume of her riotous autobiography’. On page one of volume one there is a quotation from Harriette Wilson about the meaning of the term ‘gentleman’ – a subject not really very close to Skelton’s heart. For an English autobiographer, she seems wonderfully free from snobbery, whether plain or inverted ...

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