Biography & Memoir

News from No One

Jane Miller

21 January 2021

I’ve​ had several official letters recently (including two in one week) telling me to look out because I’m a ‘clinically extremely vulnerable person’. They’re...

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At the Temple

Long Ling

21 January 2021

On​ the evening of the fifteenth day of the seventh month, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the gates of hell open, disgorging spirits to roam the earth for one night. It’s celebrated . . .

Among the Oil-Riggers

Andrew O’Hagan

7 January 2021

Ionce​ asked a high-up man in British Rail if he could name the most frightening train journey in the UK. He didn’t hesitate. ‘The last train from Aberdeen to Glasgow on a Friday night,’ . . .

Reading Bones

Gavin Francis

21 January 2021

Ian​ Hamilton once recounted in the LRB (22 October 1992) that ‘when William F. Buckley Jr sent a copy of his essays to Norman Mailer, he pencilled a welcoming “Hi, Norman!” in . . .

Magic Beans, Baby

David Runciman

7 January 2021

Who​ was Barack Obama? The man himself seems troubled by this question and his notably introspective memoir offers up some surprising answers. Was he, for instance, the same person as Dmitry Medvedev . . .

Always the Same Dream: Princess Margaret

Ferdinand Mount, 4 January 2018

Only the hardest heart would repress a twitch of sympathy. To live on the receiving end of so much gush and so much abuse, to be simultaneously spoilt rotten and hopelessly infantilised, how well would any of us stand up to it?

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On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

A panic suddenly overtakes me, and I wonder: how did I get here? And then the moment passes, and ordinary life closes itself around what had seemed, for a moment, a desperate lack.

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Desperately Seeking Susan: remembering Susan Sontag

Terry Castle, 17 March 2005

Afew weeks ago I found myself scanning photographs of Susan Sontag into my screensaver file: a tiny head shot clipped from Newsweek; two that had appeared in the New York Times; another printed...

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Memoirs of a Pet Lamb: A Memoir

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

Icannot recall the crucial incident itself, can only remember how I cringed when my parents told me about it, proudly, some years later, when I was about nine or ten. We had gone to a tea-shop on...

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A Feeling for Ice

Jenny Diski, 2 January 1997

I am not entirely content with the degree of whiteness in my life. My bedroom is white; white walls, icy mirrors, white sheets and pillowcases, white slatted blinds. It’s the best I could do.

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The Old Devil and his wife

Lorna Sage, 7 October 1993

Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path, and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his.

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Too Close to the Bone

Allon White, 4 May 1989

Faust, despairing of all philosophies, may yet drain a marsh or rescue some acres from the sea.

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett, 23 May 1985

On a bitter cold morning in January 1939 Auden and Isherwood sailed into New York harbour on board the SS Champlain. After coming through a blizzard off Newfoundland the ship looked like a wedding cake and the mood of our two heroes was correspondingly festive and expectant.

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Diary: A Round of Applause

Alan Bennett, 7 January 2021

28 April. The most one can hope from a reader is that he or she should think: ‘Here is somebody who knows what it is like to be me.’ It’s not what E.M. Forster meant by ‘only connect,’...

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The Railway Hobby

Ian Jack, 7 January 2021

A bright winter’s day, the journey south across the Thames on the top deck of a number 4 bus, the walk along Lower Marsh towards the great naval guns at the Imperial War Museum’s entrance....

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Gosh, what am I like? The Revenge Memoir

Rosemary Hill, 17 December 2020

Sasha Swire has lived her whole life in the densely interconnected world of Conservative Party politics, and her decision to publish her diaries, as well as transcripts of private text and WhatsApp messages...

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War is noise: Letters from My Father

Jonathan Raban, 17 December 2020

Peter had just reached the top of the third page (‘poor Darling!’) when the war reasserted itself and he had to break off. The letter continues on 19 February – the beginning of the end...

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This Guilty Land: Every Possible Lincoln

Eric Foner, 17 December 2020

Today, Abraham Lincoln is widely revered, while many Americans, including some historians, consider John Brown mad. Yet it was Brown’s strategy that brought slavery to an end. In a note written shortly...

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Diary: Painting in the Dark

Celia Paul, 17 December 2020

Perhaps the great women artists are noct­urnal creatures who prefer to create freely in the darkness. In this way, too, they avoid being referred to as ‘one of these neurotics’. Perhaps...

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What did Kissinger do in power that has given him such an extraordinary afterlife? He was a consummate showman, a master of the on-the-record and the off-the-record briefing, a darling of the paparazzi,...

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A Regular Grey

Jonathan Parry, 3 December 2020

To​ have one brother killed by an African animal would be a misfortune. To lose two, at different times, is surely remarkable. Such was the distinction of Sir Edward Grey, who served as foreign secretary...

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Diary: America is a baby

Patricia Lockwood, 3 December 2020

‘You’re not the only one,’ a friend assured me, and sent me screenshots of other people who couldn’t change their dresses or remove their ties until the official call came. At best,...

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Diary: The only girl in the moshpit

Joanna Biggs, 5 November 2020

I am the feminist killjoy of Caitlin Moran’s nightmares, scratching my biroed objections all over the book, making a reading list for her in my head. She wrote her first book to eliminate people...

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The Importance of Being Ernie

Ferdinand Mount, 5 November 2020

Ernest Bevin’s vigorous scepticism and his quick understanding of what other people were actually like – a rare quality in politicians, that race of incurable solipsists – went with an...

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Each of us is a snowball: Squares are best

Susannah Clapp, 22 October 2020

Ideal for snoopers, snip­ers, novelists, cartoonists and daydreamers, squares offer the chance of peering out in several directions without someone across from you peering back. They mix urbanity and...

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Goldfish are my homies

John Lahr, 22 October 2020

Fish sleep with their eyes open: not our kind of sleep, more like our kind of daydream. Awake but not awake, just like me; living to eat and conserve energy, just like me; devoid of answers, just like...

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Thom Gunn in New York

Michael Nott, 22 October 2020

Of all the ‘different varieties of New Jerusalem ... I’d only return to one,’ Gunn wrote, ‘For the sexual New Jerusalem was by far the greatest fun.’ ‘He was very interested...

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Short Cuts: Black Forest Thinking

Andrew O’Hagan, 22 October 2020

Stosslüften requires that a window be opened wide at least once a day to give a room a thorough blast; querlüften needs crosscurrents of air, which means windows open at opposite...

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The life of Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale is played out against office gossip, the views from windows, ‘the noise of type-writers’, the business of the day. If, as Eliot told her, a letter...

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China after Covid

Wang Xiuying, 22 October 2020

Since China tamed the virus and normal life resumed, the CCP has bestowed its highest honours on key scientists and doctors. Political commentators, like middle-class consumers, are in high spirits. The...

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Diary: At the Mexican Border

Carlos Dada, 8 October 2020

I had just arrived in the town of Tapachula in the southern state of Chiapas, not far from the Guatemalan border, when I heard that a boat had capsized. On the morning of 11 October, a fisherman had spotted...

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