In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling


Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road with Gypsy Rose Lee 
by Erik Lee Preminger.
Deutsch, 277 pp., £9.95, March 1985, 0 233 97736 8
Show More
George Thomas, Mr Speaker: The Memoirs of Viscount Tonypandy 
Century, 242 pp., £9.95, February 1985, 0 7126 0706 4Show More
Toff down Pit 
by Kit Fraser.
Quartet, 129 pp., £8.95, January 1985, 0 7043 2513 6
Show More
Menlove: The Life of John Menlove Edwards 
by Jim Perrin.
Gollancz, 347 pp., £14.95, February 1985, 0 575 03571 4
Show More
Show More

For his 15th Christmas, Erik Lee Preminger’s mother gave him an antique gold watch and two glass eyes set in clay, with a card which said: ‘Remember dear, Mother is always watching.’ She thought it a hysterically funny gift, but he found it strange and unsettling. The last thing he needed, on the brink of manhood, was a symbolic reminder of her domestic omnipotence. Preminger may not move on the exalted literary plane of Edmund Gosse, but the impulse behind his book is not dissimilar to that which gave rise to Father and Son. Gypsy and Me absolutely had to be written, ostensibly as a tribute to a remarkable woman, but more importantly as a way of resolving a near-mortal conflict.

That conflict consisted of nothing so banal as simple hostility. The author is 12 as his tale begins, and he implies that until this stage the relationship has been agreeably harmonious. He introduces his mother at a turning-point in her career, and he introduces himself in a role which would make psychiatrists reach eagerly for their notebooks. We meet Gypsy Rose Lee, world-famous stripper and comedienne, as she works a New Year’s Eve date in a provincial club. Erik is her acolyte and general factotum. She is imperiously displeased with everything and everyone, and his thankless job is constantly to smooth things over. She has decided it’s time to quit, and the ground trembles under his feet. He panders nervously to her whims, feeds her superstitions (12 grapes to be consumed as midnight strikes), but is swept joyfully into her show once it gets under way. Four hands animated by a single brain, they prepare the spell together. She glues on her G-string and the black lace bows (one carefully crooked) that cover her breasts. Between numbers, he officiates as dresser, the spotlights set so that only his arms are seen: she wants the audience to assume her dresser is a maid. The act is provocative yet chaste: the audience are maddened with delight, and he is proud and happy.

As her career begins to veer and dip, Erik moves into the rapids of adolescence. The huge success of her autobiographical show Gypsy finances a grand European tour on which he acts as her cameraman, helps her spend vast sums on antiques, and aids and abets her kleptomaniac raids on hotel foyers and linen-cupboards. He enjoys all this, but he also learns the pleasure of defying her, if initially over trivialities. Back at their palatial Manhattan home things start to go wrong. She ‘employs’ him to sell copies of her books outside theatres, and pleads poverty when he asks for a new suit. His lifelong habit of petty thieving from her coffers is suddenly no longer petty, and rows ensue. Legally under age, he gets himself wheels, and gets himself laid. She sends him to a psychiatrist, who bolsters his rebellion. But the worst thing is that, to her, all this represents merely a peripheral disturbance. While he is drowning in the maelstrom of her casual caprices, she is plotting new projects and gallivanting around with her high-powered showbiz friends. One day, with sudden and shocking brutality, she forces him to terminate his first big love affair, as he weeps into the phone under her unrelenting stare. His first feeling, he says, was self-loathing, but ‘next I hated Mother, not passionately, but with an icy revulsion.’

That a progressive moral collapse should follow – hippiedom, then the army – is hardly surprising. He has been robbed of identity at every level. Enjoying equal status with money and her disagreeable little dog (‘darling’ applies to both it and him), he has not even been allowed his own hobbies (‘his’ stamp collection and train layout are in reality hers). There is also the little matter of his name, which has changed more than once in tandem with her changing allegiances, and there is the related issue of his real father’s identity. When 18-year-old Erik finally asks who she was with on the night in question, her first reply is that it’s none of his business, and his first reaction is to accept that reply as reasonable. Persistence obtains her admission that the father, carefully chosen for his sterling qualities, was Otto Preminger, and from this moment on Erik’s story becomes strangely benign.

In an extraordinarily touching scene, he meets his film-maker father (the famous surname is not immediately conferred) and is subsequently employed by him; he marries and procreates. At length the emotional miracle occurs. Time and distance allow him to see his mother’s faults as facets of her tenaciously creative personality, and one day truth comes in the guise of a lemon meringue pie. ‘Your favourite,’ she says, thrusting a slice at him and beaming. He has always loathed the stuff, but ‘in less time than it took to think the thought, I realised that she couldn’t help herself. She genuinely loved me ... but a short-circuit in her psyche prevented her from empathising, from making that step outside of her feelings into mine.’ He takes a big bite and feigns enjoyment. His book began as bitter comedy, but it ends, with her early death from cancer, in a rush of love.

There seems to have been nothing problematic about George Thomas’s relationship with his mother, even if he has dedicated his memoirs not to her but to the Mother of Parliaments. His mercifully long-lived Mam was, he tells us in his first paragraph, ‘the single most important influence in my life’, and that assertion is borne out at every stage of his serenely upward progress. His opening chapter, a true-romance account of his part in the recent Royal Wedding, reads like one of those taking-tea-with-the-Queen dreams which most commoners experience at one time or another, but bliss for him requires a further ingredient. ‘As I read the Archbishop’s words’ – inviting him to read the lesson – ‘I looked at my mother’s picture on the mantel piece and thought, if only you were here now.’ Happily, Mam was able to share many of his other triumphs, and the biggest photograph in George Thomas, Mr Speaker shows her presenting him with a daffodil on the day he was appointed Secretary of State for Wales. Fighting the election for Cardiff Central in 1945, he took as his slogan: ‘I will fight to ensure that no other mother suffers as mine has done.’ Her sufferings were economic, of course, like those of any other coalminer’s wife in the Thirties. In little George, who never married, she had the perfect son.

Much of his book reads like a series of postcards home, complete with snaps: Self with the Queen, Self with Prince Charles, Kenyatta, Chairman Hua, Lee Kuan Yew, Self receiving life-membership of the NUT (some gift!), Self receiving honorary doctorate, Self in state robes. The great events of history alternate, paragraph by cosy paragraph, with the great events of his career, and with the truisms he exultantly unearths. The world shrinks under his gaze. Life, for him, is a matter of simple politics and simple Sabbatarian piety: from Chicago to Colombo, he preaches in the local Methodist church wherever he goes. He meets the Birdman of Alcatraz, but has nothing to say about him. He recalls a mining disaster, but its prime interest lies in its moral lesson for him. Since he was the nerve-wracked minister in charge when the Aberfan tip collapsed we may forgive the conventionality of his account of that event, but his routine lack of curiosity becomes wearisome.

Some people think his very limitations, even his pathological obsession with pomp, made him a good Speaker, insofar as that job requires the maintenance of a still political centre. The detractors he has recently acquired would say that the slavered-over wig and silver buckles adorned a vacuum, and when one compares the complexity of the task with the simplicity of his mind the latter view is persuasive. Has he betrayed his office by breaking confidence and revealing the backstage manoeuvres of Michael Foot and others? Yes, but the revelations are of interest in that they indicate a secret system. Whether they are accurate is another question, of more interest to Mr Foot and his friends than it is to the rest of us. The most amusing revelation of all dates from long before the boy from the Rhondda made it to the Speaker’s chair, and shows Jim Callaghan dropping on his knees to pray with Thomas and then, having softened him up, requesting his support for the party leadership. True or false – and who cares? – this is just old-fashioned Parliamentary back-stabbing, and Viscount Tonypandy, with his charm, humbug, snobbery and sentimentality, is at bottom just an old-fashioned Parliamentarian.

Thomas’s memories of the 1926 strike and its aftermath ring a loud contemporary bell. His mother helped set up soup kitchens for the children of the unemployed. He recalls the impossibility of dole applicants’ ‘genuinely seeking work’ in a world of silent pits, and the local businessmen’s faith that their customers would honour the enormous debts they had incurred while out of work. Toff down Pit describes a social foray which took place prior to 1984, but its interest is greatly enhanced by what has happened since. The publisher’s blurb compares it, with predictable effrontery, to The Road to Wigan Pier, but the respective authors share little beyond their privileged backgrounds and their chosen subject-matter. Whereas Orwell’s report on underground life was the prelude to a formidable piece of political analysis, Kit Fraser’s jaunt had a limited, descriptive purpose.

Just as the gossipy bits of Mr Speaker were gleefully brandished by the press, so with Mr Fraser’s assertion that, on a good day, work at the coalface would hardly tax a debutante. The right-wing columnists who seized on that quote preferred not to read on to the following paragraph, in which the author describes the pain and exhaustion when things go wrong, but since the whole book oscillates between serious observation and puerile playing to the gallery, that will doubtless not be seen by him as a disaster. Fraser decided, at 23, to spend a year as a miner to prove his manhood. At the lowest conceivable level he did: he recounts the grimy details of his first copulation with triumphant candour. At a more dignified level, he learned to endure quite nasty persecution, physical violence in the pit-shaft lift, lighted cigarettes quietly inserted into his pockets, public humiliation every hour of the day. He had the guts to challenge a tormentor to a fight, if also the luck to have that challenge contemptuously ignored. He learned to labour as part of a team. If the chronicle closes with his climbing up onto his parents’ bed in tears, at the prospect of once more quitting the ancestral pile for a South Shields bedsit, he did at least survive.

That survival was due in part, he thinks, to his adoption of a caricature persona, a Spectator young-fogey sort of image, with braying voice and flamboyantly pompous opinions. Loudness, he says, is liked down the pit, and this kind allowed the men to accept him. He appreciates their problem. For example, having lost his mates their unsocial-hours allowance through an innocent request, he made it up out of his own pocket: the latter crime (of being ‘soft’) only compounded the former, as well as emphasising the fact that he was there by choice rather than from economic necessity. The progress of his relationship with a rabidly republican Irishman, with whom he rashly chose to share digs, is both funny and frightening. Initially, like creatures from alien planets, they cautiously got on, playing Scrabble and shopping together in the local supermarket, but things soon degenerated to the point where they would watch television and eat breakfast in silence, going off each day to open war at work.

In his gossamer-light way, and when he forgets to pose (the book is cast in the form of dormitory epistles to an old school chum), Fraser is genuinely interesting. The miners’ communal generosity, their right-wing social views, the town-council atmosphere of their Lodge, their modest and sensibly-controlled little strikes, the admirable processes whereby deputies and overmen are selected – all this is convincingly presented. He writes entertainingly of their more private customs, including their methods of obtaining a ‘sharp loose’ (early finish). This desirable prize may be won by escorting an injured miner from the pit (very light injuries can apparently count), and it may also be earned by taking out damaged gear (which is, like damaged men, in consequently great demand). He describes the aftermath of a fatal accident in a memorable passage. He provides a glossary of the miners’ often poetic technical terms (‘endless’ – a circular haulage rope; ‘inbye’ and ‘outbye’ – towards the coalface and the shaft respectively), and he explains the overtones in ‘calling’ (gossiping slanderously) and ‘bubbling’ (informing). One closes the book feeling that he was probably a pain to work with, that he’ll dine out on the experience for ever, but that he’s earned the right to speak.

Menlove was a common Lancashire name early this century, but it perfectly denotes both the splendour and the misery of Jim Perrin’s subject. Menlove Edwards was a great rock-climber, a bad poet, the author of some remarkable prose fragments, a conscientious objector, a good psychotherapist and a bad psychological theorist whose overarchingly simple notions pointed towards the paranoia which would lead, after several grotesquely botched attempts, to his suicide. Perrin is himself a leading rock-climber, and Menlove is his devoted attempt to explain the pain and celebrate what he sees as the achievement of his subject’s life. Though he makes no extravagant claims for the poetry, his commentary is more than a touch reminiscent of Dr Kinbote’s stalking of John Shade’s poetic essence in Pale Fire. He leads the increasingly reluctant reader as though in a seminar, speculating on the significance of the not very significant. Despite his eloquent beginning, on Menlove’s austerely happy home background, his book reads like a case-history of a case-history.

You rock, you heaviness a man can clasp,
You steady buttress-block for hold ...

Sexual lyrics like this link animal and mineral activities in a remarkable way, and shed light on the real meaning of the sport, possibly for others besides Menlove. Flake Crack, Girdle Traverse, Purgatory, Belle Vue Bastion, Lot’s Groove, Nose Direct: the names which he and his friends bestowed on the ‘classic’ climbs they created are very suggestive. Discussing the ‘almost symbiotic relationship’ which developed between Menlove and a particular cluster of damp grooves in North Wales, Perrin moves into analysis: ‘Did he equate their rottenness with his own feelings of guilt about his homosexuality? Was there ... subconscious acceptance of the received opinion that he who climbed here could not be of sound mind?’ No detail is too trivial for inclusion in Perrin’s exhaustive accounts of his hero’s climbs, and the language is quaintly specialised: ‘An enjoyable Very Severe, delicate, open, and on clean rock with sparse, indefinite holds.’

The affectionate little boy grew into a charismatic youth, who became an altruistic social campaigner, who became a mad middle-aged man given to diatribes resembling John Cleese sketches. The innocent heartiness of his exploits lives on in the memory of his friends. It is all suffocatingly sad.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.