In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

Three PoemsGareth Reeves

Look, No Mirror

In a corner of our garage
lurks his medicine cabinet
I thought would come in handy.
It smells as strong as it ever did
of his potions and lotions,
and mostly of his electric after-shave.

His desk had a hook
which carried the wire from the plug
to his shaver. Each morning before work
he’d fish the Remington out of a drawer,
plug in, and then lean back
to a contemplative buzz.
He did it all by feel.
To get the sideburns
he’d place an index finger across,
then shave up to it, like a ballerina
tucking a flower over the ear.

I never saw him look in a mirror.

Pots and Pans

His territorial sense grew sharper
as his sight blurred,
especially in the kitchen:
‘Where have they put the bloody sugar?
Don’t they know I can’t see.’
He took up cookery when mother died,
puffing Hamlet or Manikin
through thick and thin
to what he called wallpaper music,
monotonous classical,
speakers in every room.
Dinner-guests had to ignore
the ash-log centred on the mousse,
the slug in a fold of lettuce,
and enjoy the washing-up afterwards.
They came for the badinage;
the food would have to do.

From America I sent him
The Large-Type Cook Book.
His thank-you carped ‘not large enough.’
I reclaimed it when he died,
small-mindedly got my own back.

Listening in

He had a Talking Book.
One year the whole of War and Peace
followed him round the house.

He also had talking people,
readers paid to be toneless:
‘Why will they be expressive?
Actors manqués – so are most actors.
Let the words do the work.’

Mother was an expert Wife to Mr Reeves.
She read the Times letters after lunch
every day, without taking in a word –
his window on the world:
he liked to keep in touch, at second hand,
and was a fan of the first-cuckoo-of-the-year type.

He started an interminable correspondence
about Proust’s madeleines – ‘how could
his imagination have been fed
by such dull grub?’ – and was sent recipes
and even a box of madeleine-like biscuits.

Milton was too ambitious, he said.
He liked his high art to keep a low profile.
Much of his day-labour was spent
chiding ambition. In the dark hours
he’d nod off in his armchair
and wake to the ticking of a run-out LP,
then struggle upstairs
to write a lyric in thick felt-tip.

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.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

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

Newsletter Preferences