SPIRITED THINKING SINCE 1888
Ian Thomson

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February 13, 2020
Tel Aviv gleamed like a jewel beneath us as we landed at Ben Gurion Airport at night and went through Israeli border control. “Who invited you to Israel? And your wife, what does she do?” I had not been back to Israel since 1981. In Jerusalem, half an hour away by train, we unpacked at
October 31, 2019
Serotonin By Michel Houellebecq, William Heinemann, 309pp, £20/$27 Michel Houellebecq, the French novelist and professional contrarian, delights in puncturing metro-liberal orthodoxies and shocking the reader with descriptions of internet pornography, pill-popping, sex tourism, the plight of the modern male and other aspects of urban anomie. Though not for the faint-hearted, Houellebecq is admired in France
August 15, 2019
Chanel’s Riviera: Life, Love and Struggle for Survival on the Côte d’Azur 1930-1944 By Anne de Courcy Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 304pp, £20/$24.50 Ever since Coco Chanel launched her best-selling perfume, Chanel No 5, almost a century ago in 1921, French fragrance has acquired a mystique all of its own. Chanel’s abstract, imperiously powdery parfum changed
May 23, 2019
Collected Poems By Marius Kociejowski Carcanet, 99pp, £12.95/$18.99 The literary travelogue – with elements of history, anthropology, personal experience and quest – is a difficult genre. In the absence of conventional plot, the challenge is to create a forward momentum, something that Bruce Chatwin, say, or WG Sebald were notably skilled at doing. Marius Kociejowski,
May 09, 2019
In May 2015, some 200 members of PEN America, a respected literary organisation to which many writers belong, decided not to present the survivors of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris with a newly established Freedom of Expression Courage Award. While not everyone admired the satirical French magazine’s crude cartoons and mockery of aspects of
January 17, 2019
Fellini’s Eternal Rome By Alessandro Carrera Bloomsbury, 186pp, £65/$80 No film conjured so memorably the flashbulb glitz and moral darkness of Italy’s post-war “economic miracle” as Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. A box-office triumph in 1960, it launched Marcello Mastroianni as the world-weary matinee idol, and Anita Ekberg as a Swedish diva-in-furs. Beneath the roseate
November 22, 2018
The Letters of Sylvia Plath: Volume II Edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen Krull, Faber and Faber, 1,025pp, £35/$35 Since her suicide in the winter of early 1963, Sylvia Plath has been squabbled over by feminists who claim her as a martyr to their cause, literary critics who see her as one of the most
November 01, 2018
Soho in the Eighties by Christopher Howse, bloomsbury, 266pp, £20 Soho in the 1970s, with its strip joints and steamed-up caffs, was an exciting place for a teenager to explore. I used to play truant there from my school south of the river. The sex industry was then at its peak as the vice barons
October 04, 2018
Brazil: A Biography by Lilia Schwarcz and Heloisa Starling, Allen Lane, 761pp, £30 In a now famous book of 1928, Manifesto Antropófago, Brazil’s leading modernist poet, Oswald de Andrade, described Brazilian culture as anthropophagic, or “cannibalistic”, eating other forms of European and African literature and music. Brazil itself is a land of bewildering mixed bloods
September 13, 2018
Dante thought politicians had ruined Italy. His poem takes revenge
September 13, 2018
Dante thought politicians had ruined Italy. His poem takes revenge, says Ian Thomson Dante Alighieri has been dead for 700 years. The date of his death, September 14, 1321, is one of the few facts we know about him. He died of a fever while on a diplomatic mission to Venice, scholars believe, and was
August 16, 2018
Making Oscar Wilde by Michèle Mendelssohn, OUP, 360pp, £20 In January 1882, Oscar Wilde toured America with a trunkful of lace-trimmed velvet coats and low-cut Byronic blouses. From New York to Colorado, audiences went wild for Oscar, whose applications of rouge and dyed green carnation buttonholes were so unlike anything worn by the majority of