Thursday, 27 February 2020


Somewhat unexpected. From 'Resurrection' by Tolstoy, published 1900. The revolted Beh is actually the liberal hero of this chapter ("if he ever departed from strict neutrality it was always in the direction of liberalism"), a senator who wishes to grant an appeal against a ludicrous sentence that will send a prostitute, the heroine of the book, to Siberia. Slovo is "utterly appalled by all this fuss about a prostitute". Tolstoy describes Slovo as "a materialist, a follower of Darwin, and to his mind anything that smacked of abstract morality or, worse than this, religiosity, was not only contemptible nonsense, it was an insult to him personally."

Friday, 14 February 2020


I cry in movies. I'm a rank sentimentalist. But there are different kinds of weeping. You can be reduced by beauty, or at the simply very good, by the wiles of nostalgia, by acts of courage (however fictional), and so on and so forth. Occasionally, however, the tears come out of a kind of shame, and this is what happened to me at the end of Tom Stoppard's new play, ''Leopoldstadt'. And now I have just finished reading the text, and again I can hardly stifle a sob, as I sit among the quiet and the studious in a British Library reading room.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Republica de La Boca

My Boy Thomas

He done good.  Of course it is all in the genes - his mother's, obviously.

Dr Thomas Arnold


If, by the age of 70, I have managed to read 25 books every year since I was 10 years old, I will have read 1,500 books. A few of those will be repeats ( Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare account for most of these). So let us say 1,450, and let us also be honest and say that from 10 to 15 it was probably closer to ten books a year, if that. So 1,400 in all. Doesn't really seem very many. Not in the great scheme of things. And I still have to read Ulysses and Joseph and His Brothers and the last two volumes of Proust and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and the Bible and Milton. I'm extremely unlikely to read all these, if any. I'd like to read Burke. I'd like to finish Conor Cruise O'Brien's biography of Burke and Painter's biography of Proust. I'd like to read more Balzac (now that is a possibility). When am I going to get around to Turgenev? Or David Foster Wallace? Let alone books by friends, or the latest Booker or Nobel winner or Pulitzer prize winner.... the truth is that the only book I know for sure I'll read, should I still be living, is the new Lee Child.

Monday, 10 February 2020


This is an extract, quoted by Tom Stoppard in a 1999 NYRB article, 'Pragmatic Theatre', from a play by James Saunders, entitled Next Time I'll Sing To You.  Saunders was an exponent of Absurdist theatre.  He died in 2004.  Next Time I'll Sing To You was staged in the West End in 1963, and featured Michael Caine, Barry Foster and Liz Fraser.  Stoppard credits the play for providing the impetus to write for the stage himself.

There lies behind everything, and you can believe this or not as you wish, a certain quality which we may call grief. It’s always there, just under the surface, just behind the fa├žade, sometimes very nearly exposed, so that you can dimly see the shape of it as you can see sometimes through the surface of an ornamental pond on a still day, the dark, gross, inhuman outline of a carp gliding slowly past; when you realize suddenly that the carp were always there below the surface, even while the water sparkled in the sunshine, and while you patronized the quaint ducks and the supercilious swans, the carp were down there, unseen. It bides its time, this quality. And if you do catch a glimpse of it, you may pretend not to notice or you may turn suddenly away and romp with your children on the grass, laughing for no reason. The name of this quality is grief.