Book review – essays

David Sedaris, the current king of humorists, is often not funny at all

28 July 2018 9:00 am

Since the 17th century, a ‘humourist’ has been a witty person, and especially someone skilled in literary comedy. In 1871,…

The changing face of war and heroism

14 April 2018 9:00 am

On War and Writing by Samuel Hynes is hardly about war at all. There is little about combat here, or…

Sylvia Plath with her two children and her mother Aurelia in Devon c. 1962

It’s impossible to live up to the expectations of motherhood

14 April 2018 9:00 am

In a 1974 interview celebrating the quarter century since the publication of her classic The Second Sex (1949), Simone de…

John Ruskin as a boy, seated beside his mother, listening to the sermon

Every day is mother’s day for writers: most have strong feelings about their mothers, though not always of love

10 March 2018 9:00 am

You attempt to write a review with a stiff dose of objectivity, but it’s hard not to start with a…

Brilliant essayists, dark and fair

11 November 2017 9:00 am

Read cover to cover, a book of essays gives you the person behind it: their voice, the trend of their…

‘The Incredulity of Thomas’, by Caravaggio. (c.1603). It is only in St John’s Gospel that Thomas is portrayed as unbelieving

A Muslim’s insights into Christianity

28 October 2017 9:00 am

I’m not a critic, I’m an enthusiast. And when you are an enthusiast you need to try your best to…

A poet in prose

7 October 2017 9:00 am

Literary reputation can be a fickle old business. Those garlanded during their lifetimes are often quickly forgotten once dead. Yet…

… trailing strands in all directions

29 July 2017 9:00 am

Letters of Intent — letters of the intense. Keen readers of Cynthia Ozick (are there any other kind?) will of…

Ferdinand Mount picks out the plums nicely

21 May 2016 9:00 am

Book reviews, John Updike once wrote, ‘perform a clear and desired social service: they excuse us from reading the books…

Christopher Hitchens (Photo: Getty)

Cultured — and combative — criticism from America

30 January 2016 9:00 am

Four years after his death, it is still faintly surprising to recall that Christopher Hitchens is no longer resident on…

Diana Athill finally accepts ‘Old Woman’ status, aged 98

23 January 2016 9:00 am

There’s something reassuring about 98-year-old Diana Athill. She’s stately and well-ordered, like the gardens at Ditchingham Hall in Norfolk, her…

‘Doorways to the unknown’: Clive James’s Latest Readings

22 August 2015 9:00 am

In the preface to his great collection of essays The Dyer’s Hand, W.H. Auden claimed: ‘I prefer a critic’s notebooks…

Is Julian Barnes right to think Lucian Freud will survive? Jonathan Meades thinks not

30 May 2015 9:00 am

The subject of the least characteristic essay in this engrossing collection of meditations on painters, painters’ lives, painting and reactions…

The theory wars have ended in stalemate

18 April 2015 9:00 am

State-of-criticism overviews and assessments almost always strike a bleak note —the critical mind naturally angles towards pessimism — so it…

Lesley Blanch in a bar in Menton in the south of France, in 1961Lesley Blanch in a bar in Menton in the south of France, in 1961

Lesley Blanch: a true original on the wilder shores of exoticism

28 March 2015 9:00 am

Lesley Blanch (1904–2007) will be remembered chiefly for her gloriously extravagant The Wilder Shores of Love, the story of four…

What makes mankind behave so atrociously? Ian Buruma and Joanna Bourke investigate

6 December 2014 9:00 am

The first interaction between two men recorded in the Bible involves a murder. In the earliest classic of English literature,…