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Archive by tag: Anthony QuinnReturn
May 16, 2022

Spanning three generations, from the battlefields of Crimea to a Cornish farm in the 1970s, this novel deftly navigates the emotional minefield of a clan at war

Two shocking bereavements, separated by more than a century, will link unsuspecting sides of a family in Cressida Connolly’s haunting and beautiful novel. Other writers might have stretched this material to saga length. Bad Relations confines its scope to fewer than 300 pages and reverberates the more for its deft compression.

It begins amid the smoke and chaos of a battlefield in the Crimea, where Captain William Gale cuts a lock of hair from the head of his dead younger brother, Algie – a memento for their parents back home in Gloucestershire. Meanwhile, William’s wife, Alice, prays for his safe return and writes him letters deploring the prosecution of the war, a radical streak destined to come between them. For in spite of her loving ways and the young son she has borne him, William grows distant from Alice on his return to England; unreasonable at first, then unreachable, he is not the gentle husband who went off to war years before. “Small gusts of fury blew through him yet not away from him.” Those gusts presage a thunderstorm that will rend and wreck.

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Apr 11, 2022

The former Sunday Times journalist can’t contain his self-satisfaction in a humorous, passionate account of his boozy lunches with literature’s big beasts

The convulsions of the 1980s – a decade of excess and agitation and collapse – reached the unlikeliest quarters. While other parts of the world dealt with revolution and meltdown, the mean streets of literary London were also in ferment. If you assumed the world of books to be a tiny backwater, John Walsh is here to make you think again. Circus of Dreams – no skimping on the grandeur there – recounts a brief period when publishing almost became bold and writers became almost famous. Books suddenly infiltrated the news pages via awards (a bolstered Booker prize) and marketing gimmicks. A major new book chain (Waterstones) appeared in the high street. A whizzy new members’ club (the Groucho) opened in Soho, the improbable brainchild of a bunch of publishers.

Occupying a ringside seat at the “circus” is Walsh, writer, broadcaster and, we must now add, illusionist. For if anyone has managed to conjure the impression of a mountain from a molehill it is he. His previous book, Are You Talking to Me?, was a droll memoir of a film-obsessed youth honing his mastery of the self-deprecating anecdote. This new one picks up the story in his early 20s when, an aspiring littérateur, he begins as dogsbody in a London publishing house Gollancz, just as its star was in decline. No matter. Surrounded by clever women and randy for attention, the young Walsh gets a toehold in this fusty-looking milieu and begins plotting his ascent to the top – ie literary editor of the Times by the age of 35. Well, what’s a heaven for?

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Feb 12, 2022

Philip Oltermann’s account of how the Stasi decided to use poems as a means of fighting capitalism is fascinating, strange and troubling

The folk singer Woody Guthrie famously scrawled “This machine kills fascists” on his acoustic guitar. Such dramatic sloganeering is the privilege of youth and a grand illusion; with age comes acceptance that music – art in general – carries no serious threat. Or does it? In the 1980s, the Stasi, East Germany’s much-feared secret police, decided that the best way to fight the creep of capitalism was not with bombs and rockets but with a stealth weapon of unstable potential: poetry.

Philip Oltermann’s engrossing The Stasi Poetry Circle recounts a history so outlandish and unlikely that you feel it must be true. The author was inspired to investigate after running his own poetry group for pensioners at a day centre in London’s King’s Cross . How had a brutal spy agency alighted on poetry, “this vaguest of disciplines”, as a tool for training its employees? His research brings him into contact with soldiers and border guards who attended monthly meetings of “writing Chekists” at the Adlershof compound, a place so secret it didn’t even feature on a map of Berlin. Here, they would mull over the finer points of verse while bearing in mind the writer Friedrich Wolf’s stern credo: “The material of our age lies in front of us, hard as iron. Poets are working to forge it into a weapon. The worker has to pick up this weapon.” You can almost hear the sound of pens being chewed.

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Jun 20, 2021

Andrusier’s book puts a singular spin on the cult of celebrity and its allure for a suburban boy in the 1980s

The obsessiveness – the downright creepiness – of the collector is amusingly skewered in this memoir of rueful self-absorption. In the 1980s, long before selfies, autographs were the accepted means of stealing a celebrity’s soul and hunters seldom came more tenacious than young Adam Andrusier. A nice Jewish boy from Pinner, he first catches the scent of his habit on learning that his best friend’s neighbour is Ronnie Barker. Knocking at his door, they are answered by a lady who turns them away, though Adam spots the man himself in the hallway before the door closes: “He didn’t look famous at all.”

He has better luck when, on holiday in France, he spots Big Daddy in the hotel swimming pool; after careful stalking, he nabs his prey with paper and pen: who cares if the wrestler’s real name is Shirley Crabtree? “I’d managed to puncture a hole between our universe and the parallel one where all the celebrities lived.” From that moment, there’s no stopping him. In a way he was born to it. His father, Adrian, sold life insurance, but his passions were collecting books on the Holocaust and rare postcards of lost synagogues. He takes Adam to his first ever dealers’ fair, where a jaded old pro tells the boy that most of his present collection is “secretarial”, ie, not signed by the stars themselves. A hard lesson for the fledgling collector, but he learns from it and by the time he’s trading autographs professionally he has an eye for spotting fakes (“if the writing was too slow, if it looked flat or lifeless”).

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Jun 06, 2021

The rediscovery of Krüger’s fearless memoir, first published in 1966, reveals painful truths about the Nazis’ rise to power

How do you come to terms with the guilt of what your countrymen have done? In the case of Germany between 1933 and 1945 the crimes were so unspeakable and annihilating it was hard to know where expiation could begin. But the unspeakable will only remain so until someone dares to break silence, which is Horst Krüger’s painful achievement in his memoir, The Broken House. First published in Germany in 1966, it fell out of print for decades and no wonder: the truths in it were probably too scalding for a traumatised nation to digest. Now reissued in a translation by Shaun Whiteside, the writing glowers from the page, sorrowful, disbelieving, chastened and yet not without hope.

Krüger (1919-99) grew up in the modest Berlin suburb of Eichkamp, which he revisits as a journalist in middle age after 20 years away. He seeks to understand “what it was really like” back then, poised on the edge of the abyss. He is hunting amid ghosts - a Catholic mother and a Protestant father wounded at Verdun in 1916, neither of them interested in politics. In this, they were of a piece with their Eichkamp neighbours - hard working, respectable, petty minded – and not a Nazi in sight. So when Hitler’s Reich descended on these unsuspecting people they were not only bewildered, they were delighted to be swept along by the surge of national improvement – new jobs, new motorways, new assembly halls. Even concerns about broken Jewish shop windows and looted Jewish homes were lost in the triumphal thunder of the Fatherland reborn.

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Apr 04, 2021

Editor Simon Heffer brings us the first, sensationally unexpurgated volume of the musings of the Chicago-born socialite and social climber

The great diarists get away with it. No matter how foolish or spiteful or pompous they appear in print, they transcend faults of character by the simple virtue of brilliant writing. Only it’s not that simple – if it were, everyone would do it. In the first half of the 20th century, no diarist in English would achieve greater notoriety than Henry Channon, AKA “Chips”, his name practically a byword for gossipy flamboyance and indiscretion. When first published in 1967, nine years after his death, the diaries were an instant sensation, a stunning fresco of the British social-political haut monde by an American interloper whose eye never seemed to sleep.

The Penguin edition most of us read was known to have been severely edited, representing a fraction of Channon’s original text, considered by his heirs too hot for the lawyers to handle. So the prospect of an unexpurgated version running to three volumes, of which this tubby tranche is the first, has an irresistible allure, like finding diamond studs in the pocket of a charity shop dress suit. (Some of the missing diaries were actually found at a car-boot sale.) We also have a full 10 years (1918-28) of unseen material – Chips Uncut – to keep us occupied. Woohoo! Will spats go with that suit?

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Jan 03, 2021

The lecturer and playwright revisits the Liverpool streets of his youth in this Costa prize-shortlisted meditation on loss

Retracing his past through the labyrinth of old Liverpool, Jeff Young has conjured a book of plangent beauty and longing. Ghost Town is in essence a memoir, but within its short span it contains multitudes: a meditation on loss, a family album, an ode to the power of reading, a loving memorial to a city, and a long goodbye. Young is a playwright-essayist-lecturer of local renown whose work deserves national recognition and may get it: the book was recently shortlisted for the Costa biography award.

Born in the late 1950s, the author is just old enough to remember the terraced streets of his Everton neighbourhood before it was razed to the ground. He can still sense the ghosts – of his blind grandfather, of his parents, of his sister Val – as he takes long, obsessive walks around a city that has been disappearing all his life. It’s partly the Liverpool of Terence Davies’s cine-memoir Distant Voices, Still Lives, a place of tenderness and togetherness but also of violence and trauma: a stay in a grim fever hospital as an eight-year-old comes back to trouble him. An “invisible boy” who hated school, Young found a refuge, a whole world, in books, none more formative than A Kestrel for a Knave. Inspired by Billy Casper with his hawk, he discovers through reading a spirit of creativity that is close to love. Unlike Billy, he will transcend his “scrapheap education” and thrive.

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Oct 10, 2020

This riveting memoir of the Salford dandy’s ascent to national treasuredom charms with tales of heroin and Sugar Puffs

Even at the start, John Cooper Clarke never had stage fright. “They say about people in showbusiness, ‘They ain’t got something extra, they got something missing’.” In Clarke’s case, he was untroubled by self-doubt, and however low he sank, that never changed. You can hear it right through this wild ride of a memoir, in the sardonic Salford drawl that’s always ready with a quip or a comeback. Here, that voice takes a while to tune into, for it’s strange to have this dandified poet suddenly present himself in the plain clothes of prose. When he recalls his family, for instance, I couldn’t help think of his magnificently gloomy A Distant Relation: “All of our yesterday’s./ Familiar rings,/ I have to get away,/ Its breaking my heartstrings,/ We have a drink,/ On special occasions,/ It makes me think,/ About distant relations.” But the truth is in every way more prosaic. The young poet loved his mum and dad and most other members of his clan.

A nervous, malnourished youth, born in 1949, the young John survived a bout of TB to grow up in the largely Jewish neighbourhood of Higher Broughton (“Had I seen Schindler’s List? I was on Schindler’s List – Dr Schindler my dentist, that is”). When his mother went shopping, she parked him at the Rialto picture house, where a lifelong passion for movies was born. A bookish teen who hated school, where he was chastised for his “lack of team spirit”, he immersed himself in Mad magazine, comic books and pulp fiction, not to mention clothes, music, adverts, hair styles, modern art, football and showbusiness. The intricacy of detail he supplies is staggering, right down to his uncle’s “beautiful pale-blue and cream Dansette”, and you start to wonder: is he going to tell us everything? Apparently yes, because he’s forgotten absolutely nothing. This is the Lancashire lad as mohair-suited Proust, weak of lung but iron of will, plotting his course from antic poète maudit to punk laureate with all points in between.

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Aug 17, 2020

The historian and Aldershot Town fan’s record of the 2016/17 non-league football season is a bit of an own goal

The non-league football club Aldershot Town and the ominous ascension of Donald Trump don’t appear to have much in common, yet they happen to be the twin obsessions driving David Kynaston when he decided to keep a diary of the 2016/17 season. This country’s most accomplished contemporary historian, Kynaston, born in 1951, is also a lifelong fan of “the Shots” with a memory for games, names and anniversaries that has surely earned him his badges as a fully licensed football anorak.

Why a diary? For one thing, Kynaston uses them a lot for his research, and thinks that – like David Cameron’s answer to why he should be PM – he’d be “rather good at it”. Being a diary-keeper for 20 years myself, I was keen to know if he could justify that little boast. One essential requirement, in my experience, is stamina, and as someone who has slogged around the country as a supporter for 60 years Kynaston doesn’t look short of puff. He’s also got the diarist’s gifts of curiosity and enthusiasm, albeit for a throwback vision of football – that prelapsarian era of muddy pitches and wooden rattles before money tore the game away from its traditional roots. Indeed, much of the book is a cri de coeur for a lost England, not just in football but in civic architecture, community spirit and public integrity, and for all that he deplores nationalism, he recognises in himself a “Little Englisher” with a patriotic love of “green Sussex fields”.

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Apr 12, 2020

Craig Brown’s portrait of the band recaptures their heyday in a series of shimmering vignettes

Fifty years since their dissolution in April 1970 the Beatles live on. The band’s music, their significance and their individual personalities exert a hold on the cultural consciousness that seems to tighten as their heyday recedes. But is there anything new to say? Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four, the latest to enter the crowded library of Beatles books, is not a biography so much as a group portrait in vignettes, a rearrangement of stories and legends whose trick is to make them gleam anew.

The subtitle, The Beatles in Time, marks out the book’s difference from the rest. Brown goes on Beatles jaunts around Liverpool and Hamburg, visits fan festivals, tests the strength of the industry that has agglomerated around them. So many of the clubs where they played are now lost or changed beyond recognition – “a memory of a memory” – and the fans who do the pilgrimages are simply chasing shadows.

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