Essays

At last, a book about James Joyce that makes you laugh

2 July 2022 9:00 am

I do not think I am alone in confessing that I had read critical works on James Joyce before I…

Michel Houellebecq may be honoured by the French establishment, but he’s no fan of Europe

23 April 2022 9:00 am

For many years, Michel Houellebecq was patronised by the French literary establishment as an upstart, what with his background in…

Jan Morris’s last book is a vade mecum to treasure

18 December 2021 9:00 am

Jan Morris, in all her incarnations, was always able to evoke a place and a moment like no other. As…

Compassion and a gift for friendship are touchingly evident in Ann Patchett’s These Precious Days

11 December 2021 9:00 am

It has to be one of the most extraordinary stories of lockdown — how Tom Hanks’s assistant Sooki Raphael, undergoing…

Don’t ask a historian what history is

16 October 2021 9:00 am

E.H. Carr’s 1961 book What is History? has cast a long shadow over the discipline. I recall being assigned to…

Lucy Ellmann is angry about everything, especially men

7 August 2021 9:00 am

Is Lucy Ellmann serious? On the one hand, yes, very. The novel she published before this collection of essays was…

The AI future looks positively rosy

7 August 2021 9:00 am

In the future, men enjoying illicit private pleasures with their intelligent sexbots might be surprised to find that even women…

As circus gets serious, is all the fun of the fair lost?

24 July 2021 9:00 am

What’s so serious about a red nose? How should we analyse the ‘specific socio-historical relations’ and ‘aesthetic trends particular to…

Richard Dawkins delights in his own invective

17 July 2021 9:00 am

The late Derek Ratcliffe, arguably Britain’s greatest naturalist since Charles Darwin, once explained how he cultivated a technique for finding…

Salman Rushdie’s self-importance is entirely forgivable

10 July 2021 9:00 am

I have the habit, when reading a collection of essays, of not reading them in order. I’m pretty sure I’m…

Despotic laws can — even should — be ignored, says Jonathan Sumption

1 May 2021 9:00 am

Jonathan Sumption has developed ‘many strange habits over the years’, he tells us disarmingly, and one of these is to…

Joan Didion’s needle-sharp eye never fails

27 February 2021 9:00 am

Most collections of journalism are bad. There are two reasons for this: one is that they are usually incoherent and…

Claire Messud helps us see the familiar with new eyes

21 November 2020 9:00 am

The title of this collection of journalism is a problem. Not the Kant’s Little Prussian Head bit, which, though opaque,…

Things mankind was not supposed to know — the dark side of science

14 November 2020 9:00 am

One day someone is going to have to write the definitive study of Wikipedia’s influence on letters. What, after all,…

Helen Macdonald could charm the birds out of the trees

10 October 2020 9:00 am

When Helen Macdonald was a child, she had a way of calming herself during moments of stress: closing her eyes,…

The pleasures — and trials — of knowing Bruce Wannell

15 August 2020 9:00 am

Bruce Wannell was by some way one of the most charismatic travellers I have ever met. Despite his almost complete…

Lydia Davis, like an inspirational teacher, tempts her readers into more reading

7 December 2019 9:00 am

A good indicator of just how interesting and alluring Lydia Davis’s Essays proved might be my recent credit card statement.…

Could Leslie Jamison please stop sitting on the fence?

30 November 2019 9:00 am

Leslie Jamison is creating quite a stir in America. Her first collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, went straight to…

Vladimir Nabokov confesses to butterflies in the stomach

9 November 2019 9:00 am

Not every novelist has opinions. Some of the greatest have a touch of the idiot savant, such as Adalbert Stifter,…

It’s a dull world in which children don’t challenge their parents

9 November 2019 9:00 am

On the Shoulders of Giants consists of 12 essays that the late Umberto Eco gave as lectures at the annual…

Kathleen Jamie’s luminous new essays brim with sense and sensibility

2 November 2019 9:00 am

There is a moment in one of the longer pieces in Surfacing, Kathleen Jamie’s luminous new collection of essays, when…

Brutus’s betrayal is a tragic inevitability. The soothsayer warns Julius Caesar to ‘Beware the Ides of March’, in a 19th-century wood engraving by Sir John Gilbert

Has Shakespeare become the mascot of Brexit Britain?

27 April 2019 9:00 am

The deployment of Shakespeare to describe Brexit is by now a cliché. It might take the form of a quotation,…

Why would anyone in their right mind choose to be profiled by Janet Malcolm?

27 April 2019 9:00 am

God, I wish I was Janet Malcolm. Fifty or more years as a staff writer on the New Yorker, reviews…

Alexander Chee. Credit Bloomsbury Publishing

Does an autobiographical novel really count as fiction?

17 November 2018 9:00 am

Orhan Pamuk, writing about Vladimir Nabokov’s masterful memoir Speak, Memory, noted that there was a particular ‘thrill’ for the writer…

‘Glad Day’ by William Blake

What do Walt Whitman, Jackson Pollock and Jimi Hendrix have in common?

13 January 2018 9:00 am

On 3 September 1968, Allen Ginsberg appeared on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. Buckley exposed Ginsberg’s politics as fatuous —…