Solar power

King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV Philip Mansel, London: Allen Lane, 2019, 568 pages, £30 British historian Philip Mansel is fascinated by splendour and eclipse – the firework ascent of cities and courts, their fizzling out and falling to earth. After the Bonapartes, Louis XVIII, and the entire Levant, now it is… Continue reading

Spirit guide

Ghostland, Edward Parnell, London: William Collins; 2019, £16.99 ‘Always the ghosts’, Edward Parnell remembers, looking back over his Lincolnshire childhood. After the daydreaming 1960s, the sudden uncertainty of the 1970s manifested itself in bitter tension and a fascination with all things folkloric and paranormal. Into an unsettling world of candle-lit houses and angry political noises… Continue reading

New Country Life and Quadrant reviews…

The 30th October issue of Country Life carries my review of Edward Parnell’s Ghostland – British eeriness seen through a deeply personal prism. Perfect reading for the season (or any other time). The November issue of Australia’s renowned Quadrant carries my jumbo review of Philip Mansel’s brilliant Louis XIV biography, King of the World. Really… Continue reading

Latest Irish Times review

David Abulafia’s The Boundless Sea – review The 26th October 2019 issue of the Irish Times carries my review of David Abulafia’s The Boundless Sea – his compendious and learned exploration of the separate and intermingling histories of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans from prehistory to today. An absorbing and useful resource for anyone… Continue reading

Stream of national consciousness

Mudlarking Lara Maiklem, Bloomsbury, 2019 The 1950 B-film The Mudlark tells of an urchin who ekes out an unpleasant existence scavenging the slimy Thames foreshore. He finds a coin bearing the head of Queen Victoria, and creeps into Windsor Castle to see the sequestered sovereign for himself. Through sheer goodhearted pluck, he succeeds where sophisticated… Continue reading

Territorial waters

The Way to the Sea Caroline Crampton, Granta, £16.99 The Frayed Atlantic Edge David Gange, William Collins, £18.99 Seawater pulses through the veins of our islands, the tang of open water reaching to the furthest points inland. Insularity has always been our destiny, determining daily life and deepest meanings even before Albion loomed out of… Continue reading

A million acres, six thousand years

The Fens – Discovering England’s Hidden Depths Francis Pryor, Head of Zeus, £25 ‘Very flat, Norfolk’ drawls a character in Noel Coward’s Private Lives – a supercilious condemnation of another character, and by inference all eastern England. Francis Pryor proves that while the Fens may be level, their gentle undulations and cubist planes hold stories… Continue reading

Living with Leviathan

The Last Whalers, Doug Bock Clark, Little Brown, 2019 Our relations with cetaceans have always been charged with danger and delight, represented by the extremes of Revelation’s “beast out of the sea”, and the frescoed dolphin-riders of Pompeii. Rare, huge, and unknowable, whales have traditionally been omens, or metaphors for improbability – “very like a… Continue reading

Staffordshire – ‘England in little’

Staffordshire – ‘England in little’ Arnold Bennett opens his 1908 novel Old Wives’ Tale describing the “natural, simple county” surrounding his Five Towns – a quiet countryside containing “everything that England has”, from hideous industry to Arcadian tranquillity. Staffordshire, he emotes, “is England in little, lost in the midst of England, unsung” – and all… Continue reading