Culture

Culture

The good, the bad and the ugly in books, exhibitions, cinema, TV, dance, music, podcasts and theatre.

Murder in the dark: The Eighth House, by Linda Segtnan, reviewed

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It takes a Scandinavian mother to write like this: ‘Why murder a nine-year-old girl? She wasn’t raped. Rape is the only motive I know of for the murder of little girls, unless the killer is a close relative.’ Linda Segtnan’s The Eighth House benefits from this bluntness. Its author, a historical researcher based in Stockholm,

Are we all becoming hermits now?

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Long before Covid, wi-fi and Deliveroo, Badger in The Wind in the Willows showed us how to live beyond the manifold fatuities of this gimcrack world. Cosily tucked into his burrow with a roaring fire and well-stocked cellar, he was unbothered by importunate weasels and other denizens of the Wild Wood. He padded his underground

John Deakin: the perfect anti-hero of the tawdry Soho scene

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During the various lockdowns I found myself wondering how Iain Sinclair was coping with the restrictions. It seemed unthinkable that this unflinching punisher of pavements could be stuck with 30 minutes round the park. But, as it turns out, sequestering, in a fashion that only the Scots word ‘thrawn’ can do justice to, has resulted

The Dreyfus Affair continues to haunt France to this day

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A short new book on Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the proudly patriotic French army officer who was falsely accused in 1894 of being a German spy, and whose court cases divided France into two warring camps, could not have been better timed. For the division sounds horribly familiar. Liberal, democratic, secular, cosmopolitan, urban France was pitted

Being a printer was what Benjamin Franklin prided himself on most

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For some readers this book will have the charm of the Antiques Roadshow. Adam Smyth, professor of English Literature and the History of the Book at Balliol College, Oxford, presents with caressing attention to technical detail an array of illustrious book people. They may be unfamiliar names to those who don’t know a colophon from

Pop musicians, be proud of your middle-class upbringings

Tracey Thorn’s was ‘by no means luxurious.’ Brett Anderson had a ‘small, very small’ one. Miki Berenyi’s was ‘shabby and dirty.’ The unwritten rule that the best rock music comes from the street can create a challenge for edgy post-punk musicians writing their memoirs. What if you grew up in comfortable circumstances or had a

We must never lose the treasured Orkneys

Lead book review

When, last summer, a group of Orcadians declared they’d like to leave the UK and join Norway, it became clear just how little most of us in the south understand Orkney. Friends who know I go there often ask me where it is (somewhere near the Hebrides?), how many Orkney islands there are, and whether

Mediterranean Gothic: The Sleepwalkers, by Scarlett Thomas, reviewed

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Scarlett Thomas likes islands: either literal sea-girt territories or closed enclaves where this wickedly inventive novelist practises her richly enjoyable experiments in plot and form. If her recent Oligarchy found its sour-sweet spot in a grisly girls’ boarding school, The Sleepwalkers creates another insular possession: the Greek island of ‘Kathos’, which almost resembles Samos. Here,

What we owe to the self-taught genius Carl Linnaeus

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Carl Linnaeus and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon were both taxonomists, born in the same year (1707), but apart from that they had little in common and never met. Buffon was French, Linnaeus Swedish. Buffon was suave, elegant, tall and handsome (Voltaire said he had ‘the body of an athlete and the soul of a

Harping on the music of our ancestors

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It’s one thing to sit in a comfortable armchair and see the world in a grain of sand. It’s quite another to hear it in a muddy shard of bone, a spool of wire or even an oddly shaped hole in the ground; to go searching for its voice on the sea bed, deep in

Are we finally beginning to understand gravity?

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The question of why things fall has puzzled our species since we crawled out from the darkness of our primitive ignorance. Aristotle was the first to offer a serious theory. He proposed that each of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) had a natural place to which it innately wanted to return. Fire and

There’s nothing shameful about hypochondria

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The hypochondriac is the butt of jokes. Even his butt is the butt of jokes. A story doing the  rounds in the 16th and 17th centuries concerned a Parisian glassmaker who, believing himself to be also made of glass, fastened a cushion to his buttocks in case they broke when he sat down. His anxiety

In the grip of apocalypse angst

Lead book review

You have to love a book about the end of the world in which the first two references are to Saul Bellow’s Herzog and the HBO series The White Lotus, a high/low combo that preps us for authorial omniscience. In the next few paragraphs we get Marc Maron, Sally Rooney and Frank Kermode. Buckle up,

Sir Roger Casement never deserved to hang

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Telling the story of Sir Roger Casement’s life is a challenge for any biographer. In the land of his birth, he is remembered as a national hero. His remains lie in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin beside the graves of Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell. He is there because he was hanged in Pentonville

The secret of success in Formula 1

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Formula 1 is having a moment. Its global popularity is soaring off the back of a wildly successful Netflix docuseries, Drive to Survive, and the launch of glitzy races in Miami and Las Vegas. It is even drawing attention away from other sports. The most significant move of European football’s January transfer window was Lewis

My prep school scarred me for life

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On one blissful, cloudless day during the summer holidays of 1972, Charles Spencer, who had just turned eight, surveyed the scene in his mother’s garden in Sussex. He’d spent the morning cycling and swimming, and a barbecue was being prepared. He remembers thinking: ‘This is too good to last.’ And he was right. A date

Turf wars in Las Vegas: City in Ruins, by Don Winslow, reviewed

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So you’d like to borrow half-a-billion dollars? It’s a tribute to the epic ambitions of this novel that the reader swallows questions like this without blinking. In a sense that’s fair enough because City in Ruins is the third book of a trilogy loosely modelled on the great poems of the classical world, particularly the