The Spectator



A heady mix of vice and voodoo

Ian Thomson 1 December 2012

Seeds of Fiction: Graham Greene’s Adventures in Haiti and Central AmericaBernard Diederich, with a foreword by Pico Iyer

Peter Owen, pp.300, £20, ISBN: 9780720614886

By any standards, Haiti represents a great concentration of misery and dashed hopes. From the air, the Caribbean republic is a sun-scorched clinker; deforestation, caused by a ruinous cutting of… Read more


The plight of the Poles

Ian Thomson 3 November 2012

The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War Halik Kochanski

Allen Lane, pp.734, £30, ISBN: 9781846143540

Was a nation ever so beset by calamity as Poland? During the second world war, Polish cities were bombed, fought over hand-to-hand and crushingly shelled. Beyond their ideological differences, Hitler… Read more


The poetry of the streets

Ian Thomson 1 September 2012

NW Zadie Smith

Hamish Hamilton, pp.296, £18.99, ISBN: 9780241144145

For good or ill, black West Indian culture is synonymous with youth culture in Britain today. Even among white teenagers, a Jamaican inflection (‘buff’, ‘bruv’) is reckoned hip. The ‘Jamaicanisation’… Read more


Man smart

Ian Thomson 23 June 2012

My Song: A Memoir Harry Belafonte, with Michael Schnayerson

Canongate, pp.469, £14.99, ISBN: 9780857865861

Port Antonio, in Jamaica, radiates a torrid, hothouse air. At night the inshore breeze smells faintly of bananas. Port Antonio was once Jamaica’s chief banana port, shipping out an average… Read more


The world in arms

Ian Thomson 2 June 2012

The Second World War Antony Beevor

Weidenfeld, pp.863, 25

The long summer that led up to the last days of peace in Europe in 1939 — the vigil of Hitler’s assault on Poland and the subsequent Phoney War —…Read more


Life imitates art

Ian Thomson 19 May 2012

Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow Susannah Corbett

The History Press, pp.320, 20

The other evening my wife came home to find me watching re-runs of Steptoe and Son. The washing up had not been done, and everything was in a state of… Read more


Speeding along the highway

Ian Thomson 31 March 2012

Under the Same Stars Tim Lott

Simon & Schuster, pp.341, 16.99

Back in the Sixties, if you wanted a fruitful, freakout-free LSD experience, you might have called on Mrs Aldous Huxley in Los Angeles, where she lived as a beatifically attuned… Read more


Bookends: A network of kidney-nappers

Ian Thomson 18 February 2012

Raylan Givens, an ace detective in the Raymond Chandler mould, has encountered just about every shakedown artist and palooka in his native East Kentucky. His creator, Elmore Leonard, is a… Read more


Godfather of rap

Ian Thomson 28 January 2012

The Last Holiday: A Memoir Gil Scott-Heron

Canongate, pp.319, 20

At a funeral in New Orleans in 1901, Joe ‘King’ Oliver played a blues-drenched dirge on the trumpet. This was the new music they would soon call jazz. A century… Read more

Still roughing it

Ian Thomson 7 January 2012

The New Granta Book of Travel edited by Liz Jobey, with an introduction by Jonathan Raban

Granta, pp.429, 25

We are all tourists now, and there is no escape. The first thing we see as we jet round the world is a filth of our own making. Resort hotel… Read more


Bookends: Saving JFK

Ian Thomson 10 December 2011

Stephen King’s latest novel is a time-travel fantasy about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At almost 750 pages, 11.22.63 is drawn-out even by blockbuster standards. Critics have bemoaned its… Read more


Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

Ian Thomson 5 November 2011

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller

Simon & Schuster, pp.238, 14.99

There is always a special risk, says Alexandra Fuller, when putting real-life people into books. Not all those who recognised themselves in her terrific memoir of 1960s and 1970s white-ruled… Read more


Dark days in the Dale

Ian Thomson 17 September 2011

Murder in Notting Hill Mark Olden

Zero Books, pp.196, 11.99

One of the great books to have come out of the British-West Indian encounter is Journey to an Illusion by the Jamaican journalist (and former London bus conductor) Donald Hinds.… Read more


A dancer’s progress