The Spectator



Survivor syndrome

Ian Thomson 10 February 2010

The Suicide Run William Styron

Cape, pp.194, 14.99

In late middle age, William Styron was struck by a disabling illness, when everything seemed colourless, futile and empty to him. In fact, as he recalled in Darkness Visisble (1990),… Read more


Paris of the gutter

Ian Thomson 27 January 2010

Alphabet of the Night Jean-Euphèle Milcé, translated by Christopher Moncrieff

Pushkin Press, pp.148, 7.99

Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, lies on a marshy bay encircled by mountains. It was founded in 1749 by the colonial French and named after a vessel, Le Prince, which anchored… Read more


Reader, beware

Ian Thomson 11 November 2009

Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes Melissa Katsoulis

Constable, pp.328, 8.99

In this diverting, well-written history of deceitful and counterfeit literature through the ages, Telling Tales, Melissa Katsoulis chronicles a variety of fraudsters and fibsters, and their motives for hoodwinking the…Read more


Surviving the Middle Passage

Ian Thomson 18 February 2009

The Book of Negroes Lawrence Hill

Doubleday, pp.486, 12.99

The Book of Negroes, an historical romance, creates an unforgettably vivid picture of the Atlantic slave trade and the philanthropists who sought to oppose it. The novel opens in Africa… Read more


On the run in the Rockies

Ian Thomson 14 January 2009

The Outlander Gil Adamson

Bloomsbury, pp.389, 12.99

The Outlander, by Gil Adamson The Outlander, a strikingly good first novel by the Canadian poet Gil Adamson, is a drama of extremity and isolation set in the Rocky Mountains… Read more


Not under the volcano

Ian Thomson 13 February 2008

The Voyage that Never Ends edited by Michael Hoffmann

New York Review of Books, pp.514, 16.99

Ian Thomson reviews a collection of Malcolm Lowry’s poems, letters and fictions  Malcolm Lowry was a ferocious malcontent, who free-wheeled towards an early grave with the help of cooking sherry,…Read more


Cargoes of despair

Ian Thomson 7 November 2007

The Slave Ship: A Human History Marcus Rediker

John Murray, pp.434, 30

Not long ago, I was invited to lunch at a plantation home in Jamaica. The sound of cocktail-making (a clinking of crushed ice against glass) greeted me at Worthy Park… Read more


Dark heart of the deep south

Ian Thomson 1 August 2007

End Games Michael Dibdin

Faber, pp.pp. 335, £12.99

Last March, after an unexpected illness, Michael Dibdin died at his home in Seattle. His death came as a shock to fans everywhere of crime fiction. Dibdin had just turned… Read more


Meandering through the boondocks

Ian Thomson 28 March 2007

South of the River Blake Morrison

Chatto, pp.516, 17.99

South of the River is a stadium-sized novel of over 500 pages. It has the scope and ambition of an American McNovel — Don DeLillo’s Underworld, say, or The Corrections… Read more


Out of joint

Ian Thomson 1 March 2007

  1. S. EliotCraig Raine

OUP, pp.202, 12.99

At a Clapham dinner party recently I was offered marijuana. Nothing unusual in that, only the joint took me to a far continent of anxiety; I had been inhaling skunk,… Read more


A cure for optimism

Ian Thomson 8 February 2007

With Vine-Leaves in His Hair Paul Binding

Norvik Press, pp.230, 14.95

Henrik Ibsen’s fictional world of marital breakdown and sexual hypocrisy in the fjords and farmsteads of Norway spread an unfamiliar polar chill at the end of the 19th century. His… Read more


Hell and its afterlife

Ian Thomson 6 December 2006

Dante’s Inferno: A Verse Translation Sean O’Brien

Picador, pp.247, 15

In 1882, while on a lecture tour of America, Oscar Wilde was surprised to find a copy of The Divine Comedy in a Nebraskan penitentiary. ‘Oh dear, who would have… Read more


Going back to the books

Ian Thomson 2 November 2006

A Study in Greene Bernard Bergonzi

OUP, pp.208, 16.99

With almost 30 novels to his name, Graham Greene was a prolific chronicler of human faith and wretchedness. A writer of his stature requires a very good biographer and, at… Read more


Cocking a snook at Manhattan

Ian Thomson 3 December 2005

Summer Crossing Truman Capote

Allen Lane/ Penguin, pp.142, 12

Born in New Orleans in 1924, Truman Capote wrote his first fiction at the age of eight. Or so he claimed. Rarely has a writer so elaborated his own legend;… Read more