The Spectator



The discreet charm of sewers

Ian Thomson 19 November 2005

The Third Man’s Vienna: Celebrating a Film Classic Brigitte Timmermann

Shippen Rock Publishing, pp.416, 33

Public visits to the sewers of Vienna are rare: the clammy atmosphere can cause breathing problems. Nevertheless in 1994 I visited them with a local Graham Greene enthusiast, Brigitte Timmer-… Read more


The days of Hitler’s jackal

Ian Thomson 22 October 2005

Mussolini’s Italy R. J. B. Bosworth

Allen Lane, pp.692, 25

When Benito Mussolini invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1935, Italians were filled with jingoist pride. The dictator triumphantly announced the conquest of the promised sub-Saharan kingdom. ‘He’s like a god,’… Read more


Viragos on the march

Ian Thomson 25 June 2005

Renaissance Woman Gaia Servadio

  1. B. Tauris, pp.274, 19.95

Lucrezia Borgia was not the fiend history made her out to be. According to Gaia Servadio, she was a radiant symbol of Renaissance woman and, moreover, a judicious administrator of… Read more


The original Essex man

Ian Thomson 11 December 2004

Hawkwood: The Diabolical Englishman Frances Stonor Saunders

Faber, pp.366, 17.99

The boil and hiss of mediaeval Hell, as conceived by Dante, is hard for us to imagine. Yet the 1935 Hollywood melodrama, The Div- ine Comedy, contains a ten-minute reconstruction… Read more



A time of zero tolerance

Ian Thomson 2 October 2004

Havoc Ronan Bennett

Bloomsbury, pp.244, 16.99

Born in 1956, Ronan Bennett is a Belfast writer of great gifts. His last novel, The Catastrophist, was a tense parable of conscience set in the Belgian Congo at the… Read more


God’s expeditionary force

Ian Thomson 6 March 2004

The Jesuits Jonathan Wright

HarperCollins, pp.334, 20

In the 16th century Montaigne voiced the fear that missionary endeavour — the white man’s ‘contagion’ — would hasten the ruin of the New World. Though Jesuits played their part… Read more


Learning the hard way

Ian Thomson 25 January 2003

I’LL TAKE YOU THERE Joyce Carol Oates

Fourth Estate, pp.290, 10.99

Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific, even prolix writer, with more than 50 novels and short-story collections to her name. Yet she writes wonderfully of life’s uncertainties and of American… Read more


Stooping to conquer

Ian Thomson 30 November 2002


Picador, pp.752, 15.99

Anthony Lane has been film critic for the New Yorker since 1993, and the light lash of his humour is waspish and urbane in its New Yorker-ese. Nobody’s Perfect, a… Read more


Articles and Interviews



Nightmare in the Caribbean

Ian Thomson 6 March 2004

Shortly after Christmas I went to Haiti for the first time in 13 years. The collapse of the Aristide regime was still two months away, but the Caribbean republic was… Read more



Montserrat Notebook

Ian Thomson 7 January 2012

Montserrat, a smoulderingly beautiful volcanic island in the British West Indies, is a 15-minute flight from Antigua. Apart from me, the only passenger on the propeller plane is a birdwatcher… Read more


Rover dose

Ian Thomson 17 March 2012

The other day my five-year-old Labrador was diagnosed with acute cannabis intoxication. I had been taking Olga for a walk on Hackney Downs when she disappeared behind an abandoned railway.… Read more


Travel Special – Jamaica: Meeting the queen’s man

Ian Thomson 24 March 2012

This August, Jamaica celebrates the 50th anniversary of independence. Amid the bunting and parades, talk will be of Britain’s continued presence in the island and the role of the monarchy… Read more


The tide turned

Ian Thomson 21 April 2012

A couple of years ago, a rescue operation was recorded at a lifeboat station in Poole, Dorset. ‘The boat was launched at 13.35p.m. following a call that a man and… Read more


Nicolas Roeg interview: ‘I hate the term “sex scene”’

Ian Thomson 13 July 2013

‘Oh, some of my films have been attacked with absolute vitriol!’ said Nicolas Roeg, 85, and still one of the darkest and most innovative of post-war British directors. We were… Read more


I proposed to my wife in Haiti. Soon I won’t be able to recognise it

Ian Thomson 16 August 2014

This summer, I returned to Haiti for the first time in ten years. I was itching to see how the Caribbean republic had changed after the terrible earthquake of 12… Read more