In the Critics this Week

A Spring Books special with William Cash on Graham Greene, an interview with Richard Mabey and poetr

In the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, William Cash reflects on the entanglement of art and reality in Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, 20 years on from the author's death. Cash draws connections between Greene's real-life romance with an "American beauty" and the critically-acclaimed story.

John Gray reviews Richard Mabey's The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn, which maps the complex relationship between science and Romanticism. "He shows in this short, wise and consistently delightful book, a 'Romantic' conception of human beings' place in the world may be one that even science supports". Gray concludes that "the human animal needs something beyond itself if it is not to go mad."

Andrew Adonis examines The Coalition and the Constitution, an "excellent study" by Vernon Bogdanor of the "implications of the coalition government", with a focus on electoral reform and the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill. Lucasta Miller lends her opinion to championing the "unruly" essay -- a form which she believes is "entering a phase of renewed development". David Gilmour's The Pursuit of Italy is "erudite and eloquent", writes Tobias Jones. Gilmour offers up a plethora of "intriguing facts" from the country's rich history and argues that the Apennines were responsible for "slicing Italy in two and hindering any sense of social cohesion".

The Final Testament of the Holy Bible is an "oddly exhilarating new novel," remarks Julie Myerson of James Frey's latest controversial offering, in which the messiah-like protagonist "drinks beer and smokes weed" and "goes around having sex with everyone, male or female". "The book overflows with biblical parallels and you detect a joyous relish in Frey as he unloads them," Myerson argues.

Bernie Ecclestone is a "gambler" who "discovered his talent in the postwar climate of austerity, with its spivs and hustlers" remarks Bryan Appelyard of Tom Bower's biography No Angel: the secret life of Bernie Ecclestone. "His rise to power in F1 is bewildering, but the story is told skilfully by Bower."

Clive James' poem "Procedure for Disposal" maps a mind in decline. "But now when I compose a single page/ Of double-spaced it takes me half a day". Will Self reflects on the changing face of university cuisine after he takes his daughter on a tour of the UK's higher education establishments. The presence of "at least six" Browns' restaurants "strategically located close to the Russell Group universities" is a sign, Self notes, of "an elite education in this country".

Further reviews and comment from: Dan Jones on Ian Botham: the Power and the Glory by Simon Wilde, Leo Robson on A Man of Parts: a Novel by David Lodge, Ryan Gilbey on How I Ended This Summer (15), directed by Alexei Popogrebsky, Alexandra Coghlan on OperaShots at the Royal Opera House, Tom Ravenscroft on "perfect songs to soundtrack a jog" and Rachel Cooke on Ben Fogle's BBC2 The Secret of Scott's Hut.

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Poem: "When the Americans came"

“Do you have vampires around here?”

When the Americans came,

they didn’t take to our gardens:

the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,

foxgloves growing among the runner beans.


“Do you have vampires around here?”

a visitor from Carolina asked me.

It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,

nodding wisely as though apologising


for the ill manners of King George,

the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.

But come the softe sonne,

there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,


forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,

lettuce and spring onions for a salad.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat*


I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,

and didn’t care to listen to a boy.

They preferred the red rosehips

we used for making wine.


Danced outside the village church

round the maypole Jack Parnham made.

Now they’re gone,

the wild garlic has returned.


* W B Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”


William Bedford is a novelist, children’s author and poet. His eighth collection of verse, The Bread Horse, is published by Red Squirrel Press.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood