Ariel: a Literary Life of Jan Morris
For twenty years Derek Johns was Jan Morris’s literary agent, which gave him access to this extraordinary writer and even more extraordinary person that no mere biographer could hope to gain. Ariel though is a literary life composed of Johns’s observations and reminiscences together with numerous excerpts from Morris’s many books. Here is the multifarious Morris – the man-turned-woman, the newspaper reporter and soldier, the historian and describer of places. Johns, a novelist in his own right, knits his materials elegantly, adroitly and with affection.
Faber & Faber, 196pp, £14.99
Island Story: Journeys Through Unfamiliar Britain
J D Taylor
Any writer who travels the country to gauge the state of the nation is compared to the lodestar, William Cobbett. J D Taylor deserves the comparison more than most. He packed a tent and got on his bike to see what Britain is really like today. Over the course of four months, he followed Cobbett’s method with strangers, “reasoning with some, laughing with others, and observing all that passes”. Island Story combines personal histories with travelogue, and does so with a clarity of social conscience that ultimately recalls Orwell as much as Cobbett.
Repeater, 491pp, £8.99
If George Orwell were alive now, what would he have made of celebrity perfumes and McDonald’s spray-on burger-scent? These are the kinds of thoughts prompted by John Sutherland’s book, subtitled A Pathological Biography: the theme was inspired by Sutherland losing his own sense of smell and starting to notice the prevalence of smells in Orwell’s books. Though the whiff of a thesis may be frustratingly faint here, Orwell’s ability to sniff out socialism on naked miners and in Spanish trenches makes the Animal Farm author feel seductively close.
Reaktion Books, 240pp, £15