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Goodbye to Hollywood

Lambert had been the editor of Sight and Sound from 1949 to 1955 and was almost single-handedly responsible for transforming it from, in his words, ‘an intolerably boring magazine’ into one of the most influential film journals of that era and beyond. The Slide Area: Scenes of Hollywood Life was first published in 1959. As the subtitle suggests, it’s essentially a series of interlinking short stories rather than a novel per se. The book is peopled by an ensemble cast of LA waifs and strays who glide in and out of focus and in and out of the life of a nameless narrator, an English scriptwriter for a Hollywood studio. Among this motley crew is Mark, an ex-British public schoolboy turned beach bum, a washed-up bisexual gigolo happy to flow with the tide as long as the sun is shining; Emma, a teenage ingénue from Illinois desperate to break into pictures; and Clyde, the delinquent son of a tycoon who surrounds himself with sycophantic flunkies. Best of all, there is the wonderfully grotesque Countess Marguerette Osterberg-Steblechi, a corpulent Austro-Hungarian multi-millionairess. This relic of the old Europe yearns only to take one last voyage around the globe. But now deaf and blind, she is at the mercy of her two parsimonious nieces. Rather than squander their precious inheritance, this rapacious pair resort to faking the trip, ingeniously using gramophone records, heaters and fans to carry  out the deception in the Countess’s own Californian home.
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A Real Reader

In the end we decided against opening an American branch of the shop but I was reminded of the discovery of Parnassus on Wheels last July when I was asked to buy the books of someone who had been both a real reader – she had all the issues of Slightly Foxed published up to the time of her death – and a distinguished bookwoman. She’d worked in the library of the Linnaean Society, had helped Wilfrid Blunt to bring out an illustrated herbal (and been given many of his earlier books), had worked on several dictionary projects for Oxford University Press, and had written two of the splendid catalogues, Sylva and Pomona, of Mrs Paul Mellon’s marvellous collection of flower books. Her name was Sandra Raphael, and she owned copies of several novels by Christopher Morley.
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French without Tears

Sébastien Japrisot is a name that sounds thoroughly French, though it snags awkwardly on the hinges of the surname. Which is because it’s actually an anagram of the author’s real name, the more euphonious Jean-Baptiste Rossi. The intriguingly verbose title of his most memorable thriller, however, is a literal translation of the original French – La dame dans l’auto avec des lunettes et un fusil. Lady, car, gun – you get the picture – but the glasses? There’s the snag, the detail that doesn’t feel quite right. What’s going on? I’m afraid I can’t possibly tell you.
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Dominion over Palm and Pine

When people ask me what they should read about the Empire, I suggest they go to the five volumes of the Oxford History of the British Empire, where they will find a mass of recent research synthesized in scores of scholarly essays written by contemporary academic historians. But if they want to sense what the Empire was like, how it felt and smelt and looked, if they want to picture traders of the Hudson Bay Company with their beaver hats and sledges or Boer trekkers lumbering across the veld in their great ox-wagons – then I advise them to read James Morris.
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The Call of Sark

The Call of Sark

In the summer of 1933, after leaving the Royal Academy Schools where one of his paintings had just been accepted for the Summer Exhibition, my father Mervyn Peake abandoned London for Sark in the Channel Islands. The move followed a recommendation from his former English teacher who suggested, with my father in mind, that ‘the possibilities were unusually rich for artists with a keen sense of things firmly rooted in primitive nature’. The two years he then spent on the island were so idyllic that shortly after the war he decided to return, this time with his family.
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Possessed by Peake

Possessed by Peake

For a young adult setting out into the world, however, leaving behind either college or close-knit community, I would instinctively choose Mervyn Peake. Not any Peake, mind; it has to be Titus Groan and Gormenghast without the so-called third volume of the trilogy. (Titus Alone is one of the most pronounced examples of a failed sequence; a disconnected series of passionless adventures that leaves one longing for the acutely drawn cast of characters and the haunting eloquence that suffuse the first two books.)
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The Judge’s Progress

Cyril Hare is the pseudonym of Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark, who was born in 1900 and died in 1958. He was a barrister who became a county court judge and took his writing name from his London home, Cyril Mansions in Battersea, and his chambers in the Temple, Hare Court. His great strength is the use he made of his expert knowledge, both as barrister and judge. Tragedy at Law, published in 1942, was his favourite novel and introduced his hero, Francis Pettigrew, an ageing and very able barrister but one who has never fulfilled his early promise. Pettigrew is aided in his detection – or is it perhaps the other way round? – by a professional police officer, Inspector John Mallett of Scotland Yard, who had appeared in previous detective stories by Hare.
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