Men of Letters: 100 Years of Hugh Trevor-Roper

by Minoo Dinshaw

The Oxford Examination Schools see a lot of action beside their official purpose. Here Christopher Ricks has displayed his agility and Geoffrey Hill his ferocity, during their respective reigns as Professor of Poetry. More recently the admirers of Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), Lord Dacre of Glanton and onetime Regius Professor of History, gathered here on a chilly January morning a few days before the centenary of his birth. Trevor-Roper’s literary executor, Blair Worden, welcomed the company – enough to fill the South School’s broad expanse – and said he believed ‘Hugh would be pleased, and indeed surprised.’ He also congratulated us on our range of ages. This range was technically rather than visibly wide; the glossy manes of a few young Prize Fellows of All Souls peeked out from the silver sea. [read full essay]

Politics By Other Means

Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers

reviewed by Marika Lysandrou

Through the eyes of a young woman from Nevada we see the colourful, vibrant scene of the 1970s SoHo art world. Through these same eyes we see masked men and angry women thronging in protest on the streets of Rome during the Years of Lead. The young woman, Reno, is the narrator of Rachel Kushner’s latest novel, The Flamethrowers. She arrives on the New York art scene with aspiration. She is into motorcycles and ski racing – which she describes as ‘drawing in time’ – and soon becomes... [read more]

The Parent is Always Wrong

Thomas Wartenberg, A Sneetch Is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children's Literature

reviewed by Jeffrey Petts

The guiding idea of Sneetch is that philosophy is connected to childhood via children’s ‘innate inquisitiveness’, their ‘Why? Why? Why?’ questioning. And that picture books – like Dr Seuss’ The Sneetches – capture philosophical issues and can be used by parents to cultivate philosophical questioning. It’s an idea in the tradition of Gareth Matthews’ seminal 1980 book Philosophy and the Young Child. Matthews presented evidence that young children ask questions that are... [read more]

Hurt is Universal

Harmony Korine, A Crackup at the Race Riots

reviewed by Robert Kiely

Harmony Korine is best known for writing the film Kids (1995) at the age of 19, which follows the 16-year-old-skater Teller as he spreads HIV amongst New York’s barely-pubescent virgins. Korine went on to direct Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), Mister Lonely (2007) and Trash Humpers (2009). The bizarre and dark humour of his films has garnered them a large cult following. His book, A Crackup at the Race Riots, was initially released by Doubleday in 1998; Korine’s cult-status meant... [read more]

The Absent Referent

Theodore Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Vol. 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control

reviewed by Terence Hamilton

‘As long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you.’ These words, first spoken by the literary giant James Baldwin, have since become the rallying call behind a new form of Critical Race Theory that has come to be known as ‘whiteness studies.’ In the years since Baldwin’s death in 1987, his critique has been taken up by a new generation of scholars — mostly white — who have tasked themselves with the critical deconstruction of white supremacy, privilege, and, in most... [read more]

What We Mean By Genre

Mary Hamer, Kipling & Trix

reviewed by Thomas Stewart

As a child, Mary Hamer was always fascinated by Rudyard Kipling. From a young age, reading everything from his Just So Stories to his magnum opus The Jungle Book, Hamer knew that she wanted to write about the man behind the stories. And when she made her way through libraries and archives to find every detail about the writer, she found a much more compelling story in the form of his sister, Trix. Thus began her debut novel, Kipling & Trix.  The novel begins with the two children... [read more]

‘As strong as possible in our words’

AL Kennedy, On Writing

reviewed by Eli Davies

As the flux and uncertainty of the publishing industry has grown, so has the market in creative writing courses, masterclasses, writing retreats and how-to guides. This stuff is big business - some of these courses will set you back thousands - and it seems a little too convenient that the growth of this business appears to have coincided with plummeting revenue from book sales. As a new writer, all this can all be extremely tempting. We are a vulnerable bunch: writing your first book is a... [read more]

A Secret History

Andrew Wilson, Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted

reviewed by Sara D'Arcy

Fifty years after her suicide and posthumous fame, Sylvia Plath continues to be caricatured, to put it bluntly, as a morbid poetess with an Electra Complex who was finally driven to suicide by her husband’s adultery. Andrew Wilson’s opportune biography, Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life before Ted, offers a startlingly fresh perspective on the life of Sylvia Plath as he attempts to debunk the myths that have enshrouded her life and suicide while remaining true to Plath’s... [read more]

‘The moment I drunk-tweeted something about liking Taylor Swift’

Matt Haig, The Humans

reviewed by Abigail Williams

In a charmingly honest postscript Matt Haig explains why he wrote The Humans, his fifth novel: ‘I first had the idea of writing this story in 2000, when I was in the grips of a panic disorder. Back then, human life felt as strange for me as it does for the unnamed narrator … I imagined writing it for myself, or someone in a similar state. I was trying to offer a map, but also to cheer that someone up.’ The novel is told from the perspective of an unnamed alien who has been sent to... [read more]

‘The Lone Eagle, the Man of Mystery, the Last Defender’

Jonathan Wilson, The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper

reviewed by Joe Kennedy

Albert Camus used to be a goalkeeper. It’s the one thing fans of existentialist philosophy know about football, and the one thing fans of football know about existentialist philosophy, right? There’s football and there’s thought and never the twain shall meet, unless Nick Hornby’s there to swan around giving the impression that he’s some kind of matchmaker, demonstrating that there’s nothing wrong with hollering ‘You’re Going Home in a Fucking Ambulance’ as long as you cue up... [read more]

Platonic Dogs

JM Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus

reviewed by Matthew Ingleby

At one point in JM Coetzee’s new novel, the worried Simón finds ‘the boy’ that is and is not his son watching Mickey Mouse on the telly in the apartment of a rival father-figure, the disreputable Daga. The dog in this fictionalised version of the Disney cartoon we know as Pluto is here renamed ‘Plato’, a funny yet disconcerting switch upon which the laconic narrator characteristically neglects to remark. The slight change of the vowel, which effects the replacement of one improbable... [read more]