“Sweet Danger” by Marjery Allingham; “Have his Carcase” by Dorothy L. Sayers

Campion or Wimsey? Campion.
Lugg or Bunter? Bunter.
Stanislaus Oates or Parker? Oates.

So Allingham wins 2:1. And when you factor in Sayers’ casual racism (part of the time, but tellingly absent from Allingham), and the grating vicarious Wimsey-worship of Harriet Vane, the victory becomes more complete. And Marjery has the land in front of Wanstead’s Nightingale pub as a location.

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Plato’s Protagoras

The main trigger to reread this came from my colleague’s teaching it as an A2 Greek text. Expecting Socrates to expose Protagoras as a shallow and mercenary “sophist”, he and his class couldn’t understand how Socrates’ arguments seemed just as sophistic as those of Protagoras. I emailed an academic, am halfway through the paper I received by return, and have reread the dialogue. Continue reading

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“Inside Story” by Chapman Pincher

(Only read a few chapters)

I used to love reading my Dad’s old red hardback copy of Chapman Pincher’s collection science columns for the Express called It’s Fun Finding Out – a title eclipsed on his shelves only by Romping Through Mathematics. Then I found out Mr Pincher was much better known as a spy journalist, particularly the Spycatcher affair. This 1978 work is a memoir of his investigative journalism in that historically ignorant period JustBeforeThatcher. After a few chapters I began to get the feeling, confirmed by Wikipedia, that Mr Pincher is only really bothered by one thing – how the Labour Party is riddled with Communist infiltrators. It may well have been, but the story gets a little dull, and I found hard-going his unreconstructed views on Tom Driberg’s homosexuality (I did though love Churchill’s comment: “[Driberg’s] the kind of man who gives sodomy a bad name”) and on Enoch Powell. All a very different world, sort of pre-UKIP UKIP.

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“Mr Campion and others” by Margery Allingham

More of the wonderful Margery Allingham, this time my first encounter with her short stories. Thirteen exquisite tales set in pre-war high-society London, starring her more younger and more worldly Wimsey – Albert Campion – and his sceptical plod/Knacker/Lestrade – Stanislaus Oates. Continue reading

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“An Introduction to Quakerism” by Ben Pink Dandelion

When you take into account the author’s name, this book is surprisingly serious; perhaps Ben Pink Dandelion felt that he had to overcompensate for the expectations his name might generate. But he had no need – as the man in charge of the Post-Graduate programme at Woodbrooke, and as the deliverer of this year’s Swarthmore Lectures, he has clout enough.

Continue reading

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Borges on writers creating their own precursors

“If I am not mistaken, the heterogeneous pieces I have enumerated resemble Kafka; if I am not mistaken, not all of them resemble each other. The second fact is the more significant. In each of these texts we find Kafka’s idiosyncrasy to a greater or lesser degree, but if Kafka had never written a line, we would not perceive this quality; in other words, it would not exist. The poem “Fears and Scruples” by Browning foretells Kafka’s work, but our reading of Kafka perceptibly sharpens and deflects our reading of the poem. Browning did not read it as we do now. In the critics’ vocabulary, the word ‘precursor’ is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotation of polemics or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.”
From Wikipedia on Borges. Cf. Martindale on Roman literature.

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Beryl Bainbridge: “Sweet William”

Puzzled by the very end, which seemed intended as a punchline, making clear what had really been going on, but for me as usual leaving me none the wiser, I found Katha Pollit’s contemporary review of this 1975 novel. This says a lot of interesting things, and the effect of reading it minutes after finishing the book itself means that I now remember, and think of, partly the novel through the lens of the review – and found nothing about the Whodunnit-style ending. Continue reading

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