The Last Man: Gauguin in the Marquesas

Victor Segalen, author of the enigmatic novel René Leys, is now celebrated as a writer who wrote primarily about China, but he also played a significant part in the posthumous rise to fame of the artist Paul Gauguin, whose Tahitian works (including his underrated sculptures and prints) are currently on show in the exhibition Gauguin…

Getting the Eye in

  Kathleen Jamie’s Nature Writing     I used to be on very good terms with Kathleen Jamie around the time I was studying medicine at Glasgow and she was emerging as a talented poet: I still have a copy of her first volume Black Spiders (1982), published when she was barely twenty, with its…

When doctors die

When Paul Kalanithi’s short (unfinished) memoir When Breath Becomes Air was released in early 2016, it went on to become, with some assiduous marketing, a non-fiction bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. The story it tells is a poignant one, of final acceptance of a fatal illness and marital reconciliation, while offering a very…

Safeguards and salvage

Updated version Adam Kirsch (born 1976) is an American poet and literary critic whose work is distinguished by its scope and ambition, its continuing appraisal of the modernist movement and its growing interest in religious writings (as opposed to literary ones): Kirsch’s intriguing daily readings of the Talmud can be found on the Tablet website….

Irony lady

Living under Mrs Thatcher Phyllida Lloyd’s 2011 film The Iron Lady won Meryl Streep the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. Twenty-five years after she has was ousted as prime minister, Thatcher’s impact on British life continues to polarise opinion. She was leader of the Conservative Party but her policies were…

Bile with Style

In 2015, Suhrkamp Verlag published Werke in 22 Bänden, the definition edition of plays, novels and stories by the great Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, to commemorate his death twenty-five years previously. This review considers his life and work from the vantage of his novel Auslöchung, (1986), published in English translation as Extinction (1995). “How do…

Mad on Metrics

As the Indo-European languages tell us, medicine and religion have much in common, not least in offering a measure of salvation to the sinful. In her ambitious novel Corpus Delicti (English title: The Method), the socially committed German novelist Julie Zeh considers how much personal liberty we would be prepared to forego in a future…

Pressed Pushkin

Review, The Queen of Spades and Selected Works Pushkin Press was founded in London in 1997, and has found a niche in a difficult market, publishing pocket-sized, beautifully produced Monotype editions of classic and contemporary literature, much of it in translation; only now does its list include a volume by the author it honours eponymously….