John Banville’s most recent novel is The Blue Guitar. (October 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

Philip Marlowe’s Revolution

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in a publicity photograph for the film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, 1946

Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality

by Fredric Jameson
For the critic with a conscious ideology, the world must be a manifold entity, fraught with significance, immanent with shadowed meaning, a landscape strewn with clues. In this endlessly interpreted world, practically everything is metaphor and nothing merely itself. And of course, there is no such thing as an innocent …

Surrounded by Jew-Haters

For Two Thousand Years

by Mihail Sebastian, translated from the Romanian by Philip Ó Ceallaigh
In his Journal 1935–44, Mihail Sebastian left a profound and moving record of some of the most terrible years in the history of Europe. The Journal is not only an invaluable historical document, fully as significant as the diaries of Victor Klemperer and Anne Frank, but also a beautifully shaped and subtly executed work of literary art. Never has the savagery of which human beings are capable been recorded with such insight, style, gracefulness, and, amazingly, humor. Now, in For Two Thousand Years, we have a fictional precursor of the Journal that in its way is equally fascinating, and equally shocking.

‘A Beautiful and Closely Woven Tapestry’

Tom McCarthy, New York City, 2012

Satin Island

by Tom McCarthy
In The Soul of the Marionette,1 his latest treatise on human folly and delusion, the British philosopher John Gray discusses among a wide variety of topics our unflagging fondness for conspiracy theory. To interpret history in terms of conspiracy, Gray observes, is to pay “a backhanded compliment to human …

A Quest for Clarity

Clive James and Russell Davies on the British television show Think Twice, 1970

Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language

by Clive James

Latest Readings

by Clive James
In the introduction to his most substantial and perhaps his finest book, Cultural Amnesia, Clive James explains that over the forty years of its composition, he gradually came to realize that this collection of “Notes in the Margin of My Time,” as the subtitle has it, could be true to …

The Dubai Gesture

A ‘pool ambassador’ serving drinks in the pool at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, Dubai, 2013

The Dog

by Joseph O’Neill
The 1950s craze for science fiction, spurred by a combination of cold war paranoia, terror of the bomb, and a yearning for a bright, new, clean, and limitless world, threw up some wonderfully weird magazines. Most of the stories they contained were all too dispensable—or perhaps one was too young …

Overbooked

Lost for Words

by Edward St. Aubyn
There are book prizes, and then there is the Booker Prize, known, fondly, as the Booker, or, furiously, by a close homonym. In fact, “Booker Prize” is as much a nickname as “the Booker.” Properly, it was first the Booker-McConnell Prize, after its sponsor company, an international food conglomerate with …

Learning a Lot About Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin; portrait by Derek Hill, 1975

Building: Letters 1960–1975

by Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle
The stoutest defenders of the status quo will inevitably be those whom it rewards most richly. In the period covered by Building: Letters 1960–1975, the third of four projected volumes of his correspondence, Isaiah Berlin achieved lavish success in his life and in his career. His letters, as ever discursive, zestful, bubbling with gossip and intrigue, sound a subtly new note. His sense of gaiety, his love of occasion, his appetite for friendship and conversation, fed into what seems at times a blinkered kind of sunny optimism, a belief that surely all this should and would be preserved against the encroaching barbarisms of the age.

NYR DAILY

Simenon’s Island of Bad Dreams

Georges Simenon, 1966

In Georges Simenon’s The Mahé Circle, translated now into English for the first time, François Mahé is suffering from a sense of general dissatisfaction. It is a quintessential Simenon crise, in which a man who has spent his life in servitude to family, work, society, suddenly lays down his burden and determines to live for the moment, and for himself.