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Literary review publishing essay-length book reviews and topical articles on politics, literature, history, philosophy, science and the arts by leading writers and thinkers

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Stephen Sedley: A Decent Death

The​ law of England and Wales – Scotland’s law is not in all respects the same – has come a long way in my 82 years. Absurdly and cruelly, until the 1961 Suicide Act was passed it was a crime to kill yourself. While those who succeeded were beyond the law’s reach, those who tried and failed could be sent to jail. In the 1920s the home secretary had...

Joanna Biggs: The Palimpsest Sensation

At​ the end of the Catacombs, having walked among the bones of six million Parisians, you come to a single gravestone. Somewhere in the ossuary are the remains of Racine, Charlotte Corday, Robespierre and Montesquieu, yet the only monument is to Françoise Gillain, who, you discover, died in 1821 after spending years trying to free a writer unjustly...

Brian Dillon: At Sadie Coles

‘There is something interesting to be said for everything around us,’ Charles Schulz’s Linus says in a Peanuts-derived commercial for Weber’s bread, first broadcast in the late 1960s. But there’s interesting and there’s interesting: sometimes you just get lost. The first work I saw by the British artist Helen Marten, about eight years ago, was a sculpture...

Amia Srinivasan: What does Fluffy think?

Have​ you ever experienced the love of an animal? Jack, my family’s golden retriever, put on an admirable show of adoring all of us, but we knew his deepest attachment was to my mother, on whose lap he liked to lie, having his silky ears stroked as he slept. Jasper, the ill-advised beagle that followed, loved no one but himself. The heart of my hamster,...

Colin Burrow: Ti tum ti tum ti tum

Alecture​ by the critic Christopher Ricks, now in his late eighties, is a properly theatrical affair. There is much leaning forward on the lectern, legs often crossed; hand frequently raised with intensity to brow (often furrowed, especially when quoting statements of folly); sheets of paper flipped away as though unnecessary to the performance (if...

Francis FitzGibbon: Short Cuts

Dominic​ Raab is the eighth lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice since the Conservative Party entered government in 2010. The average tenure has been nineteen months, with a corresponding churn of junior ministers and special advisers. Kenneth Clarke, the first in the post, lasted 28 months, just pipped by Chris Grayling, whose disastrous...

Anthony Grafton: Fake it till you make it

Indexes are​ trouble. If you index your own work, you have to chew your cabbage twice, and then again, and again. You must reread the text that seemed so cogent when you sent it to the publisher – not to mention when you revised it, following the advice of your editor and referees, and when you answered the copy editor’s queries, and when you read the...

Anne Enright: Short Cuts

You have not​ experienced Irish theatre until you have seen a show that involves a ferry, rain, stone-walled fields and the keen, mild interest of the Aran Islanders, who have great good manners and no shortage of self-esteem. It can’t be easy being the object of a century of tourist curiosity, but these people have a steady gaze. The world comes to...

Christian Lorentzen: I couldn’t live normally

Sally​ Rooney’s emergence in recent years as the avatar of literary success and its online scapegoat is not unrelated to the content of her novels. Normal People begins with its protagonists, Marianne and Connell, comparing their grades at secondary school and ends with Connell getting onto a graduate creative writing programme. In the first pages of...

Thomas Meaney: Like Ordering Pizza

Your cause is right and God is on your side!Zbigniew Brzezinski, US national security adviser, to the Afghan mujahedin,3 February 1980I have benefited so greatly from the jihad in Afghanistan that it would have been impossible for me to gain such a benefit from any other chance, and this cannot be measured by tens of years but rather more than that.Osama...

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