Mantel Pieces, a collection of Hilary Mantel’s contributions to the London Review of Books, is published today by Fourth Estate. Each of its 20 pieces is accompanied by a fragment of related correspondence, cover artwork or other ephemera from the LRB collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. In the introduction Mantel describes the book’s contents as ‘messages from people I used to be’, but they are consistent in at least one respect: she’s always been as wonderful a writer of letters as she is of everything else. The selection begins with the note she sent to Karl Miller after he’d published her first piece for the paper in 1987: ‘If you would like me to do another piece, I should be delighted to try … I have no critical training whatsoever so I am forced to be more brisk and breezy than scholarly.’ ‘It’s possible that I didn’t always know what I had agreed to review,’ she writes in the introduction, ‘but I learned that the paper is skilled at matching contributors to a task.’ In 1989 she was sent Jonathan Guinness’s bizarre first-person biography of his own secret mistress: ‘From now on, I am Susan Mary Taylor, born in Oldham, Lancashire, on 26 July 1944.’ ‘The Guinness book filled me with mirth,’ Mantel wrote to Mary-Kay Wilmers, ‘because I grew up quite near Oldham, so I know all about it.’
Earlier this year, a colleague sent me a link to an announcement on Eater London that had made him 'laugh aloud as a near-parodic London 2018 food thing’: three of ‘London’s hottest restaurants’ would be joining forces for ‘one night only in Soho’ at Kiln, a Thai barbecue joint that was voted the best restaurant in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards a few months later. Chefs from Kiln and Som Saa, a Thai pop-up that crowdfunded its way into a permanent home, and sommeliers from P. Franco, would be creating a ‘standing-room-only larb bar. Guests will pay £45 on the door, there’s only one type of dish, it’s all-you-can-eat, there’ll be natural wine, and there’ll be no bookings. There will be queues.’
James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, has been trimmed of any back story that doesn’t prepare us, in one way or another, for his account of the events before, during and after the election of Donald Trump. It opens in the early 1990s, with the interrogation of Salvatore ‘Sammy the Bull’ Gravano, ‘the highest ranking American mobster ever to become a federal witness’, who explains ‘the rules of Mafia life’. Comey is later reminded of this episode during his first meeting with Trump’s team: ‘I sat there thinking, holy crap, they are trying to make each of us an “amica nostra”.’
‘There is a variable delicate friction between the interests of wives, husbands and children, and between human beings and nature,’ Penelope Fitzgerald wrote in a piece about her friend Stevie Smith, published in the LRB in 1981. ‘One might say between the seaside and the sea.’ She would know. The years of Fitzgerald’s life that she drew on for The Bookshop (1978) and Offshore (1979) combined complicated family dynamics with precarious physical circumstances, waving/drowning halfway between the shoreline and the water.
After eighteen months of memoir-writing in his £25,000 shepherd’s hut, interrupted now and then by lucrative international speaking engagements on the implications of the political mess that he made, David Cameron yesterday returned to a British podium for the first time since the morning of 24 June 2016 to attack three easy targets: Trump, Putin and Fifa. In a lecture to Transparency International, he looked ahead to next year’s World Cup in Russia, and back to the bidding process that took place in 2010. ‘President Putin actually boycotted the whole thing because he said it was riddled with corruption,’ the Guardianreports Cameron as having said. ‘He was right – it was.’
‘Trains show us that freedom and constraint are a matter of dosage,’ Patrick McGuinness wrote recently in the LRB. He quoted Klaus Kinski’s character in the 1966 film of Dr Zhivago, ‘shaking his chains, an anarchist headed for the camps’: ‘I am the only free man on this train. The rest of you are cattle!’ ‘Soul’, a poem Pasternak wrote in 1956, is one of 20 on display in another meditation on poésie des departs, in Bloomsbury Square until tomorrow.
Jeremy Corbyn’s middle name is Bernie. A friend posted a picture of his Islington North postal ballot paper on Facebook the other day, and there, between ‘CLARK, James Tovey’ and ‘FOSTER, Michael Adam’, was ‘CORBYN, Jeremy Bernard’. It's odd that nobody seems to have pointed this out when Bernie Sanders was over here last week, promoting his new book.
The first time I saw one of Kaya Mar’s paintings was at the March for Europe a week after the Brexit vote. I took a picture of him, as did many of the people he walked past: a small man with a neat moustache carrying a peculiar painting, apparently original, of a cart being pulled by a blindfolded donkey towards the edge of the white cliffs of Dover, driven by caricatures of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, with tiny naked bodies and beatific faces.
Whenever Nick Cave launches a new project in London, the same group of respectable goths and men in silk shirts find themselves together again, and recognition flickers – because you met this person last time, or you catch a glimpse of Ray Winstone again, or Will Self. It was like that at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2013, when the Bad Seeds played Push the Sky Away in full for the first time; and at the Barbican in 2014, for a gala preview of Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s film about Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth. Last night, P.J. Harvey was ahead of me in the queue at the cinema, where I’d gone to watch One More Time with Feeling, Andrew Dominik’s film about Cave’s sixteenth album with the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree.