Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan in Love & Friendship

What can one say about Austen’s Lady Susan? If there is one Austen protagonist that trumps all others, it’d be her: is this the most fun Austen ever had on the page? 

Director Whit Stallman has made a film, confusingly called Love and Friendship, based on this a novella – or, more accurately, a sharply curtailed novel – called Lady Susan, which Austen probably wrote in the mid-1790s, when she was 19 or 20. (Confusingly, however, he has taken the film’s title from an entirely unrelated parody of fashionable sentimental fiction that she wrote when she was 14. Neither of these tales was published in her lifetime, and neither was intended for publication.)

“Lady Susan promises much. The eponymous leading character is intelligent, accomplished and utterly amoral. Lady Susan is a beautiful widow in her mid-30s who gets her kicks from flirtation and psychological manipulation. At the beginning of the book we find her entertaining herself by causing emotional mayhem in a household in which she is a guest. She gets her friend’s husband to fall in love with her, while also tempting the idiotic aristocrat who is courting her own daughter to turn his attentions to her instead. This being England rather than France, she is too canny to let any of these men get anything more than sweet talk from her.



“Life in the English countryside is, as she observes, so very dull without a good bit of amorous game-playing (in this respect, her character seems a dry run for the charming, cold-hearted Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park). Pausing only to offload her teenage daughter at a boarding school, she arrives at the previously tranquil rural household of her brother, his wife and their several children. Here she amuses herself by alluring and entangling the eligible Reginald De Courcy, 12 years her junior. She charms almost everyone she meets, while privately despising them.

“We know all this because the novella is written entirely in letters, and we have before us the missives written by Lady Susan to her equally cynical and pleasure-loving confidante Alicia. Alicia is unfortunately married (for money, naturally) to the gouty and morally upright Mr Johnson, a man who is “too old to be agreeable, and too young to die”. The young Austen clearly felt a frisson in having a protagonist who, in the privacy of her correspondence, openly scorned codes of propriety and morality. The letters penned by the other characters are not half as much fun. Indeed, the book’s problem – as the tyro author must have soon seen – is that the monstrous, calculating protagonist is the only really engaging character.

“The young Austen was experimenting with an unusual variation on a conventional form. Many novels of the late 18th century were, like Lady Susan, written entirely in letters. In her youth, Austen, along with many of her contemporaries, was a fan of Samuel Richardson, who turned epistolary novels into a high art. In his fiction, resourceful young women record their efforts to resist the advances of scheming libertines. The young Austen signals her audacity by turning the figure of the predatory male seducer into a highly unconventional (and middle-aged) seductress.

“The potential of the novel-in-letters continued to interest her. She went on to write a (now lost) early draft of Sense and Sensibility in this style. Yet she became a great writer by going beyond the form, where we know what characters think because they tell us. Readers used to the narrative complexity of her published fiction, where third-person narration is inflected by the consciousness of one character or another, will recognise Lady Susan as a phase that Austen had to go through. You can feel her lose interest. After not many pages, she lets the enamoured Reginald see the truth and ensures that Lady Susan’s schemes collapse (though at least she remains impenitent). Having set up her interesting rivalries and dangerous flirtations, the young Austen brought her fiction to a premature end. The film has to pursue to a satisfying conclusion what the novelist-to-be tired of.”

Lady Susan is a shock. Even the above trailer and description cannot prepare you for the shock of reading Austen and confronting such a subjectivity as Lady Susan’s.


How must this “sharply curtailed novel” of the mid 1790s affect our understanding of Austen’s fiction? What is she trying to do? What is the point of her fiction? 

Mr A


The Evenings by Gerard Reve

“a masterpiece, translated at long last”

The Evenings by Gerard Reve

It’s very much “wow” from Tim Parks in The Guardian…

“The emptiness of suburban life in postwar Amsterdam makes for comedy of the highest order

“It is so rare, as a reviewer, to come across a novel that is not only a masterpiece but a cornerstone manque of modern European literature, that I hesitate before setting down a response: what can I say, in a world of hype, that will put this book where it belongs, in readers’ hands and minds?

“Gerard Kornelis van het Reve was born in Amsterdam in 1923 and published The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale in 1947, shortly before his 24th birthday. It follows the movements of the 23-year-old Frits van Egters in the last 10 days of 1946. If the title focuses on the evenings, it is because, for much of the day, Frits is at work, where he scarcely exists. What does he do? “I take cards out of a file,” he responds to a friend’s question. “Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again.”

“But Frits never complains about his job, nor expresses any desire to change it. Those hours are at least taken care of. His problem is his evenings and days off – Christmas in particular – and his one ambition is to get through them without losing his mind. Both for its hero and its author, this novel is a tour de force of filling space, of turning tawdry emptiness into comedy of the highest order: it is up there with Henry Green’s Party Going, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Never has the business of arriving at bedtime been more urgently and richly dramatised.

“Everything takes place in a few suburban streets in Amsterdam where Frits shares a small flat with his half-deaf father and well-meaning if clumsy mother. An older brother has left home. The parents live in a state of stalled conflict that Frits is determined to ignore. Their eating and grooming habits – described with a mixture of savage fury and grudging affection – are a constant torment, their conversation so predictable that Frits takes masochistic pleasure in prodding them towards old platitudes. His only ally, between stoking the stove, feeding guilders into the electricity meter and criticising Mother’s cooking or Father’s table manners, is the radio, whose scattered fragments of news and music offer themselves to the shipwrecked Frits as life-saving flotsam in an ocean of wasted time.

“‘All is lost,’” he thought, ‘everything is ruined. It’s ten past three.’”

“One thing that astonished and infuriated early critics of this precocious debut was that, amid so much despairing realism, nothing was said about the war. Barely two years had elapsed since the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, only three since the “Hunger Winter” of 1944 when 18,000 people died of starvation. The extent of Dutch collaborationism was at the centre of heated debate. But Frits simply isn’t interested, recalling the conflict in passing merely as an inconvenience that prevented him from retaking failed school exams.

“All the same, Reve’s novel is drenched in an intensely phobic atmosphere that must surely be the legacy of war. Utterly frustrated, having no girlfriend, nor making any attempt to find one, Frits moves like a ball in a bagatelle between his lonely bedroom, where he is terrified by the materiality of his body, the sitting room, where he confronts the horror of his parents’ aimlessly hostile middle age, and fitful forays to the houses of friends and relatives, where he allays his own fears by playing on everyone else’s. At this he is a past master. Barely has he greeted someone before he is wryly commenting on their sickly complexions, their impending baldness, their early ageing and likely imminent demise, always with a frightening wealth of detail and an imagination as reckless as it is jaundiced. Other characters differentiate themselves by their reactions, humouring him, growing anxious, assuming he’s joking, or even joining in, often trading truly gruesome anecdotes of accident, illness and violence in a mood that fuses hilarity and horror. One deeply disturbing scene has Frits asking the petty criminal Maurits whom he would like to torture: “Age, gender and nature of bodily harm: please, do tell.”

“It may sound dire, but Reve’s sparkling collage of acute observation, droll internal monologue and pitch-perfect dialogue keeps the reader breathless right through to the grand finale, which sees Fritz tying himself in knots to survive an interminable New Year’s Eve with his parents and a bottle his mother is convinced is wine and Frits knows, alas, is berry-apple cordial. “Eternal, only, almighty, our God,” he begs in one of many appeals for divine mercy, “fix Your gaze upon my parents. See them in their need. Do not turn Your eyes from them.”

“Why has The Evenings not been translated into English until now? Reve’s international career, or lack of it, reminds us how important politics can be in deciding what books make it to our shelves. He did not write in one of Europe’s major languages, hence could not benefit from the attention we understandably give to French and German literature. He tried to write directly in English, but it didn’t work out for him. In a period when publishers tended to the liberal left, he was ferociously anti-communist; he converted to Catholicism but at the same time came out as gay, long before such openness was commonplace. When sex did begin to appear in his writing, it was disturbingly violent and sadomasochistic; on one occasion he was put on trial for describing a character who has sex with God in the form of a young donkey (“the dearest, most innocent creature I can think of,” he defended himself in court).

“Always ahead of the game, he enjoyed huge success in Holland with a form of creative non-fiction mixing travel writing and letters, authentic and otherwise. None of these reached the Anglo-Saxon world. In 1990 Fourth Estate published Parents Worry, but brilliant as it is, this late novel, with its ominously obsessive, anxious, insistent voice, was not the place to start. It lacks the charm, freshness and immediate recognisability of the world described in The Evenings.

“So, huge respect to Pushkin Press for finally doing the business, and in particular to Sam Garrett for a translation that avoids a thousand pitfalls to give us this enfant terrible of Dutch genius in an entirely convincing English. Shame that Reve, whose evenings ran out for him in 2006, is not around to enjoy it.”

Yeah. What a great book. Right up there with the best of European Twentieth Century Fiction. Very certainly a book and a protagonist to fall in lvoe with. But it is only in the final pages of this novel that it will strike the reader as truly great, both beautifully sad and affectionate, and as above all, a novel that works so very well.

Mr A

Jesus Son by Denis Johnson

Jesus Son by Denis Johnson“A zoo of wild utterances”?

 It’s a bit cliché-y in places. A little bit sententious too. But in places – maybe in the final story – Beverley Home, Johnson’s writing rises above the level of “this kind of thing” and shows itself as so much better than the kind of fiction that young disgruntled men write when they hope to reveal the “depth of sadness” in the “true nature of the world” etc. ‘Out on Bail’ is pretty good too. I’m not sure though that Johnson’s stories justify the kind of adulation he often gets. He’s not a giant of twentieth century fiction, but an interesting and thought-provoking exponent.

Mr A

Chris Power in The Guardian writes…

“These potent tales are as tightly-controlled as their addled characters are chaotic.

“A Sacred Heart Jesus, an iconographic representation of a drug capsule, a light-damaged photograph of tract housing in middle America, and an epigraph from “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground. If there was ever a book designed to prove irresistible to my 17-year-old self, the Faber first edition of Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson is it. Along with Donald Barthelme’s Forty Stories, bought the same summer, it was the one that most powerfully demonstrated to me the unique possibilities of the short story.

“Published in 1992, Jesus’ Son is one of the best short story collections of the last 25 years, and its current unavailability in the UK is a joke. Its brief, linked stories take place in 1970s Iowa, Chicago, Seattle, and Phoenix. The narrator, “Fuckhead”, is an alcoholic and drug addict. In content, his stories are like those shared at Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, where participants are encouraged to talk about past tribulations; there is a freewheeling, mixed-up quality to them. They aren’t always arranged in chronological order and might not have happened the way Fuckhead thinks. Some may not have happened at all.

“Fuckhead’s stories are lousy with things gone or going wrong: car crashes, shootings, overdoses, burglaries, abortions. At the foreshortened conclusion of “Two Men” there is possibly the rape or beating of a woman whose home has been broken into. The prose bedrock across which Johnson scatters these misadventures is unadorned and frank – “I went out to the farmhouse where Dundun lived to get some pharmaceutical opium from him, but I was out of luck” – the product of a dulled sensibility that awards everything an equal and dazed relevance, whether it’s a length of copper wire or a corpse. But when experienced at greater length his rhythms generate an intense deadpan comedy. Amid these elements lie bursts of poetry that appear without preamble, like the desert flowers Fuckhead admires in Arizona:

“To catch the bus home each day I walked through a vacant lot, and sometimes I’d run right up on one — one small orange flower that looked as if it had fallen down here from Andromeda, surrounded by a part of the world cast mainly in eleven hundred shades of brown, under a sky whose blueness seemed to get lost in its own distances. Dizzy, enchanted — I’d have felt the same if I’d been walking along and run into an elf out here sitting in a little chair.

“John Updike compared Johnson’s writing to the Jayne Anne Phillips of Black Tickets, Thom Jones, Raymond Carver (who taught Johnson at the University of Iowa in 1969), and “the gleaming economy and aggressive minimalism of early Hemingway.” Sometimes Johnson also invokes the phantasmagorically twisted realism of William Burroughs. He writes of a drug hotel in “Dirty Wedding”: “The reality of it gave out as it rose higher above First Avenue, so that the upper floors dribbled away into space. Monsters were dragging themselves up the stairs.” In “Steady Hands at Seattle General”, we could be in Interzone when apparently innocent objects like vases, beds and ashtrays appear “wet and scary, hardly bothering to cover up their true meanings”.

“These hallucinatory moments are relayed as apparently empirical truth, but even as they acknowledge the drug user’s tendency to supply counterfeit meaning, they still allow the possibility of the genuinely numinous. In “Emergency”, the best-known story from Jesus’ Son, Fuckhead and Georgie are lost in a snowstorm when they find themselves in a military graveyard:

“On the farther side of the field, just beyond the curtains of snow, the sky was torn away and the angels were descending out of a brilliant blue summer, their huge faces streaked with light and full of pity.

“In turns out the pair, high on prescription drugs stolen from the hospital where they work, haven’t stumbled into a graveyard but a drive-in cinema, and the angels are really “[f]amous movie stars … laughing out of their gigantic, lovely mouths”. Despite the bathos, the vision’s power continues to pulse as an undercurrent throughout the remainder of the story. At its conclusion Georgie, who earlier solved a problem no one else could by pulling a hunting knife out of a patient’s eye, is asked by a hitchhiker what he does for a job. “I save lives,” he says. Burnished by the vision’s afterglow, the statement is simultaneously ludicrous and heroic.

“The stories of the fallen world, they excite us,” Johnson told an interviewer in 2003. “That’s the interesting stuff.” It’s a world his work never entirely leaves. The long, historical and subtly magical realist story “Train Dreams”, winner of an O Henry Award in 2003, describes the life of a taciturn logger. This largely surface-level story of a man in a landscape has ties, as James Wood has noted, to Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River”. It’s written in a more solemn register than Johnson normally uses, but describes characters – a hobo dying under a tree; a prospector blown up by dynamite; a man shot by his own dog – unmistakably related to the hapless wanderers of Jesus’ Son. Likewise the 2007 story “1966”, which reappears in the novel Tree of Smoke, describes a desultory then suddenly violent shore leave in Honolulu that, but for the tropical weather, might have come from the earlier collection.

“According to Geoff Dyer, Johnson has described his own writing as a “zoo of wild utterances”, but the impact of his prose results from care, not chaos. The sudden death of a young man in “Train Dreams”, deriving power from its matter-of-fact description, recalls Tolstoy’s “Alyosha the Pot”. In “Dundun” rural depression and the narrator’s bleak mental state fuse in the description of a dead soybean crop, “the failed, wilted cornstalks … laid out on the ground like rows of underthings”. In “Emergency”, a country fair “with sad resignation … bares its breasts”. The metaphor sounds addled at first, but Johnson’s writing persuades readers that there are alternative ways of looking at the world, and that some of them get closer to the truth than plain facts ever can.”

An Animated Introduction to Ludwig Wittgenstein & His Philosophical Insights on the Problems of Human Communication

Ornithology by Nicholas Royle

Ornithology by Nicholas Royle  .jpg

One may wonder why authors bother these days. At least, I do. But then, why did they ever bother? Another short story collection? Why? This is a well crafted and well put together volume, and the creepiness of the stories seems to give them, for some reason, a kind of vindication, that these stories should exist. They do something real. You kind of catch yourself out, find yourself at a loss, and you begin to think in a way you couldn’t have done moments before. It’s called reading, I guess. So it feels like these stories are worth creating. They have a purpose. I wasn’t sure about some of them, but one of the longer stories “The Lure” made me feel that I was doing something worthwhile in reading this volume: I wasn’t just passing time, getting some diversion, idling away my life. There is something fundamentally different between watching crap tv and reading good fiction. I felt this on reading this story, a story which justifies its existence by its existence, in the same way that a Borges story might do, or a Nabokov novel, or an utterly crazy Foster Wallace riff. Why did Proust write 4,215 pages about not much at all? Why did Nicholas Royle write this story? Or any of these others?

Mr A

Daisy Miller by Henry James

Daisy Miller by Henry JamesMaybe one of the greatest novelists in the language; both for his early career, capped by the magnificent Portrait of a Lady (in every way of Middlemarch proportions); and for his later novels from ‘What Maisie Knew’ through pinnacle after pinnacle of prosaic refinement in ‘The Ambassadors’, The Wings of the Dove’ and ‘The Golden Bowl’; Henry James cut his teeth and made his name with this little novella: a simple take of a simple and naïve girl who comes up hard against the traditional morality of the society of her time. In James’ own words, Daisy (not her real name, but a gloriously and unintentionally apt one) is a “light, thin, natural, unsuspecting creature” sacrificed to a “social rumpus” that goes on either “over her head or beneath her notice”. Daisy’s innocence is at the centre of the story; and if Daisy is innocent then society is guilty, but of what exactly?

‘Daisy Miller arrives in Frederick Winterbourne’s staid world the way that an angel arrives at an Annunciation, as both promise and challenge. From their first meeting at Vevey, to the story’s dramatic conclusion in Rome, Winterbourne’s interest in Daisy is subject to constant censure from his carefully “exclusive” aunt, Mrs Costello, and her forensically respectable social circle: the girl is “not nice,” they say, she is overly familiar with her family’s courier, she has been observed in inappropriate situations with dubious young “gentlemen” and Winterbourne would clearly do well to distance himself, before the inevitable scandal unfolds. At first sight, it seems that Winterbourne is genuinely torn between romantic attachment and his suffocating social milieu – and that might have made for an engaging, but not uncommon study of love versus convention; however, James’ keen observation reveals something deeper than that, for even as he protests his aunt’s attacks on Daisy’s character (yes, she is uncultivated, he admits, but she is not the reprobate for which the entire world has decided to mistake her) he is less disappointed than relieved when a nocturnal encounter with the girl and her suitor, Giovanelli, appears to prove Mrs Costello right: “Winterbourne stopped, with a sort of horror; and, it must be added, with a sort of relief. It was as if a sudden illumination had been flashed upon the ambiguity of Daisy’s behaviour and the riddle had become easy to read. She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect.” Though the novel’s final act has yet to unfold, we cannot help but conclude that the real tragedy lies here, in Winterbourne’s relief.’

John Burnside, writing for The Independent

Indeed, what is most interesting perhaps for a modern reader is that it is Winterbourne rather than Daisy who is in James’ sights: it is Winterbourne whose approach to Daisy, his capriciously shifting opinions of Daisy, and his rather crass romanticisation and objectification of her, which are all ridiculed. On the other hand, Daisy is something of a light mystery flitting through the piece, one that both James and Winterbourne try but fail to capture, “anayse”, hold down or call to account. She cannot be tamed. She is the “rather wild” thing the “Comanche” and the “savage” she is labelled, as well as being none of these things, because ultimately the story fails to delineate Daisy Miller; the story’s shallow protagonist, in whose viewpoint the reader is stuck, cannot begin to know her.

So what of James’ representation of a female character in 1878?

Part 1

  1. There is a flitting hither and thither of “stylish” young girls, a rustling of muslin flounces, a rattle of dance music in the morning hours, a sound of high-pitched voices at all times.
  2. [Winterbourne] was at liberty to wander about.
  3. She was dressed in white muslin, with a hundred frills and flounces, and knots of pale-colored ribbon. …she was strikingly, admirably pretty.
  4. [Winterbourne] wondered whether he had gone too far, but he decided that he must advance farther, rather than retreat.
  5. [Winterbourne] had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it
  6. [Winterbourne] thought it very possible that [Daisy Miller] was a coquette; he was sure she had a spirit of her own; but in her bright, sweet, superficial little visage there was no mockery, no irony.
  7. She sat there with her extremely pretty hands, ornamented with very brilliant rings, folded in her lap, and with her pretty eyes now resting upon those of Winterbourne, now wandering over the garden, the people who passed by, and the beautiful view.
  8. …she was looking at Winterbourne with all her prettiness in her lively eyes and in her light, slightly monotonous smile. “I have always had,” she said, “a great deal of gentlemen’s society.”
  9. Poor Winterbourne was amused, perplexed, and decidedly charmed.
  10. …she was only a pretty American flirt. Winterbourne was almost grateful for having found the formula that applied to Miss Daisy Miller.
  11. “But, my dear aunt, she is not, after all, a Comanche savage.”…Evidently she was rather wild.
  12. I like a lady to be exclusive; I’m dying to be exclusive myself. Well, we ARE exclusive, mother and I. We don’t speak to everyone—or they don’t speak to us. I suppose it’s about the same thing.
  1. You needn’t be afraid. I’m not afraid!” And she gave a little laugh.…The young girl walked on a few steps, laughing still. “You needn’t be afraid,” she repeated.
  2. [Winterbourne] felt then, for the instant, quite ready to sacrifice his aunt, conversationally;
  3. …[Winterbourne] had never yet enjoyed the sensation of guiding through the summer starlight a skiff freighted with a fresh and beautiful young girl.
  4. Her face wore a charming smile, her pretty eyes were gleaming, she was swinging her great fan about. No; it’s impossible to be prettier than that, thought Winterbourne.
  5. “I am puzzled,” …he was indeed puzzled. He lingered beside the lake for a quarter of an hour, turning over the mystery of the young girl’s sudden familiarities and caprices. But the only very definite conclusion he came to was that he should enjoy deucedly “going off” with her somewhere.
  6. Winterbourne was a man of imagination and, as our ancestors used to say, sensibility; as he looked at her dress and, on the great staircase, her little rapid, confiding step, he felt as if there were something romantic going forward. He could have believed he was going to elope with her. …their little excursion was so much of an escapade—an adventure—
  7. “You look as if you were taking me to a funeral.”
  8. “Well, I hope you know enough!” she said to her companion, after he had told her the history of the unhappy Bonivard. “I never saw a man that knew so much!” The history of Bonivard had evidently, as they say, gone into one ear and out of the other.
  9. She seemed to him, in all this, an extraordinary mixture of innocence and crudity.


Part 2


  1. The news that Daisy Miller was surrounded by half a dozen wonderful mustaches checked Winterbourne’s impulse to go straightway to see her. He had, perhaps, not definitely flattered himself that he had made an ineffaceable impression upon her heart, but he was annoyed at hearing of a state of affairs so little in harmony with an image that had lately flitted in and out of his own meditations; the image of a very pretty girl looking out of an old Roman window and asking herself urgently when Mr. Winterbourne would arrive.
  2. “I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me, or to interfere with anything I do.”
  3. Daisy …continued to present herself as an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence.
  4. “The poor girl’s only fault,” he presently added, “is that she is very uncultivated.”
  5. “She is naturally indelicate,” Mrs. Walker declared.
  6. “I think every one knows you!” said Mrs. Walker pregnantly,
  7. I’m a fearful, frightful flirt! Did you ever hear of a nice girl that was not? But I suppose you will tell me now that I am not a nice girl.”
  8. …she seemed to him a girl who would never be jealous. At the risk of exciting a somewhat derisive smile on the reader’s part, I may affirm that with regard to the women who had hitherto interested him, it very often seemed to Winterbourne among the possibilities that, given certain contingencies, he should be afraid—literally afraid—of these ladies; he had a pleasant sense that he should never be afraid of Daisy Miller.
  9. “You may be very sure she thinks of nothing. She goes on from day to day, from hour to hour, as they did in the Golden Age. I can imagine nothing more vulgar.” -Mrs. Costello
  10. He asked himself whether Daisy’s defiance came from the consciousness of innocence, or from her being, essentially, a young person of the reckless class.
  11. It must be admitted that holding one’s self to a belief in Daisy’s “innocence” came to seem to Winterbourne more and more a matter of fine-spun gallantry. As I have already had occasion to relate, he was angry at finding himself reduced to chopping logic about this young lady; he was vexed at his want of instinctive certitude as to how far her eccentricities were generic, national, and how far they were personal. From either view of them he had somehow missed her, and now it was too late. She was “carried away” by Mr. Giovanelli.
  12. “Well, he looks at us as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs!”
  13. Winterbourne stopped, with a sort of horror, and, it must be added, with a sort of relief. It was as if a sudden illumination had been flashed upon the ambiguity of Daisy’s behavior, and the riddle had become easy to read. She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect.
  14. In America there’s always a moon!
  15. Winterbourne stood there beside it, with a number of other mourners, a number larger than the scandal excited by the young lady’s career would have led you to expect.
  16. “She was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable;” and then he added in a moment, “and she was the most innocent. Winterbourne looked at him and presently repeated his words, “And the most innocent?”

“The most innocent!”

  1. [Winterbourne] stood staring at the raw protuberance among the April daisies.
  2. “I was booked to make a mistake”. – Winterbourne


Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte

Kaputt by Curzio MalaparteA disillusioned and disgruntled supporter of Mussolini who was obsessed with Proust, Malaparte found himself on the Eastern Front during World War 2 reporting for the Italian press. During the war he secretly wrote this work, and then rewrote it when the writing was clearly on the wall for Mussolini and the Nazis. Strangely, it became an international bestseller after the war: it seems there’s no accounting for which fictional (or not so fictional) accounts of such huge events capture the imaginations of the reading public. For some reason this strange work was seen to be an important account – it’s essentially an insiders account of the Nazi establishment as the war progressed and then as things started to fall apart. The accounts of the atrocities in Eastern Europe – the pogroms that accompanied the advance of the German armies and their allies especially – are especially shocking. Malaparte does, at times, give a vivid account of this terrible crisis in humanity. However, his Proustian digressions in the company of the great and the “good” of the Nazi regime will leave a modern reader a little unsettled but essentially unmoved.

Mr A


“…[A] transcendent work about the admixture of high culture, bestial depravity and human sadism. Part autobiography and part fiction, it captures seemingly unfathomable history. No work has ever revealed more about the murderous blend of zeal and indifference that is fanaticism. Simultaneously mythic and wholly human, Kaputt haunts the reader forever.”

— Wall Street Journal

“A scrupulous reporter? Probably not. One of the most remarkable writers of the 20th century? Certainly.”

— Ian Buruma

“Frank, glamorous and gruesome, Kaputt delivers a unique insider’s verdict on the damned elite of a damnable system.”

— The Independent

“Kaputt is a sad, astonishing, horrifying and lyrical book. It shows us the results of ideological fanaticism, racism, twisted values masquerading as spiritual purity, and the hatred of life, in their most personal and shameful aspects. It is essential for any human understanding of World War II.”

— Margaret Atwood

“An amazing and engrossing book…quite brilliantly done, crammed with incredible and terrifying stories.”

— Orville Prescott, The New York Times

“[Kaputt] is like a report from the interior of Chernobyl. Malaparte had gotten very close to the radioactive core of the Axis Powers and somehow emerged to tell the tale, simultaneously humanizing things and rendering them even more chilling as a result….Required reading for every citizen of the Twentieth Century.”

— Walter Murch