Life and Seoul

For The Guardian The first totems we drive past are the Garbage Mountains. And, contrary to the name, they are almost beautiful – green, rolling, lightly wooded and crisscrossed by trails on which Seoul-weary citizens might wander. The South Koreans are proud of having transformed their terrible trash problems into parkland; they do it carefully,…

Nemesis by Philip Roth

For The Guardian   Before we get into this I should probably say that it’s my belief that Philip Roth, now 77, can write whatever the hell he likes. After more than 50 years working at the highest level, after having produced at least three enduring masterworks of prose fiction, after having vigorously, unflinchingly, brilliantly and…

Santa Maddalena

For The Sunday Times When you step through the main entrance of Santa Maddalena — from smoky Tuscan woodland into chiaroscuro Tuscan cool — you are confronted by what must surely be the most impressive visitors’ book in world literature. Approximately 18in tall and 2ft wide, it stands, always open, at the foot of the…

Invisible by Paul Auster

Written for The Guardian:   Paul Auster is a writer with many skills: a disarming directness of style, a subtle ability to render subtle psychology, a connoisseur’s feel for the novel form – its limits and its play – and much besides. Invisible is the story of Adam Walker who, while a student at Columbia University in 1967,…

If I Ruled The World

  Most novelists and poets are broke. But why aren’t we getting a bailout? We’ve been no worse at our jobs than the bankers. Written for Prospect Magazine:   “Dude, where’s my cheque? Either this is not a recovery, or you forgot to mail out our cheques while the recession was on.” “That’s what you’d…

Peter Mandelson – Profile

  For Prospect Magazine On 6th December, 30 years ago, on a dark and miserable night in south London, a few streets from where I am writing this, a young Peter Mandelson was elected as a Labour borough councillor to the world’s most insane local council—Lambeth. Representing Stockwell, the 26-year-old Mandelson found himself sitting on…