Joanne O’Leary: What makes a waif?

What I’m looking for, maybe unfairly, is a way of reconciling the Maeve Brennan who basked in the ‘lavish solitude’ of ‘small, inexpensive restaurants’ – ‘the home fires of New York City’ – with the Brennan who sparkles in her colleagues’ memoirs. The New Yorker columns bear no trace of the woman who went to a party hosted by E.B. White and silenced the room by yelling: ‘Fuck you, Brendan Gill, you goddamn Roman Catholic!’

Nick Richardson: Elves and Aliens

The US government have publicly admitted, in effect, that highly trained and experienced pilots have seen aircraft that they are unable to identify, doing things that they and their colleagues are unable to explain. ‘Unexplained’ doesn’t mean alien, as the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson emphasised on CNN after the footage was released: ‘Just because you don’t know what it is you’re looking at doesn’t mean it’s intelligent aliens visiting from another planet.’ Well, yes, but credible alternative explanations are lacking.

Rosemary Hill: Unhappy Ever After

A marriage that makes a good end to a comedy will often make as good a beginning to a tragedy. If any couple bore out that maxim it was Annabella Milbanke and George Gordon Byron. The ‘happy’ chapter lasted barely 24 hours, the ‘ever after’ is with us still.

Letters

The letters page from London Review of Books Vol. 40 No. 12 (21 June 2018)

David Thomson: ‘Vertigo’ after Weinstein

It isn’t just that Alfred Hitchcock was devious, a fantasist, a voyeur and a predator. It isn’t just that no matter how many Harvey Weinsteins are exposed, it could never be enough to deliver justice to those who have been wronged and exploited. It isn’t even that men invented and have dominated the command and control of the movies, both as art and business: that they have been the majority of directors, producers and camera people despite, over the years, being a minority of the audience. Is what Vertigo has to tell us, beyond this history of male control, that the medium itself is in some sense male? Is there something in cinema that gives power to the predator, sitting still in the dark, watching forbidden things?

David Runciman: The Last World Cup

The evidence for the premise that international sport spreads peace and goodwill has always been fairly thin: every major tournament is dressed up that way but the legacy is more often mothballed stadiums and simmering resentment, as was the case after South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. Rarely, though, has a regime so brazenly signalled its indifference to the niceties of international sport, which require at least the pretence that bad behaviour gets put on hold. As the saying goes, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and this is the currency in which Fifa likes to trade. But Putin isn’t having any of it. He seems to have treated the award of the tournament as a licence to try his luck.

Pankaj Mishra: The Wrong Human Rights

Samuel Moyn wants to reinstate socialism – which was, after all, the ‘central language of justice’ globally before it was supplanted by human rights – as an ethical ideal and political objective. This may seem like a quixotic project.

Andrew O’Hagan: The Tower

It was 1.20 a.m. The fire had travelled diagonally up the building before spreading round the north face, passing from the fourth to the 14th floor in about 15 minutes. Smoke from the burning cladding entered through gaps in the new but ill-fitting windows, and the smoke travelled from there into the common areas and the stairwell. In Flat 111 on the 14th floor, Denis Murphy, 56, dialled 999 and was told to stay inside his flat and that firefighters would soon reach him. He called his brother at 1.30 and left a message saying there was black smoke everywhere. People could have made for the stairs at that point, but they were told to stay put. And it quickly became evident that some people were trapped.

Letters

The letters page from London Review of Books Vol. 40 No. 11 (7 June 2018)