Hi, I’m Simon.

I live and work in London, where I read books and visit art exhibitions. This blog is a diary of the thoughts arising from these activities.

This blog includes quotes and images. Wherever possible I’ve contacted copyright holders to obtain permission to include their material (for example, almost all the reviews of art exhibitions are done in co-operation with the press offices of the relevant galleries, who have given me full permission to use their images). But if I have inadvertently used your copyright material, please contact me and I will either remove it or credit it correctly, as you wish.

That said, this is a non-commercial blog which aims solely to analyse and review interesting books and art, so all copyright material is used in accordance with ‘fair use’ principles i.e. solely for the purposes of review and criticism.

A number of people have contacted me for my personal details so the blog can be cited in essays. Although it doesn’t show up in the list below, I reply to all these requests, and am happy to supply whatever information you need.

As to the rationale behind the blog posts i.e. whether there’s an underlying agenda or purpose, I quote the twelfth discourse of Sir Joshua Reynolds:

Our studies will be for ever, in a very great degree, under the direction of chance; like travellers, we must take what we can get, and when we can get it; whether it is or is not administered to us in the most commodious manner, in the most proper place, or at the exact minute when we would wish to have it.

Occasionally people ask me why I don’t write a novel or similar, to which my answer is much like Cynthia’s in William Congreve’s Restoration comedy, The Double Dealer:

LADY FROTH: Oh, I write, write abundantly. Do you never write?
CYNTHIA: Write what?
LADY FROTH: Songs, elegies, satires, encomiums, panegyrics, lampoons, plays, or heroic poems?
CYNTHIA: O Lord, not I, madam; I’m content to be a courteous reader.

Leave a comment


  1. Interesting time exploring your blog. We had set out to do some Forest Reviews when we started blogging so good to see your exploration of St Leonards Forest but we havent had time since we started our business. Oh well we will do soon!

  2. Ps: loved the picture of ‘you’!

  3. Angie

     /  March 30, 2014

    Hi, i’m currently writing my bachelor thesis on the prose of George Martin in Game of thrones and i would like to quote one of your article. Would it be possible to send me your name in a mail, so i can quote you ? thank you so much !

    • Sure Angie, will be my pleasure. I’ll email you my details and also some other thoughts about GRRM which I never completed enough to publish.

      • Angie

         /  April 14, 2014

        That’s really kind of you, thank you so much !

      • Enzo

         /  October 14, 2017

        Hi, I’m also a student writing a report on GRRM. Could you possibly mail me your name so that i can reference your article properly. Thanks!

  4. Hi Simon:
    I came upon your blog by accident a few weeks ago while searching the Internet for commentary on a Joseph Conrad short story. I was immediately drawn to your extensive criticism of Alistair MacLean, and chuckled when you said he was an author you had read years ago as a young man. Me too!
    Your blog made think back to when I was a young man, living here in Canada, with lots of time on my hands (and no video games, smartphones or 500-channel TV universe to distract me) and an interest in the thrillers of writers like MacLean and Hammond Innes.
    Well, imagine my surprise when I came back to your website today and saw an extensive writeup on Desmond Bagley’s work. He too was one of my favourites back then. Ditto for Len Deighton, though I think I only read 2-3 of his novels (and was just recently tempted to buy a whole series that had been re-published in an eye-catching format and at an affordable price).
    Along with analysis of Conrad and MacLean, I was also taken by your comments on George RR Martin and his Fire and Ice series. I’ve seen Game of Thrones on TV occasionally but I haven’t read any of the five books. My son, who is living in Vancouver, is a big fan and I recommended that he check out what you have to say.
    I’m curious as to your background, because I find your analysis to be detailed and insightful. As a career newspaper man with a literary bent, I appreciate the style and accessibility of your work, which is thorough but never crosses the line into obscure academia or pedantic puffery.
    If you wish to write to me, you can email me at: juliohgomes@hotmail.com
    If you wish to post this missive to your Comments section, by all means do so.
    Again, wonderful work! Keep it up!

  5. Daisy Startup

     /  May 5, 2015

    Hi Simon,

    I really enjoyed your piece about Greek art, I was hoping to quote you in my finals essay on the Parthenon metopes. Would you be able to send me your full name in an email?

    Thanks so much!


  6. Hi Simon,
    I just stumbled upon your great articles on GRRM’s style of writing. As I’m writing my Bachelor’s thesis on the language of fantasy literature (the focus is on A Song of Ice and Fire, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter), I would like to include some of your thoughts – it would be great if you could send me your full name for my bibliography!
    All the best,

  7. Hi Simon,
    I want to reference your Botticelli article on twitter. DO you have a twitter name I can use?

  8. Molly

     /  November 26, 2017

    I would like to reference your review of Niall Ferguson’s ‘Empire’ please could you email me your details? Thanks!

  9. E

     /  March 25, 2018

    Hi, Simon!
    I would like to reference your review of Out of the Shelter by David Lodge if that is ok by you.
    Is it possible for you to email me your name?

  10. mark justin

     /  August 26, 2018

    Over the last fifteen days I read through all of your posts to the present. I was strongly impressed by the penetration and independence of your judgment. The strength and concentrated thought of your “technical/aesthetic” insight into language, plot construction, character creation makes you one of the very few critics that I have enjoyed reading.

    However I have read only a handful of the novels that you discuss. I have read very few twentieth century English novels, and almost none of these have been “genre” novels (adventure, espionage, mystery, fantasy, comedy, etc). Reading about these (In your reviews) has sharpened my interest in them.

    May I ask you to list the ten or so novels that you have most enjoyed (or maybe those that you consider the best). Perhaps you could post the list on your blog or email them to me.

    Thank you

    • David Attenborough was once asked, ‘What’s your favourite animal?’ and he couldn’t given an answer. He said that he was not sure he really ‘liked’ animals; he just found them all equally fascinating, in their different ways.

      I feel the same way about books. People’s tastes are so different, and your reaction to a book depends on so many factors – how old you are, where you are in your life, your interests and personality, what other books you’ve just read – that it’s difficult if not impossible to really recommend books to other people.

      As soon as I try to make a short list I find myself including books because they’re famous, or worthy, or good examples of this or that author, or genre, and soon it’s growing to beyond ten to become twenty or thirty or forty titles. Also, I write about thrillers and adventure stories, but also about political and military history, and about art, and derive pleasure from all of them, but in different ways, some very visceral, some very intellectual, most somewhere in between.

      So that the easiest and most honest thing for me to do is just leave the blog as it is. It isn’t a definitive list or canon of anything. It is just a diary or record of the books I’ve read, and what I noticed and thought about their content and style as I read them. I think it’s for each reader to surf through the reviews, agree or disagree with me, and find their own likes and dislikes.

  11. mark justin

     /  August 27, 2018

    I should have written the ten or so twentieth (and twenty-first century) English novels that you have most enjoyed (or maybe those that you consider the best). Reading them and comparing them with you commentary on them will give me a clearer sense of your point of view.

  12. Ben Cook

     /  March 8, 2019

    Hi Simon,
    I would like to reference your review on Moonraker by Ian Fleming for my English coursework. Would you be able to e-mail me your name please?

  13. Robert Plautz

     /  May 5, 2019

    Moominpapa at Sea is very good literature without your interpretations, yet it becomes an eternal classic with your analysis. thank you for the enlightening insights indeed!

  14. Hi Simon, I’m writing from PEER a gallery on Hoxton Street. Our upcoming show is with the late Serbian artist, Olga Jevrić. The show will consist of a group of sculptural works produced between the late 1940s and early 1990s and will be her first solo show in London. We really like your blog and your in depth reviews – we were wondering if we could send you some more information on this upcoming show incase you’re interested in coming to see it! If so could you provide an email address to send the information over to?
    All the best,

  15. Bill Slocum

     /  August 11, 2019

    Love your blog, Simon. I’ve been plugging it on my own blog, https://slokes.blogspot.com/, and especially enjoy reading your long, wry takes on Graham Greene, Alistair MacLean, and most recently Rudyard Kipling. You really bring out things I wish I picked up on, and you have a gift for making it fun without dumbing it down for cheap laughs. Please keep up the good work!

  16. Hi!
    I’m doing a podcast on the Quiller novels and although you are not a fan, I was hoping to quote some of your comments as I thought they were valid criticisms. Would you have any issue with that?
    Really enjoy your blog.

    • Hi Jeff. Thanks for your message, and please feel free to quote me, I put my thoughts out there precisely so people can debate, discuss, disagree and generally use them. It would be great if you could send me a link to the podcast, maybe you can help me appreciate Quiller a bit more – Simon

      • Thanks! I will be sure to get you a link once it’s posted. I don’t know if you’re a podcast listener but it will be an episode of the Spybrary podcast which takes a closer look at different spy fiction. I don’t know if we’ll change your mind, but hopefully it will be a good listen either way.

      • Simon,

        Hi! We released part one of a two(!?!) part look at Quiller and read out a bit of one of your reviews as a very thoughtful counterbalance to our enthusiasm. I don’t know that we’ll change your mind but it still might be a fun listen. Your site is also linked in the show notes. I hope it helps send you some new readers.


        I’m visiting London in mid October and will be checking your blog to find the must visit art exhibitions. Any big recommendations, let me know!

  17. Frans-Utrecht

     /  September 1, 2019

    Hi Simon,
    I was writing an answer on Quora to a question about how workers perceive the produce while manufacturing sex toys. Ancestral Vices came to mind and I would like to use the paragraph that you wrote in your blog.

    Yapp has come to research the history of the Petrefact mill in the town, expecting to find it cruelly exploiting a down-trodden workforce and is disconcerted to find the town prosperous and the inhabitants all very happy. This is rather crude satire on the fatuousness of left wingers’ blinkered preconceptions. In the novel it is because Lord P’s wayward son, Frederick, has made it into a very successful manufacturer of sex toys and erotic lingerie, which makes good profits and pays everyone well.

    I thought I’d attribute it to ‘Simon’ s blog’ and would like to include a link to your blog.

    I’m Dutch and not familiar with UK legislation, so if I transgressed in any way, or you’re not happy with the attribution, please let me know and I’ll amend things.

    I’ve not yet published the Quora answer, so I cannot include a link, but the question is: People who work in a factory that makes sex toys, do you giggle all day long?

    The reason I want to include your description, is that I appreciate the way in which you use the internet to share your views and knowledge about literature. And I would like to make people aware of your work.

  18. Ana Lucia

     /  October 3, 2019

    Olá Simon.
    Estou escrevendo o meu TCC sobre Beowulf e gostaria de citar seu nome, você pode me enviar? Desde já agradeço.

  19. Hi Simon, I’m currently submitting an assignment for my masters and would like to reference ‘Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art @ the National Gallery’. Please could you email me your last name so I can do so?



  20. Olivia von Heydekampf

     /  December 3, 2019

    Hello Simon,

    I am currently analyzing the marketing mixture of the BP National Portrait Award and would like to cite your description of this year’s explicit change in how the gallery was arranged. I would be very grateful to use your information if you would be so kind as to write to me @ vonheydekampf.o@husky.neu.edu.

    Thank you,

  21. Teko

     /  February 28, 2020

    Hi Simon, I’m writing a book about R.Kipling and your articles were very interesting and helpful for me. I’d like to quote something and want to know how to make reference to your blog, Simon who? Thanks in advance

  22. Bethany Rollitt

     /  March 8, 2020

    Hi Simon, I was wondering if I could cite your Cat’s Cradle analysis as a part of an essay, if so could you please email me your last name at bethanyrollitt@gmail.com. Thank you

  23. Ed

     /  March 23, 2020

    Simon – I rarely comment online, but I found your commentary on the Coronavirus and your Perspective today to be outstanding. They are a much-needed reminder that mortality is a constant companion through life. Thank you for your insights and reflections.

  24. jannikolaus

     /  August 22, 2020

    Hello and good evening Simon,
    Once again many thanks for your brilliant essays!
    Why not comment Sarah Bakewell’s Existentialist Cafe, i’d be interested to read your summary.
    All the best

  25. Cristina DiChiera

     /  September 24, 2020

    Hi Simon – any chance you would ever do a podcast? There is so much to explore here and I have a lot of chores to do, which makes podcasts and audiobooks my preferred format. Your content is all set- all you have to do it set up and start reading. I would definitely subscribe via Patreon or something.

  26. Northfield Lenox

     /  December 16, 2020

    new novel released this year, I have always had a somewhat of a difficult time with these books in terms of keeping track of characters, and the authors style which can jump from scene to scene unexpectedly. I stumbled on your blog looking for character lists, and have found your posts about these books entertaining and informative. They also provided some insights I had not though of before. Just wanted to say thank you.

  27. Louisa Ruppel

     /  January 22, 2021

    Hi Simon, I would like to quote you in my presentation. It is about your article “The Alteration by Kingsley Amis (1976)”.Would you be able to send me your full name in an email?

    Thank you so much!!


  28. Horvath Ladislau-Alexandru

     /  February 26, 2021


    I would like to reference all your articles on David Lodge’s Campus Trilogy for my MA thesis. Do you think you could email me your details?

    I found your articles to be truly on point and useful.

    Thank you!

  29. Hi Simon, I am writing an MA in Illustration and would like to quote the article on House of Illustration refugee exhibition. If you could forward me your details, I would be very grateful. I found the blog by chance but what a find!

  30. Hi Simon, I would like to quote you on Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” as I am comparing it to a lyric essay. ICould you please send me a citation? Many thanks, Ajanta

  31. Robert

     /  April 30, 2021

    Hi Simon,

    Very much enjoyed your review and thoughts on Master Georgie, though it only served to highlight all of the subtle vignettes and intricacies that I missed upon my first reading.

    One slight nitpick in your summary:

    “Naughton storms along the passageway, into the box and attacks the officer, who promptly defends himself and accidentally knocks Naughton clean out of the box and onto the stage beneath. George attends Naughton, who is not as injured as you’d expect, leaving Potter to feel sheepishly guilty, while reflecting on the absurdity of life, its randomness and chance complications.”

    I do believe (and please correct me if I’m mistaken) that it was in fact the hussar Captain that was knocked from the box by Naughton – hard to believe I know.

  32. Giles Foden

     /  May 6, 2021

    Thank you so much for continuing your wonderful posts. They are often the highlight of my week. I have just read the Borges one; I thought you might like the new book Borges and Me, by my friend Jay Parini.

    With best wishes
    Giles Foden

  33. Jack

     /  May 7, 2021

    Hello Simon! Your blog is phenomenal. I am writing a thesis on Berlin Alexanderplatz, and would like to quote one of your lines about Tatsachenphantasie. Would you be willing to send me your name so I may cite you? (Sorry to clutter your comments with this request.)

  34. Gosh, what a wonderful blog. I found you via a link from AlistairMaclean.com. Finding someone who treats the delights of genre fiction with the intelligence and curiosity one usually finds reserved for “literature” is a true pleasure. I especially enjoyed your insights into contemporary American culture in your review for Lee Child’s Make Me. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Liam Walsh

    • Hi Liam. Thanks for your kind words. I bring the same kind of approach to all the books I read, whether thrillers or medieval literature or history. I wish I was smarter and had more theory at my fingertips but I try to ensure I say at least one interesting thing in each review, if not 2 or 3. And I’ve discovered that a surprising number of books have little or no summary online, so just providing a plot precis is often useful for readers. You might enjoy my reviews of Raymond Chandler, who I regard as a master stylist. If you liked the Alistair MacLean I imagine you’ve had a look at my Eric Ambler, Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley reviews. Thanks again – Simon

  35. blairjohn04

     /  April 1, 2022

    Hi Simon, I wish to use your article “The Sack of Constantinople in 1204” as a source for my Ancient History Assignment as it is highly suited to my inquiry questions. Could you please send me some details about yourself so I can correctly reference you and make comment on reliability (as this is required for the assignment)?

    Kind Regards

  36. Oscar

     /  August 5, 2022

    Hey Simon, i am writing an essay over the reasons for the Sack of Constantinople and would like to reference you’re work as it fits in perfectly with the piece i am trying to write. Any information about yourself to help reference would greatly appreciated, thank you
    Best wishes

  37. Hi Simon
    I very much enjoyed reading your blog regarding Poetry of the Thirties a book I purchased yesterday from a charity shop in Stafford.
    My PhD at Keele revolves around the poets John Wain and Charles Tomlinson. And as background reading I found your article extremely interesting and informative.
    I was hoping to find a little more about Peter Hewitt and his poem, ‘Place of birth’, but have reached a very short dead-end. Any possible leads?
    I look forward to following you

    • Hi Dean, thanks for your comment. Sorry, but I can’t help with Peter Hewitt, the sum total of what I know goes into my reviews. As my children irritatingly remind me, Google is your friend. Best wishes, Simon.

  38. Juanita Eserada

     /  November 25, 2022

    Hi Simon,
    I am writing a class assignment on The Road to Wigan Pier George Orwell, and I really would like to reference your work on it. Can I have information of you please, it will be of great help. Thank you


  39. Ryan

     /  December 9, 2022

    Hi Simon! I’m writing a vignette now and it would be great if you email your full name so that I can include you in the citations of my work. Good day ahead!

  40. Elizabeth Horan

     /  December 23, 2022

    I have developed and am about to teach a university course on Spy Fiction & Film. I’ve pointed my students towards your reviews of Maugham and leCarré, for your insights into Spy fiction from the British tradition.

    • Hi Elizabeth. Wow, I’m flattered. I come from the political left and came to adulthood during the Thatcher years when the key issues were class, money and power, more than more recent concerns with gender and ethnicity. That’s my bedrock position, over which is a layer of interest in language and, especially, the rhetorics of class and power which, as you can tell, really irritate me in some of le Carré’s novels. His assumption of private school superiority makes me gag. But most English critics and publishers share the same background in private education and so he, his works and the numerous movie and TV spin-offs are greeted with almost universal praise. My modest aim is to puncture this mutual backslapping by pointing out the tiresome repetition of the same stock figures and situations in so many of the novels, as expressed in the same stock formulas (all the characters being ‘legends’ – precisely the kind of backslapping mutual admiration you get at places like Eton which convince people like Boris Johnson that they are entitled to govern this country). I’ve also reviewed all the James Bond novels and all Len Deighton’s novels, from ‘The Ipcress File’ onwards, which you might consider mentioning (the novels and films, not my reviews) in your course. Best wishes, Simon.

  41. PAS

     /  December 31, 2022

    “… there is still the assumption that we in ‘the West’ must do something, are somehow responsible, somehow have magic powers to sort out the world’s troubles which (it is implied) the poor benighted inhabitants of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and all the rest of them lack.”

    Been living this in the US Armed Forces for 20x+ years. Books & Boots — any chance you’re ex-military?

    • Hi PAS. Thank you for your service. No, I’m not ex-military but, like many people, I combine criticism of the political and strategic decisions made by the Western powers i.e. the US and her allies, over the past 30 years, with a strong respect for the soldiers who are at the coal face and have to clean up the mess, getting injured or killed in the process. I hope you’re safe now. Best wishes, Simon

  42. jilk

     /  March 12, 2023

    Siempre estoy buscando constantemente obras e información sobre el arte por ahí, y una de mis grandes preocupaciones es el encontrar archivos de gran calidad y que se pueda acercar con nitidez para apreciar la obra. Recién hoy conocí este espacio indagando lugares donde encontrar obras de Bacon y gracias a ti ahora conozco mas artistas y puedo indagar más en una pasión.

    • Hola jilk. Gracias por tu comentario. Estoy feliz de estar de servicio. Los mejores deseos, Simon

  43. Samantha Reaves

     /  April 6, 2023

    Hello! I have really enjoyed reading some of your work, I would love to cite it in a paper I am writing for my class, if you could please send me reference information I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank You,

  44. Hiya Simon, I came across your blog through your excellent write-up of Boulle’s ‘Planet of the Apes’. I really like your interpretation of the novel speaking to a hierarchy of consciousness, and therefore reflecting attitudes of the time. I would like to quote your ideas in an essay, please let me know how to give you the proper credit. Thanks for your time!


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