A second inconvenient truth

I  It has taken around fifty years for the Aral Sea to parch. If you look at satellite images of the Kazakh-Uzbek border today, it is as though a half-bruised eyelid has drowsed shut across tens of thousands of kilometres of water. Lake Chad – on the margins of Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon – is next. Since the 1960s, it has shrivelled by 90 per cent. Roughly half of that reduction in size is attributed to climate change, but the truth is that scientists and analysts find themselves all at subjunctives with such figures. This isn’t just an ecological calamity. It’s also symptomatic of what will be one of the most persistent human rights challenges of this century. The cradle of mankind is starting to look more like a cemetery. Take Niger, a country that finds itself at the very top or the very bottom of almost every index …

The Great British break-off

It’s no longer fashionable to wonder whether the latest Great British sporting achievement might—in fact—be the last. Yet as Andy Murray, a Scot in Saltire blue, chipped the ball delicately over the head of David Goffin to claim Britain’s first Davis Cup for 79 years, that insistent question was the only thing that returned. For the team of two Scots and two Englishmen had prevailed on Belgian soil, in the heartland of the European Union: the place that is likely to be pivotal in determining whether there will still be a British team at international championships like this in 79 years’ time. The ‘Scottish question’ was answered over a year ago in a September 2014 referendum, with around 55 per cent of those north of Berwick-upon-Tweed voting to stay in the United Kingdom. Despite this, David Cameron’s election promise of a referendum on EU membership—prompted largely by Euroscepticism both within …

Brian Westby: A Review

It’s a good job Forrest Reid didn’t write to be famous. Almost seventy years after his death, his novels gather dust in libraries: unthumbed and unadmired. Highly thought of by friends like E.M. Forster and Walter de la Mare during his lifetime, the Ulster writer has since fallen into obscurity. Until now, that is. Few of his works are more poignant than his 1934 novel, Brian Westby, which was republished by Valancourt Books at the end of last year. Despite Reid’s best protestations that “[a]ll the characters and incidents in this novel are imaginary”, it’s hard to avoid its semi-autobiographical resonances. Modelled on the relationship Reid fostered with his young protégé Stephen Gilbert, Brian Westby records the chance encounter between novelist Martin Linton and the son his ex-wife has successfully hidden from him for the best part of two decades. So pervasive was Gilbert’s influence that Reid gave him the …