Edward T. Wheeler

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.

By this author

Moths and Eyes

I have been rereading Anna Karenina ( the Constance Garnett translation) and had to stop over a chapter that connected a recourse of novelists and theories of mind. The scene is one in which Annas husband, Alexey Alexandrovitch, visits a lawyer (unnamed) to begin divorce proceedings. The lawyer is carefully described: [he] was a little, squat, bald man, with a dark, reddish beard, light-colored long eyebrows, and an overhanging brow. He was attired as though for a wedding, from his cravat to his double watch-chain and varnished boots.

At An End

Henning Mankell, the Swedish mystery writer, appears to have brought his dark, gifted and melancholic hero, Kurt Wallender, to a tired end. One wonders if the burden of success and the Wallender series has been very successful increased the desperation with which the detective in the Ystad police force approaches the solution of his last case. Mankell has, over the course of ten Wallender novels, established himself as far more than a writer of police procedurals.

The Fear Factor

Robert Harris (author of Pompeii, The Ghost Writer, the Cicero trilogy, and others) has published a new novel, The Fear Index, which is as much a primer in hedge funds and computer controlled algorithmic trading in stocks as it is an engrossing thriller. The particular conflict that the book raises is not science fiction.


Forty years ago, I sat, afternoon after afternoon, for almost two years, in the Upper Reading Room of the Bodleian Library. I was purportedly pursuing literary research (I had done the serious work before lunch, honestly!), but really I was reading novels that were loosely connected to the time encompassed by my thesis. Calling up books, waiting for them to be fetched from the stacks, and then opening what proved almost consistently to be first editions, evoke a golden time that nostalgia paints deceptive sepia.

Aristo Antics

At one point in the course of the travels he undertook for this extraordinary and all-but-unclassifiable book, Michael Holroyd tells us of apologizing to an Italian host for wasting his time recounting the lives of long-dead English aristocrats.


The pleasures of indulgence yield the worry of surfeit. To have too much is to lose appreciation of what is particular. Reading five or six works by Justin Cartwright, seriatim, has driven home this too obvious truism. The book jacket notes that Cartwright is South African by birth, and that he resides in London. His novels show he is well-traveled enough (in the USA in particular) to write of three continents with easy authority. The New Book section of the library gave the first hint of his range and, being hooked by Other Peoples Money, I read through five other novels.

What next?

There is an art to reading book blurbs and my wife has mastered it. She has an astute way of working through the new book shelves at the library and finding authors we will both find so good that we read them exhaustively. The key for her is remembering which of the blurb writers are reliable witnesses. Her knack has yielded impressive results, the latest Justin Cartwright. If you are shaking you head wondering that we had not heard of him before (mea culpa), we have made up for this in the number of his works we have read through happily.To go back to What do I read next?

Out of the Trenches

Almost forty years ago, while doing graduate studies in England, I wrote to the poet and painter David Jones to inquire about the influence on his work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ. Jones, who was suffering from the cancer that would take his life three years later, answered in a remarkable way.


I have been listening to two unsettling men, Fabian Vas and Wyatt Hillyer. Both seem to filter the violence and passion of their lives through a distance in time and expectation that works oddly against the events they relate. The mismatch is the more effective in that they offer little, if any, analysis of their motives.

A Dog's Life

There is a pedigree that gives authority to certain dogs who are narrators of novels at least that is a point made by Maf, the autobiographical speaker in Andrew OHagans The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe. Among the many virtues of this novel are Mafs comments on his doggy peers and predecessors.