Bury Place Papers, By Frank Kermode

This collection of "Essays from the London Review of Books, 1979-2007" not only demonstrates Frank Kermode's dexterity and range; it also shows a sense of humour I hadn't picked up on before. In his 1986 review of three weighty Hemingway biographies, for instance, two of which focused on Hemingway's early years and his first marriage to Hadley Richardson, he comments, with some feeling, on the amount of detail included: "Although it may seem a little ungracious to say so, for she was an interesting woman, you may feel some regret that a thousand letters from Hadley to Ernest have survived." Kermode is nothing if not diligent: if he had to read every word of those letters, one senses that he would do so.

On Martin Amis's The War Against Cliché he is alternately serious and amused; on The Body Artist by Don DeLillo, he is caustic ("if there are two traditions of great American writing it is proper to show up in both of them") and admiring; on Philippe Ariès' The Hour of Our Death, he is cautious and querying ("I mention this fact because I do not know quite what to do with it"). His reviews are always demanding but never inaccessible, the perfect combination.