Upcoming BookNights for the Members’ Clubroom

On Monday 15 September we welcome Patrick Cockburn, who will – with striking topicality – talk about his new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. Patrick needs no introduction to Frontline members, who in turn do not need persuading of the fact that he is alone and unique in the depth of his knowledge and experience in Iraq. Where many of us have roamed – Bosnia here, Iraq there, Afghanistan and wherever – Patrick has ploughed his furrow since before the West’s first Iraq adventure in 1991, breaking only to write a poignantly powerful and intimate book with his son. The Jihadis Return is a bit like a packed-explosive IED itself: small and super-charged.

While the West remains torn between belligerence and war-weariness in Iraq, ISIS marches on; and as the crisis deepens, there is no one who can inform us better than Patrick, from the ground he has trodden for 25 years, on the options and lack of them. While you you wait for your copy of the book to arrive, here is an extract from The Jihadis Return, as well as Patrick‘s latest thoughts on the subject, in the wake of the execution of our colleague James Foley.

Members can book in online here.

In October – after four nights featuring Afghanistan, Bosnia, phone-hacking and Iraq – we’re going to shift into a more literary gear, partly at least, to welcome Robert McCrum, on an evening during the week beginning 20 October. Robert is a former editor-in-chief at Faber and Faber (during crucial years, 1980–96, pioneering and championing the new fiction of Milan Kundera, Paul Austin, Peter Carey and illustrious others – plus the poetry of Seamus Heaney) and now über-literary-editor of The Observer and The Guardian.

Robert is reaching the half-way mark in compiling a vast list of, and guide to, the hundred greatest novels of all time – week by week, one year in, one to go. The books “choose themselves”, says Robert, but how fascinating it will be to hear how he chooses novels that choose themselves; what gets left out, how the public reacts – and we round the table, indeed – to his selection. Here’s the list so far.

And there is something special in this half-way mark for Frontline members. It so happens that numbers 50 and 51 are Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, both of which are intrinsically linked to World War One. (The connection is unavoidable in so many other works of the time, including No. 46, Joyce’s Ulysses.) Virginia Woolf’s Septimus Warren Smith is the first literary character to explore the phenomenon known then as ‘shell shock’, and its impact on how he views war and the society to which he returns from the trenches in 1918. It is only by having been a soldier that Gatsby becomes sufficiently ‘classless’ as to meet a debutante like Daisy, only to realise . . .

So: members might like, for this evening, to read (or more probably re-read) either or both these books, ready to discuss them – and the theme of war and literature – in addition to Robert‘s list generally. The BookNights thereby mark, in their literary and less bellicose way, the ubiquitous commemorations.

The format for both nights will be as tried and tested: drinks from 7:00 PM, dinner at 7:30 PM – getting to know one another over starters before I introduce and cue our guest. The author of the evening will then speak a while, after which the discussion begins. Carlotta Gall and Tim Butcher needed no ‘chairing’, but the discourse with Nick Davies needed, perhaps, a tighter rein. We’ll gauge that as we go. Same ethos as usual: this is NOT a “book club”, more a 19th century salon after which people leave drunker, better-fed and wiser than when they arrived, having hopefully made new acquaintances, friends, lovers, who knows.

Very best wishes, see you there –

Pranvera Smith & Ed Vulliamy
Frontline Club BookNights