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John Lanchester: The demise of Woolworths, 29 January 2009

... Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the UK’s biggest trade union, Unite, has warned of apocalyptic consequences if the government doesn’t pump some money into the UK car industry. ‘Our industry is on the ropes because of market collapse, particularly for the sort of high-value vehicles produced by Jaguar and Land Rover.’ The car business needs help, right now ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Google Street View, 9 April 2009

... Stendhal said that the novel was ‘a mirror that one walks down a road’, ‘un miroir qu’on promène le long d’un chemin’. Although this maxim is generally agreed to be a masterful summary of the realist project in fiction, it has always brought out a literal streak in me. How much would the mirror show? Wouldn’t everything depend on how big it was? Who would be looking into it? They wouldn’t have much of a view, would they? Is the novelist the person who’s carrying the mirror, or is she standing by the side of the road looking at the mirror, in which case isn’t that a bit passive, given that it’s presumably meant to be her novel? Would the mirror change angle, so you could see more of what was going on? We can all relax ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Phished, 3 December 2015

... Got a headache?​ Help is at hand. At your local pharmacy or supermarket or corner shop or garage or indeed pretty much anywhere, you can buy a branded packet of 2-(4-isobutylphenyl)propionic acid, better known as ibuprofen, at a cost of £2 for 12 200mg tablets. (If that pharmacy is a Boots, you’re buying the medicine from the people who created it, since it was Boots’s research arm which came up with ibuprofen in the first place ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: On the Official Worry List, 11 September 2014

... In the world​ of money, there is always an Official Worry List, containing the next big things which are likely to go wrong or blow up. The items on the list are sometimes problems we’ve all heard of, with obvious political and human ramifications, such as the Ukraine crisis, or the rise of Isis. The macro-economic take on both of these has less to do with widespread suffering and death, and more to do with accurately pricing energy risks ...

It’s All Over

John Lanchester, 19 June 2014

... Small boys​ of all ages and both genders look forward to World Cups. Perhaps nobody, though, looks forward to it more than actual small boys. I’ve been looking forward to them ever since my first, in 1970 – the best, I still think. The thing I remember almost as well as the drama and excitement of the football was my incredulous horror at the thought that I would be 12 before this thing came round again ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: #tevezexcuses, 20 October 2011

... Quantity changes quality, Hegel thought. It’s an observation which proves true in many different contexts, and one of them involves football. I know that I’m far from alone in finding the game much less compelling than I used to, and when I ask myself why, the answer involves two different kinds of quantity. One, there’s so much more of it, on television and everywhere else ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Kraft eats Cadbury, 7 January 2010

... When economic times are hard, big companies take the opportunity to eat smaller ones. This process does not respect national boundaries, particularly when an economy is as open to outsiders as Britain’s. This is an old story, so it’s hard to see quite why the prospective takeover of Cadbury by Kraft, the American food conglomerate, has got people going quite as much as it has ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Unlikeabilityfest, 17 February 2011

... Back when I was at university, the only people who ever used the word ‘narrative’ were literature students with an interest in critical theory. Everyone else made do with ‘story’ and ‘plot’. Since then, the n-word has been on a long journey towards the spotlight – especially the political spotlight. Everybody in politics now seems to talk about narratives all the time; even political spin-doctors describe their job as being ‘to craft narratives ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: The Great Refusers, 20 October 2016

... Most​ writers of fiction are interested in anonymity. If they aren’t tickled by the thought when they sit down to write their first books, they get to that point after the first couple have come out. Writing is solitary, private, inward, and involves something close to complete control; even when there are losses of control or agency, they’re of the sort that a writer has, most of the time, chosen for herself ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Sugary Horrors, 21 January 2016

... A gloomy​ headline for early January: four million people in the UK have diabetes. There are 700 new diagnoses every day, the overwhelming majority (90 per cent) with type 2 diabetes, the variety associated with diet and inactivity. In the last decade there has been a 65 per cent rise in the total number of diabetics. By one reckoning, one in five British retirees is a sufferer ...


John Lanchester, 21 November 2019

... The modern mode​ of watching television, largely uncoupled from broadcast schedules, makes a programme’s transition from critical acclaim to audience approval to mass adoption more gradual than it used to be. Once, there were immediate hits and misses. There still are – but it’s more common for the hits to build gradually, by word of mouth. Many shows seem magically to become more famous in between series than when they are actually on the air ...


John Lanchester: Arsenalesque Melancholy, 3 December 1992

... Most of the men I know display more emotion about football than they do about anything else. The most obvious of these emotions – the one that makes the biggest impression on first-time attendees at football matches – is anger. Everything from mild irritation to outright pre-psychotic fury is on open display; even celebration can look like a form of rage ...

Indian Summa

John Lanchester, 22 April 1993

A Suitable Boy 
by Vikram Seth.
Phoenix, 1349 pp., £20, March 1993, 1 897580 20 7
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... Forests have been slain, not only in the manufacture of A Suitable Boy, but in the production of its review coverage. An unusual amount of the publicity has been statistical, with journalists dwelling on the size of the book (1349 pages), its weight (an uncompromising 1.5 kilos), the size of the advances received (‘2.6 crore rupees’), and its status as the longest one-volume novel in the English Language ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Google Glass, 23 May 2013

... Last week I took 61,240 steps, covering 28.88 miles, and climbed the equivalent of 142 flights of stairs – not bad, but not as good as the week before, when I took 67,131 steps, covering 31.66 miles, and climbed 122 flights. I note with gloom that even then I failed to make my target of ten thousand steps a day. I know this with such precision not because I’ve turned into a cross between Bruce Chatwin and Rain Man but because I’ve been using a Fitbit One, a fancy-schmancy pedometer which tracks how much I’ve been moving about and automatically synchronises it, via a Bluetooth dongle on my computer, with a website and an app on my phone ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Amazon Echo, 2 February 2017

... Just over​ ten years ago, on 9 January 2007, Steve Jobs stood up on stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and announced that Apple would be bringing out three new devices: a ‘widescreen iPod, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet communication device’. The punchline: ‘These are not three separate devices. This is one device ...

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