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Dinah Birch, 6 July 1989

The Middleman, and Other Stories 
by Bharati Mukherjee.
Virago, 197 pp., £11.95, June 1989, 1 85381 058 4
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The Burning Boys 
by John Fuller.
Chatto, 128 pp., £10.95, June 1989, 9780701134648
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Termination Rock 
by Gillian Freeman.
Pandora, 182 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 0 04 440352 6
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by Joan Aiken.
Gollancz, 254 pp., £11.95, June 1989, 0 575 04502 7
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... but not without hope. John Fuller’s The Burning Boys is interested in other kinds of separation. David’s mother is killed in the Blitz, and he goes to live with his down-to-earth grandmother and nubile young aunt. His life goes underground. David covertly observes the strange adult goings-on around him, approaching ...

Losing the Plot

Francesca Wade: Nicola Barker, 3 July 2014

In the Approaches 
by Nicola Barker.
Fourth Estate, 497 pp., £18.99, June 2014, 978 0 00 758370 6
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... recent Clear (2004), a short but bounding novel in which characters theorise about the illusionist David Blaine, are set in London, but Barker’s territory is the hinterlands of the South-East, where literature doesn’t tend to happen – Luton, Canvey Island, the Isle of Sheppey, Ashford (‘gateway to Europe’). Despite the prizes – the Booker ...


David Craig: In the Barra Isles, 30 October 1997

... each of which is an old man remembering its name.’ And so, when Kev Howett, one of the leading rock-climbers based in the Highlands, mentioned a forthcoming expedition to Pabbay and Mingulay, as we stood under a cliff in Wester Ross last autumn, I seized the chance of travelling there at last. A new island, an uninhabited island, can fold you ...

The Chief Inhabitant

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Jerusalem, 14 July 2011

Jerusalem: The Biography 
by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
Weidenfeld, 638 pp., £25, January 2011, 978 0 297 85265 0
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... of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or the outward appearance of the Dome of the Rock, which Christian tour-guides in Jerusalem then confidently pointed out to pilgrims as the Temple of Solomon. In more Protestant mood, you could linger in Norwich, where 17th-century Congregationalists endowed the façade of their elegant Old Meeting House ...

The Right Kind of Pain

Mark Greif: The Velvet Underground, 22 March 2007

The Velvet Underground 
by Richard Witts.
Equinox, 171 pp., £10.99, September 2006, 9781904768272
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... a musical staff. Then there is the curse of arid musicology; and of Rolling Stone-ism, the gonzo rock journalist who thinks he is a rock star. Perhaps worst of all, there is the curse of the rhetoric of social action and ‘revolution’, a faith-based illusion that pop songs clearly manifest social history, or an ...

Triumph of the Cockroach

Steve Jones, 23 April 1992

Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? 
by David Raup.
Norton, 192 pp., £13.95, January 1992, 0 393 03008 3
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... Good Book says, come to us all. We all know that each of us will soon disappear from the Earth. David Raup’s book compounds our pessimism by pointing out that – if humans are anything like other animals – the fate awaiting our species as a whole is also an almost certain annihilation. Very few creatures persist for long in evolutionary time. There are ...

A Kind of Gnawing Offness

David Haglund: Tao Lin, 21 October 2010

Richard Yates 
by Tao Lin.
Melville House, 206 pp., £10.99, October 2010, 978 1 935554 15 8
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... novel. But Lin doesn’t do anything cute with the names: he uses them as straightforwardly as David Foster Wallace uses X and Y in ‘Octet #6’, for example, or as Lorrie Moore uses Mother and Baby in ‘People like That Are the Only People Here’. Jonathan Lethem has said that ‘strange character names are an easy way to make sure the reader ...

Saved by the Ant’s Fore-Foot

David Trotter: Pound’s Martyrology, 7 July 2005

The Pisan Cantos 
by Ezra Pound, edited by Richard Sieburth.
New Directions, 159 pp., $13.95, October 2003, 9780811215589
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Poems and Translations 
by Ezra Pound, edited by Richard Sieburth.
Library of America, 1363 pp., $45, October 2003, 1 931082 41 3
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... and at hand’s span, at cubit’s reach moving, the crystalline, as inverse of water, clear over rock-bed In the Pisan Cantos, virtuality became Pound’s method as well as his topic. He felt able to be ‘inverse’ in verse: to gaze down into the ‘crystalline’ of the poetic tradition reanimated for him in Pisa by the discovery on the ‘jo-house ...

Why do you make me do it?

David Bromwich: Robert Ryan, 18 February 2016

... Clash by Night (1952), Beware, My Lovely (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Men in War (1957), God’s Little Acre (1958), Odds against Tomorrow (1959), Billy Budd (1962) and The Wild Bunch (1969). In many of these films, Ryan played a bad man; in every one, he was an outsider. The parts are often separately memorable, as if ...

All of a Tremble

David Trotter: Kafka at the pictures, 4 March 2004

Kafka Goes to the Movies 
by Hanns Zischler, translated by Susan Gillespie.
Chicago, 143 pp., £21, January 2003, 0 226 98671 3
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... statement constitutes both the basis of Kafka Goes to the Movies and its primary impediment: the rock it has to roll up the hill. According to Max Brod, his lifelong friend and first editor and biographer, Kafka loved the movies; at times, Brod reported, he would talk about little else. For the most part, however, Kafka abstained from written commentary on ...

Fergie Time

David Runciman: Sir Alex Speaks (again), 9 January 2014

My Autobiography 
by Alex Ferguson.
Hodder, 402 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 0 340 91939 2
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... worth fifty million pounds.’ This is Kenwright’s mother. Ferguson can’t quite believe it: David Moyes was giving me the eyes. For a minute I thought it was a get-up, a performance. Bill’s background was in theatre, after all. It occurred to me while all this was going on that I ought to check Wayne’s medical records. Was there something physically ...


Neal Ascherson: Among the icebergs, 18 October 2007

... On his way to the shore, the patriarch mounted a rock, a flat-topped outcrop of Greenland granite. The people of Ilulissat, who had been standing silently along the skyline above us, made their way down and gathered round him until the flat summit was packed and children clung to their parents’ legs to avoid being pushed down the rock’s sheer sides ...

The Atheists’ Picnic

Julian Bell: Art and Its Origins, 10 June 2010

Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion 
by David Lewis-Williams.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £18.95, March 2010, 978 0 500 05164 1
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... opening pages of Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion, the archaeologist David Lewis-Williams examines the earliest records of symbolic behaviour. It is unlikely we will ever pinpoint just when the human habit of investing objects with significance took hold. But for the moment, until fresh discoveries arrive, the most striking ...

School of Hard Knocks

Peter Campbell, 2 December 1993

The Materials of Sculpture 
by Nicholas Penny.
Yale, 318 pp., £35, November 1993, 0 300 05556 0
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... material. But it’s also possible to stick a bit more on. The gold collar worn by a 16th-century rock-crystal bird is there to keep its head on. If a single trunk did not serve, German limewood sculptors added a bit here and another bit there; even in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the integrity of the marble block (which, unlike limewood, was not ...

The Groom Stripped Bare by His Suitor

Jeremy Harding: John Lennon, 4 January 2001

Lennon Remembers 
by Jann Wenner.
Verso, 151 pp., £20, October 2000, 1 85984 600 9
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... it revealed at the time seem easier to grasp in retrospect. They’re still interesting: rock and roll fundamentalism v. avant-gardism; therapy v. politics; and, above all for Lennon, John v. the Beatles and all they stood for. It’s also clear that this clever man profited from his relationship with Yoko Ono, who served his purposes in serving her ...

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