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Dennis Nilsen, or the Pot of Basil

John Ryle, 21 February 1985

Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen 
by Brian Masters.
Cape, 352 pp., £9.95, February 1985, 0 224 02184 2
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by Pickles.
Quartet, 289 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7043 2439 3
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Ritualised Homosexuality in Melanesia 
edited by Gilbert Herdt.
California, 409 pp., £19.95, October 1984, 0 520 05037 1
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... now in his new flat in Muswell Hill. All his victims had been young men he met in the street or in gay pubs. They would come home with him, get drunk, go to bed and wake up dead. There was not much in the way of sex: sometimes Nilsen masturbated over the dead youths; sometimes he lay beside them and played dead, admiring the tableau in a mirror. Later he drew ...

Call it Hollywood

Wayne Koestenbaum: The sex life of Rudolph Valentino, 16 December 2004

Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino 
by Emily Leider.
Faber, 514 pp., £8.99, November 2004, 0 571 21819 9
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... to write a brief memoir about my relation to Valentino or to his legacy, I might entitle it ‘In Search of Valentino’s Slightly Cauliflowered Left Ear’. Ear, queer: the proof of Valentino’s heterosexuality that Leider amasses in her elegantly worded, richly detailed chronicle does not persuade me, and so I fabricate an underground, chimerical story of ...

Asking to Be Looked at

Wayne Koestenbaum, 25 January 1996

Mapplethorpe: A Biography 
by Patricia Morrisroe.
Macmillan, 461 pp., £20, September 1995, 9780333669419
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Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe 
by Arthur Danto.
California, 206 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 520 20051 9
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... was to build a credible bridge between the divergent milieux. He did a cover photo for the gay S/M porn magazine Drummer, and it was through this far-left-of-centre gig that he discovered some of his first models. Yet he was hardly alone in traversing libidinal frontiers. For example, at virtually the same time as Mapplethorpe’s early ...

At Home in the Huntington

John Sutherland: The Isherwood Archive, 10 June 1999

... frank and factual as I can make it’ – and attained heroic stature among the newly militant gay community, particularly strong on the West Coast of America. In the Huntington’s otherwise extensive press release there was no reference to Isherwood’s being gay, or to the left-wing politics of his early years. In ...

Mexxed Missages

Elaine Showalter: A road trip through Middle America, 4 November 2004

... jokes about Hillary Clinton, the Clinton administration (‘sex between two bushes’) and gay marriage. In some respects, his humour is surprisingly cynical. In one skit, he pretends to be president (‘If maybe Schwarzenegger, why not Smirnoff?’), and invites the audience to ask him questions in a fake press conference. A woman earnestly ...

Not a desire to have him, but to be like him

Slavoj Žižek: Highsmith is the One, 21 August 2003

Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith 
by Andrew Wilson.
Bloomsbury, 534 pp., £25, June 2003, 0 7475 6314 4
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... which is very much more compelling than any secret that might be unearthed by a pseudo-Freudian search of her own experiences for a key to the morbid world portrayed in her fiction. The greatest challenge for a Freudian reading of Highsmith lies elsewhere: to explain how writing for her was literally what Lacan would have called her sinthome, or the ...

The Absolute End

Theo Tait: Ali Smith, 26 January 2012

There but for the 
by Ali Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 356 pp., £16.99, June 2011, 978 0 241 14340 7
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... end’. This one has four: ‘There’, ‘But’, ‘For’ and ‘The’ (the novel is a kind of search for the missing grace of god). A few mysterious fragments are spliced in between the main acts, rather like video art installations: The Accidental begins with an account of the narrator’s conception, in a cinema in 1968, intercut with a description of ...

Life and Death Stuff

Amanda Claybaugh: Claire Messud, 19 October 2006

The Emperor’s Children 
by Claire Messud.
Picador, 431 pp., £14.99, September 2006, 0 330 44447 6
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... with ‘A Simple Tale’) verge on the baroque. Their self-revising clauses, their self-conscious search for the right word, would be excessive were they not so well suited to their protagonists: graduate students reflecting on their childhoods and literature professors slowly going mad. In The Emperor’s Children Messud experiments with new forms. Like the ...


Mary-Kay Wilmers, 10 November 1988

The Faber Book of Seductions 
edited by Jenny Newman.
Faber, 366 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 571 15110 8
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Journeys to the Underworld 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Chatto, 226 pp., £10, October 1988, 9780701132231
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... was to lead them astray, not merely to lead them to bed. ‘I like to think I’m a sort of gay bachelor, Don Juan or Casanova,’ Fiona Pitt-Kethley says at the beginning of her startling account of the sights she saw and the men she laid in the course of two journeys to Italy in search of the lairs of the sibyls and ...

A House Full of No One

Colm Tóibín, 6 February 1997

Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir 
by Mark Doty.
Cape, 305 pp., £16.99, October 1996, 0 224 04390 0
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by Mark Doty.
Cape, 95 pp., £7, July 1996, 0 224 04400 1
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This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death 
by Harold Brodkey.
Fourth Estate, 177 pp., £14.99, November 1996, 1 85702 546 6
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PWA: Looking Aids in the Face 
by Oscar Moore.
Picador, 185 pp., £6.99, November 1996, 0 330 35193 1
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... the reason for the creation of images of pure, shared, intense, private happiness and the constant search for transcendence, does not rob the poems of their mystery as much as emphasise how artful and trusting in the processes of poetry they are. In My Alexandria, the garden in September is ‘this ordered enactment of desire’: in the first poem in ...

Making Up People

Ian Hacking: Clinical classifications, 17 August 2006

... or weakness of the will, becomes the province of medicine, then of biology, and at present we search for inherited genetic tendencies. A similar story can be told in the search for the criminal personality. These reflections on the classification of people are a species of nominalism. But traditional nominalism is ...

Was he? Had he?

Corey Robin: In the Name of Security, 19 October 2006

The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government 
by David Johnson.
Chicago, 277 pp., £13, May 2006, 0 226 40190 1
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Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security 
by David Cole and James Dempsey.
New Press, 320 pp., £10.99, March 2006, 1 56584 939 6
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General Ashcroft: Attorney at War 
by Nancy Baker.
Kansas, 320 pp., £26.50, April 2006, 0 7006 1455 9
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State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration 
by James Risen.
Free Press, 240 pp., £18.99, January 2006, 0 7432 7578 0
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Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush 
by Eric Boehlert.
Free Press, 352 pp., $25, May 2006, 0 7432 8931 5
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... a question for historians: in recent months, Congress has devoted considerable energy to debating gay marriage, while in the last 13 years the US military has fired 55 of its Arabic speakers for being gay; the most recent was uncovered after investigators asked him if he had ever participated in community theatre.) With the ...

Some Sad Turtle

Alison Light: Spinsters and Clerics, 29 July 2021

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym: A Biography 
by Paula Byrne.
William Collins, 686 pp., £25, April, 978 0 00 832220 5
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... but the borders of Anglicanism are far from settled. Characters go on ‘church-crawls’ in search of the right kind of liturgy, consult Crockford’s Clerical Directory for the lowdown on priests, and take umbrage if the service is too ‘High’ or too ‘Low’. The more secularly minded puzzle over the lingo of the church year, calculating ...

Adulterers’ Distress

Philip Horne, 21 July 1983

A Nail on the Head 
by Clare Boylan.
Hamish Hamilton, 135 pp., £7.95, July 1983, 0 241 11001 7
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New Stories 8: An Arts Council Anthology 
edited by Karl Miller.
Hutchinson, 227 pp., £8.95, May 1983, 9780091523800
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The Handyman 
by Penelope Mortimer.
Allen Lane, 199 pp., £6.95, May 1983, 0 7139 1364 9
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Open the Door 
by Rosemary Manning.
Cape, 180 pp., £7.95, June 1983, 0 224 02112 5
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A Boy’s Own Story 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 218 pp., £2.50, July 1983, 0 330 28151 8
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... Stone abhorred adjectives like “sacred” and “blessed”, yet even he was obliged to search for a word that speared this core of peacefulness.’ ‘Speared’ here gives a disturbing notion of what one would want to do with words, and with a core of peacefulness: and both in this story and a few others the seeking-out of violence in the language ...

In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts

Thomas Sugrue: Barry Goldwater, 3 January 2008

The Conscience of a Conservative 
by Barry Goldwater.
Princeton, 144 pp., £8.95, June 2007, 978 0 691 13117 7
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... that fired up the Republican base, were content to forge alliances with pro-lifers and anti-gay activists in exchange for corporate-friendly legislation and judicial appointees who would slowly chip away at the regulatory state. For their part, conservative evangelicals were happy to preach a Jesus who widened the eye of the needle so that every camel ...

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