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Darts for art’s sake

Julian Symons, 28 September 1989

London Fields 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 470 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 224 02609 7
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... technical virtuosity is extraordinary. The dense excellence of his writing owes something to early Saul Bellow, more to his ear for catching and improving the phrase of the hour or minute; and a little, perhaps only by extension from Bellow, to Wyndham Lewis. Yet it is always original, colloquial and finely ...


Christopher Beha: Jeffrey Eugenides, 6 October 2011

The Marriage Plot 
by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Fourth Estate, 406 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 00 744129 7
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... modern canon … I craved academic and hipster respect of the kind that Pynchon and Gaddis got and Saul Bellow and Ann Beattie didn’t. But Bellow and Beattie, not to mention Dickens and Conrad and Brontë and Dostoevsky and Christina Stead, were the writers I actually, unhiply enjoyed reading.’ More and more ‘the ...

Bravo, old sport

Christopher Hitchens, 4 April 1991

Critical Crossings: The New York Intellectuals in Post-War America 
by Neil Jumonville.
California, 291 pp., £24.95, January 1991, 0 520 06858 0
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... approximately the same time as Mary McCarthy was chivvying and being chivvied all over Manhattan, Saul Bellow submitted his first short story for publication in the student magazine of Northwestern University. (It took third prize in the competition.) Entitled ‘The Hell It Can’t’, the story was intended to rebuke Sinclair Lewis’s Popular Front ...

Bow. Wow

James Wolcott: Gore Vidal, 3 February 2000

Gore Vidal 
by Fred Kaplan.
Bloomsbury, 850 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7475 4671 1
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... falling out of their East Hampton hammocks signing up biographies of high-profile authors such as Saul Bellow, Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer (three thus far, along with a memoir by one of his former wives, with other exes waiting in the wings to take their whacks). The irony is that publishers seem more eager to bring out books about golden-oldie ...

Beyond Everyday Life

Julian Symons, 5 March 1981

The Blaze of Noon 
by Rayner Heppenstall.
Allison and Busby, 166 pp., £6.50, July 1980, 0 85031 288 4
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... that the date ‘was the 8th or the 15th of January, 1939’. Frobisher was a dangling man before Saul Bellow invented the title, happily married but still yearning for a girl met at the Institute of Mystical Science, a sceptic in most things but a believer in astrology and ghosts. Footnotes are provided for verisimilitude, there are pub discussions in ...

Banality and Anxiety

Michael Mason, 19 March 1981

Thirty Seconds 
by Michael Arlen.
Farrar, Straus/Faber, 211 pp., £5.50, February 1981, 0 374 27576 9
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The Crystal Bucket 
by Clive James.
Cape, 238 pp., £6.95, February 1981, 0 224 01890 6
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The Message of Television 
by Roger Silverstone.
Heinemann, 248 pp., £14.50, March 1981, 0 435 82825 8
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... There are allusions in this new selection of his television criticism to Walter Pater, Keats, Saul Bellow and John Donne – consorting with boisterous jokes about the crushed budgerigars composing J.R.’s hatband. James goes as far as it is possible to go towards miscegenating Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and The John Curry Spectacular. Even he cannot ...

Rabbit Resartus

Edward Pearce, 8 November 1990

Rabbit at Rest 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 505 pp., £14.99, October 1990, 0 233 98622 7
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... Western man. The writing has that fish-in-water faculty of being able to do anything. Unlike Saul Bellow, with his epigrams and mandarin manner, Updike can be high or demotic as mood or requirement takes him. It gives him the power to devastate, as here on Reagan and Bush: ‘at least he was dignified, and had that dream distance; the powerful thing ...

Antic Santa

James Francken: Nathan Englander, 28 October 1999

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges 
by Nathan Englander.
Faber, 205 pp., £9.99, May 1999, 0 571 19691 8
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... at the restrictions of his past; he writes well about the ‘rigid madness of the Orthodox’ that Saul Bellow has described, the rules that restrain ‘haughty, spinning, crazy spirit’. Charles Morton Luger, high-flying financial analyst and ‘Christian non-believer’, has an epiphany in the opening paragraph of The Gilgul of Park Avenue’. Not a ...

Redeemable Bad Guy

Ian Hamilton: Rabbit and Zooey, 2 April 1998

Toward the End of Time 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 334 pp., £16.99, February 1998, 0 241 13862 0
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Golf Dreams 
by John Updike.
Penguin, 224 pp., £6.99, February 1998, 0 14 026156 7
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... But then Updike, it is also said, is not quite a highbrow novelist – not in the sense that, say, Saul Bellow might believe himself to be, or even Gore Vidal. Vidal, all too predictably, sneers at Updike as a middlebrow provincial, by which he seems to mean that Updike timorously fails to stride forward as a global sage, or as a ‘custodian’ of ...

A Taste for the Obvious

Brian Dillon: Adam Thirlwell, 22 October 2009

The Escape 
by Adam Thirlwell.
Cape, 322 pp., £16.99, August 2009, 978 0 224 08911 1
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... playmate.) Thirlwell’s narrator, in other words, badly wants to be the kind of novelist – Saul Bellow, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Mann are among those he quotes, according to the postscript – who could make Literature out of the thin delusions of a reprobate like Haffner. Unless, of course, it is Thirlwell who wants to be that novelist, in ...

In Praise of Pritchett

Martin Amis, 22 May 1980

On the Edge of the Cliff 
by V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto, 179 pp., £4.95, February 1980, 0 7011 2438 5
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The Tale Bearers: Essays on English, American and Other Writers 
by V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto, 223 pp., £6.50, April 1980, 0 7011 2435 0
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... and have such affection for vagaries and wrinkles – ‘preserving especially’, as he says of Saul Bellow, ‘what is going on at the times when nothing is going ...


Adam Phillips: Isaiah Berlin, 23 July 2009

Isaiah Berlin, Enlightening: Letters 1946-60 
edited by Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes.
Chatto, 844 pp., £35, June 2009, 978 0 7011 7889 5
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... with having a heart at all.’ These letters – which sometimes sound like an epistolary novel by Saul Bellow – are about, among many other things, what the wish not to be heartless can turn a person into. If you believe, as Berlin does and says in these letters, that ‘no end, however good, could fail to be destroyed by the adoption of monstrous ...

Gorgon in Furs

D.D. Guttenplan: Paula Fox, 12 December 2002

Borrowed Finery: A Memoir 
by Paula Fox.
Flamingo, 256 pp., £12, August 2002, 0 00 713724 9
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... is ‘obviously superior to any novel by Fox’s contemporaries John Updike, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow’. My own reservations lie not with the superlatives, but with the implicit grounds for comparison. If Fox is, in Franzen’s phrase, ‘inarguably great’ – and I believe she is – it isn’t because, for example, she does a better job of ...

Desk Job

Deborah Friedell: Bernard Malamud, 15 November 2007

Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life 
by Philip Davis.
Oxford, 377 pp., £18.99, September 2007, 978 0 19 927009 5
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... else. He spent his life envious of the idle, effortless, self-delighting genius (or so he imagined Saul Bellow) and those with better educations and more refined childhoods. Growing up, he told the Paris Review, ‘there were no books that I remember in the house, no records, music, pictures on the wall. On Sundays I listened to somebody’s piano through ...

Full of Glory

John Mullan: The Inklings, 19 November 2015

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings 
by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.
Farrar, Straus, 644 pp., £11.20, June 2015, 978 0 374 15409 7
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... of temporary appointments at American and Canadian universities. In the 1970s he was consulted by Saul Bellow, whose Humboldt’s Gift ‘teemed with Anthroposophical musings’. Bellow met Barfield and took reading suggestions from him. The relationship foundered, however, when Barfield reviewed The Dean’s December ...

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