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So Many Handbags, So Little Time

Andrew O’Hagan: The Bling Ring, 20 June 2013

The Bling Ring 
by Nancy Jo Sales.
HarperCollins, 288 pp., £7.99, May 2013, 978 0 00 751822 7
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... DNA: they understand each other, because, at some basic level, they are the same people. The Bling Ring (as the Los Angeles Times called them) already possessed many of the items they were stealing, but what they craved was proximity and identification. Anyone can have a Marc Jacobs handbag if they can raise the money, but it isn’t just anyone who can have ...


Dick Leonard: Belgian Affairs, 14 November 1996

... The Dutroux affair, involving a paedophile ring, child-kidnapping and murder, might have surfaced in any country in the world. But would any other advanced, democratic country have been quite as slack as Belgium in taking action to track down the ring, and prevent further crimes? And is there something inherent in the way the Belgian state is organised which made the evident failure of the legal system almost inevitable? These are the questions which thousands of hitherto complacent Belgians are now asking, and they account for the enormous turn-out – around 3 per cent of the national population – for the ‘white march’ in Brussels on 20 October ...

At the Royal Academy

Mark Whittow: Byzantium, 4 December 2008

... idea behind the exhibition is the traditional one: that Byzantium preserved classical art in a Christian form and then passed it on to the West, where it formed one of the taproots of the Renaissance. Part of the problem with this story, as Cyril Mango points out in his brief historical introduction to the catalogue, is that the idea of a single culture ...

How Not to Invade

Patrick Cockburn: Lebanon, 5 August 2010

Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East 
by David Hirst.
Faber, 480 pp., £20, March 2010, 978 0 571 23741 8
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The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle 
by Michael Young.
Simon and Schuster, 295 pp., £17.99, July 2010, 978 1 4165 9862 6
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... a population divided by communal, sectarian and party hatreds, would be a pushover. Its Maronite Christian minority was thought an obvious ally for Israel against the forces of Arab nationalism, and the well-earned reputation of the Lebanese for commercial ingenuity and a capacity to survive in all circumstances suggested that they would be unlikely to die ...

Solidarity’s Poet

Mariusz Ziomecki, 3 November 1983

... In Polish ears, the surname Norwid, and the Christian names Cyprian, Kamil, Ksawery, Gerard, ring alien, aristocratic, proud. Associated with the artist’s profession, they suggest a darling of fortune. Meanwhile the photograph of Cyprian Norwid which appears in school textbooks, the only one there is, dating from 1856, presents a man dismal in expression, with shaggy black hair, gaunt and even hungry-looking, tightly wrapped in a coarse overcoat ...

Wrong Kind of Noise

Marina Warner: Silence is Best, 19 December 2013

Silence: A Christian History 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 337 pp., £20, April 2013, 978 1 84614 426 4
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... raise the alarm because he knew the criminal. The reader of these opening anecdotes in Silence: A Christian History senses that MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford and one of the most lucid and authoritative TV historians ever, would prefer to stand by like the original dog, a quiet and eloquent witness to the hubbub and hurly-burly ...

Many Promises

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Prokofiev in Russia, 14 May 2009

The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years 
by Simon Morrison.
Oxford, 491 pp., £18.99, November 2008, 978 0 19 518167 8
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... a Princeton musicologist: Prokofiev wanted to write simple, life-affirming music because he was a Christian Scientist. Sergei Prokofiev, born in 1891 and schooled in St Petersburg, left Russia in 1918 after graduating from the Conservatory. In the 1920s, when he was building his international career, Paris was his base. On his first visit back to Soviet ...

Old Western Man

J.I.M. Stewart, 18 September 1980

C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences 
edited by James Como.
Collins, 299 pp., £6.95, August 1980, 9780002162753
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... the Socratic Club, here described by one frequenter as providing ‘a good-humoured and high-level Christian debate’ in a room so crowded that students sat on the floor or under the piano. At its inception Lewis agreed to be the Senior Member of the University required by the Proctors to support and oversee any society or club proposing to include ...

Smoking for England

Paul Foot, 5 July 1984

Smoke RingThe Politics of Tobacco 
by Peter Taylor.
Bodley Head, 384 pp., £9.95, March 1984, 0 370 30513 2
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... In pluralist democracy, government plays the role of wise and benevolent chairman, holding the ring for the great interests which ‘jockey’ for power, rather than controlling them. The power of these interests, notably the big corporations, was controlled, it was argued, not so much by government as by the ‘jockeying’ of all the other ...

Why am I so fucked up?

Christian Lorentzen: 37 Shades of Zadie, 8 November 2012

by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 295 pp., £18.99, August 2012, 978 0 241 14414 5
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... are set on the page in the shape of a cherry tree. When she looks at a colleague’s mouth, a ring of words, ‘tooth gold tooth tooth gap’, is laid out in an oval around the word ‘TONGUE’. Downloaded directions are included for one journey, and another chapter takes the form of a list of objects seen and words overheard on a walk. Four chapters ...

I hate this place

Christian Lorentzen: ‘Your Duck Is My Duck’, 6 February 2020

Your Duck Is My Duck 
by Deborah Eisenberg.
Europa, 240 pp., £18.99, August 2019, 978 1 78770 182 3
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... young people just starting out. As in the earlier story, the older character’s troubles have a ring of reality while the young seem to exist on the edge of a fairy tale. Cordis is a bit of a ‘loon’ who is less than computer-literate. Celeste is a young neighbour who helps Cordis out by walking her dog, opening her mail and fetching her dry ...


Peter Campbell, 31 August 1989

A Particular Place 
by Mary Hocking.
Chatto, 216 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 0 7011 3454 2
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The House of Fear, Notes from Down Below 
by Leonora Carrington.
Virago, 216 pp., £10.99, July 1989, 1 85381 048 7
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Painted Lives 
by Max Egremont.
Hamish Hamilton, 205 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 241 12706 8
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The Ultimate Good Luck 
by Richard Ford.
Collins Harvill, 201 pp., £11.95, July 1989, 0 00 271853 7
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... is a pure variety. It is remarkable for tackling the problem of ordinariness. By an extension of Christian love, boring people are gathered together into the community of its characters. In the Christian congregations which figure in such novels they preponderate – the chorus of regular worshippers is usually ...

Interpretation of Dreams

Harold James, 5 February 1981

Cosima Wagner’s Diaries. Vol. II: 1878-1883 
edited by Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack, translated by Geoffrey Skelton.
Collions, 1200 pp., £20, January 1981, 0 00 216189 3
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... family is transposed: ‘R. is pleased with the simplification of the gods’ serving staff in the Ring.’ It is fitting that R. died on an Italienreise, one of the essential parts of the ‘cures’ of the 19th-century German bourgeoisie brought up on Winckelmann and Goethe. If Wagner’s work embodies the sufferings and greatness of the 19th century, his ...

Hungry Ghosts

Paul Connerton, 19 April 1990

Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Parts I-III 
edited by Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi.
Zone, 480 pp., £35.95, May 1989, 0 942299 25 6
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... peoples without; there is the hammock; there are populations which lie very close together in a ring to sleep, often round a fire; the old chroniclers of the invasions picture the Huns and Mongols sleeping on horseback. Even if these ways of using the body are felt by the agent to be actions of a mechanical or physical order, even if they seem to be ...

Homer and Virgil and Broch

George Steiner, 12 July 1990

Oxford Readings in Vergil’s ‘Aeneid’ 
edited by S.J. Harrison.
Oxford, 488 pp., £45, April 1990, 0 19 814389 3
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... than in the Iliad (Simone Weil’s attempt to misread Homer’s fierce battle-songs in a Virgilian-Christian register is indicative). And even the Odyssey, so much closer to us than its partly archaic predecessor, retains, when looked at soberly, a deep strangeness. At a time when European history is again essentially European, when the matter of Europe’s ...

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