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Yak Sandwiches

Christopher Burns, 31 March 1988

Pleasure 
by John Murray.
Aidan Ellis, 233 pp., £10.50, October 1987, 0 85628 167 0
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Absurd Courage 
by Nobuko Albery.
Century, 254 pp., £11.95, October 1987, 0 7126 1149 5
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Laing 
by Ann Schlee.
Macmillan, 302 pp., £10.95, November 1987, 0 333 45633 5
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The Part of Fortune 
by Laurel Goldman.
Faber, 249 pp., £10.95, November 1987, 0 571 14921 9
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In the Fertile Land 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Carcanet, 212 pp., £10.95, November 1987, 0 85635 716 2
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... John Murray’s fiction has always seemed to arise directly from the circumstances of his own life. At first, his work concentrated on his childhood and adolescence among the tiny, depressed communities that straggle along the English side of the Solway Firth. He then broke with his working-class background and read Sanskrit and Avestan at Oxford, later studying classical Indian medicine ...

Differential Structures

Christopher Burns, 5 May 1983

... We both know the reasons.’ The mist was thick outside, turning trees in the park to ghosts, making the city noises hollow, condensing where it touched telephone wires, pavements, glass. It was, Savage speculated, like rain-forest mist. His imagination lifted him out of the room and its enclosed painful scene and into vistas of cloud rolling through cable-thick greenery where strange birds called ...

A Country Priest

Christopher Burns, 1 August 1985

... That year we had the worst winter I had known. It had taken two men with picks to break the ground in the churchyard, and when the soil was lifted it was in great jagged lumps as heavy as stone. All this was a long time ago. I travelled by horse, although I had once sat in a car owned by my bishop. The villagers told me they never dreamed of owning cars ...

Blue

Christopher Burns, 19 July 1984

... We’re certain it must be his,’ the phone call had said. The day was hot. You could see the excavator from a mile away as it crouched on the flatland, a giant locust of yellow metal. We drove at an angle to it along a road as flat and exposed as a causeway until Nick swung the Land Rover off the road and headed it towards the dig. Picks and spades clashed and shuddered in the back and Sally bounced on the seat beside me ...

Open Book

Nicholas Spice, 4 September 1986

A Simple Story 
by S.Y. Agnon, translated by Hillel Halkin.
246 pp., £13.10, March 1986, 0 8052 3999 5
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At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon 
by David Aberbach.
Oxford, 221 pp., £18, November 1984, 0 19 710040 6
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Snakewrist 
by Christopher Burns.
Cape, 240 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 224 02351 9
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... and its ways, seem simply to have been found, not made. And how simply. These are arts which Christopher Burns has yet to master. There are others, however, of which he already has an impressive command. Snakewrist, a first novel of unusual promise, is far too concerned with getting across a message to sustain over its full length the ...

Aberdeen rocks

Jenny Turner: Stewart Home, 9 May 2002

69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess 
by Stewart Home.
Canongate, 182 pp., £9.99, March 2002, 9781841951829
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... In the current novel, there’s a sharp, unkind analysis of the contemporary English novelist Christopher Burns (‘shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year 1989’): We discussed the way in which the labour of unsuccessful writers, artists and musicians valorises the bestselling efforts of those who succeed. ...

Self-Effacers

John Lanchester, 24 May 1990

Chicago Loop 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 183 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 241 12949 4
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Lies of Silence 
by Brian Moore.
Bloomsbury, 194 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 7475 0610 8
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Amongst Women 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 184 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14284 2
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The Condition of Ice 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 170 pp., £12.95, April 1990, 0 436 19989 0
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... the connections which the novel makes between the personal and the political are more explicit. Christopher Burns’s third novel is narrated by Ernest Tinnion, a former mountain climber who has returned, fifty years on, to the site of his greatest triumph-and-disaster, the Versücherin (‘Temptress’) mountain in Switzerland. The bulk of the novel ...

Fictbites

Peter Campbell, 18 May 1989

Any Old Iron 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 339 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 09 173842 3
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The Ragged End 
by John Spurling.
Weidenfeld, 313 pp., £11.95, April 1989, 0 297 79505 8
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Higher Ground 
by Caryl Phillips.
Viking, 224 pp., £11.95, April 1989, 0 670 82620 0
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The Flint Bed 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 185 pp., £10.95, April 1989, 0 436 09788 5
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Stark 
by Ben Elton.
Joseph, 453 pp., £13.95, March 1989, 0 7181 3302 1
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... to problems of figure and ground: how to combine the domestic scale with the broad view. Even Christopher Burns’s The Flint Bed, which looks to be going to find its subject in English provincial life, expands (via a plot tied to a photograph from 1975 of desperate refugees fighting to get onto a helicopter lifting off from the American ...

Ruined by men

Anthony Thwaite, 1 September 1988

The Truth about Lorin Jones 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 294 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 7181 3095 2
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Latecomers 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 248 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 224 02554 6
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Where the rivers meet 
by John Wain.
Hutchinson, 563 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 9780091736170
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About the Body 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 193 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 436 09784 2
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Stories 
by Elizabeth Jolley.
Viking, 312 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 670 82113 6
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... put it, sallied forth for some amber fluid. Turning to a couple of leaner collections is a relief. Christopher Burns’s 14 pieces demonstrate a very assured, inventive, hard-edged, rather cold talent, playing some Post Modernist tricks (‘How things are put together’, ‘Dealing in Fictions’, both of which smell a little of the creative-writing ...

Bard of Friendly Fire

Robert Crawford: The Radical Burns, 25 July 2002

Robert BurnsPoems 
edited by Don Paterson.
Faber, 96 pp., £4.99, February 2001, 0 571 20740 5
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The Canongate BurnsThe Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns 
edited by Andrew Noble and Patrick Scott Hogg.
Canongate, 1017 pp., £40, November 2001, 0 86241 994 8
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... philosopher Thomas Blackwell was writing that Homer was a ‘stroling indigent Bard’. Robert Burns liked that idea. In ‘Love and Liberty’ a bard sings alongside prostitutes and tinkers, and pronounces himself ‘Homer like’. Burns’s footnote (Burns enjoyed ...

The Psychologicals

Christopher Tayler, 25 October 2018

Milkman 
by Anna Burns.
Faber, 348 pp., £8.99, September 2018, 978 0 571 33875 7
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... to Ardoyne, the Catholic, Irish nationalist district that’s also the main setting of Anna Burns’s first novel, No Bones (2001). That novel, in which the characters have names like Roberta and Fergal and Bernadette and Vincent, centres on Amelia Lovett, who is a small girl when the Troubles start in 1969 and can’t believe that they’re still going ...

Blessed, Beastly Place

Douglas Dunn, 5 March 1981

Precipitous City 
by Trevor Royle.
Mainstream, 210 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 906391 09 1
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RLS: A Life Study 
by Jenni Calder.
Hamish Hamilton, 362 pp., £9.95, June 1980, 0 241 10374 6
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Gillespie 
by J. MacDougall Hay.
Canongate, 450 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 903937 79 4
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Scottish Satirical Verse 
edited by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 236 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 85635 183 0
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Collected Poems 
by Robert Garioch.
Carcanet, 208 pp., £3.95, July 1980, 0 85635 316 7
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... and risible: but the anecdote is as memorable as that of the young Walter Scott meeting Robert Burns in the house of Adam Ferguson. Edinburgh from the 1770s to the 1790s was Boswell’s to a far greater extent than Royle admits. Kames and Hume were already dead by 1787 when Burns appeared in Edinburgh under the ...

Rectum

Christopher Ricks, 18 October 1984

Tough guys don’t dance 
by Norman Mailer.
Joseph, 231 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7181 2454 5
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... marijuana remained.’ This has its affinities not only with the world of a Chandler (which Mailer burns at both ends), but also with Romantic Gothic. The inhumed human head, the herb: Isabella, or the Pot of Pot. Some Keatsian byplay is kept up by the heroine’s being called Madeleine (almost right); and Madeleine Falco is an Italian not a Maltese ...

Erratic Star

Michael Foot, 11 May 1995

Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle 
by Simon Heffer.
Orion, 420 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 297 81564 4
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... its triumphs could be carried forward by a whole range of later historians, by Veronica Wedgwood, Christopher Hill and the rest. Carlyle hated democracy, both the word and the idea, which is no doubt one source of his appeal at Peterhouse. But Cromwell’s army was much more truly representative of the English people than was Parliament, and Carlyle it was ...

MacDiarmid and his Maker

Robert Crawford, 10 November 1988

MacDiarmid 
by Alan Bold.
Murray, 482 pp., £17.95, September 1988, 0 7195 4585 4
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A Drunk Man looks at the Thistle 
by Hugh MacDiarmid, edited by Kenneth Buthlay.
Scottish Academic Press, 203 pp., £12.50, February 1988, 0 7073 0425 3
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The Hugh MacDiarmid-George Ogilvie Letters 
edited by Catherine Kerrigan.
Aberdeen University Press, 156 pp., £24.90, August 1988, 0 08 036409 8
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Hugh MacDiarmid and the Russian 
by Peter McCarey.
Scottish Academic Press, 225 pp., £12.50, March 1988, 0 7073 0526 8
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... Before 1922 Hugh MacDiarmid did not exist. And only Christopher Murray Grieve would have dared to invent him. Alan Bold’s valuable biography points out that when the 30-year-old Grieve began to write in the Scottish Chapbook under the pseudonym ‘M’Diarmid’, he was already editing the magazine under his own name, reviewing for it as ‘Martin Gillespie’, and employing himself as its Advertising Manager (and occasional contributor), ‘A ...

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