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A Very Modern Man

Edmund Gordon: William Boyd, 8 March 2012

Waiting for Sunrise 
by William Boyd.
Bloomsbury, 368 pp., £18.99, February 2012, 978 1 4088 1774 2
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... Lysander Rief, the hero of Waiting for Sunrise, arrives in Vienna in 1913 to undergo psychoanalysis, and stays there for a few months; after his final session he goes to a café, where he notices ‘a man a few tables away, wearing a tweed suit and an old-fashioned cravat tie, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar … His beard was … trimmed with finical neatness ...

Dude, c’est moi

Edmund Gordon: Padgett Powell, 3 February 2011

The Interrogative Mood 
by Padgett Powell.
Profile, 164 pp., £9.99, November 2010, 978 1 84668 366 4
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... In a letter of 1852, when he was working on Madame Bovary, Flaubert told his mistress Louise Colet that what he really wanted to write, what he saw as ‘the future of Art’, was ‘a book about nothing’, ‘a book without external attachments, supporting itself by the internal force of its style’. From the start of his career, the American novelist Padgett Powell seems to have had a similar ideal, compelling his readers’ attention not through character, narrative or ideas (or not predominantly through them), but through the lyrical drift of his sentences, their purchase on fleeting impressions and moods ...

Like a Failed Cake

Edmund Gordon: Keith Ridgway, 6 December 2012

Hawthorn & Child 
by Keith Ridgway.
Granta, 282 pp., £12.99, July 2012, 978 1 84708 741 6
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... Keith Ridgway used to be compared to John McGahern for his dourly lyrical stories of a changing Ireland. (‘Fr Devoy nodded his head and sipped his tea and waited. He watched the sky move and thought he saw rain in the distance but could not be sure.’) That stopped with the publication of his third novel, Animals, in 2006. It begins with a 19-page description of poking a dead mouse with a pen ...

Helter-Skelter

Edmund Gordon: ‘Melmoth’, 3 January 2019

Melmoth 
by Sarah Perry.
Serpent’s Tail, 271 pp., £16.99, October 2018, 978 1 78816 065 0
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... Sarah Perry​ was raised a Strict Baptist, with a number of exotic beliefs – in the literal existence of the devil, the creation of the earth in six days, the sinfulness of women wearing trousers – whose most visible legacy is her interest in ethical and existential questions. That makes her rare among her generation of British writers. She abandoned the sect in her twenties over its opposition to gay marriage, but in interviews she appears still to have a complicated relationship with Christianity ...

The Hero Brush

Edmund Gordon: Colum McCann, 12 September 2013

TransAtlantic 
by Colum McCann.
Bloomsbury, 298 pp., £18.99, May 2013, 978 1 4088 2937 0
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... Colum McCann has described Jim Crace as ‘quite simply, one of the great writers of our time’, Aleksandar Hemon as ‘quite frankly, the greatest writer of our generation’, and Nathan Englander as ‘quite simply, one of the very best we have’. He has called Emma Donoghue ‘one of the great literary ventriloquists’ and John Boyne ‘one of the great craftsmen in contemporary literature ...

Porno Swagger

Edmund Gordon: ‘Cleanness’, 16 April 2020

Cleanness 
by Garth Greenwell.
Picador, 223 pp., £14.99, April, 978 0 374 12458 8
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... In​ U&I (1991), his book about John Updike, Nicholson Baker imagines explaining the appeal of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library to his literary hero. ‘You know, once you get used to the initially kind of disgusting level of homosexual sex, which quickly becomes really interesting as a kind of ethnography, you realise that this is really one of the best first novels to come along in years and years!’ But Updike couldn’t get used to the sex ...

Save the feet for later

Edmund Gordon: Leonora Carrington, 2 November 2017

The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington 
by Joanna Moorhead.
Virago, 304 pp., £20, April 2017, 978 0 349 00877 6
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‘The Debutante’ and Other Stories 
by Leonora Carrington.
Silver Press, 153 pp., £9.99, April 2017, 978 0 9957162 0 9
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Down Below 
by Leonora Carrington.
NYRB, 69 pp., £8.99, May 2017, 978 1 68137 060 6
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Leonora Carrington and the International Avant-Garde 
edited by Jonathan Eburne and Catriona McAra.
Manchester, 275 pp., £75, January 2017, 978 1 78499 436 5
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... What​ Leonora Carrington remembered most clearly about being a debutante in 1935 was her tiara ‘biting’ into her skull. In her short story ‘The Debutante’, the teenage narrator hates balls, ‘especially when they are given in my honour’ (Carrington’s parents threw one for her at the Ritz), so she engages a hyena to take her place: the animal is about the right size, and she reckons nobody will make it out properly in the candlelight ...

A New Kind of Being

Jenny Turner: Angela Carter, 3 November 2016

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography 
by Edmund Gordon.
Chatto, 544 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 7011 8755 2
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... my boys’: Mark Pearce, her second husband, and Alexander, the couple’s son, born in 1983. As Edmund Gordon says towards the beginning of his biography, Carter was never so widely acclaimed in life as she would be in the weeks and years after her death. The tributes were long, sometimes fulsome, always affectionate, and full of great table talk and ...

Your Inner Salmon

Nick Richardson: Mohsin Hamid, 20 June 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia 
by Mohsin Hamid.
Hamish Hamilton, 228 pp., £14.99, March 2013, 978 0 241 14466 4
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... stopped some reviewers from praising or damning the book for doing things it carefully avoids. Edmund Gordon, in the Telegraph, wrote that Hamid’s use of the second person allows him ‘to implicitly pair the trajectory of his hero’s life with the trajectories of millions of other lives’ when what it really does is make you conscious of how ...
... to stigmatise the child, Lewes forgave the offence and allowed the boy to be registered as Edmund Lewes – perhaps with a wry glance at the bastard in King Lear. But the offence was repeated; and before Agnes bore the second of her four or five children by Hunt, Lewes had ceased to regard her as his wife. Yet, having condoned her adultery, he was ...

Bridges

Edmund Leach, 15 July 1982

Myth, Religion and Society: Structuralist Essays 
by M. Detienne, L. Gernet, J-P. Vernant and P. Vidal-Naquet, edited by R.L. Gordon.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 306 pp., £20, January 1982, 0 521 22780 1
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The Anthropological Circle: Symbol, Function, History 
by Marc Augé.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 131 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 0 521 23236 8
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... these two books have in common, so my comments will be seriatim. The earliest of the essays in the Gordon collection, which is by Gernet, who died in 1962 at the age of 80, first appeared as long ago as 1948; the remainder at various dates since 1968. Of the latter, three are by Vernant, five by Vidal-Naquet, three by Detienne. The fact that the Gernet item ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd, 10 August 2000

Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... chaos. Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of Eastwick (lacking only their Hardwick) have vented about Robert Lowell. To interview all the exes of Philip Rahv would be an undertaking from which the most committed Boswellian might recoil. (Though it’s fascinating to speculate ...

Exit Humbug

David Edgar: Theatrical Families, 1 January 2009

A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 620 pp., £25, September 2008, 978 0 7011 7987 8
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... Craig, had a career as a designer, director and producer of feminist plays; her brother, Edward Gordon Craig, acted with Irving, but became disillusioned with the English theatre and, like other maverick theatre visionaries since, moved to the Continent, where his (rare) productions and extensive theoretical writings are said to have revolutionised theatre ...

Other Selves

John Bayley, 29 October 1987

How I Grew 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 297 79170 2
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Myself and Michael Innes 
by J.I.M. Stewart.
Gollancz, 206 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 575 04104 8
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... Known Figures’, compiled by Carol Brightman, which the reader comes on at the end of the book. Edmund Wilson, one of the Better Known figures, is referred to but has no walk-on part: that marriage is yet to be. Early days with the grandparents in Seattle are mostly a matter of books. Mother and father died of Spanish flu in 1918 on the train on which the ...

Poor Man’s Crime

Ian Gilmour, 5 December 1991

The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the 18th Century 
by Peter Linebaugh.
Allen Lane, 484 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 7139 9045 7
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... others. ‘Butcher’ Cumberland, Horace Walpole, Lord North, Charles Fox, the Younger Pitt and Edmund Burke were among those who were robbed or shot at. Yet the victims of crime were rarely prominent people: small shopkeepers and the middling sort were the principal sufferers. The law was not just an engine of the rich for use against the poor. At Essex ...

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