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Losing the Plot

Francesca Wade: Nicola Barker, 3 July 2014

In the Approaches 
by Nicola Barker.
Fourth Estate, 497 pp., £18.99, June 2014, 978 0 00 758370 6
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... Writers​ who appear in their own fiction do so at their peril: it tends to make their characters pretty angry. Made to suffer cancer, Christie Malry warns B.S. Johnson that he will look stupid when they discover a cure, and anyway, ‘you shouldn’t be bloody writing novels about it, you should be out there bloody doing something about it.’ Jonathan Coe drops in to tell Maxwell Sim that his book is about to end; Sim looks ‘into the eyes of a serial killer’, and suspects that ‘beneath his courteous exterior, this guy was full of nothing but conceit and self-admiration ...

Menagerie of Live Authors

Francesca Wade: Marys Shelley and Wollstonecraft, 8 October 2015

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley 
by Charlotte Gordon.
Hutchinson, 649 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 09 195894 7
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... There were​ high hopes for the son of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, the grandson of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, but the boy told his mother that all he wanted was a quiet life and a sailing boat. She wasn’t wholly disappointed at his failure to distinguish himself. When it was suggested at school that he needed to learn to think for himself, Mary Shelley said: ‘Oh God, teach him to think like other people!’ Percy Florence was unusual in a uniformly cerebral family ...

Much of a Scramble

Francesca Wade: Ray Strachey, 23 January 2020

A Working Woman: The Remarkable Life of Ray Strachey 
by Jennifer Holmes.
Troubador, 392 pp., £20, February 2019, 978 1 78901 654 3
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... Ray Strachey​ is remembered, if at all, for The Cause, her history of the women’s movement, published in 1928. But reading that book – which is dedicated to Strachey’s friend and mentor Millicent Garrett Fawcett – you wouldn’t know that its writer played a major role in the events described at the end, when an ‘almost religious fervour … sent young ladies to street corners to demand the vote’, and to pledge ‘their whole lives to the Cause ...

Each of us is a snowball

Susannah Clapp: Squares are best, 22 October 2020

Square Haunting 
by Francesca Wade.
Faber, 422 pp., £20, January, 978 0 571 33065 2
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... across from you peering back. They mix urbanity and slinky wildness: Woolfs without, foxes within.Francesca Wade has made a lofty, secluded square into a terrific subject for her first book. She wandered into Mecklenburgh Square, on the edge of Bloomsbury, by chance. She responded to it fervently, researched it vigorously – and identified it as a ...

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