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The Name of the Rose 
by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 502 pp., £8.95, October 1983, 0 436 14089 6
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... Semiotics is a fashionable subject, but semioticians do not normally become international best-sellers, which is the fate that, in apparent violation of this familiar cultural assumption, has befallen the Professor of Semiotics at Bologna, Umberto Eco. Academic novelists aren’t rare, of course, but it’s hard to think of one who regards fiction as not only entertainment but material for the practice of a professional discipline ...
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 
edited by Simon Karlinsky.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £12.50, October 1979, 0 297 77580 4
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Vladimir Nabokov: A Tribute 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 139 pp., £6.95
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... These letters are a partial record of a literary friendship; and they offer more than the usual pleasure to be had from eavesdropping on the talk of eminent writers. Nabokov and Wilson had a few specific common interests, the most important of which was a passion for language as the stuff of literature: but in temperament and formation they were almost wholly different ...
... The conversion of Ford’s novel into a television play was an enterprise even more foolhardy than the BBC’s Golden Bowl some years back. The adapter must at once resign himself to the sacrifice of dozens of ambiguities and implications, for they are made possible by purely novelistic means – in this instance, by the taste of the narrator for seeming irrelevance, for digressions that do not digress, for missing apparently obvious connections and for insisting hysterically upon others that look imaginary and without point, Ford professed to despise story: the idea was, by using all the available liberty of discourse, to represent an ‘affair’ in such a way as to extract every drop of meaning from it, which you could not do if you recounted it in story sequence ...

Knowing

Frank Kermode, 3 December 1981

Bliss 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 296 pp., £6.50, November 1981, 0 571 11769 4
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Exotic Pleasures 
by Peter Carey.
Picador, 192 pp., £1.95, October 1981, 0 330 26550 4
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... When I started reading Bliss I hadn’t read Mr Carey’s first book, The Fat Man in History, though like everybody else I had heard the stories acclaimed in terms which made the prospect of his first novel very attractive. It is therefore both surprising and regrettable that I have to say that Bliss is a bad novel, though by a talented author ...

Diary

Frank Kermode: Jerusalem , 16 September 1982

... Retirement, like other less pleasant conditions, is something one never seriously expects to suffer. After a lifetime of compliance with constraints which, however gentle, were not of one’s own choosing, one experiences for the first time a dreadful liberty to do as one likes. In principle, anyway. For example, in principle I can now live anywhere I want ...

Stowaway Woodworm

Frank Kermode, 22 June 1989

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 320 pp., £10.95, June 1989, 0 224 02669 0
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... About a century ago Henry James remarked sadly that, unlike the French, the English novel was not discutable. It had no theory behind it. Its practitioners were largely unaware that ‘there is no limit’ to what the novelist ‘may attempt as an executant – no limit to his possible experiments, efforts, discoveries, successes’. A new novel by Julian Barnes is a reminder that – up to a point, anyway – the situation has changed ...

Third World

Frank Kermode, 2 March 1989

... In 1989 it would occur to nobody to invent the Third Programme. It probably couldn’t have happened at any time except when it did. The war seemed to have shown that the public for music and books and culture generally had been thrillingly enlarged. The Forces had developed a keen appetite for education, cultural and civic, some of it pretty subversive, for the service vote is known to have had a lot to do with the election of the Labour Government of 1945 ...

Protonymphet

Frank Kermode, 5 February 1987

TheEnchanter 
by Vladimir Nabokov, translated by Dmitri Nabokov.
Picador, 127 pp., £8.95, January 1987, 0 330 29666 3
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... This “long lost novel” isn’t a novel but a story of some twenty-five thousand words, here augmented by eight thousand from the pen of the translator, and by blank pages. The existence of The Enchanter, also known as The Magician, was well attested, and its relation to Lolita was established by Nabokov himself. In his essay ‘On a book entitled Lolita’, first published in 1957, and thereafter appended to the novel, he referred to this opusculum of 1939 as the product of ‘the first little throb of Lolita’, and added that its ‘anonymous nymphet’ was ‘basically the same lass’ as Dolores Haze ...

Jogging in the woods at Bellagio

Frank Kermode, 19 April 1984

Small World 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 339 pp., £8.95, March 1984, 0 436 25663 0
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... Small World is in the author’s words ‘a kind of sequel’ to Changing Places, published nine years ago. The place-changers, Zapp and Swallow, are again central characters; the dreadful Ringbaum, whose competitiveness enabled him to win a famous game of Humiliation, though at the cost of his job, now turns up again in even more bizarre predicaments, urging his wife to have sex under blankets in a jumbo jet so that he can apply for membership of ‘an exclusive fraternity of men who have achieved sexual congress while airborne’, and which he hopes will allow sexual congress with wives to count ...

Under threat

Frank Kermode, 21 June 1984

Tributes: Interpreters of our Cultural Tradition 
by E.H. Gombrich.
Phaidon, 270 pp., £17.50, April 1984, 0 7148 2338 4
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... Sir Ernst Gombrich here collects various memorial lectures and memoirs of distinguished colleagues. He is a lecturer of high accomplishment – indeed I doubt if he has any serious rival in the shaping and illustration of an argument. Normally he uses not one but two magic lanterns. Some years ago he gave the Romanes Lecture and was denied the use of even one, but this did not deter him, for he simply used the interior of the Sheldonian as an image source, and voyaged on, with Karl Popper, as usual, his pole star, into very difficult waters: the relations of synchronic and diachronic in art history, the problems of canonicity and value ...

England’s Troubles

Frank Kermode, 17 October 1996

The Scent of Dried Roses 
by Tim Lott.
Viking, 275 pp., £16, September 1996, 0 670 86460 9
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... The author, now about forty, has long since shown how easy he finds it to be a success in the world. As magazine editor, television producer, businessman, he has made money without great effort. He is acquainted with grief in the predictable varieties that hardly anybody escapes, but he has also experienced a serious depression which almost drove him to suicide ...

Apocalyptic Opacity

Frank Kermode, 24 September 1992

The End of the Century at the End of the World 
by C.K. Stead.
Harvill, 220 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 00 272662 9
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... The title sounds apocalyptic, but all it means on the face of it is that this novel is set in New Zealand now. Doubtless it could be interpreted as having other implications, and there is some reason to believe the author would encourage his readers to discover or invent them. C.K. Stead is a poet and an academic critic as well as a novelist. As a critic, he has written a lot about Modernism, and what he admires about the writers he thinks worthy of the appellation ‘Modernist’ – Ezra Pound above all – is a habit or quality of ‘openness ...

Young Marvin

Frank Kermode, 24 January 1991

A Tenured Professor 
by John Kenneth Galbraith.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 197 pp., £12.95, November 1990, 1 85619 018 8
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Shade those laurels 
by Cyril Connolly and Peter Levi.
Bellew, 174 pp., £12.95, October 1990, 0 947792 37 6
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... The author of A Tenured Professor is not only a famous tenured professor of economics but, unlike many of the breed, an elegantly witty writer. From time to time he demonstrates his versatility by turning out a novel. This one is, in part anyway, an unimpassioned satire on the recently fashionable school of economic thought that deals in Rational Expectations ...

Saving the Streams of Story

Frank Kermode, 27 September 1990

Haroun and the Sea of Stories 
by Salman Rushdie.
Granta, 224 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 14 014223 1
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... No doubt it would be possible to apply to this exercise in magic irrealism the terminology of V. Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, by way of demonstrating that Salman Rushdie’s story has a perfectly normal structure. Temporal-Spatial Determination (‘There was once, in the kingdom of Alifbay, a sad city ...’); Composition of the Family (Haroun, the Future Hero, his father Rashid, a professional storyteller, etc); Interdictions (Rashid loses his talent, Haroun cannot concentrate longer than 11 minutes); Helpers or Donors (a friendly hoopoe, a magic drink, a cartridge, concealed under Haroun’s tongue, which will emit blinding light at the moment of dark crisis); an Opponent or Villain with magic powers; an Arrival at an Appointed Place; an Imprisoned Princess; the Completion of the Task ...

This Charming Man

Frank Kermode, 24 February 1994

The Collected and Recollected Marc 
Fourth Estate, 51 pp., £25, November 1993, 1 85702 164 9Show More
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... It sometimes happens that an exceptionally talented person dies rather young, leaving behind him friends, still in their prime, who happen to be good writers – witness the posthumous celebrations of Shelley and D.H. Lawrence. Mark Boxer was famous at Cambridge; he was even famous for the manner of his leaving it; and then, without serious intermission, he became and remained famous in London ...

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