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Two Mishas and Two Sergeys

Gabriele Annan: Andrey Kurkov, 7 June 2001

Death and the Penguin 
by Andrey Kurkov, translated by George Bird.
Harvill, 228 pp., £9.99, March 2001, 1 86046 835 7
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... The penguin is called Misha and lives with Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov in his bachelor flat in Kiev. His eyes are small and melancholy. Viktor adopted him the year before the story begins, when the zoo was giving hungry animals away to anyone able to feed them. That must have been in 1994: the novel was written between December 1995 and February 1996, so the events in its short course presumably occurred in 1995 ...

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

Peter Clarke, 18 May 1989

The Pleasures of the Past 
by David Cannadine.
Collins, 338 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 00 215664 4
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... dynamo or dynamite – can be responsible for such truly transatlantic triumphs? Is it a bird, is it a plane? Well, as often as not, it turns out to be David Cannadine – easily mistaken for a plane, of course, because, as he confides in this volume of collected reviews, ‘not a few were pondered and drafted in mid-air.’ Now that this brilliant ...

Bird-man swallows human

David Craig: Birds’ Eggs, 20 October 2016

The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and outside) a Bird’s Egg 
by Tim Birkhead.
Bloomsbury, 288 pp., £16.99, April 2016, 978 1 4088 5125 8
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... broods and feathers spattered down around my feet. Guillemot egg patterns To come upon a bird’s egg is to be close to a natural wonder, even if Birkhead is perhaps a shade too purple in saying that eggs ‘have an erotic aura all of their own’. My own sightings of eggs have been infrequent (collecting the eggs of Khaki Campbell ducks from among ...

Getting on

Patricia Craig, 17 September 1987

The Golden BirdTwo Orkney Stories 
by George Mackay Brown.
Murray, 226 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 7195 4385 1
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The Upper Hand 
by Stuart Hood.
Carcanet, 186 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 85635 719 7
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Dreams of Dead Women’s Handbags 
by Shena Mackay.
Heinemann, 160 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 434 44044 2
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... into the Gaedhaltacht areas of Donegal, out of apprehension about its Anglicising effect. George Mackay Brown’s Orkney is an unfamiliar, off-shore locality in which everything seems a little richer through being both concentrated and chancy. How long can its distinctive character survive? It was endangered as long ago as the last quarter of the 19th ...


Tim Dee: Twitching, 11 March 2010

... From the first time I first looked through a pair of binoculars, aged seven, I wanted to be a bird-spotter, even though I’d picked the binoculars up because I was a bird-lover, intrigued by the ways birds’ paths crossed with mine. Nowadays bird-spotters are known as birders while bird-lovers are more commonly called birdwatchers ...

Five Poems

Michael Longley, 8 January 1987

... under the stairs. Shockwaves are wrinkling the water that isn’t there. Stone-in-Oxney for George Newson At a table which seems to take root in the lawn We breakfast late to a single propeller’s drone, The ghost of a Spitfire over Stone-in-Oxney Or a Stuka, its turning-circle that cloud-gap Or wherever you point to show me a ...

Back to the Ironing-Board

Theo Tait: Weber and Norman, 15 April 1999

The Music Lesson 
by Katharine Weber.
Phoenix House, 161 pp., £12.99, January 1999, 1 86159 118 7
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The Museum Guard 
by Howard Norman.
Picador, 310 pp., £12.99, February 1999, 9780330370097
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... and both are concerned with the ability of the small canvas to transform the large. So far, so George Eliot. But there’s also a hint in both novels of the other side of Dutch art – its preoccupation with death, obsession, loss of proportion. Patricia Dolan, the narrator of Weber’s ‘literary thriller’, is a middle-aged Irish-American art ...

‘We shot a new pigeon’

Andrew Sugden, 23 August 2001

Extinct Birds 
by Errol Fuller.
Oxford, 398 pp., £29.50, May 2001, 0 19 850837 9
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... much larger edition of Extinct Birds. Errol Fuller’s book recounts the story of the eighty or so bird species known to have been extinguished during recorded history, in every case by human beings or their proxies – rats, cats, dogs, pigs and other introduced animals, plants and microbes. At current rates, the 2101 edition will run to 15 volumes – and ...

Whip, Spur and Lash

John Ray: The Epic of Gilgamesh, 2 September 1999

The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation 
by Andrew George.
Allen Lane, 225 pp., £20, March 1999, 0 7139 9196 8
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... but its later role was similar to that of Latin in the Middle Ages. A school text quoted by Andrew George in his new translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh makes a sardonic point about Sumerian and its importance: The door monitor said, ‘Why did you go out             without my say-so?’ and he beat me. The water monitor said, ‘Why did you ...


Christopher Nicholson: Rare Birds, 22 November 2018

... I was struck by a particular sentence: ‘A cream-coloured courser had used to visit this hill, a bird so rare that not more than a dozen have ever been seen in England; but a barbarian rested neither night nor day till he had shot the African truant, and after that event cream-coloured coursers thought fit to enter Egdon no more.’ The cream-coloured ...

Elizabeth Bishop’s Aviary

Mark Ford: Elizabeth Bishop’s Aviary, 29 November 2007

... course, can’t fly, and there is a characteristic irony in Bishop’s identifying herself with a bird that can gain access to the skies only by gazing at her blue balloon. Bishop often likened poetic composition to an attempt to get airborne. ‘It is hard,’ she wrote in her notebook around 1937, ‘to get heavy objects up into the air; a strong desire to ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: The Big Issue, 20 September 2001

... The Story of the ‘Big Issue’ (Earthscan, £12). Swithinbank begins her story in 1967 when John Bird (Anglo-Irish working-class family from Paddington slums; spent his formative years in detention centres, art schools and the Socialist Labour League) first met Gordon Roddick (public-school educated ex-wandering poet; later husband of Anita, founder of the ...

Female Heads

John Bayley, 27 October 1988

Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... knocks, swishing and rubbing noises, repeated what seems an infinity of times? Like the noises of bird or animal in a nocturnal garden, these sounds assure him that she ultimately belongs, without consciousness or design, to a world in which he has no being. Yet all the time he knows she is ‘hurrying to join him’. Creating an imaginary fresco of King ...

Frown by Frown

Ian Hamilton, 3 July 1997

by R.S. Thomas.
Dent, 192 pp., £20, May 1997, 0 460 87639 2
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Furious Interiors: Wales, R.S. Thomas and God 
by Justin Wintle.
HarperCollins, 492 pp., £20, November 1996, 0 00 255571 9
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Collected Poems 1945-90 
by R.S. Thomas.
Phoenix, 548 pp., £9.99, September 1995, 1 85799 354 3
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... has been some Christian vicar or nature study slant: he has edited selections from Wordsworth and George Herbert and compiled a Penguin Book of Religious Verse. Out of church, he has kept fairly silent, confining his enthusiasms to co-Celts like Yeats and Mac-Diarmid and to the odd American, like Wallace Stevens. Thomas’s favourite Larkin poem, he says, is ...

Most people think birds just go pi-pi-pi

James Fletcher, 4 April 1996

The Messiaen Companion 
edited by Peter Hill.
Faber, 581 pp., £40, March 1995, 0 571 17033 1
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Olivier Messiaen: Music and Colour. Conversations with Claude Samuel 
translated by Thomas Glasow.
Amadeus, 296 pp., $29.95, May 1994, 0 931340 67 5
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... of a pair of super-imposed isorhythmic sequences on piano and cello decorated with snatches of bird-song: the violin does a nightingale, the clarinet a blackbird. The movement does not develop in any way; the isorhythmic sequences continue for a time, the birds chatter and gurgle. Then it stops. It is as if one had been shown a sample of acoustic eternity ...

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