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How far can you go? 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 244 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 436 25661 4
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Life before Man 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 317 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 224 01782 9
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Desirable Residence 
by Lettice Cooper.
Gollancz, 191 pp., £5.50, April 1980, 0 575 02787 8
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A Month in the Country 
by J.L. Carr.
Harvester, 110 pp., £6.50, April 1980, 0 85527 328 3
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... A week or two ago I reviewed a novel about rock-climbers. A very absorbing tale it was too, but specialised; and one was bound to say that to a reader wholly without interest in the technicalities of the sport it might well fall flat. How far can you go? is a novel about Catholics. There are more Catholics than rock-climbers, but even so their concerns are special ones, and it would seem on the face of it that the same limitations must apply ...
Criticism in the University 
edited by Gerald Graff and Reginald Gibbons.
Northwestern, 234 pp., £29.95, September 1985, 0 8101 0670 1
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... The state of chronic hypochondria in which literary education subsists shows no sign of abating. Indeed, in some quarters it is entering an acute phase. Regular and formerly healthful activities lose their zest, attacked by morbid depression of spirits. The milder forms of therapy effect little improvement, and a battery of fantastic remedies is brought to bear, which in spite of energetic promotion do not seem able to establish themselves ...
... I first met William Empson fifty years ago, when he was teaching in Japan and I in Singapore. I was rather frightened of him. Only about my own age, he was a great deal more sophisticated and infinitely more intelligent. It was plain that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and in his presence I often felt rather a fool. He had an impatient way of being always two jumps ahead of you in any discussion ...

The Rise of Richard Adams

Graham Hough, 4 December 1980

The Girl in a Swing 
by Richard Adams.
Allen Lane, 397 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7139 1407 6
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... The remarkable literary career of Richard Adams began only eight years ago, but it has already reached substantial dimensions. Watership Down in 1972 was followed by two other works of mystery and imagination, relying more or less heavily on the animal world, and now by The Girl in a Swing, which is ostensibly about human beings. These are not the skimpy, slimmed-down fictions so general today, but highly-worked, close-packed narratives, each of four hundred pages or more ...

Sacred Monster

Graham Hough, 20 August 1981

Edith Sitwell: A Unicorn among Lions 
by Victoria Glendinning.
Weidenfeld, 391 pp., £9.95, July 1981, 0 297 77801 3
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... For readers who are more interested in literature than in literary society those sacred monsters who live in anecdote and legend rather than in their work are always something of an embarrassment. Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil Nor in the glistering foil Set off to th’world, nor in broad rumour lies – or at least it ought not to be; and how is the perfect witness of all-judging Jove to manifest itself if the object under inspection is perpetually obscured by a cloud of gossip, role-playing and myth-mongering? Writers of indubitable greatness have been distorted by their legend, like Dr Johnson and Byron ...

Dying Cultures

Graham Hough, 3 July 1980

Problems 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 260 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 0 233 97227 7
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The City Builder 
by George Konrad.
Sidgwick, 184 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 15 118009 1
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The Peach Groves 
by Barbara Hanrahan.
Chatto, 228 pp., £4.95, May 1980, 0 7011 2490 3
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Other People’s Worlds 
by William Trevor.
Bodley Head, 243 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 370 30312 1
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... This is John Updike’s first collection of stories for seven years. There must have been problems, he says, to account for such a long delay. His preface glances ruefully at some of them – social and political disquiets between 1971 and 1978; but, in fact, the stories hardly move into the public domain. One of them is actually called ‘Problems’, and is cast in the form of exam questions ...

A Review of Grigson’s Verse

Graham Hough, 7 August 1980

History of Him 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Secker, 96 pp., £4.50, June 1980, 0 436 18841 4
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... Thoughtful as always about how to win friends and influence people, Geoffrey Grigson in his latest book of poems congratulates himself that his elderly eyes If they remain alert Do the more easily recognise Squirming in his primal dirt Another verse-reviewing squirt. Well, it is nice to know where we stand, and after that rousing salute the most scrupulous reviewer need not be afraid of disturbing cultural harmony or bruising the petals of a sensitive plant ...

John Cheever’s Wapshot Annals

Graham Hough, 7 February 1980

The Wapshot Chronicle 
by John Cheever.
Harper and Row, 549 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 06 337007 7
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Florence Avenue 
by Elizabeth North.
Gollancz, 158 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 575 02680 4
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McKay’s Bees 
by Thomas McMahon.
Constable, 198 pp., £4.95, November 1980, 0 09 463120 4
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The Siesta 
by Patrice Chaplin.
Duckworth, 174 pp., £5.95, November 1980, 0 7156 1459 2
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... John Cheever’s two celebrated novels, The Wapshot Chronicle and The Wapshot Scandal, are now reissued in one volume. In this form, we can see that the two are really one and the end was always implied in the beginning. We are often told that the American novel is not very deeply rooted in the social world, that in a society so fluid and so quickly changing fiction hardly has time to take stock of the way things actually work and tends to blow up into some kind of surreal fantasy ...

Chonkin’s Vicissitudes

Graham Hough, 1 October 1981

Pretender to the Throne: The Further Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin 
by Vladimir Voinovich, translated by Richard Lourie.
Cape, 358 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 9780224019668
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The Temptation of Eileen Hughes 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 224 pp., £6.50, October 1981, 0 224 01936 8
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Silver’s City 
by Maurice Leitch.
Secker, 181 pp., £6.95, September 1981, 0 436 24413 6
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The Christmas Tree 
by Jennifer Johnston.
Hamish Hamilton, 167 pp., £6.50, September 1981, 0 241 10673 7
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... Belfast stands for boredom, frustration, suffocating routine, aborted loves and fetid pieties. Graham Greene is quoted as saying that Brian Moore is his favourite living novelist, and one can see why. All those Pelagian notions anathema to Mr Greene – that man might save himself by his own efforts, or improve his arrangements for living in the world ...

Doomed

Graham Hough, 3 December 1981

Ah, but your land is beautiful 
by Alan Paton.
Cape, 270 pp., £6.95, November 1981, 0 02 241981 0
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A Flag for Sunrise 
by Robert Stone.
Secker, 402 pp., £6.95, November 1981, 9780436496813
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Something Else 
by Virginia Fassnidge.
Constable, 152 pp., £5.95, October 1981, 0 09 464340 7
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The Air We Breathe 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Harvester, 114 pp., £6.95, November 1981, 0 7108 0056 8
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... Americans who fetch up there. In spite of superficial similarities, it is a blacker world than Graham Greene’s. Greene’s sombre chiaroscuro has its passages of chiaro among the obscurity: here there are virtually none – the one redemptory gleam being the fatal and useless gallantry of the young nun. But we are not assisting at a moral drama: it is ...

Idaho

Graham Hough, 5 March 1981

Housekeeping 
by Marilynne Robinson.
Faber, 218 pp., £5.25, March 1981, 0 571 11713 9
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The Noble Enemy 
by Charles Fox.
Granada, 383 pp., £6.95, February 1981, 0 246 11452 5
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The Roman Persuasion 
by Bernard Bergonzi.
Weidenfeld, 192 pp., £6.95, March 1981, 0 297 77927 3
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... dominated by macho violence and the cruelty of the elements. It comes with a recommendation by Graham Greene who says: ‘The story held me so completely ... I wish I had written this book.’ At first, this is a little surprising – for the adultery that triggers off the action is an ordinary American adultery, without sacrilegious or metaphysical ...

A la mode

Graham Hough, 18 October 1984

Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 357 pp., £15, December 1982, 0 19 812812 6
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... New works of literary theory, abundant in France and America, are not very frequent in England. When one does appear, it is customary first to deplore its defiance of nature and reason, and secondly to decide that we have known it all along. It would be difficult to follow this convention with Alastair Fowler’s book. Kinds of Literature contains nothing subversive of public order or contrary to revealed truth: indeed it is a celebration of order and aims to illuminate neglected truths ...

Eliot’s End

Graham Hough, 6 March 1980

Thomas Stearns Eliot, Poet 
by A.D. Moddy.
Cambridge, 365 pp., £12.50, March 1979, 0 521 22065 3
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Theory and Personality: the Significance of T.S. Eliot’s Criticism 
by Brian Lee.
Athlone, 148 pp., £9.95, November 1979, 0 485 11185 3
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... For the last 45 years – ever since Matthiessen’s book in 1935 – the steady flow of critical lucubration on T.S. Eliot has gone on unabated. Not particularly contentious – at any rate since the early days, not particularly progressive – it does not seem to be getting anywhere, it has settled down into a decorously repetitive exercise, rather like chewing the cud ...

An Outline of Outlines

Graham Hough, 7 May 1981

... Way back, when the century was in its early prime, we used to have Outlines of Everything. The archetype was the Outline of Modern Knowledge, but there were lots of others. I can see them still, pointing steadily leftwards, very long on tendencies and rather short on facts; those diagrams of a pig’s uterus that were supposed to teach us all about sex; those maps, full of trends and lines of force but most of the actual place-names missed out ...

Gertrude

Graham Hough, 18 September 1980

Nuns and Soldiers 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 505 pp., £6.50, September 1980, 0 7011 2519 5
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Collin 
by Stefan Heym.
Hodder, 315 pp., £7.95, August 1980, 0 340 25721 0
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An Inch of Fortune 
by Simon Raven.
Blond and Briggs, 176 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 85634 108 8
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Virgin Kisses 
by Gloria Nagy.
Penguin, 221 pp., £1.25, July 1980, 0 14 005506 1
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... Even to Iris Murdoch fans, of whom I am one of the most constant, Nuns and Soldiers will be a disappointment. It is a long solid book, purposely digressive, and there is a good deal of hard slogging before we get to the main theme. The title promises more than the performance. There is only one nun and no soldiers at all. We are in London in 1978, in the thick of a large, prosperous, mainly Jewish family – bankers, civil servants, professional men ...

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