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Comprehensible Disorders

David Craig, 3 September 1987

Before the oil ran out: Britain 1977-86 
by Ian Jack.
Secker, 271 pp., £9.95, June 1987, 0 436 22020 2
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In a Distant Isle: The Orkney Background of Edwin Muir 
by George Marshall.
Scottish Academic Press, 184 pp., £12.50, May 1987, 0 7073 0469 5
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... estates. What fascinated me, as a scion of the Aberdeen middle class, was how time after time Harry Jack’s tastes, as recorded humorously by his son, were precisely opposite to my family’s. Harry ‘clung to ... a wide range of prejudices and mini-bigotries which included heroes from history, toilet articles and ...

Bye-bye, NY

Ange Mlinko: Harry Mathews’s Fever Dream, 18 March 2021

Collected Poems: 1946-2016 
by Harry Mathews.
Sand Paper Press, 288 pp., $28, February 2020, 978 0 9843312 8 4
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... When​ Harry Mathews died in Key West in 2017, just shy of his 87th birthday, he was remembered as the first American member of Oulipo, the expatriate author of several experimental novels: The Conversions (1962), Tlooth (1966), The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium (1975), Cigarettes (1987), The Journalist (1994) and My Life in CIA (2005 ...

A Sequence from ‘Camera Obscura’

Robin Robertson, 22 August 1996

... a fire inside that burned. The follies– lit exhibits – stand here on the hillin their white stone; the Castle glows.And the streets are bright blurs of sodiumand pearl: the drawn tracery of headlampssmeared in long exposure. For miles westthe city stretches,laid with vapour trails and ghosts.To the east, the folding sea has drownedthe girning of the ...

In Letchworth

Gillian Darley: Pevsner's Hertfordshire, 2 January 2020

... studios on the site of the former Leavesden aerodrome at Abbots Langley – they’re now home to Harry Potter World. How can knobbly Knebworth House, which looks as though it’s built of papier-mâché, compete? In 1843 Edward Bulwer-Lytton had the Tudor manor house remodelled – in Pevsner’s words – as a ‘romantic paraphrase of the Gothic ...

Fill it with fish

Helen Cooper: The trail of the Grail, 6 June 2002

Parzival and the Stone from Heaven: A Grail Romance Retold for Our Time 
by Lindsay Clarke.
HarperCollins, 239 pp., £14.99, September 2001, 0 00 710813 3
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Merlin and the Grail: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Perceval’ The Trilogy of Arthurian Romances Attributed to Robert de Boron 
translated by Nigel Bryant.
Boydell and Brewer, 172 pp., £30, May 2001, 0 85991 616 2
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Le Livre du Graal. Tome I: ‘Joseph D’Arimathie’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Les Premiers Faits du Roi Arthur’ 
edited by Daniel Poirion and Philippe Walter.
Gallimard, 1993 pp., £50.95, April 2001, 2 07 011342 6
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... it is an end in itself, as it is not for that other object of infinite search, the philosopher’s stone. Alchemists at least knew what they wanted, how to set about looking for it, and what it would do once it had been discovered. The writers of Grail romances often barely knew what their knights were to look for, or how they should reach it, let alone what ...

Right as pie

Paul Foot, 24 October 1991

Tom Mann, 1856-1941: The Challenges of Labour 
by Chushichi Tsuzuki.
Oxford, 288 pp., £35, July 1991, 0 19 820217 2
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... him in Melbourne, he was in the middle of the most ferocious agitation, which laid the foundation stone for strong trade-unionism in Australia for the rest of this century. During all his long life, Tom Mann travelled ceaselessly, especially in the old Commonwealth – from South Africa, where, rather to the distaste of the ‘mature’ labour movement ...

Jewish Blood

Michael Church, 7 February 1985

Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Prince 
by Budd Schulberg.
Penguin, 500 pp., £4.95, September 1984, 0 14 006769 8
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Baku to Baker Street: The Memoirs of Flora Solomon 
by Barnet Litvinoff.
Collins, 230 pp., £11.95, June 1984, 0 00 217094 9
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Wilfrid Israel: German Jewry’s Secret Ambassador 
by Naomi Shepherd.
Weidenfeld, 286 pp., £12.95, March 1984, 0 297 78308 4
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The Smiths of Moscow: A Story of Britons Abroad 
by Harvey Pitcher.
Swallow House Books, 176 pp., £5.95, September 1984, 0 905265 01 7
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Family Secrets 
by David Leitch.
Heinemann, 242 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 434 41345 3
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... stones which he must tear away to make a hole big enough to crawl through. There is a Greta Garbo stone (he once pelted her with ripe figs), and stones called Gary Cooper, Freddie March and Sylvia Sidney, but one of the biggest and loosest goes by the name of Clara Bow. Vulgar, gum-chewing, and with a comically nasal Brooklyn accent, the It Girl flashed ...


David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles, 3 June 2004

Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... analysis of the hero: the camera would delve like a shovel or coax as a sculptor chips a block of stone to find the lurking image. He had been instructed in the value of deep focus by his cameraman, Gregg Toland, whose name he placed beside his own on the last card of the closing credits. Citizen Kane was talked of before it appeared, and admired by those who ...


Thomas Karshan: John Updike, 31 March 2005

by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 321 pp., £17.99, February 2005, 9780241143087
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... everything and everyone fit into place – the traditional role of the epic writer. His alter ego Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom thinks about this while driving home in Rabbit, Run (1960): ‘He thinks, My Valley, my home … Every corner locks against a remembered corner in his mind; every crevice, every irregularity in the paint clicks against a nick already ...

In the Spirit of Mayhew

Frank Kermode: Rohinton Mistry, 25 April 2002

Family Matters 
by Rohinton Mistry.
Faber, 487 pp., £16.99, April 2002, 0 571 19427 3
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... crafted, is always mindful of the ordinary reader – the one E.M. Forster called ‘Uncle Harry’ – and is resolutely unbaffling. The relatively late Riceyman Steps (1923) showed that he could do doing pretty well if he chose; but he wrote bestsellers and Conrad did not. It once seemed that there was to be a major technological revolution in the ...


Mike Selvey, 7 February 1985

... turnover so that we don’t get too bored. The most effective way of doing this is to overturn the stone of excellence in the hope of finding creeply-crawlies beneath. I mention all that because it will not have escaped attention that Ian Botham’s house was first-footed by the boys in blue over the New Year, that he and his wife were taken into custody and ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Princess Di and Laura Palmer, 22 January 2004

... intimidatingly smart – is called in to investigate. He is assisted by the local sheriff, Harry S. Truman (as Cooper tells his Dictaphone, ‘shouldn’t be too hard to remember that’). It doesn’t take long for the scab of small-town wholesomeness to be picked off, revealing the perversity festering underneath. (The show’s credits are a minor ...

You could scream

Jenny Diski, 20 October 1994

Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me 
by Marlon Brando and Robert Lindsey.
Century, 468 pp., £17.99, September 1994, 0 7126 6012 7
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Greta & Cecil 
by Diana Souhami.
Cape, 272 pp., £18.99, September 1994, 0 224 03719 6
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... a failure of imagination. But there was, after all, a selfless, literary motive behind it all: Harry Evans of Random House told Brando ‘that if his company published a book about a movie star, the profits would enable him to publish books by talented unpublished authors that might not make money.’ Perhaps Harry Evans ...

There’s Daddy

Michael Wood, 13 February 1992

Flying in to Love 
by D.M. Thomas.
Bloomsbury, 262 pp., £14.99, February 1992, 0 7475 1129 2
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directed by Oliver Stone.
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... history and a context. But this is not the sort of answer we get from either D.M. Thomas or Oliver Stone. Their suggestion is simpler. There is no paranoia, or paranoia is everywhere. For Thomas, this means anything goes (‘since fiction is a kind of dream, and history is a kind of dream, and this is both’). For Stone, it ...

Young Wystan

Ian Hamilton, 8 September 1994

Juvenilia: Poems 1922-28 
by W.H. Auden, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Faber, 263 pp., £25, July 1994, 0 571 17140 0
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... merely knowable. Auden’s nursery library was also stocked with Beatrix Potter, Edward Lear and Harry Graham. And George had a passion for Norse legends, believing as he did that the Audens could themselves be traced back to the land of Thor: ‘In my father’s library, scientific books stood side by side with works of poetry and fiction, and it never ...

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