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John Lanchester: Google Street View, 9 April 2009

... Stendhal said that the novel was ‘a mirror that one walks down a road’, ‘un miroir qu’on promène le long d’un chemin’. Although this maxim is generally agreed to be a masterful summary of the realist project in fiction, it has always brought out a literal streak in me. How much would the mirror show? Wouldn’t everything depend on how big it was? Who would be looking into it? They wouldn’t have much of a view, would they? Is the novelist the person who’s carrying the mirror, or is she standing by the side of the road looking at the mirror, in which case isn’t that a bit passive, given that it’s presumably meant to be her novel? Would the mirror change angle, so you could see more of what was going on? We can all relax ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Life on Mars?, 11 September 2008

... To the naked eye Mars is unmistakeably red, the colour of blood and, by association, of war, and its light fluctuates in intensity as it wanders one way and then back again across the sky. It has been an object of fascination and speculation for all recorded history. Looking through a telescope more than a hundred years ago, Percival Lowell thought he spotted canals on Mars and hypothesised the existence of intelligent life, desperately building canals to fight off the encroaching desert ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Caster Semenya, 8 October 2009

... Sports administration is one of those jobs which have built into them the fact that they attract attention only when things go wrong. A school sports day takes quite a bit of organising; anything bigger, and the complications grow exponentially. Events such as Wimbledon or the World Cup are mechanisms of extraordinary complexity, in which most of the moving parts are human, and these events are, in their way, heroic feats of administration and bureaucracy and man-management – and all that effort just goes to set the stage for the real action ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Kraft eats Cadbury, 7 January 2010

... When economic times are hard, big companies take the opportunity to eat smaller ones. This process does not respect national boundaries, particularly when an economy is as open to outsiders as Britain’s. This is an old story, so it’s hard to see quite why the prospective takeover of Cadbury by Kraft, the American food conglomerate, has got people going quite as much as it has ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Unlikeabilityfest, 17 February 2011

... Back when I was at university, the only people who ever used the word ‘narrative’ were literature students with an interest in critical theory. Everyone else made do with ‘story’ and ‘plot’. Since then, the n-word has been on a long journey towards the spotlight – especially the political spotlight. Everybody in politics now seems to talk about narratives all the time; even political spin-doctors describe their job as being ‘to craft narratives ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: #tevezexcuses, 20 October 2011

... Quantity changes quality, Hegel thought. It’s an observation which proves true in many different contexts, and one of them involves football. I know that I’m far from alone in finding the game much less compelling than I used to, and when I ask myself why, the answer involves two different kinds of quantity. One, there’s so much more of it, on television and everywhere else ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Decoding Hu Jintao, 15 November 2007

... It is not true that the exchange of goods at the end of the Cold War was entirely one-sided. Granted, the Soviet bloc got gangster capitalism, rampant inequality and freeish elections; but we got some things too. Prominent among them has been the utterly choreographed, wholly undemocratic party congress. These were once a derided feature of Communist states ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Ken or Boris?, 10 April 2008

... The London mayoral elections are on 1 May. The elections for the London Assembly take place at the same time. One salient fact about them is that abstention isn’t a responsible option. The election takes place under a bizarrely complicated system in which 14 seats, belonging to geographical constituencies, are awarded on a first past the post basis ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Sugary Horrors, 21 January 2016

... A gloomy​ headline for early January: four million people in the UK have diabetes. There are 700 new diagnoses every day, the overwhelming majority (90 per cent) with type 2 diabetes, the variety associated with diet and inactivity. In the last decade there has been a 65 per cent rise in the total number of diabetics. By one reckoning, one in five British retirees is a sufferer ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: The demise of Woolworths, 29 January 2009

... Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the UK’s biggest trade union, Unite, has warned of apocalyptic consequences if the government doesn’t pump some money into the UK car industry. ‘Our industry is on the ropes because of market collapse, particularly for the sort of high-value vehicles produced by Jaguar and Land Rover.’ The car business needs help, right now ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Phished, 3 December 2015

... Got a headache?​ Help is at hand. At your local pharmacy or supermarket or corner shop or garage or indeed pretty much anywhere, you can buy a branded packet of 2-(4-isobutylphenyl)propionic acid, better known as ibuprofen, at a cost of £2 for 12 200mg tablets. (If that pharmacy is a Boots, you’re buying the medicine from the people who created it, since it was Boots’s research arm which came up with ibuprofen in the first place ...

Indian Summa

John Lanchester, 22 April 1993

A Suitable Boy 
by Vikram Seth.
Phoenix, 1349 pp., £20, March 1993, 1 897580 20 7
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... Forests have been slain, not only in the manufacture of A Suitable Boy, but in the production of its review coverage. An unusual amount of the publicity has been statistical, with journalists dwelling on the size of the book (1349 pages), its weight (an uncompromising 1.5 kilos), the size of the advances received (‘2.6 crore rupees’), and its status as the longest one-volume novel in the English Language ...


John Lanchester: Arsenalesque Melancholy, 3 December 1992

... Most of the men I know display more emotion about football than they do about anything else. The most obvious of these emotions – the one that makes the biggest impression on first-time attendees at football matches – is anger. Everything from mild irritation to outright pre-psychotic fury is on open display; even celebration can look like a form of rage ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Hang on to your Swissies, 5 February 2015

... You know​ that thing where you draw a line in the sand, stand behind it and declare: ‘They shall not pass!’ That’s what the Swiss National Bank, the SNB, did in September 2011, when it surprised the currency markets by suddenly announcing that it wouldn’t allow the Swiss franc to appreciate in value below CHF 1.20 to one euro. The SNB’s problem was that the Swissie, as it is known in currency trading circles, is a safe-haven currency, one to which money and bank deposits flee in times of trouble, especially trouble in Europe ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Google Glass, 23 May 2013

... Last week I took 61,240 steps, covering 28.88 miles, and climbed the equivalent of 142 flights of stairs – not bad, but not as good as the week before, when I took 67,131 steps, covering 31.66 miles, and climbed 122 flights. I note with gloom that even then I failed to make my target of ten thousand steps a day. I know this with such precision not because I’ve turned into a cross between Bruce Chatwin and Rain Man but because I’ve been using a Fitbit One, a fancy-schmancy pedometer which tracks how much I’ve been moving about and automatically synchronises it, via a Bluetooth dongle on my computer, with a website and an app on my phone ...

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