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Theroux and Through

Julian Barnes, 21 June 1984

The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £9.95, October 1983, 0 241 11086 6
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Doctor Slaughter 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 137 pp., £6.95, June 1984, 0 241 11255 9
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... writing – the traveller going to an unexciting location and reporting on his lack of excitement; Jonathan Raban and Hugo Williams purvey this mode as well. Is it that old-style travellers chose their destinations better? Did they perhaps fake their enthusiasm? Or was the world simply fresher then? Today’s travellers may claim a greater truthfulness by ...


Jonathan Steele: Neo-Taliban, 9 September 2010

... rippled like a corrugated roof, making travel in our hired minivan unbearable even at five miles an hour. What should have been a six-hour journey took 23. I was on the way to the Taliban’s Kandahar heartland with a colleague from the New York Times. We had seen wide-eyed young Taliban fighters in Kabul, like peasant boys parachuted into ...

Granny in the Doorway

Jonathan Raban: Sheringham, 1945, 17 August 2017

... petrol coupons, we’d drive to Granny’s house in Sheringham, a long ride of nearly twenty miles. The narrow, twisting road ran past Little Snoring and on to Holt, where we often stopped to break the journey and look in shop windows. Then, from a wooded ridge, the land below us was rimmed with the mysterious sea. Here my mother switched the engine off ...

The reporter who got it right

Jonathan Steele, 4 April 1985

Weakness and Deceit: US Policy and El Salvador 
by Raymond Bonner.
Hamish Hamilton, 408 pp., £13.95, February 1985, 9780241113929
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... the Reagan Administration. Long queues of voters waiting in the broiling sunshine or trudging for miles on country roads produced a powerful image of eager, sturdy democracy, which almost every American reporter and TV commentator fell for. In fact, the turn-out was barely half as high as the Administration claimed: an analysis by researchers at the ...

Vehicles of Dissatisfaction

Jonathan Dollimore: Men and Motors, 24 July 2003

Autopia: Cars and Culture 
edited by Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr.
Reaktion, 400 pp., £25, November 2002, 1 86189 132 6
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... A lorry driver blocks the Blackwall Tunnel and 250,000 vehicles are jammed across 16 square miles of London. Police won’t release the driver’s name, fearing for his safety. We can’t speed up the flow of urban traffic – more roads produce more cars, and congestion soon becomes as bad as it was before. Ian Parker describes in Autopia how a signal ...

Sharing Secrets

Jonathan Lear: Christopher Bollas, 11 March 2010

The Evocative Object World 
by Christopher Bollas.
Routledge, 126 pp., £13.50, October 2008, 978 0 415 47394 1
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The Infinite Question 
by Christopher Bollas.
Routledge, 192 pp., £13.50, October 2008, 978 0 415 47392 7
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... day. Monet taught me how to see it. Straight ahead, on my left, is the Chicago skyline. A few miles along, two trees seem to grow up out of the water, in a large V-shape, like a giant catapult. Standing between the trees you can line up the entire cityscape. The conversation Socrates and Phaedrus had about beauty must have taken place here; somehow, the ...


Jonathan Barnes, 23 January 1986

The Prehistory of Flight 
by Clive Hart.
California, 279 pp., £29.75, September 1985, 0 520 05213 7
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... at 100,000 livres, it had a top speed of some 70 mph and could cover anything up to eight hundred miles a day. Finding no customers, Desforges himself took a machine to the top of the Tour Guinette and was launched by four tough peasants. He plummeted directly to the ground. And so it was with all the early birdmen. Cautious spirits, like Leonardo da ...


Jonathan Steele: In Syria, 22 March 2012

... for a ‘party’ in the unlikely setting of Qudsaya, an impoverished hill town about eight miles northwest of the city. As the guests drive up the steep streets to the town’s small central square, young men, some with scarves wrapped round their faces, look out for signs of danger. The ‘party’ is actually a protest against Bashar al-Assad’s ...

Squidging about

Caroline Murphy: Camilla and the sex-motherers, 22 January 2004

Camilla: An Intimate Portrait 
by Rebecca Tyrrel.
Short Books, 244 pp., £14.99, October 2003, 1 904095 53 4
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... with Camilla. What made her so special? She was, he later told his official biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, a ‘pretty’ and ‘bubbly’ girl, who ‘laughed easily and at the same sillinesses’ as Charles himself. Tyrrel is more blunt. Camilla was, she says, a ‘big-bosomed Goons fan’. But she clearly offered something more than this. Patty ...

Queen Mary

Michael Neve, 20 December 1984

A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan 
by Wilfrid Mellers.
Faber, 255 pp., £6.95, November 1984, 0 571 13345 2
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by Jonathan Cott.
Vermilion/Hutchinson, 244 pp., £20, October 1984, 0 09 158750 6
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... Amerindian and White Negro’. It is all a bit too much, but at least Mellers takes care, unlike Jonathan Cott in his expensive, over-reverential tome: one more coffee-table book. It may seem a bit Dylanesque (i.e. slightly cruel) but I finished Cott’s book without being able to remember what it had been about. Mellers has, at the very least, used his ...

Funny Water

Frank Kermode: Raban at Sea, 20 January 2000

Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 435 pp., £16.99, November 1999, 0 330 34628 8
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... Jonathan Raban is afraid of the sea, saying it is not his element, which is probably why he spends so much time on it. He does not claim to be a world-class sailor, though he is obviously a competent one. One good reason for sailing is that, being a writer, he likes to write about having sailed. Sailing is guaranteed to provide alarms and achievements for his pen to celebrate ...

White Boy Walking

Evan Hughes: Jonathan Lethem, 5 July 2007

You Don’t Love Me Yet 
by Jonathan Lethem.
Faber, 224 pp., £10.99, May 2007, 978 0 571 23562 9
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... When Jonathan Lethem was born, in 1964, his mother had dropped out of college and was piercing ears with a pin and ice-cube in Greenwich Village, where she ran with a crowd of folksingers including Tuli Kupferberg, Dave Van Ronk and Phil Ochs. His father, in an early phase of his career as an artist, was painting basketball hoops, vices and stereopticons ...

Winklepickers, Tinned Salmon, Hair Cream

Bee Wilson: Jonathan Meades, 14 July 2016

An Encyclopedia of Myself 
by Jonathan Meades.
Fourth Estate, 341 pp., £9.99, February 2015, 978 1 85702 905 5
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... and are the one in charge, even if you end up getting apples instead because the pears look bad. Jonathan Meades is a writer who understands the power of lists. In An Encyclopedia of Myself, he has written not so much an autobiography as a series of detailed inventories of English provincial life in the 1950s – a world of sadistic army majors and ...

Just Two Clicks

Jonathan Raban: The Virtual Life of Neil Entwistle, 14 August 2008

... Rachel’s mother and stepfather in Carver, Mass., a small town of relatively modest means, fifty miles south of Boston. English people fresh to the United States are often shaken to find themselves in hyperreality. The landscape, so familiar in two dimensions from television, movies and print, suddenly, unsettlingly, takes on a third. From my own first ...
... was sitting in the Acropole Hotel, having failed to leave the country. Not Greece – she was 1500 miles from the shores of the Aegean in a dusty, impoverished tip of a city. The Acropole is a Greek family business in Khartoum. The proprietors and the picture on the hotel stationery are the only connections with Athens, both of them tenuous. Stranded in ...

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