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At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, 17 April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel 
directed by Wes Anderson.
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... making a crucial phone call on behalf of Monsieur Gustave. And there is an orchestrated chase across snowy mountains; one of the best lines in the film is the instruction given to Monsieur Gustave and Zero as they gallop into an isolated alpine monastery: ‘Put these on and sing.’ ‘These’ are the white habits of a monk and a rosary each. The ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The International’, ‘Duplicity’, 9 April 2009

The International 
directed by Tom Twyker.
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Duplicity 
directed by Tony Gilroy.
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... have to be corrected. This is good paranoid stuff, and it’s enjoyable to watch Owen and Watts chase the bad guys from city to city, from Milan to New York to Istanbul. They get their men in the end, or rather Owen does, having chivalrously kept Watts out of the ugly stuff, but another evil bank will have its day tomorrow, at least in this kind of ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Skyfall’, 22 November 2012

Skyfall 
directed by Sam Mendes.
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... The old Bond theme tune surfaces and rapidly vanishes whenever the action – the motor- bike chase across the rooftops of Istanbul, the slug-out on top of the moving train – gets a little too hokey. It’s not less exciting because it’s hokey – on the contrary – and it reminds us that in the previous two Bond films, as in several thousand other ...

Diamond Daggers

Stephen Wall, 28 June 1990

Death’s Darkest Face 
by Julian Symons.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 333 51783 0
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Vendetta 
by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 281 pp., £12.99, June 1990, 0 571 14332 6
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Gallowglass 
by Barbara Vine.
Viking, 296 pp., £13.99, March 1990, 0 670 83241 3
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... preference – the demands of the form prevail, and person is inevitably upstaged by plot. Michael Dibdin’s Vendetta marks the reappearance of Aurelio Zen, the Venetian cop who cleared up an unsavoury kidnapping in Ratking (Gold Dagger Award, 1988), where the unsparing exposé of depravity among the powerful of Perugia was matched by a command of ...

Call me Ahab

Jeremy Harding: Moby-Dick, 31 October 2002

Moby-Dick, or, The Whale 
by Herman Melville, edited by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker.
Northwestern, 573 pp., £14.95, September 2001, 0 8101 1911 0
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Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live in 
by C.L.R. James.
New England, 245 pp., £17.95, July 2001, 9781584650942
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Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival 
by Clare Spark.
Kent State, 744 pp., £46.50, May 2001, 0 87338 674 4
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Lucchesi and the Whale 
by Frank Lentricchia.
Duke, 104 pp., £14.50, February 2001, 9780822326540
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... there’s the famous story of the Essex, sunk to the west of the Galapagos Islands in 1820. Owen Chase, its Chief Mate, published a Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship ‘Essex’, of Nantucket in 1821. Melville, who footnotes four quotations from Chase in Chapter 45, was less ...

Diary

John Naughton: On the Future of the BBC, 17 December 1992

... with the brutal sacking of Director-General Alasdair Milne and continuing with the appointment of Michael Checkland as his successor and the recruitment of John Birt as Deputy D-G with a remit to sort out the news and current affairs operation. Checkland, an accountant, set about pruning the BBC while Birt embarked on a root-and-branch reform of the news and ...

Large and Rolling

Penelope Fitzgerald, 31 July 1997

The Scholar Gypsy: The Quest for a Family Secret 
by Anthony Sampson.
Murray, 229 pp., £16, May 1997, 0 7195 5708 9
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... a tremendous blow-out, complete with wines and cigars, at the White Lion in Cerrigydrudion. But Michael Sampson, Anthony’s father, who had scattered the ashes nine times over the mountain, looks cold and ill at ease in the faded press photographs. And the Rai’s widow was not present. Soon afterwards an Aunt Mary, never met before, came to visit the ...

Sashimi with a Side of Fries

Adam Thirlwell: Michael Chabon, 16 August 2007

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union 
by Michael Chabon.
Fourth Estate, 414 pp., £17.99, June 2007, 978 0 00 715039 7
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... This is a miniature dictionary of the invented English in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon’s charming, flawed and exhausting new novel: bik (Yiddish: bull) – doorman latke (Yiddish: potato cake) – 1. police cap 2. policeman noz (Yiddish: nose) – policeman shammes (Yiddish: assistant to rabbi, beadle) – policeman sholem (Yiddish: peace) – gun shoyfer (Yiddish: horn) – cell phone shtarker (Yiddish: strong man, strong arm) – gangster; hard man Yiddish, it turns out, has not said its last word: it is still involved in the business of coinages and slippages ...

Cheesespreadology

Ian Sansom, 7 March 1996

Garbage 
by A.R. Ammons.
Norton, 121 pp., £7.50, February 1995, 0 393 31203 8
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Tape for the Turn of the Year 
by A.R. Ammons.
Norton, 205 pp., £8.95, February 1995, 0 393 31204 6
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Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow 
by August Kleinzahler.
Faber, 93 pp., £6.99, April 1995, 0 571 17431 0
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The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs 
by Charles Simic.
Michigan, 127 pp., £30, January 1996, 0 472 06569 6
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Frightening Toys 
by Charles Simic.
Faber, 101 pp., £6.99, April 1995, 0 571 17399 3
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The Ghost of Eden 
by Chase Twichell.
Faber, 78 pp., £6.99, April 1995, 0 571 17434 5
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... In a gloss on the snot riddle in his book Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value, Michael Thompson explains that the riddle succeeds by playing upon that which is residual to our system of cultural categories. When, in the context of wealth and poverty, we talk of possessable objects we unquestioningly assume that we are talking about ...

Signora Zabaggy

Michael Rose, 2 August 1984

All Visitors Ashore 
by C.K. Stead.
Harvill, 150 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 00 271009 9
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A Trick of the Light 
by Sebastian Faulks.
Bodley Head, 204 pp., £7.95, July 1984, 0 370 30589 2
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Dividing Lines 
by Victor Sage.
Chatto, 166 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 7011 2811 9
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... the year goes by. The reader’s pleasures are other and various. One of them is the intertextual chase. Here, for instance, Stead simultaneously parodies Robbe-Grillet’s degree-zero text and, by putting back the person, turns it to his own discursive and expository ends: ‘And now the shadow cast by the cabbage tree at the centre of the white courtyard ...

Splashing through the Puddles

Michael Hofmann: Amis in Auschwitz, 23 October 2014

The Zone of Interest 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 310 pp., £18.99, August 2014, 978 0 224 09974 5
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... and frictionlessly as possible, trying to keep his wife, stay on top of his zealous underlings, chase after the impressive and intimidating manliness that was never at any time his. He is a somewhat memorable if not entirely plausible or successful creation, and his sections of the novel resemble an Auschwitz episode of Dad’s Army. And then, last and ...

Who didn’t kill Carl Bridgewater?

Stephen Sedley, 9 October 1986

Murder at the Farm: Who killed Carl Bridgewater? 
by Paul Foot.
Sidgwick, 273 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 283 99165 8
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... until the culprit has been run to earth belongs chiefly to the realms of fiction. Even where the chase starts from a fingerprint, the identification of its owner provides no more than a hypothesis that has to be proved and may be able to be disproved. But the far more common source of hypotheses lies in a murky region far removed from admissible or even ...

Through Plate-Glass

Ian Sansom: Jonathan Coe, 10 May 2001

The Rotters’ Club 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 405 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 670 89252 1
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... kitsch but he also does politics: The Rotters’ Club concerns itself with the Grunwick strike, Michael Edwardes and British Leyland, and the Birmingham pub bombing. Coe is only ever content with full context. His words can seem like a means to an end. They remind. They point things out. They are not themselves intended to impress. His prose is neat-o and ...

Snookered

Peter Campbell, 30 November 1995

Shadows and Enlightenment 
by Michael Baxandall.
Yale, 192 pp., £19.95, June 1995, 0 300 05979 5
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... perceptual material relates to such stratagems. Painters (well, some kinds of painters) must, as Michael Baxandall puts it, ‘backtrack down the channels of perception, undoing the integration of features that is higher perception’s achievement, pushing right back down to the early visual modules of brightness, colour and the rest’. To be interested in ...

Bard of Tropes

Jonathan Lamb: Thomas Chatterton, 20 September 2001

Thomas Chatterton and Romantic Culture 
by Nick Groom.
Palgrave, 300 pp., £55, September 1999, 0 333 72586 7
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... thought, had died by his own hand in poverty and despair, neglected by the metropolitan world. Michael Suarez’s account here shows that Chatterton’s relations with the book trade after he arrived in London were far busier and more profitable than is commonly supposed. In the early summer of 1770 he was networking at Tom’s and the ...

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