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The Head in the Shed

Gavin Francis: Reading Bones, 21 January 2021

Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind 
by Sue Black.
Doubleday, 359 pp., £18.99, September 2020, 978 0 85752 690 8
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... even something you didn’t particularly wish to know.The entries under ‘S’ in the index of Sue Black’s new book, Written in Bone, include ‘Stevanin, Gianfranco, Monster of Terrazzo’ (seven page mentions); ‘stillborn babies’ (six); ‘strangulation’ (six); and ‘strappado’ (two). In the section for ‘D’ I found the sequence ...

So sue me

Michael Wood, 12 May 1994

A Frolic of His Own 
by William Gaddis.
Viking, 529 pp., £16, June 1994, 0 670 85553 7
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... fancy and throws out a verdict reached after calm deliberation by a jury of you honest citizens black folk and white, right there in the Fourteenth Amendment in black and white, the jury that’s the bulwark and cornerstone of American justice like you don’t see in these dictator atheist countries. And it’s not just ...

Emily v. Mabel

Susan Eilenberg: Emily Dickinson, 30 June 2011

Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Virago, 491 pp., £9.99, April 2011, 978 1 84408 453 1
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Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 535 pp., £25.95, September 2010, 978 0 674 04867 6
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... with any one who drained my nerve power so much … I am glad not to live near her.’ Not even Sue could love her enough to keep her from feeling betrayed. And along with the neediness there was something stranger and darker. Austin was dominated by it during his affair with Mabel, and we see it in Dickinson too. Gordon discusses two incidents in which ...

Cambridge Theatre

Donald Davie, 19 August 1982

Swansongs 
by Sue Lenier.
Oleander Press, 80 pp., £7.50, April 1982, 9780906672044
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Collected Poems 
by Sylvia Plath, edited by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 351 pp., £10, September 1981, 0 571 10573 4
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Devotions 
by Clive Wilmer.
Carcanet, 63 pp., £3.25, June 1982, 0 85635 359 0
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... Sue Lenier’s poems occupy 70 closely printed pages, of which I have read – the things I do for LRB! – 50 or so. If ‘read’ is the word for what one does, or can do, with language like this: Mourn no more for the flowers you have broken, Lies you have told and clouds stirred on my face Roused from my dark to the moons you have awoken, In this fair night your blackness keeps no place, When Winter holds her blue tongue to the trees Licking them white, they cry not at their death With tears like wings of flies washed in the breeze And blown away, each sad and lonely breath, And as each creature waits for Spring’s pale arms To rouse their sleep and tenderly lead them out, So I to you who did me all this harm Will wait, heart-full, to wake you with my shout  Of happiness, love and trembling sin –  As all the night goes out, the stars come in ...

Ten Days that Shook Me

Alan Bennett, 15 September 1988

... Mo (who also writes for Boxing News), the poet Craig Raine (who doesn’t) and the playwright Sue Townsend of Adrian Mole fame. I had many misgivings about the trip, particularly in regard to creature comforts. I wondered, for instance, if the Russians had got round to mineral water. John Sturrock reassured me. ‘Haven’t you heard of ...

Bitchy Little Spinster

Joanne O’Leary: Queens of Amherst, 3 June 2021

After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America's Greatest Poet 
by Julie Dobrow.
Norton, 448 pp., £13.99, January 2020, 978 0 393 35749 3
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... an early centralised heating system from the coal-fired furnace’. Mabel was ‘captivated’ by Sue, whom she entertained by playing the ‘beautiful new upright piano’ in the Dickinsons’ drawing room (she quickly earned a reputation as the finest musician in Amherst). She didn’t lose sleep over her decision to leave Millicent in Washington with her ...

Something else

Jonathan Coe, 5 December 1991

In Black and White 
by Christopher Stevenson.
New Caxton Press, 32 pp., £1.95
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The Tree of Life 
by Hugh Nissenson.
Carcanet, 159 pp., £6.95, September 1991, 0 85635 874 6
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Cley 
by Carey Harrison.
Heinemann, 181 pp., £13.99, November 1991, 0 434 31368 8
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... an Iris Murdoch novel with the words CATCH THESE EVIL SEX KILLERS emblazoned across the cover.) In Black and White therefore both looks and feels almost exactly like a tabloid newspaper, and this is bound to make differences to the way we treat it. Inevitably we place less value on a book designed along these lines: we fold it, we tear it, we smudge the ...

Even When It’s a Big Fat Lie

Alex Abramovich: ‘Country Music’, 8 October 2020

Country Music 
directed by Ken Burns.
PBS, eight episodes
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... and tied together in so many emotional ways, and he just would not hear it. And so, he was gonna sue me, he was gonna do this, he was gonna do that – and so, I went home. I thought, ‘He’s not gonna listen to me. ’Cause I’ve said it over and over.’ And so I thought: ‘Do what you do best, just write a song.’ So I wrote the song, took it back in ...

Most Curious of Seas

Richard Fortey: Noah’s Flood, 1 July 1999

Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History 
by William Ryan and Walter Pitman.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., £17.99, February 1999, 0 684 81052 2
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... was the result of an inundation of a huge freshwater lake which became, in a matter of weeks, the Black Sea. It is black because below the top few metres it is lifeless – lacking oxygen – and the sea floor is covered with fetid, dark mud where nothing but bacteria can thrive. Fish flourish only in the top water ...

Don’t laugh

Amit Chaudhuri: Hari Kunzru, 8 August 2002

The Impressionist 
by Hari Kunzru.
Hamish Hamilton, 435 pp., £12.99, April 2002, 0 241 14169 9
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... daughter of a distinguished anthropologist and an ethereal, unattainable type – a sort of pop Sue Bridehead. Here, the novel slightly loses its hard edges, becoming a little schmaltzy, as if it had turned into a veiled personal reminiscence. You suspect that a conventional marriage will not suit Astarte Chapel, just as, in the end, it did not suit ...

I just get my pistol and shoot him right down

Eric Foner: Slave-Dealing, 22 March 2018

The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History 
by Anne C. Bailey.
Cambridge, 197 pp., £19.99, November 2017, 978 1 316 64348 8
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... slaves by name, age and skill. The first entries read: ‘George, age 27, prime cotton planter; Sue, age 26, prime rice planter; George Jr, age 4, boy child; Harry, age 2, boy child.’ Listings for 432 other slaves follow. Another indispensable source is a 28-page pamphlet published soon after the auction took place. Its author was Mortimer Thomson, a ...

I ain’t afeared

Marina Warner: In Her Classroom, 9 September 2021

Black Teacher 
by Beryl Gilroy.
Faber, 268 pp., £12.99, July, 978 0 571 36773 3
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... the author of To Sir, with Love (1959), a catalyst for her own later self-reckoning in Black Teacher. When she began to look for a teaching post, Gilroy was frustrated at every turn, the target of a widespread suspicion founded in an ignorance that could be described as folkloric were the baiting about cannibalism and washing not so vicious. In her ...

White Lies

James Campbell: Nella Larsen, 5 October 2006

In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Colour Line 
by George Hutchinson.
Harvard, 611 pp., £25.95, June 2006, 0 674 02180 0
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... both the US and Britain: your part-Scottish, part-Native American, part-Spanish friend is often ‘black’ if there is a hint of Africa in his or her make-up. John Bellew, the husband of Clare Kendry in Nella Larsen’s exquisite novel Passing (1929), responds violently when he finds out that Clare, who has cheeks of ‘ivory’ and hair the colour of ‘pale ...

Memoriousness

E.S. Turner, 15 September 1988

Memories of Times Past 
by Louis Heren.
Hamish Hamilton, 313 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 241 12427 1
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Chances: An Autobiography 
by Mervyn Jones.
Verso, 311 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 86091 167 5
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... to run the paper. There were heady moments. In the course of a feud with Number 10 he decided to sue Harold Wilson and the head of the Civil Service for denying the newspaper the usual advance copies of the Honours List. ‘I did not have a watertight legal case,’ he admits, but counsel were engaged and a vacation judge was alerted. If Number 10 had not ...

Lunchtime No News

Paul Foot, 27 June 1991

Kill the messenger 
by Bernard Ingham.
HarperCollins, 408 pp., £17.50, May 1991, 0 00 215944 9
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... were making a contribution to the life of the nation.’ (Perhaps some of her best friends were black as well.) The entire second half of his book is undiluted heroine-worship. ‘It is these qualities – nerve, conviction and courage linked with her refusal to succumb to defeatism – that eventually carried us through more than three million unemployed ...

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