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Leave me alone

Terry Eagleton: Terry Eagleton joins the Yeomen, 30 April 2009

What Price Liberty? How Freedom Was Won and Is Being Lost 
by Ben Wilson.
Faber, 480 pp., £14.99, June 2009, 978 0 571 23594 0
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... David Hume once remarked that the English had the least national character of any people in the universe. Perhaps this was a cunning Scottish put-down, since character is just what the English pride themselves on. They may not bestride the world in intellect, cuisine or emotional intimacy, but these fancy pursuits can be left to foreigners, and don’t count for much compared to their own moral robustness ...

Lapsing

Terry Eagleton, 8 April 1993

No Other Life 
by Brian Moore.
Bloomsbury, 216 pp., £14.99, February 1993, 0 7475 1474 7
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... There are no ex-Catholics, only lapsed ones. A lapse, as the light little monosyllable suggests, is a mere temporary aberration, an ephemeral error which can always be retrieved; and even the more ominous sounding ‘excommunication’ can always be undone by a quick bout of repentance. Leaving the Catholic church is as difficult as resigning from the Mafia; for the Church in its wisdom has artfully anticipated such renegacy and created within its ranks the special category of ‘lapsed’, wedged somewhere between saints and clergy ...

Swag

Terry Eagleton, 6 January 1994

Safe in the Kitchen 
by Aisling Foster.
Hamish Hamilton, 347 pp., £14.99, November 1993, 0 241 13426 9
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... In Neil Jordan’s film The Crying Game, a renegade IRA man ends up in the arms of a male cross-dresser. It is a typical Post-Modern drift – from politics to perversity, revolution to transgression, the transformation of society to the reinvention of the self. Revolutions are made in the name of wealth, freedom, fullness of life; but those who make them are the worst possible image of the world they hope to fashion ...

Theydunnit

Terry Eagleton, 28 April 1994

What a Carve Up! 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 512 pp., £15.50, April 1994, 0 670 85362 3
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... Gothic horror tale, detective mystery, autobiography, political history: Jonathan Coe’s appealingly ambitious new novel involves a promiscuous intermingling of literary genres, as a potted social history of Thatcherism is tucked inside some meta-textual high jinks. An anatomy of the appalling Winshaw family, Thatcherite predators of one ilk or another, provides the lens for a scabrous critique of Tory Britain; but at the source of the family’s history lies a mysterious murder, so that the text simultaneously yields us a camped-up whodunnit ...

First-Class Fellow Traveller

Terry Eagleton, 2 December 1993

Patrick Hamilton: A Life 
by Sean French.
Faber, 327 pp., £20, November 1993, 0 571 14353 9
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... Stalinist, alcoholic, sexually ambivalent, Patrick Hamilton had all the prerequisites of a successful Thirties writer. That his success was uneven would seem simply another sign of the times, the mark of an epoch grimly wedded to failure. His work was praised by Greene, Priestley, Lessing, Powell; but if he survives today it is for a couple of memorably macabre dramas – Rope and Gaslight – which Hamilton himself scorned as callow sensationalism ...

Deadly Fetishes

Terry Eagleton, 6 October 1994

East, West 
by Salman Rushdie.
Cape, 224 pp., £9.99, October 1994, 0 224 04134 7
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... Magic realism is usually thought of as a Third World genre, appropriate to a place where the supernatural is still taken seriously, where fable and folk tale still flourish and where fantasy can provide some pleasurable relief from a harsh social reality. But the genre is equally at home in a West for which fantasy is a major industry, where reality – or what tattered remnants of it we have left – seems endlessly pliable, where fact is shot through with fiction and where, for technology or consumerist ideology, all things seem equally possible ...

Count the Commas

Terry Eagleton: Craig Raine’s novel, 24 June 2010

Heartbreak 
by Craig Raine.
Atlantic, 186 pp., £12.99, July 2010, 978 1 84887 510 4
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... Craig Raine’s Heartbreak is a novel in the sense in which Eton is a school near Slough. The description is true but misleading. It is really a collection of short stories, loosely linked by the topic announced in the title; but perhaps because the English are said to be averse to buying such volumes, the publishers have represented it as a novel, rather as Jedward are represented as singers ...

Dr Vlad

Terry Eagleton: Edna O’Brien, 22 October 2015

The Little Red Chairs 
by Edna O’Brien.
Faber, 320 pp., £18.99, October 2015, 978 0 571 31628 1
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... Like many​ marginal nations, Ireland has leapt from being a largely agricultural society to one of high-tech finance capitalism, information technology and the service industries. Rural drama has given way to Riverdance, and Lady Gregory to Martin McDonagh. The passage from the premodern to the postmodern, partly eclipsing modernity proper, was smoothed by the fact that Ireland had no industrial infrastructure to dismantle ...
Body Work 
by Peter Brooks.
Harvard, 325 pp., £39.95, May 1993, 0 674 07724 5
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... There will soon be more bodies in contemporary criticism than on the fields of Waterloo. Mangled members, tormented torsos, bodies emblazoned or incarcerated, disciplined or desirous: it is becoming harder, given this fashionable turn to the somatic, to distinguish the literary theory section of the local bookshop from the soft porn shelves, sort out the latest Jackie Collins from the later Roland Barthes ...

Angry ’Un

Terry Eagleton, 8 July 1993

The Hand of the Arch-Sinner: Two Angrian Chronicles of Branwell Brontë 
edited by Robert Collins.
Oxford, 300 pp., £30, April 1993, 0 19 812258 6
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... In August 1845, Branwell Brontë, ill-starred drug-addict brother of the celebrated trio, took a trip from the Haworth family home to Liverpool. It was on the very eve of the Irish famine, and the city was soon to be thronged with its hungry victims. Many of them would have been Irish speakers, since it was the Irish-speaking poorer classes that the famine hit hardest ...

Mothering

Terry Eagleton: The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín, 14 October 1999

The Blackwater Lightship 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 273 pp., £15, September 1999, 0 330 38985 8
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... You know, in my family,’ remarks a gay Irish architect in Colm Tóibín’s The Blackwater Lightship, ‘my brothers and sisters – even the married ones – still haven’t told my parents that they are heterosexual.’ It is a neat Wildean inversion, one of the few good jokes in this harrowing, deeply unfunny novel, and a flash of wit with wider implications ...

Homelessness

Terry Eagleton, 20 June 1996

States of Fantasy 
by Jacqueline Rose.
Oxford, 183 pp., £20, March 1996, 0 19 818280 5
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... In the days of F.R. Leavis, English literary criticism was wary of overseas, a place saddled with effete, Latinate languages without pith or vigour. Proust is relegated to a lofty footnote in Leavis’s The Great Tradition; one of the few foreign writers approved by the Scrutineers, apart from those like James and Conrad who had had the decency to settle in the Home Counties, was Tolstoy, who could be read as a kind of D ...

Spaced Out

Terry Eagleton, 24 April 1997

Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference 
by David Harvey.
Blackwell, 496 pp., £50, December 1996, 1 55786 680 5
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... From the Romantics to the Modernists, time was a fertile concept and space a sterile one. Space was static, empty, what you had between your ears or needed to eradicate by bridging; time – or perhaps history – was fluid, burgeoning, open-ended. For a Modernist writer like Bertolt Brecht change in itself is a good, just as for Samuel Johnson change was in itself an evil ...

Love thy neighbourhood

Terry Eagleton, 16 November 1995

The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat 
by Steven Lukes.
Verso, 261 pp., £14.95, November 1995, 1 85984 948 2
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... Most astrophysicists could write a bad novel, whereas few novelists could rise to being even poor astrophysicists. Those who live in the world of letters have to suffer the humiliation of knowing that, like courting or clog dancing, writing fiction is something that almost anyone can do indifferently. There is a nasty piece of work inside most of us ...

Allergic to Depths

Terry Eagleton: Gothic, 18 March 1999

Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin 
by Richard Davenport-Hines.
Fourth Estate, 438 pp., £20, December 1998, 1 85702 498 2
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... All over the world, postgraduate students of English who might once have written on Wordsworth or Mrs Gaskell are now turning out theses on vampires, monsters, sado-masochism and mutilation. Most of this can be put down to Post-Modern faddishness, though vampires have a more venerable pedigree, as Richard Davenport-Hines notes in his agreeable romp through Gothic art from Salvator Rosa to Damien Hirst ...

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