Literature & Criticism

On Gertrude Beasley

Elisabeth Ladenson

21 October 2021

Oneof the last things Gertrude Beasley wrote before her disappearance in 1927 was an article called ‘I Was One of Thirteen Poor White Trash’. It came out in Hearst’s...

Read More

On Cortney Lamar Charleston

Stephanie Burt

21 October 2021

Doppelgangbanger,​ the second collection of poems by Cortney Lamar Charleston (Haymarket, £12), describes growing up Black in white suburbia. In ‘Hip-Hop Introspective’:Kids ask . . .

Annie Ernaux’s Gaze

Joanna Biggs

21 October 2021

At​ the end of the Catacombs, having walked among the bones of six million Parisians, you come to a single gravestone. Somewhere in the ossuary are the remains of Racine, Charlotte Corday, Robespierre . . .

Ten Years in Sheerness

Patrick McGuinness

21 October 2021

In Uwe Johnson’s work, perspective doesn’t come from a bird’s-eye view but from staying at eye level – from looking and never stopping. His characters are suspicious of any claim . . .

Sex with Satan

Deborah Friedell

21 October 2021

What​ would the young Jonathan Franzen – an acolyte of Gaddis and Pynchon who identified with Kafka – make of the novels he would go on to write? That man was determined that ‘Franzen’ . . .

Malfunctioning Sex Robot: Updike Redux

Patricia Lockwood, 10 October 2019

When he is in flight you are glad to be alive. When he comes down wrong – which is often – you feel the sickening turn of an ankle, a real nausea. All the flaws that will become fatal later are present at the beginning. He has a three-panel cartoonist’s sense of plot. The dialogue is a weakness: in terms of pitch, it’s half a step sharp, too nervily and jumpily tuned to the tics and italics and slang of the era. And yes, there are his women.

Read More

Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

I should state up front that I am not a fan of programme fiction. Basically, I feel about it as towards new fiction from a developing nation with no literary tradition: I recognise that it has anthropological interest, and is compelling to those whose experience it describes, but I probably wouldn’t read it for fun.

Read More

Vermicular Dither

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

Stefan Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing.

Read More

Le pauvre Sokal: the Social Text Hoax

John Sturrock, 16 July 1998

Way back in the pre-theoretical Fifties, a journalist called Ivor Brown used to have elementary fun at the expense of a serial intruder on our insular peace of mind, a bacillus known as the LFF,...

Read More

The Fatness of Falstaff

Barbara Everett, 16 August 1990

One day early in the 1590s a clown came onto a London stage, holding a piece of string. At the end of the piece of string was a dog. The dog, possibly the first on the Elizabethan stage, I want to...

Read More

Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

Read More

Diary: On the Booker

Julian Barnes, 12 November 1987

The only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo. It is El Gordo, the Fat One, the sudden jackpot that enriches some plodding Andalusian muleteer.

Read More

Sounding Auden

Seamus Heaney, 4 June 1987

Hard-bitten, aggressively up-to-date in the way it took cognisance of the fallen contemporary landscape, yet susceptible also to the pristine scenery of an imaginary Anglo-Saxon England, Auden’s original voice could not have been predicted and was utterly timely.

Read More

Fairy Flight in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

William Empson, 25 October 1979

So the working fairy does at least half a mile a second, probably two-thirds, and the cruising royalties can in effect go as fast as her, if they need to. Puck claims to go at five miles a second, perhaps seven times what the working fairy does. This seems a working social arrangement.

Read More

Pens and Heads: The Young Milton

Maggie Kilgour, 21 October 2021

In​ their groundbreaking biography, published a decade ago, Thomas Corns and Gordon Campbell argued that the young John Milton was not, as he has often been portrayed, a born radical. Instead,...

Read More

I love grass: ‘Bewilderment’

Christian Lorentzen, 21 October 2021

Of all​ the novels responding to the Trump presidency, Richard Powers’s Bewilderment may come closest to pure propaganda. Set in a slightly worse and slightly more technologically advanced...

Read More

Richard Wright wasn’t interested in the structures of support or mutual aid that enabled black people to survive as a collective. He was drawn to outcasts and desperados who had fallen through...

Read More

Dead Ends: ‘Not a Novel’

Christopher Tayler, 7 October 2021

The archaeological quality of Jenny Erpenbeck’s imagination allows her to come at East Germany from unexpected angles. She writes of learning to roller-skate on a street that was free from traffic...

Read More

Screwdriver in the Eye: David Keenan

Paul Mendez, 7 October 2021

It’s difficult to grasp exactly what all this means or what it’s for. The novel’s 808 pages make a mockery of straitened attention spans, and the book is provocatively underedited. David...

Read More

Ti tum ti tum ti tum: Chic Sport Shirker

Colin Burrow, 7 October 2021

If one suspects, at times, that one’s eye is being led on a dance, it is at least always a merry one, and Christopher Ricks is a fine enough critic to worry whether he might have crossed the invisible...

Read More

Proust hasn’t found a voice here: he is a person writing out family legends and self-analysis rather than a novelist. Still, we do have the beginning of an answer to the astute question: ‘What...

Read More

Fake it till you make it: Indexing

Anthony Grafton, 23 September 2021

The index gave its users formidable power to find and quote adages and examples, narratives and poems, scriptural and patristic texts, whether or not they had actually read the full works they cited. That...

Read More

Who’s the real wolf? Black Marseille

Kevin Okoth, 23 September 2021

Self-determination, Claude McKay continued to insist, meant much more than economic independence: it was driven by a hunger for freedom among people like the peasant farmers he had known as a boy in the...

Read More

I couldn’t live normally: What Sally did next

Christian Lorentzen, 23 September 2021

Normality has totemic significance in Rooney’s writing: her characters either think of themselves as ‘special’ – that is, smart and sensitive but stranded among normal people –...

Read More

There isn’t any inside! William Gaddis

Adam Mars-Jones, 23 September 2021

Gaddis shows an intimate knowledge of fine art, in terms of both aesthetics and techniques, obviously an asset in a novel that deals with the forging of paintings. His blind spot, unfortunately, is literary...

Read More

Short Cuts: Beckett in a Field

Anne Enright, 23 September 2021

What would Beckett sound like in a language he could not speak, but which might be intuited in his use of English? It would be like bringing the work back to a time before it was started. It might make...

Read More

No Such Thing as Women: Reproduction Anxiety

Madeleine Schwartz, 23 September 2021

It’​s hard not to read the title of Mieko Kawakami’s first novel, Breasts and Eggs, as some kind of provocation. I keep seeing them in front of me – a perverted breakfast, breasts...

Read More

Motherly Protuberances: Simon Okotie

Blake Morrison, 9 September 2021

As a detective you have to watch your step, in order that your operations remain clandestine, and no detectives in literature have ever watched their steps as literally as Okotie’s two detectives....

Read More

With a Da bin ich! Properly Lawrentian

Seamus Perry, 9 September 2021

‘Mind’ is never a good word in D.H. Lawrence: the whole problem of modern life was that there was far too much mind in it, operating ‘as a director or controller of the spontaneous centres’...

Read More

Is this what life is like? ‘My Phantoms’

Nicole Flattery, 9 September 2021

Gwendoline Riley’s landscape is the North of England: bars, motorways, housing estates. In her novels, there is often a monstrous father, and an awful mother too – though the latter is more...

Read More

No Shortage of Cousins: Bowenology

David Trotter, 12 August 2021

The pleasures as much as the perils of adaptation led Elizabeth Bowen to suppose that the fundamental condition of human experience is a feeling of ‘amorphousness’ which prompts the ‘obsessive...

Read More

The Book of Disquiet is almost about philosophy; its tone is often casual and then deliberate. Pessoa loves aphorism, and enjoys long, loose ruminations. He writes beautifully about weather; it seems constantly...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences