Literature & Criticism

Black and white photo of Shelagh Delaney

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

4 June 2020

Shelagh Delaney resented being pigeonholed: ‘I could go on writing plays if I never saw Salford, Manchester or any Northern working-class district again.’ Unfortunately, by this point, the choice was no longer hers to make.

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The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

4 June 2020

Nobody​ is sure how many books Georges Simenon wrote. All sources give different totals. He himself didn’t know, indeed he couldn’t remember all of them. He had many pseudonyms, dating . . .

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

4 June 2020

Let’s​ imagine  that after this life, or perhaps before it, perhaps as a step in an endless transmigration of souls, we arrive by ship in a new land. Our memories of a previous existence . . .

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

4 June 2020

Are you​ a Moby-Dickhead? If so, are you enough of a Moby-Dickhead to have visited the Phallological Museum in Iceland to inspect a sperm whale’s penis? This is one of the many intrepid expeditions . . .


Michael Hofmann

21 May 2020

This​ is the first and only book on bilingualism I have read, but before coming to that there are two other things worthy of mention.* The first is the author’s biographical note. Albert Costa . . .

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.

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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.

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Vermicular Dither

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

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

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The Social Text Hoax: 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,...

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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...

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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...

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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.

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Sounding Auden

Seamus Heaney, 4 June 1987

I want to explore the relation between the kind of poetic authority which W.H. Auden sought and achieved and what might be described as his poetic music. By ‘poetic authority’ I mean...

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Fairy Flight in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

William Empson, 25 October 1979

This​ is the new Arden edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it is splendid to have the old series still coming out. Full information, and a proper apparatus at the foot of the page:...

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Characteristically Spenderish

Seamus Perry, 21 May 2020

‘But do you really think I am any good?’ a breathless Spender asked. ‘Of course’ was Auden’s reply, and when pressed a little further: ‘Because you are so infinitely...

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Clare Bucknell, 21 May 2020

Each poem is as unmemorable and reusable as a coffee keep-cup, deployable several times over the course of a few weeks while still seeming new. The format suits a readership hunting for relatable content,...

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The Bournemouth Set

Andrew O’Hagan, 21 May 2020

‘Remember the pallid brute that lived in Skerryvore like a weevil in a biscuit,’ Stevenson wrote. Yet his three years there, the only period he spent in England, were the best years of his...

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He’s Humbert, I’m Dolores

Emily Witt, 21 May 2020

My Dark Vanessa is a pedagogical novel in more than one sense, a work of fiction that also wants to be a work of reference: here is how an abusive relationship develops between an insecure teenager...

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Lizzie, Cal and Caroline

Colm Tóibín, 7 May 2020

‘The matter of your work is yours entirely and I don’t think you have it in your power to “hurt” me,’ Elizabeth Hardwick told Robert Lowell. ‘I mean that I cannot see...

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‘The Plague’

Jacqueline Rose, 7 May 2020

One of the things Camus’s novel conveys is that, at the very moment we appear to be taking the grimmest reality on board, we might also be deluding ourselves. Counting is at once a scientific...

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Gary Lutz

Ange Mlinko, 7 May 2020

After​ reading five hundred pages of Gary Lutz, I opened Google Maps and took a long, hard look at the state where he was born: Pennsylvania, the ‘Keystone State’, although...

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Beryl Bainbridge’s Beats

Tom Crewe, 7 May 2020

Some of us​ are trapped all our lives. This is the lesson of Beryl Bainbridge’s novel Injury Time, first published in 1977. It is a sort of dinner party farce, except better. The aptly...

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‘This Mournable Body’

Blake Morrison, 7 May 2020

Early on​ in This Mournable Body, a skimpily dressed woman in ‘sky-high heels’ falls backwards onto muddy ground while trying to climb into a crowded Harare minibus. Nobody comes to...

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A nice girl like Simone

Joanna Biggs, 16 April 2020

Twelve years after she published The Second Sex in 1949 she was still receiving letters from women who told her that it had ‘saved me’; psychiatrists, she heard, gave it to their patients....

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Edmund Gordon, 16 April 2020

Garth Greenwell is interested in what it means to be told your sexuality is disgusting: what it does to your sense of self, and how it contaminates desire. His writing is unusual in combining Hollinghurst’s...

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Time and the Sea

Fredric Jameson, 16 April 2020

In Conrad, ‘le mot juste’ becomes a formula for translation from French to English, and the equivalent in literary production of the hesitation in the fabula between the status of captain or...

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Caroline Gordon v. Flannery O’Connor

Rupert Thomson, 2 April 2020

Towards the end of the correspondence a self-consciousness creeps in. Responding to ‘Parker’s Back’, one of O’Connor’s last stories, Gordon’s self-deprecation borders...

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Joe Dunthorne, 2 April 2020

To fuck God once or twice at moderate length would be enough for most writers but Gerard Reve had a reputation to uphold. He decided to defend himself at the trial, which ran from 1966 to 1968. It...

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Ubu Jarry

Hal Foster, 19 March 2020

What happens when a travesty of authority becomes a template for power, when Dada sets up in the White House or at 10 Downing Street?

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On Lawrence Joseph

Michael Hofmann, 19 March 2020

If​ it answers to now, if it’s sufficiently fearless and adaptable and capacious, why not write the same poem again and again – in couplets, in slabs, in measured stanzas, in irregular...

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‘Hurricane Season’

Adam Mars-Jones, 19 March 2020

The​ title of Fernanda Melchor’s unrelenting novel brings together disruption and regularity, a break in the pattern but also the pattern that underlies the break. Early in the novel...

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‘Empty Words’

Adam Thirlwell, 19 March 2020

In​ Mario Levrero’s novel Empty Words a writer, unable to change the vast mess of his life, decides to improve one small part of it: his handwriting.My graphological self-therapy begins...

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