Literature & Criticism

Ears and Fingers

Jonathan Beckman

27 January 2022

In​ 1880 the Russian art critic Ivan Lermolieff published Die Werke italienischer Meister (translated into English as Italian Painters), a study of the Italian artworks held in German...

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On Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

David Wheatley

27 January 2022

Eiléan​ Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘Translation’ describes a work scene in a convent laundry. Over the bustle of cleaning and ironing, one voice rises insistently . . .

Post-Apocalyptic Folklore

Marco Roth

27 January 2022

In​ a more just universe, Russell Hoban would be widely celebrated as the author of one of the most ambitious novels of the later 20th century: Riddley Walker (1980). Miserably, though, in much of . . .

H.G. Wells’s​ Egotism

Stefan Collini

27 January 2022

It​ can be hard, from this distance, to see what all the fuss was about. In his day (a day that, unfortunately for him, ended a decade or so before his death in 1946, a month short of his 80th birthday) . . .

‘Queen’s Women on the Naming Ceremony’

Fiona Benson

27 January 2022

On the fifth day, we took him to the Kingto be received. The Queen was beside herself.She intoned constantly under her breath,part-lullaby, part-charm, words bubblingout of her mouth like water from a . . .

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.

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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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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,...

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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

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.

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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.

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Snail Slow: Letters to John McGahern

Colm Tóibín, 27 January 2022

Despite the autobiographical elements in his fiction, John McGahern wasn’t especially interested in exploring his own psyche. He rowed in familiar waters because the cadences in the prose and the...

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Despite their diversity, it is possible to discern a figure in the carpet of Malcolm Bull’s books. They are all about what one might call lessness: the emancipatory power of weakness, failure, diminishment,...

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Peachy: LA Rhapsody

David Thomson, 27 January 2022

This​ is a fabulous book, beautiful, generous, sombre and wise, a wistful romance about a man writing a book like Always Crashing in the Same Car. Don’t fall for that subtitle...

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Make ’em bleed: ‘The War for Gloria’

Adam Mars-Jones, 27 January 2022

Good​ health connects us with the world, illness forces us back onto ourselves. When Gloria Goltz, the title character of Atticus Lish’s second novel, The War for Gloria, in her early...

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Poem: ‘Pine Processionaries’

A.E. Stallings, 27 January 2022

Warmer and warmercreep the late Januarys,disturbed beauty ofprecocious flowers,the ease of a year’s first swim.Pulsing in their silktent in the tree’s crotchthe pine...

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What’s the hook?

Helen Thaventhiran, 27 January 2022

Hooked is most interested in the kinds of aesthetic experience occasioned by works that ‘strike’ us forcibly. Rita Felski describes a writer being ‘hammered by’ Matisse, of Thelma...

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Strap on an ox-head: Christ comes to Stockholm

Patricia Lockwood, 6 January 2022

The literary stomach of the world is a goat’s, not a hummingbird’s, and Karl Ove Knausgaard knows it. He tosses us crumpled newspapers, cardboard cups, grocery lists – all the detritus...

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Outsourced Emotions: Katie Kitamura

Nicole Flattery, 6 January 2022

Katie Kitamura is interested in the moment when a performance collapses, when the void underneath the expressionless mask is revealed. But sometimes it’s hard to resist being beguiled.

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Story: ‘Four Talks’

Anne Carson, 6 January 2022

No one to talk to is a factor in interrogation. How would you do pitted against men who need no solace, saying things like, We are not lonely, you are lonely. Your new shoes are pathetic. Do not lounge...

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At the Movies: ‘Dune’

Michael Wood, 16 December 2021

‘Abeginning​ is a very delicate time,’ we are told in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (1965), and again in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation. None of that ‘a long time...

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In a Tuft of Thistle: Borges is Coming

Robert Crawford, 16 December 2021

Anyone who has ever had to chaperone a demanding Man of Genius will recognise something of Jay Parini’s plight. Parini had to be Borges’s guide, driver, listener, eyes, protector, interlocutor,...

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There is no world-transforming event that severs past from present; no survivors charged with finding a safe haven or with the daunting responsibility of rebuilding civilisation from the rubble; no prelapsarian...

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A Whack of Pies: Dear to Mew

Matthew Bevis, 16 December 2021

‘The moonlight​ drips on the parlour floor;/I shall go mad if no one wipes it up.’ So began E.V. Knox’s parody in the August 1921 issue of Punch.And the moon dripped upon the...

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Did he leap? ‘Harlem Shuffle’

Paul Mendez, 16 December 2021

Because in 1960s Harlem the odds were stacked so heavily against Black people, even if you weren’t a criminal yourself you risked being found guilty by association, or dragged down by those around...

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In ‘Ignorance’ Rose Macaulay meditates on that ‘real delight in cruelty, such as Nero’s, or Caligula’s, or the Nazis’, which she ‘simply cannot begin to understand’....

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Splashed with Stars: In Stoppardian Fashion

Susannah Clapp, 16 December 2021

Tom Stoppard has talked of putting on Englishness ‘like a coat’ when he arrived as an eight-year-old. A more sentimental biographer might have colluded in the suggestion that the coat could...

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Poem: ‘All of the People’

Leontia Flynn, 16 December 2021

Dense clouds of starlings ripple on our skylines.Wildebeest thunder collectively over the plain.Fireflies blink. Bamboo-forests blossom at once.Round the innocent cell, bacteria follow the...

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Reading books like this, I feel like a Philip K. Dick character in the grip of wild-eyed madness. I want to run around telling the authors to snap out of it, to stop wasting their time and their Sontag...

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