Literature & Criticism

John Buchan black and white photograph

Buchan’s Banter

Christopher Tayler

9 February 2020

Betweenthe wars, the journalist Richard Usborne recalled in 1953, there was a feeling that John Buchan was good for you. ‘If not exactly the author set for homework, Buchan was certainly strongly recommended to the schoolboy by parent, uncle, guardian, pastor and master,’ he wrote in Clubland Heroes, a study of the thrillers he had enjoyed as a child. ‘Buchan backed up...

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‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen

9 February 2020

J​eanine Cummins’s​ American Dirt (Tinder, £14.99) begins with a massacre. Fourteen people are killed at a birthday barbecue: the family – husband, mother, cousins . . .

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow

9 February 2020

The age of lies​ is probably as old as time. When I was young there was a comedian who did a Bristolian version of the Fall of Man. In the Garden of Eden, God says to Adam: ‘Adam, you bin eating . . .

William Gibson

Thomas Jones

9 February 2020

In​ the notorious job advert he posted on his blog last month – has anyone applied? – Dominic Cummings was hard-pressed to describe what he meant by ‘super-talented weirdos’ . . .

Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley

9 February 2020

At​ a certain point in my reading life, aged 12 or 13, I promoted myself to the adult section of my local library, climbing up three wide steps covered in yellow linoleum. There, not knowing how . . .

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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Down with Creative Writing

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

The world of letters: does such a thing still exist? Even within the seemingly homogeneous sphere of the university English department, a schism has opened up between literary scholarship and...

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Stefan Zweig

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

Romain Rolland, one of Stefan Zweig’s many illustrious friends (he seems not to have had any other kind), expressed surprise that he could be a writer and not like cats: ‘Un...

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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

In Madrid the other week a literary journalist told me the following joke. A man goes into a pet shop and sees three parrots side by side, priced at $1000, $2000 and $3000. ‘Why does that...

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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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Leanne Shapton

Namara Smith, 27 January 2020

My​ mother used to tell a story she heard in the Peace Corps in the 1970s. An American couple somewhere in the South Pacific decided to swim across a narrow but deep channel where tiger sharks...

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Walter Pater

Elizabeth Prettejohn, 27 January 2020

Few authors​ of such historical importance have so high a proportion of their writings forgotten or neglected as Walter Pater. I used to think his essays on ancient sculpture the least studied...

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‘Your Duck Is My Duck’

Christian Lorentzen, 27 January 2020

Deborah Eisenberg​ spent the summer of 1963 at a school for labour organisers and civil rights activists in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. She was 17. ‘It was a proudly Klan...

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On Paul Muldoon

Clair Wills, 27 January 2020

Paul​ Muldoon enjoys leading his reader astray. On that the critics agree. I have been looking back at reviews of his work over the years. It is remarkable how often people quote from an early...

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C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill, 13 January 2020

In​ 2000 Christopher Sansom took a year off from his job as a solicitor to write a novel: it had occurred to him that the dissolution of the monasteries might make a good backdrop to a murder...

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Michael Wood, 22 December 2019

‘What is​ a ghost?’ Stephen Dedalus asks in Ulysses, and promptly answers his own question. ‘One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change...

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'The Pillow Book'

Rivka Galchen, 22 December 2019

The​ Pillow Book was written in Japan more than a thousand years ago. Little is known about its author, Sei Shonagon, save for what can be deduced from the text itself. In 993, when she was in...

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Deborah Levy

Lidija Haas, 22 December 2019

The​ world according to Deborah Levy is like an emotionally charged dream or joke. A man accepts soup from an elderly neighbour and retches, catlike, on a mouthful of grey hair. People walk...

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Helen Phillips

Adam Mars-Jones, 22 December 2019

Helen​ Phillips’s disconcerting new novel starts on a note of thrillerish urgency. Molly, at home alone with her small children, hears footsteps in the other room. She clasps them to her,...

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Short Cuts: ‘Little Women’ Redux

Joanna Biggs, 22 December 2019

I envy girls their literature. There’s no literature about getting old, staying in (or leaving) a marriage, raising (or not raising) children comparable with that about growing up.

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John Williams Made it Work

Christopher Tayler, 9 December 2019

He didn’t remake the world in prose again. He tinkered with a couple of abortive projects, but mostly he enjoyed Nancy’s company, grew tomatoes and drank.

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‘Lost Girls’

Ysenda Maxtone Graham, 9 December 2019

Rather​ D.J. Taylor than me, when it comes to untangling the unbelievably complicated and messy love lives of the so-called Horizon circle: the people who clustered adoringly around Cyril...

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Omitted from ‘Innocence’

Penelope Fitzgerald, 9 December 2019

‘It was supposed to end in the flood in Florence in 1966,’ she wrote to Stuart Proffitt, her editor at Collins, ‘but I gave up as all the characters would have got so old by that time.’

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Edna O’Brien’s ‘Girl’

Patricia Lockwood, 25 November 2019

‘Hold on a minute,’ I said, when her latest novel arrived in the mail, ‘this book is about Boko Haram???’

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'I'm a narcissist and so is Ben Lerner'

Joanna Biggs, 25 November 2019

The Topeka School (think New York School, or don’t) is more than a confession, an excuse, a romp, a holiday; it uses what has come from Lerner’s earlier experiments in autofiction –...

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On Douglas Crase

Matthew Bevis, 25 November 2019

‘The most interesting book of first poems in many years’, Richard Howard proclaimed in 1981. James Merrill, John Hollander and John Ashbery spoke in similarly emphatic terms, while...

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What’s most unusual about Ducks, Newburyport isn’t its length but the sustained attention it pays to the details of domestic life that usually go unwritten. That its maximalism feels like a...

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Harold Bloom

Colin Burrow, 19 November 2019

Harold​ Bloom, who died at the age of 89 just before the publication of The American Canon, made his name in 1973 with The Anxiety of Influence. It was a great title, which soon became a...

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