Pull off my head: What a Bear Wants

Patricia Lockwood, 12 August 2021

Here is what it is: no force on earth will keep a writer’s preoccupations out of their fiction. You are not necessarily looking for them, but you find them every time. There you are in your octagon,...

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Utterly Oyster: Fergie-alike

Andrew O’Hagan, 12 August 2021

To write a book for money is a forgivable exercise – Fergie, from a certain viewpoint, has never done anything in her life that wasn’t for money – but the chief horror of her book is...

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Claire-Louise Bennett doesn’t specify the kinds of stories that women might be desperate to cast off, but she doesn’t need to. Relationships, career, children, ‘creativity’. Whether...

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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...

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Barbara Pym’s comedies are disenchanted romances. Her spinsters often marry but do so with their eyes open. Men, they realise, are best treated as children – helpless and often peevish. Eligible...

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Writing from ‘an artificial paradise it is Hell to get into’, John Wieners channelled Baudelaire and aimed to ‘be the new Rimbaud, and not die at 37 but set the record straight’....

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This happens every day: On Paul Celan

Michael Wood, 29 July 2021

German language, Celan often said, was his mother’s tongue and the tongue of her murderers (‘Muttersprache und Mördersprache’). Writing poetry in German was for him both an act of...

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And where is Katharina? At her trial, the prosecution argues that there are evils and evils: complicated, faraway evils, such as war, which no municipal ruling can fix, and local, finite evils, such as...

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The Terrifying Vrooom: Empsonising

Colin Burrow, 15 July 2021

Reading an Empson essay is like being taken for a drive by an eccentric uncle in a terrifyingly powerful old banger. There are disturbing stains on the upholstery and an alarming whiff of whisky in the...

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On the Interface: M. John Harrison

Nick Richardson, 15 July 2021

Whether he’s writing about holographic sex shows, or drywall and oven gloves, M. John Harrison is a psychological novelist whose fascination with trauma, repression and memory remains constant throughout...

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Is there a moral here about the futility of self-willed ‘identity’? Or is it a cautionary tale about the religion of achievement? Was Rich afraid that her deepest identity, that of a poet,...

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There’s always an audience if you’re someone with a smartphone, a social media influencer or just paranoid. But the lack of connection is not only a problem of address, but of artifice. Is...

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Seven Centuries Too Late: Popes in Hell

Barbara Newman, 15 July 2021

It would be a pusillanimous reader who could not respond to the appeal of a cosmos so complete in every detail, arrayed in such minute and magnificent order, and peopled with such wondrous creatures, from...

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Pure, Fucking Profit: ‘Assembly’

Joanna Biggs, 15 July 2021

Assembly takes a character who seems to have the best our society has to offer young women in the early 21st century – no surprise: it’s still money, status and love – and shows us why...

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I am struck by her loneliness. She wanted to merge with the masses, to be anonymous and unobtrusive – a worker, a farmhand, a trade unionist, a soldier – one among many, working and fighting...

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Christina Rossetti’s poems dwell on those who are unable to play. Lives are ‘void and brief/And tedious in the barren dusk’ or have been misspent and regretted. Souls are unreachable...

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What you get from David Storey’s memoir is a sense of the difficulty of the journey. He wanted to write about his own people and to place himself among them, and to go from there, and take them with...

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Jhumpa Lahiri seems most assured in tight spaces. But although she often speaks of her desire for control, she acknowledges its unattainability. There’s a certain thrill in losing control, or in...

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