Clair Wills

Clair Wills is the author of The Family Plot, a triptych of essays originally published in the LRB. Missing Persons, or My Grandmother’s Secrets is due in January.

Trapped with an Incubus: Shirley Hazzard

Clair Wills, 21 September 2023

Shirley Hazzard in 1957

Shirley Hazzard​ liked to tell the story of how she got to know Graham Greene. A rainy morning in the late 1960s, a café on the island of Capri. She was doing the Times crossword. Greene and his friend Michael Richey came in from Mass at the church across the square and she overheard them at a nearby table fumbling for a line of Robert Browning’s...

What might it mean​ for the way we think about abortion if we take seriously the problem of what fictional narrative – novels and stories and films – says about it, or doesn’t say, what it makes impossible to say? Can we tell stories about abortion that don’t get snagged on gendered assumptions about human nature and moral feeling, that think in different psychological terms, or not in psychological terms at all?

My experience of reading Either/Or has been that, whatever you may be thinking, Batuman is always three or four steps ahead of you, not only on gender politics, but on history (the war in Ukraine worms in, unbelievably), American imperialism, orientalist tourists, the very different ways in which Ivy League undergraduates and Turkish hostel workers get to be ‘special’ – you name it. And she may well be several steps ahead on this, too. Nonetheless.

Life Pushed Aside: The Last Asylums

Clair Wills, 18 November 2021

I am haunted by the figure of Rolanda Polonsky, walking through those hospital corridors. If my eight-year-old self had opened the doors that frightened me I might have found her, back then, exactly as she is now in the film I watch on my laptop. And it appears to me now that that’s why I was fearful: I didn’t want to hear the message she had for me. But she hovers like an uninvited guest from a half-remembered past – and she will not go away. What is it that she wants me to see that I do not want to see? What is it that she wants me to know? The ‘moral careers’ of Rolanda Polonsky and my mother were parallel to each other, and indeed dependent on each other. They both arrived at the hospital around the same time, and they both spent most of their adult lives inhabiting, and inhabited by, the institution. We were all walking those same corridors in the 1970s, but some of us came from the outside, and some were locked in. Polonsky was clearly ill, or had been, but by the 1970s part of her affliction was the hospital itself.

Claire-LouiseBennett is unpacking her library. Yes, she is. The books are not yet on the shelves. In fact, she doesn’t really have any shelves (she prefers to let the books pile up around her, a habit that gets her into trouble with at least one boorish lover). She has moved so often over the years that half her books are lost, having been packed into boxes and left in unremembered...

In​ 1964, shortly after getting married and landing the first research fellowship at the new Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham, Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born analyst of...

Read more reviews

In the Gasworks

David Wheatley, 18 May 2000

Marcel Aymé’s novel Le Passemuraille, about a man who can walk through walls, would have interested Thomas Caulfield Irwin (1823-92). Irwin is cited in Paul Muldoon’s To...

Read more reviews

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