Daniel Eilon

Daniel Eilon is completing a PhD on Swift at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

Unnecessary People

Daniel Eilon, 3 May 1984

Two original and accomplished works by Alasdair Gray, self-styled ‘Caledonian promover of intelligible sapience’, are published this month. Unlikely Stories, Mostly is copiously illustrated in a style which sometimes descends to coy greeting-card formalism – inanely grinning dogs, twinkling stars, nymphs with perfectly rounded breasts and perfectly circular nipples, muscular workers, a conquistador complete with Spanish moustache, an eastern scene composed of pointy pagodas. Prospective readers should not be daunted; Gray’s prose is seldom crass. Some of Gray’s experiments are daring gambles: in one story he choreographs four parallel texts on the page (edited from the lucubrations of the great and good Sir Thomas Urquhart, a fellow Scottish patriot and eccentric genius), prints the vowels and consonants of a passage on separate pages, and interrupts the text with blank sections (where the manuscript was supposedly nibbled by mice). Not all of Gray’s literary adventures are as successful as these; indeed, the editorial rodents should not have released this book from their clutches until it was seventy pages shorter. The first seven stories are pleasant and amusing enough, and are doubtless included to indicate the range of Gray’s imaginative talent. However, compared to the five central interlinked stories which take up the bulk and constitute the real achievement of this work, these minor excursions are negligible. The last two texts in particular, labelled as ‘likely stories’ and each five lines long, posit a tawdry domestic realism (within symmetrical pre and post-marital situations) as a bathetic contrast to the ‘unlikely’ fictions of the rest of the book. The gnomic closure of these scraps is pretentious, and their cynicism is trivial.–



1 December 1983

SIR: Lora Weinroth’s fatuous accusation against Christopher Ricks (Letters, 19 January) is the kind of excess that brings the venerable discipline of Jewish paranoia into disrepute. Ricks’s honest reply (gallantly suppressing embarrassment) proves that his critic’s fears are entirely misplaced. There is plenty of genuine bigotry around, by no means exclusively anti-semitic in character. A keen...

British Pluck

4 November 1982

SIR: A shame that our worthy Anglophile Joseph Ginsburg (Letters, 10 January) should have been deceived by A.J.P. Taylor’s legerdemain. Under the guise of suspending all comment on all matters connected with Israel or the Jews (for fear of retribution: LRB, Vol. 4, No 20), Taylor is of course saying a great deal. He is saying that he considers the Jews to be a neurotic people, incapable of accepting...

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