Jonathan Raban

Jonathan Raban was the author of many books, of fiction, criticism, memoir, reporting and travel writing. He died on 17 January 2023. Father and Son, some of which first appeared as pieces in the LRB, will be published in the autumn.

War is noise: Letters from My Father

Jonathan Raban, 17 December 2020

Anzio​ is about 120 nautical miles from Salerno, on the west coast of Italy, and in January 1944 a convoy of 374 Allied ships took 25 hours to get there, at an average speed of barely five knots. They crawled towards their destination, trying to make as little giveaway whitewater wake as possible, and allowing for the blunt, roll-on, roll-off bows of so many of their number. They were lucky...

Belt, Boots and Spurs: Dunkirk, 1940

Jonathan Raban, 5 October 2017

Trying to keep track of my father and his troop as they move through this momentous sequence of events is like trying to keep one’s eyes on a single small fish in a vast migrating shoal of pilchards. Now you see it, now you don’t, and you never will again. Other people were watching him far more closely than I possibly can, and they noticed that he was cool under fire, shouldered responsibility when responsibility was thrust on him, spoke like a gentleman, and could play a decent hand at bridge. He was earmarked for early promotion.

Granny in the Doorway: Sheringham, 1945

Jonathan Raban, 17 August 2017

Sheringham in the early summer of 1945 was trying to return to normal life as a fishing village and genteel holiday resort. Along the beach, the rusting coils of barbed wire, wooden stakes and concrete blocks were mostly cleared, and the anti-tank ditches were being filled in. Snipers’ pillboxes and signs warning of unexploded mines remained, and so did the now-fading self-importance that comes to a place taught to think of itself as being on the front line of imminent invasion.

Cameron’s Crank: ‘Red Tory’

Jonathan Raban, 22 April 2010

I suppose everyone has a duty to plough through Red Tory. Blond writes a kind of polytechnic prose in which the various jargons of philosophy, sociology, economics and theology are churned together as in a concrete mixer. His method of argument is to connect strings of unrelated assertions with the words ‘thus’ and ‘then’ and ‘hence’.

From The Blog
12 April 2010

I just got off the phone with a helpful guy called Fernando from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The local bank where I have a chunk of my savings on deposit is in deep trouble and liable to be closed any day now, and I was concerned that my status in the US, as a permanent resident but not a citizen, might disqualify me from FDIC coverage. No problem, Fernando said. Everybody’s covered – immigrants, legal and otherwise, foreigners, citizens, whatever. An account with a single name on it is insured for up to $250,000, but as you add more names (of partners, family members, trusted friends) to the account, the greater the number of $250,000 tranches are protected.

Your life depends on it: Jonathan Raban

Thomas Jones, 19 October 2006

Jonathan Raban’s first work of fiction, Foreign Land, was published in 1985; his second, Waxwings, in 2003; Surveillance is his third. A gap of almost twenty years, and then two novels in fairly...

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When the hero of Jonathan Raban’s new novel is scolded for living in a world of his ‘own construction’, the implied rebuke falls flat: this, for Raban, is the whole point of...

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Funny Water: Raban at Sea

Frank Kermode, 20 January 2000

Jonathan Raban is afraid of the sea, saying it is not his element, which is probably why he spends so much time on it. He does not claim to be a world-class sailor, though he is obviously a...

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When Dad Came Out Here

Stephen Fender, 12 December 1996

‘I am not a travel writer,’ Jonathan Raban said in a recent interview. ‘For me, “travel writer” means someone who samples other people’s holidays – you...

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Some More Sea

Patrick O’Brian, 10 September 1992

The last few years​ have been rich in Oxford Books, and I have read three of them: 18th-Century Verse and 18th-Century Women Poets, both edited with great skill and...

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Thank God for John Rayburn

Mark Ford, 24 January 1991

‘Travelling,’ Jonathan Raban once remarked, ‘is inherently a plotless, disordered, chaotic affair, where writing insists on connection, order, plot, signification.’ Even...

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Tracts for the Times

Karl Miller, 17 August 1989

There can’t be all that many people who are willing, in the presence of others, to call themselves intellectuals. There may even be those for whom intellectuals are a fiction, like fairies....

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Out of the jiffybag

Frank Kermode, 12 November 1987

Here begins a review of two books which are largely collections of reviews, and some readers, reviewing it, are sure to ask whether this flea-on-flea process is desirable or even tolerable. My...

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Gentlemen Travellers

Denis Donoghue, 18 December 1986

‘I am assuming,’ Paul Fussell said in Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars (1980), ‘that travel is now impossible and that tourism is all we have left.’ To...

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Costa del Pym

Nicholas Spice, 4 July 1985

In a letter to Robert Liddell dated 12 January 1940, Barbara Pym speaks well of her progress on a new novel, Crampton Hodnet, which she finished later that year, but which has only now surfaced...

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Gentlemen Travellers

D.A.N. Jones, 15 September 1983

The cool, courteous Alexander Kinglake and the hot, contentious George Borrow are two of the best-liked and most influential travel writers of the 19th century. They were contemporaries for much...

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An American Romance

Edward Mendelson, 18 February 1982

Old Glory – the book written by Jonathan Raban – is an altogether different book from the Old Glory that was praised in the reviews, but it is no less wonderful for that. The book the...

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