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Dry Eyes

John Bayley, 5 December 1991

Jump and Other Stories 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £13.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1020 2
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Wilderness Tips 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 247 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 7475 1019 9
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... trouble is that a story can have nothing to add to such an event. Like Mérimée or Maupassant or Somerset Maugham, Nadine Gordimer seems most at home when no commentary is necessary: most of all when even an implicit ideology can be sidetracked. ‘A Find’ is about a man powerful and prosperous enough to have got through two designing wives, and who ...

Vicious Poke in the Eye

Theo Tait: Naipaul’s fury, 4 November 2004

Magic Seeds 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Picador, 294 pp., £16.99, September 2004, 0 330 48520 2
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... Willie Chandran asked his father one day: "Why is my middle name Somerset?”’ So begins Half a Life, the strange and chilling novel that V.S. Naipaul published in 2001 – thirty years or so after he first pronounced the novel a dying form. The story begins in the 1930s, in a South Indian princely state, where Willie’s father embarks on a half-hearted and dubious rebellion against the ‘servility’ he sees all around him: against the false security of the maharajah’s little state, against the pieties of his Brahmin family – ‘foolish, foreign-ruled starveling priests ...

Never the twain

Mark Amory, 4 March 1982

Evelyn Waugh, Writer 
by Robert Murray Davis.
Pilgrim Books, 342 pp., $20.95, May 1981, 0 937664 00 6
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... impasse. Never the twain shall meet.’ Not a new thought even thirty years ago, but, though we may run into one another occasionally in the corridors of the Humanity Research Center of the University of Texas (their territory), or share a train compartment on the way to Combe Florey (ours), it still holds good for those in the Waugh industry. The ...

Barriers of Silliness

J.I.M. Stewart, 1 July 1982

The Great Detectives: Seven Original Investigations 
by Julian Symons.
Orbis, 143 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 85613 362 0
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Critical Observations 
by Julian Symons.
Faber, 213 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 0 571 11688 4
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As I walked down New Grub Street: Memories of a Writing Life 
by Walter Allen.
Heinemann, 276 pp., £8.95, November 1981, 0 434 01829 5
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... The second investigation is called ‘About Miss Marple and St Mary Mead’ and is exactly that: we hear everything about this female sleuth and her village that can be derived from a careful sifting through the fairly numerous books that Agatha Christie wrote about her. The remaining pieces are all to some extent the same sort of thing, relying for the most ...

Tristram Rushdie

Pat Rogers, 15 September 1983

by Salman Rushdie.
Cape, 287 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 224 02952 5
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by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 233 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 241 11101 3
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Love and Glory 
by Melvyn Bragg.
Secker, 252 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 436 06716 1
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The Complete Knowledge of Sally Fry 
by Sylvia Murphy.
Gollancz, 172 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 575 03353 3
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... it’s as if Rushdie has performed the curious feat for an Indian of writing an Oriental tale. We move up and down the Indus valley, off to a frontier town that is and isn’t Quetta, with constant echoes of the Moghul empire, glimpses of Islam. An aging divine has visions of Mount Hira as he stumbles round the new capital (‘the biggest collection of ...

Last Words

John Bayley, 7 January 1988

The Collected Stories of Angus Wilson 
Secker, 414 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 436 57612 0Show More
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... shares Lawrence’s compulsive need to put his characters down. With Wilson as with Kipling we are all in the same boat – in fact, one of Kipling’s titles. Wilson marshals the inner life of his characters like a conductor encouraging an orchestra, and the composition is always superbly organised. He orchestrates human wickedness, his own ...

Azure Puddles

John Bayley, 21 May 1987

Compton Mackenzie: A Life 
by Andro Linklater.
Chatto, 384 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 7011 2583 7
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... in which he was brought up ... His career has been disappointing, but I would rather read him than Somerset Maugham.’ That is certainly shrewd, particularly the point that the novelist was ‘completely lacking in intensity and completely extroverted’. Wilson even thought of writing a full-scale appreciation of Mackenzie, though he never got around to ...

Beau Beverley

George Melly, 27 June 1991

Beverley Nichols 
by Bryan Connon.
Constable, 320 pp., £20, March 1991, 0 09 470570 4
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... crocodile tears. I didn’t read much post-war Nichols, although I couldn’t resist his attack on Somerset Maugham in 1966. I was, however, fairly easily persuaded to review this book – largely to find out if there was more to the prolific and once enormously popular Beverley than whimsical humour and rank sentimentality. What I read was a fascinating ...


Julian Barnes: Burning Letters, 7 July 1988

... jerk. It did the same the other week while I was reading the personal ads in Private Eye. In what we may as well call ‘the old days’ there used occasionally to be coded pleas from girls needing money for an abortion. Nowadays they’re advertising for everything, and requesting sums it’s less easy to unravel. In this issue of the Eye, for ...

Flying Colours

Nicholas Best, 17 April 1986

Lester: The Official Biography 
by Dick Francis.
Joseph, 338 pp., £12.95, March 1986, 0 7181 1255 5
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Born Lucky 
by John Francome.
Pelham, 157 pp., £9.95, November 1985, 0 7207 1635 7
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... the only serious one, actually – is that it doesn’t tell us a great deal about Piggott that we didn’t already know. The deafness, the happy childhood, the wartime austerity of his formative years, the impeccable racing pedigree stretching back to the early 19th century, the superb judgment of horseflesh and anything to do with horses – all this is ...
Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of ‘Horizon’ 
by Michael Shelden.
Hamish Hamilton, 254 pp., £15.95, February 1989, 0 241 12647 9
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Coastwise Lights 
by Alan Ross.
Collins Harvill, 254 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 00 271767 0
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William Plomer 
by Peter Alexander.
Oxford, 397 pp., £25, March 1989, 0 19 212243 6
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... suffered from none of the social anxieties that tormented would-be insiders like Hugh Walpole and Somerset Maugham. Adroit, a natural survivor, he used a degree of bisexuality both socially and in his writing. Sado, an impressionistic novel set in Japan, has a hero who is deeply involved both with a young male student and a European woman. The power of ...

Fit only to be a greengrocer

E.S. Turner, 23 September 1993

Rider Haggard and the Lost Empire 
by Tom Pocock.
Weidenfeld, 264 pp., £20, August 1993, 0 297 81308 0
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... out. Almost at once they were called home. War brings rare excitement for writers of bestsellers. Somerset Maugham dabbled in spying, in Switzerland and Russia; Compton Mackenzie became director of the Aegean Intelligence Service; Hugh Walpole ran the Anglo-Russian Propaganda Bureau in revolutionary Petrograd; A.E.W. Mason, who had been a Liberal MP, was ...

The Inner Lives of Quiet Women

Joanna Kavenna, 21 September 2000

May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian 
by Suzanne Raitt.
Oxford, 307 pp., £19.99, April 2001, 0 19 812298 5
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... With the decline of religious faith, we drift, so it’s said, on the current, clinging to the raft of materialism. The last flickers of collective spiritual belief were doused by the technological advances and grotesque warfare of the early years of the 20th century. Which led, the argument runs, to the mimesis-warping nihilism of Dada and the Vorticists, the semiotic anarchies of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein ...

Noddy is on page 248

Jay Griffiths: On the streets, 10 June 1999

The Penguin Book of 20th-Century Protest 
edited by Brian MacArthur.
Penguin, 440 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 670 87052 8
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DIY Culture: Party and Protest in Nineties Britain 
edited by George McKay.
Verso, 310 pp., £11, July 1998, 1 85984 260 7
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... People must not do things for fun,’ joked A.P. Herbert. ‘We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any Act of Parliament.’ From its grey, drizzly cover to its century-long plod of standard-length excerpts, Brian MacArthur’s anthology leaves you in no doubt: there’s precious little fun to be had protesting ...

Dressed in Blue Light

Amy Larocca: Gypsy Rose Lee, 11 March 2010

Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee 
by Noralee Frankel.
Oxford, 300 pp., £12.99, June 2009, 978 0 19 536803 1
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Gypsy: The Art of the Tease 
by Rachel Shteir.
Yale, 222 pp., £12.99, March 2009, 978 0 300 12040 0
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... presented its far-flung possibilities and a casual, indifferent, mischievous striptease. Although we claim – more than ever of late – to crave the star who bares it all, we long for the mystery that Gypsy provided.’ Anyone who saw the famous ‘cellulite’ episode of the Keeping Up with the Kardashians – during ...

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