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Junk Mail

Jeremy Harding, 23 September 1993

The Letters of William Burroughs, 1949-1959 
edited by Oliver Harris.
Picador, 472 pp., £17.50, August 1993, 0 330 33074 8
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... If a certain stoicism was required to get through William Burroughs’s disgusting novel, Naked Lunch, there are fewer problems with his mail. Indeed, the only danger is over-indulgence, for this stuff slides easily off the end of the fork. The letters here were written between 1945 and 1959. They begin with Burroughs at his family home in St Louis, from which he moves smartly through a series of addresses in the US ...

I do like painting

Julian Bell: The life and art of William Coldstream, 2 December 2004

William Coldstream 
by Bruce Laughton.
Yale, 368 pp., £30, July 2004, 0 300 10243 7
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... just stood around, uncertain of what to do next … It sort of petered out.’ Bruce Laughton’s William Coldstream is an attempt, 17 years on, to gather up the tatters of a wake held at University College London. The unnamed participant touches on a more general diffidence about how to remember or appraise ...

In the Turner Gallery

Peter Campbell: Coleridge’s Note-Taking, 26 February 2009

... In the first volume of his Coleridge biography, Richard Holmes describes Coleridge and Dorothy and William Wordsworth working ‘like plein-air painters, taking elaborate notes on the varied effects of light on the landscape, of plants and water, of wind and cloud and starlight’. They were under surveillance, suspected of Jacobin sympathies ...

At the British Library

Peter Campbell: The lie of the land, 20 September 2001

... is set out, town by town, guided Jew and Gypsy-hunters to the places where potential concentration camp victims were thickest. Made with similar efficiency, earlier on, is the plan of Nuremberg which shows how contingents to a mighty 1939 Nazi rally would make their way to the stadium. In a colour key to a series of maps of German towns made in the 1940s for ...

Prussian Chic

James Sheehan: Frederick the Great, 28 July 2016

Frederick the Great: King of Prussia 
by Tim Blanning.
Allen Lane, 648 pp., £30, September 2015, 978 1 84614 182 9
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... have been more surprised at Frederick’s posthumous reputation than his father, King Frederick William I (1713-40). The Hohenzollern dynasty was unusually lucky; for almost three centuries, they managed to produce relatively healthy, relatively sane males, who all lived long enough to avoid the struggles for succession of so many of Europe’s ruling ...

All the Cultural Bases

Ian Sansom, 20 March 1997

Moon Country: Further Reports from Iceland 
by Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell.
Faber, 160 pp., £7.99, November 1996, 0 571 17539 2
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... to Lord Byron’, but also a number of other putative letters (to Richard Crossman and William Coldstream, for instance), MacNeice’s ‘Eclogue from Iceland’, the famously camp prose-piece ‘Hetty to Nancy’, and the joint-authored ‘Last Will and Testament’. According to Auden, MacNeice wrote about ...

The Man Who Stood Behind the Man Who Won the War

E.H.H. Green: Andrew Bonar Law, 16 September 1999

Bonar Law 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 458 pp., £25, April 1999, 0 7195 5422 5
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... by warfare within his own ranks and confronted by a broad alliance of political opponents. Can William Hague draw any comfort from the experience of his similarly beleaguered predecessor Andrew Bonar Law, a scarcely visible figure in the pantheon of Tory leaders? What is best known about him is that he is ‘unknown’. Lord Blake’s celebrated ...

Oh for the oo tray

William Feaver: Edward Burra, 13 December 2007

Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye 
by Jane Stevenson.
Cape, 496 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 224 07875 7
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... now shes croaked.’ Stevenson talks of Burra’s ‘habitual facetiousness’ and ‘camp irony’ in times of grief or pain. When things became too much he carried on behind screeds of banter. The letters, even those to his closest friends, Chappell, a ballet dancer, and Barbara Ker-Seymer, a photographer and launderette owner, rarely confide ...

Who am I prepared to kill?

William Davies: The Politics of Like and Dislike, 30 July 2020

... to cultural camps that we had no hand in designing, and whose main virtue is that the other camp is even worse. One stupid position (‘You can’t judge the past by the standards of the present!’) presumes its only marginally less stupid opponent (‘We must judge the past by the standards of the present!’). This turns an opportunity to address the ...

Rising Moon

R.W. Johnson, 18 December 1986

L’Empire Moon 
by Jean-Francois Boyer.
La Découverte, 419 pp., August 1986, 2 7071 1604 1
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The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection 
by Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead.
Sheridan Square, 255 pp., $19.95, May 1986, 0 940380 07 2
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... the new Communist authorities, leading to further imprisonment and torture in a ‘re-education’ camp. Moon was certainly interned for a year but Korean Christian researchers claim to have established that actually he had contracted a bigamous marriage, asserting that God had authorised him to do so. History, once again, violently intervened: the Korean War ...

Terrible to be alive

Julian Symons, 5 December 1991

Randall Jarrell: A Literary Life 
by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 335 pp., $25, April 1990, 0 374 24677 7
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Randall Jarrell: Selected Poems 
edited by William Pritchard.
Farrar, Straus, 115 pp., $17.95, April 1990, 0 374 25867 8
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... famous names here, Jarrell’s not one to set beside them. Even in his own country, his biographer William Pritchard says, his reputation ‘is not nearly so firm and pre-eminent as I think it deserves to be’. This biography and a selection from the poems (a severe weeding, no more than a fifth surviving) are meant to put that right. Pritchard’s book is ...

Like a boll weevil to a cotton bud

A. Craig Copetas, 18 November 1993

New York Days 
by Willie Morris.
Little, Brown, 400 pp., £19.45, September 1993, 0 316 58421 5
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... houses. We have not the time to laugh at this speculation because dinner is announced, and William Faulkner is seated next to Candy author Terry Southern. Willie Morris, of the Texas Observer and Harper’s Magazine by way of a place called Yazoo and a university named Oxford, is now listening. ‘Mr Bill,’ Southern whispers into Faulkner’s ...

Irishtown

D.A.N. Jones, 1 November 1984

Ironweed 
by William Kennedy.
Viking, 227 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 670 40176 5
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In Custody 
by Anita Desai.
Heinemann, 204 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 9780434186358
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Flaubert’s Parrot 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 190 pp., £8.50, October 1984, 0 241 11374 1
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... all in the literary-prize-winning league, tell us of areas with which we are probably unfamiliar. William Kennedy’s Ironweed is about Albany, capital of the State of New York. Julian Barnes writes about the France of Gustave Flaubert, as discussed in an irrational, pedantic manner by a British admirer of Flaubert’s work. Anita Desai, daughter of a German ...

Brocaded

Robert Macfarlane: The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher, 4 April 2002

The Mulberry Empire 
by Philip Hensher.
Flamingo, 560 pp., £17.99, April 2002, 0 00 711226 2
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... progress into Afghanistan, the ‘Army of the Indus’ comprised some 16,000 troops and 38,000 camp followers, as well as 30,000 camels and scores of elephants. The Army’s advance was accompanied by the skirling of fifes and the blare of brass bands, and from the arid plains of Afghanistan it raised a dust-cloud hundreds of feet high: it was a grand ...

Surely, Shirley

J. Robert Lennon: Ottessa Moshfegh, 21 January 2021

Death in Her Hands 
by Ottessa Moshfegh.
Cape, 259 pp., £14.99, August 2020, 978 1 78733 220 1
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... a purpose. The novel opens with Vesta Gul out for a walk near the disused lakeside Girl Scouts’ camp she has bought and retreated to in the wake of her husband’s death. She discovers, held fast to the forest path by stones, a handwritten note that reads: ‘Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead ...

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