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French Air

John Sutherland, 12 November 1987

The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Miriam Kochan.
Berg, 307 pp., £18, November 1986, 0 907582 47 8
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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by John Woods.
Penguin, 263 pp., £3.95, September 1987, 0 14 009244 7
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The Double Bass 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 57 pp., £8.95, September 1987, 9780241120392
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... He had his wife handle certain coke bottles in an empty six-pack while he was out of the room for a couple of minutes. Detection proved too easy: ‘As soon as you put the bottle near your face, you could smell it was dampish and warmer.’ So he had Mrs Feynman take down a book and replace it on the shelf: I came in – and nothing to it! It was ...

Coup de Guinness

Robert Morley, 5 December 1985

Blessings in Disguise 
by Alec Guinness.
Hamish Hamilton, 238 pp., £9.95, October 1985, 0 241 11681 3
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... a fiver. On one occasion, Guinness came home on leave to find Mother Courage had burgled his one-room flat and left a neat docket of pawn tickets on the mantelpiece. Readers of Blessings in Disguise may sometimes feel that the book is Hamlet without the Prince, but the publishers are at pains to point out that this is not ‘the exercise in egomania purveyed ...

Palpitating Stones

Roger Scruton, 3 April 1997

The Dancing Column: On Order in Architecture 
by Joseph Rykwert.
MIT, 598 pp., £49.95, May 1996, 0 262 18170 3
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... literature on this all-important topic – Sir William Chambers’s Architecture, for instance, or Adrian Stokes’s Stones of Rimini – does not feature among Rykwert’s two thousand volumes, and even Ruskin (who, for all his impetuous dismissal of the Greek and Roman styles, showed more understanding of their point than most of their defenders) is ...

Holy Terrors

Penelope Fitzgerald, 4 December 1986

‘Elizabeth’: The Author of ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’ 
by Karen Usborne.
Bodley Head, 341 pp., £15, October 1986, 0 370 30887 5
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Alison Uttley: The Life of a Country Child 
by Denis Judd.
Joseph, 264 pp., £15.95, October 1986, 0 7181 2449 9
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Richmal Crompton: The Woman behind William 
by Mary Cadogan.
Allen and Unwin, 169 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 04 928054 6
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... three children in three years – Henning only had to sneeze, she said, on the far side of the room for her to become pregnant – and endured the correct society of Berlin. Then she was transferred ninety miles away to Nasserheide, the Count’s vast derelict estate in Pomerania. It was there, during the blissful months of his absence on business, that ...

Topping Entertainment

Frank Kermode: Britten, 28 January 2010

Journeying Boy: The Diaries of the Young Benjamin Britten 
edited by John Evans.
Faber, 576 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 571 23883 5
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... at Gresham’s he is said to have spent as much time in the nets and at ping pong as in the music room playing piano duets, trios and quartets with his fortunate fellow pupils. He was also quite often sick, being especially vulnerable to ‘beastly colds’. About music Britten had, from very early days, strong opinions, to which the privacy of the diary ...

A Cosmos Indoors

Andrew O’Hagan: My Kingdom for a Mint Cracknel, 21 April 2022

Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects 
edited by Barbara Penner, Adrian Forty, Olivia Horsfall Turner and Miranda Critchley.
Reaktion, 390 pp., £23.99, October 2021, 978 1 78914 452 9
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... hear the magic repeated,’ Deyan Sudjic writes – and I wish I had a serving hatch in my sitting room because then I’d feel properly middle class. Only yesterday, I debated with myself whether to buy a telephone table and set it up in the hall with a red telephone, like the one we had in 1977, the one that never rang until one day it did. My mother had got ...

Lost in the Void

Jonathan Littell: In Ciudad Juárez, 7 June 2012

... sicario, currently in hiding in the US, testifies anonymously in the documentary El Sicario: Room 164 that at the height of the conflict he had no idea which camp he was working for: he killed the people his superiors told him to kill, including his own comrades, without the faintest idea why or on whose ultimate behalf. As for the federales, it might be ...


Ben Mauk: Prisons in the Mountains, 26 September 2019

... persons [who] can go back to normal life,’ the Chinese ambassador to the US said last November. Adrian Zenz, who by examining government documents has uncovered much about the logistics of Xinjiang’s ‘Strike Hard’ campaign, as well as the thinking behind it, believes that the internment drive has swept up as many as 1.5 million people, one in six of ...

Beyond the Cringe

John Barrell: British Art, 2 June 2016

Art in Britain 1660-1815 
by David Solkin.
Yale, 367 pp., £55, October 2015, 978 0 300 21556 4
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... a ‘parade of individual “great” male artists or canonical masterpieces’. There can be no room in such a project for artists such as Anthony Devis, adjudged by Waterhouse to be ‘an altogether minor person’; or those whom it is ‘sufficient to mention’ but unnecessary to discuss; or the numerous and nameless ‘journeymen hacks’ who ‘cannot ...

The Last Georgian

John Bayley, 13 June 1991

Edmund Blunden: A Biography 
by Barry Webb.
Yale, 360 pp., £18.50, December 1990, 0 300 04634 0
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... he suffers from anthologies, and his poetry is best browsed through. He made great friends with Adrian Bell, the country novelist who wrote Corduroy and became the first compiler of the Times crossword. Bell had a sharp but kindly eye for the Blunden ethos and personality, remarking that there was ‘something about the little man that made every woman who ...

Into the Eisenshpritz

Elif Batuman: Superheroes, 10 April 2008

Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories 
by Will Eisner.
Norton, 493 pp., £18.99, November 2007, 978 0 393 06107 9
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by David B..
Cape, 368 pp., £12.99, March 2006, 0 224 07920 4
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by Adrian Tomine.
Faber, 108 pp., £12.99, September 2007, 978 0 571 23329 8
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Misery Loves Comedy 
by Ivan Brunetti.
Fantagraphics, 172 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 1 56097 792 6
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... and they came out in an intoxicatingly uniform jumble, as if you were looking into the prop room of someone’s subconscious theatre. As the Cubists transformed all people and things into multifaceted geometrical solids, Crumb transformed all people and things into bulbous, anxious masses. Everything appears to have been electrocuted: the people, the ...

Musical Chairs with Ribbentrop

Bee Wilson: Nancy Astor, 20 December 2012

Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor 
by Adrian Fort.
Cape, 378 pp., £25, October 2012, 978 0 224 09016 2
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... instead a deep hatred and suspicion of the Russians on the one hand and the French on the other. Adrian Fort, in his new biography, argues persuasively that ‘on European matters a paramount influence upon Nancy seemed to be an aversion to the French’ and to ‘Latins in general’. As for the idea that she was organising conspiracies at Cliveden, Nancy ...

A New Twist in the Long Tradition of the Grotesque

Marina Warner: The monstrousness of Britart, 13 April 2000

High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s 
by Julian Stallabrass.
Verso, 342 pp., £22, December 1999, 1 85984 721 8
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This is Modern Art 
by Matthew Collings.
Weidenfeld, 270 pp., £20, June 1999, 0 297 84292 7
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... Stein, in Alice B. Toklas mode, fauxnaive and paratactic, artless and kooky, the godmother of Adrian Mole. But his favourite art critic, as he admits in It Hurts, his book about the New York art scene, is Clement Greenberg, and he can suddenly throw out a shrewd, decisive insight in the master’s best manner. His claims on art’s behalf are modest and ...

Ivy’s Feelings

Gabriele Annan, 1 March 1984

The Exile: A Life of Ivy Litvinov 
by John Carswell.
Faber, 216 pp., £10.95, November 1983, 0 571 13135 2
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... Once out of Russia, he followed Lenin across Europe and caught up with him in the Reading Room of the British Museum. In spite of the venue, he was not an intellectual but an organiser and fixer: he managed and distributed illicit publications and handled hot Russian money to fund the revolution. Ivy did occasional typing for him, and soon they were ...

Something Rather Scandalous

Jean McNicol: The Loves of Rupert Brooke, 20 October 2016

Rupert Brooke: Life, Death and Myth 
by Nigel Jones.
Head of Zeus, 588 pp., £12, April 2015, 978 1 78185 703 8
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Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke 
by Paul Delany.
McGill-Queen’s, 380 pp., £28.99, March 2015, 978 0 7735 4557 1
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The Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner 
by Lorna C. Beckett.
British Library, 216 pp., £16.99, April 2015, 978 0 7123 5792 0
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... enjoyed the secrecy and the exclusivity of the Apostles and, like the eponymous hero of Jacob’s Room, who is partly based on him, he was still more at ease with ‘male society, cloistered rooms, and the works of the classics’. He also joined the Fabians, encouraged by Hugh Dalton, the postwar Labour chancellor. He took it seriously, did a lot of ...

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