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At the Amsterdam

Steven Shapin: A Wakefull and Civill Drink, 20 April 2006

The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffee House 
by Brian Cowan.
Yale, 364 pp., £25, January 2006, 0 300 10666 1
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Coffee House: A Cultural History 
by Markman Ellis.
Phoenix, 304 pp., £8.99, November 2005, 0 7538 1898 1
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... on a tide of caffeine, the subject is too important to be left to historians of food and drink. Brian Cowan is a political and social historian, but The Social Life of Coffee is systematically sceptical about Habermas’s claims. True, Charles II made a serious – if ultimately unsuccessful – attempt to suppress coffee houses towards the end of 1675, and ...

Who is Stewart Home?

Iain Sinclair, 23 June 1994

... Aline of brightly painted stone cottages, out there at the end of the world, beyond Allihies in West Cork. The cottages have been extensively tampered with, knocked through, until they form a single unit, set square to the prevailing on-shore winds. The occupier, New York-born to a childhood in John Cheever commuting country, now reinvented as a Vietnam-vintage Irish citizen, removes all the offending oil paintings from the wall: jewelled landscapes in oil; lively, naive renderings of the headland on which the cottages have been built ...

An Octopus at the Window

Terry Eagleton: Dermot Healy, 19 May 2011

Long Time, No See 
by Dermot Healy.
Faber, 438 pp., £12.99, April 2011, 978 0 571 21074 9
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... Great Famine became morbid nostalgia. One of the half-dozen best Irish plays of the 20th century, Brian Friel’s Translations, evoked a few well-bred sneers from the Dublin literati for being set in 19th-century Irish-speaking Donegal. The play also takes the odd swipe at the British, which in liberal middle-class Irish circles is equivalent to cavorting ...

Is Quebec Crying Wolfe?

Peter Clarke and Maria Tippett, 22 December 1994

... Canadian bank and insurance company had to have its head office there. But some of these imposing stone buildings are now to let. Montreal’s relative decline (and Toronto’s rise) has been accelerated during the last generation by an exodus of increasingly apprehensive Anglophone institutions. Political uncertainty has hastened the flight of ...
... But the words were said by Barry Humphries in the persona of the ruminating convalescent Sandy Stone, and in the Australian context they are not surreal. They are real. Every Australian, even if he lives in Sydney’s Point Piper or Melbourne’s Toorak, has at some time or other found snails in the letterbox. When you step outside on a dark and dewy ...

A life, surely?

Jenny Diski: To Portobello on Angel Dust, 18 February 1999

The Ossie Clark Diaries 
edited by Henrietta Rous.
Bloomsbury, 402 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 7475 3901 4
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... informative when we are given a living context for the artefacts. The most exquisitely chipped stone arrowhead is better appreciated if we know something of the life of its maker. The always perceptive reader of the London Review of Books will have detected desperation in the preceding attempt to justify this review of a spoilt, petulant anti-semite whose ...

Sweaney Peregraine

Paul Muldoon, 1 November 1984

Station Island 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 123 pp., £5.95, October 1984, 0 571 13301 0
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Sweeney Astray: A Version 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 85 pp., £6.95, October 1984, 0 571 13360 6
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by Craig Raine.
Faber, 109 pp., £5.95, September 1984, 0 571 13215 4
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... reflection.As if the cairnstone could defy the cairn.As if the eddy could reform the pool.As if a stone swirled under a cascade,Eroded and eroding in its bed,Could grind itself down to a different core.Then I thought of the tribe whose dances never failFor they keep dancing till they sight the deer.The ‘Station Island’ sequence forms the middle section of ...

Working Underground

Joe Kenyon, 27 November 1997

... with some time stoppages if the weighman thought the tub was on the heavy side and that a bit of stone had been added.In addition to what we could earn by the ton, we were paid a graduated rate for tramming, depending on the distance. For the first 40 yards, we got nothing. For the next 25 yards we were paid a penny a tub, and then for every 30 yards an ...
Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 783 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7011 3701 0
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... States, and, post-Lolita, in Montreux. Disposing of Andrew Field, his predecessor in the field, Brian Boyd cites his insolent, perfunctory response to one of Nabokov’s factual corrections. Told an event had taken place in July and not on ‘a wet autumnal day’, Field emended the phrase to ‘a wet autumnal day in July’ – a covert imputation and ...

Icicles by Cynthia

Clarence Brown, 21 March 1996

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov.
Knopf, 659 pp., $35, October 1995, 0 394 58615 8
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... mortels.’ To believe that one’s soul dies is just as delusional as to believe that one is God. Brian Boyd, in his splendid two-volume biography, links this story with another, ‘Signs and Symbols’, written in 1948. An aged couple try to visit their hopelessly insane son in an asylum to give him a birthday present, but he has attempted suicide for the ...

Easter Island Revisited

Tam Dalyell, 27 June 1991

A Green History of the World 
by Clive Ponting.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 352 pp., £16.95, May 1991, 1 85619 050 1
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... the first time. During 11 long days at the Old Bailey, luck was with us. Ponting’s solicitor, Brian Raymond, was resourceful. Merlyn Rees agreed to be a witness, and most effective he was. The jury was taken aback when Mr Heseltine’s Civil Service Private Secretary, Richard Mottram, casually revealed, to the incredulity of Ponting’s counsel and the ...

At Home in the Huntington

John Sutherland: The Isherwood Archive, 10 June 1999

... about faith-healing, it was turned down by the studios for whom it was written. The actress Sharon Stone had acquired the property, which she claimed to have discovered by her own ‘detective work’: in fact, ‘Jacob’s Hands’ had been known about at least since Brian Finney’s 1979 biography. Film rights were sold ...


Frank Kermode, 24 July 1986

The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 208 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 224 02385 3
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... fine. This is where you feel slightly homosexual and left-wing if you don’t weigh twenty-five stone.’ Reagan is greeted with laughter, applause, cheers and whoops; the whooping seems to be a new development, but a mere supplement to the laughter, which doesn’t ‘express high spirits or amusement but a willed raucousness’. Another thing they do with ...

Pseud’s Corner

John Sutherland, 17 July 1980

by Dan Kavanagh.
Cape, 181 pp., £4.95, July 1980, 0 224 01822 1
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Moscow Gold 
by John Salisbury.
Futura, 320 pp., £1.10, March 1980, 0 7088 1702 5
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The Middle Ground 
by Margaret Drabble.
Weidenfeld, 248 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 297 77808 0
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The Boy Who Followed Ripley 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Heinemann, 292 pp., £6.50, April 1980, 0 434 33520 7
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... writes under the buckskin-evoking pseudonyms of George G. Gilman, Charles R. Pike, Thomas H. Stone. Like his compatriots ‘John G. MeLaglen’ and J.T. Edson, Harknett has ‘appreciation societies’ devoted to his pseudonymous personae. (‘J.T.’, incidentally, the biggest seller of them all, claims his name is genuine. It’s a happy ...

That Wild Mercury Sound

Charles Nicholl: Dylan’s Decade, 1 December 2016

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-66 
by Bob Dylan.
Columbia, £60, November 2015
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... 1965, opening with that lone staccato snare-shot which heralds the raw power of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ending 51 exhausting minutes later with the bleak dream vignettes of ‘Desolation Row’. Then a few months later came the altogether more baroque double album Blonde on Blonde, with its crepuscular, druggy ambience, its cast of eccentric ...

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