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Gorilla with Mobile Phone

Theo Tait: Michel Houellebecq, 9 February 2006

Houellebecq non autorisé: enquête sur un phénomène 
by Denis Demonpion.
Maren Sell, 377 pp., €20, August 2005, 2 35004 022 4
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The Possibility of an Island 
by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Gavin Bowd.
Weidenfeld, 345 pp., £12.99, November 2005, 0 297 85098 9
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... translated as Platform, 2003) he is even called Michel. Nevertheless, it’s a shock, on reading Denis Demonpion’s biography, to learn quite how much of Houellebecq’s life has been thrust raw – though often distorted – into his novels. It’s no surprise that his first novel is, like many first novels, closely modelled on the author’s life: like ...


Alan Bennett: What I Did in 2015, 7 January 2016

... luxuriantly and I should end up looking like Bernard Ingham or (this in the interests of balance) Denis Healey. However, I am getting on and there will scarcely be time for the development of comparable thickets so today I am tidied up. The last time I remember having related thoughts was when I was 17 and had not yet started to shave. Though most of my ...

Wrong Trowsers

E.S. Turner, 21 July 1994

A History of Men’s Fashion 
by Farid Chenoune, translated by Deke Dusinberre.
Flammarion/Thames & Hudson, 336 pp., £50, October 1993, 2 08 013536 8
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The Englishman’s Suit 
by Hardy Amies.
Quartet, 116 pp., £12, June 1994, 9780704370760
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... on one of those bum-freezing outdoor coats, an operation which wastes thousands of man-hours every winter. Who loves zips, other than the television producers who show us gentlemen audibly operating them as they exchange information in those obligatory urinal scenes? Chenoune does not wholly ignore the zip. He quotes an authority as saying, in the context of ...

Do you like him?

Ian Jack: Ken Livingstone, 10 May 2012

You Can’t Say That: Memoirs 
by Ken Livingstone.
Faber, 710 pp., £9.99, April 2012, 978 0 571 28041 4
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... brusque ‘Ullo, ullo, ullo’ to wreck any chance of intimacy. The scripts were by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, very funny in their day and funny enough now. Ken Livingstone’s mother was an Eth: Ethel Ada Kennard, a dancer in a three-women act that toured the music halls. His father was a Bob: Robert Moffat Livingstone, at different times a seafarer, a ...

Down with Weathercocks

Tom Stammers: Mother Revolution, 30 November 2017

Liberty or Death: The French Revolution 
by Peter McPhee.
Yale, 468 pp., £14.99, July 2017, 978 0 300 22869 4
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... clubs smashed and their neighbourhoods redrawn. Food shortages, rampant inflation and a pitiless winter conspired to exacerbate popular suffering. The capital’s tollgates, ripped down in 1789, were up and running again by 1798. Slaves who had fought for their freedom were coerced into labouring on plantations under the logic of ‘republican racism’, in ...

Leave me my illusions

Nicholas Penny: Antiquarianism, 29 July 2021

Time’s Witness: History in the Age of Romanticism 
by Rosemary Hill.
Allen Lane, 390 pp., £25, June, 978 1 84614 312 0
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... 14 fructidor, an III (31 August 1794). The previous year, the royal effigies from the Abbey of St Denis had been transferred to the former monastery of the Petits Augustins on the left bank of the Seine, a depot already filled with historical monuments salvaged by Alexandre Lenoir together with treasures confiscated by the state. It took Lenoir several years ...

Gaelic Gloom

Colm Tóibín: Brian Moore, 10 August 2000

Brian Moore: The Chameleon Novelist 
by Denis Sampson.
Marino, 344 pp., IR£20, October 1998, 1 86023 078 4
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... question arises when reading the four novels Moore published between 1957 and 1965 and reading Denis Sampson’s carefully judged and definitive biography. Moore became increasingly fascinated by failure, by the idea of the painful case, the more successful he became. All four of these novels deal in failure, and he himself, from early on, was alert to ...

Pepys’s Place

Pat Rogers, 16 June 1983

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol X: Companion and Vol XI: Index 
edited by Robert Latham.
Bell and Hyman, 626 pp., £19.50, February 1983, 0 7135 1993 2
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The Diary of John Evelyn 
edited by John Bowle.
Oxford, 476 pp., £19.50, April 1983, 0 19 251011 8
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The Brave Courtier: Sir William Temple 
by Richard Faber.
Faber, 187 pp., £15, February 1983, 0 571 11982 4
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... their seniority. I was quite raised, as the phrase is ... enjoying high debauchery after my sober winter.’ To be fair to the Companion, Pepys is a poor candidate for the family, sex and marriage treatment insofar as he has only a wife and then an extended family (splendidly tracked by the editor into the vistas of the past): no scope for discussion of ...

Hinsley’s History

Noël Annan, 1 August 1985

Diplomacy and Intelligence during the Second World War: Essays in Honour of F.H. Hinsley 
edited by Richard Langhorne.
Cambridge, 329 pp., £27.50, May 1985, 0 521 26840 0
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British Intelligence and the Second World War. Vol. I: 1939-Summer 1941, Vol. II: Mid-1941-Mid-1943, Vol. III, Part I: June 1943-June 1944 
by F.H. Hinsley, E.E. Thomas, C.F.G. Ransom and R.C. Knight.
HMSO, 616 pp., £12.95, September 1979, 0 11 630933 4
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... and Burgess? Certainly. But their loyalty and dedication to secrecy was such that until Frederick Winter-botham’s book, The Ultra Secret, appeared in 1974 none of the work at Bletchley was ever referred to in the press, and none of those who worked there ever sought to break their obligation to maintain secrecy. It was an agreeable organisation in which to ...

Is this successful management?

R.W. Johnson, 20 April 1989

One of Us: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher 
by Hugo Young.
Macmillan, 570 pp., £16.95, April 1989, 0 333 34439 1
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... traditional Tory worthies on the 19th green can hardly have been easy, and it’s not certain that Denis would have been altogether an asset. All we know for certain is that a new Tory agent was hired in 1962 with the mission of rebuilding the constituency party organisation almost from scratch and that in 1964 Mrs Thatcher managed to hold the anti-Tory swing ...

The South

Colm Tóibín, 4 August 1994

One Art: The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Bishop 
Chatto, 668 pp., £25, April 1994, 0 7011 6195 7Show More
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... described in Ian Hamilton’s biography of Lowell, which appeared in 1983. In that same year Denis Donoghue, in a new edition of his Connoisseurs of Chaos, wrote: Elizabeth Bishop was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, February 8, 1911. Her father died when she was eight months old. Her mother, mentally ill, spent long periods in hospital: she was ...

Sarko, Ségo & Co.

Jeremy Harding: The Banlieues Go to the Polls, 26 April 2007

... than riot and affray, and will stand young men in better stead than their combustion spree in the winter of 2005, prompted by the death of two teenagers electrocuted in Clichy-sous-Bois as they hid from the police in an EDF substation. The 2007 presidential election – the first round is on 22 April, with the run-offs on 6 May – has moved matters along at ...

A City of Sand and Puddles

Julian Barnes: Paris, 22 April 2010

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris 
by Graham Robb.
Picador, 476 pp., £18.99, April 2010, 978 0 330 45244 1
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The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps 
by Eric Hazan, translated by David Fernbach.
Verso, 384 pp., £20, February 2010, 978 1 84467 411 4
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... in his days as an inhouse gambler at the Clermont Club, ate nothing but lamb cutlets, summer and winter, Marnham worked out the approximate number of sheep the disappearing milord must have chomped his way through during his days of dim glory.) Robb’s final chapter is both très Robb and très British. Browsing in a Latin Quarter bookshop, he discovers ...

Silks and Bright Scarlet

Christopher Kelly: Wealth and the Romans, 3 December 2015

Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD 
by Peter Brown.
Princeton, 759 pp., £16.95, March 2014, 978 0 691 16177 8
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The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity 
by Peter Brown.
Harvard, 262 pp., £18.95, April 2015, 978 0 674 96758 8
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... assets, Paulinus and Therasia – or their friends Melania and Pinianus, who visited Nola in the winter of 406 – had embraced poverty: they retained control over substantial resources. Shielded from the demands of family, local communities and the imperial tax system, they could use their newly unencumbered wealth to support Christian ...

Promenade Dora-Bruder

Adam Shatz: Patrick Modiano, 22 September 2016

So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood 
by Patrick Modiano, translated by Euan Cameron.
MacLehose, 160 pp., £8.99, September 2016, 978 0 85705 499 9
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... his investigation of Modiano’s sources, Dans la peau de Patrick Modiano (2011), the journalist Denis Cosnard has shown that many of the names that recur in the novels refer to Occupation-era personalities: diplomats, gangsters, nightclub performers, collaborators and Gestapo thugs. To read Modiano’s novels is to experience the bewildering disparity ...

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