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The Method of Drifting

Ian Patterson: John Craske, 10 September 2015

Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske 
by Julia Blackburn.
Cape, 344 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 224 09776 5
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... and excitement of research than Julia Blackburn’s account of her attempt to find out about John Craske. Detail from Craske’s ‘The Evacuation of Dunkirk’ She first hears about him from her friend Emily, who told her: ‘He was a fisherman who became a painter and embroiderer … I think he’s much better than Alfred Wallis down in ...

Lever-Arch Inquisitor

John Barrell, 29 October 1998

Theatres of Memory. Vol. II. Island Stories: Unravelling Britain 
by Raphael Samuel, edited by Alison Light.
Verso, 391 pp., £20, June 1998, 1 85984 965 2
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... the National Curriculum, one of which suggests 1066 and All That as the appropriate textbook for a John MacGregor version of the history syllabus; another (mainly) on visiting heritage sites, which seems to belong to the first volume; another (mainly) on the politics of Britain in the Eighties, including two pleasingly irritable essays from 1982 on the ...

Resentment

John Sutherland, 21 March 1991

Francesca 
by Roger Scruton.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 236 pp., £13.95, February 1991, 9781856190480
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Slave of the Passions 
by Deirdre Wilson.
Picador, 251 pp., £14.99, February 1991, 0 330 31788 1
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The Invisible Worm 
by Jennifer Johnston.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 182 pp., £12.95, February 1991, 1 85619 041 2
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The Secret Pilgrim 
by John le Carré.
Hodder, 335 pp., £14.95, January 1991, 0 340 54381 7
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... years of the Cold War. This curious fact is noted in David Monaghan’s monograph The Novels of John le Carré (1985). Smiley married his wife Ann towards the end of the World War Two. He was evidently then well into his thirties. In 1960, in A Murder of Quality, he was described as ‘the very prototype of an unsuccessful middle-aged bachelor in a ...

High Taxes, Bad Times

John Pemble: Late Georgian Westminster, 10 June 2010

The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1820-32 
by D.R. Fisher.
Cambridge, 6336 pp., £490, December 2009, 978 0 521 19314 6
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... to have cost £80,000: the Whig spent £30,000 and still lost. The burden could be crippling. John Benett, MP for Wiltshire, was told by his brother in 1820: ‘The failure of the subscriptions at both the last elections has already thrown an overwhelming debt upon your property, and one that you will never see cleared as long as you live.’ And all for ...

Passion

Anita Brookner, 7 October 1982

The President’s Child 
by Fay Weldon.
Hodder, 220 pp., £6.95, September 1982, 0 340 24564 6
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Silence among the Weapons 
by John Arden.
Methuen, 343 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 413 49670 8
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The Facilitators, or Mister Hole-in-the-Day 
by Peter Redgrove.
Routledge, 173 pp., £6.95, September 1982, 0 7100 9214 8
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Pleasure City 
by Kamala Markandaya.
Chatto, 341 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 7011 2617 5
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Worldly Goods 
by Michael Korda.
Bodley Head, 347 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 370 30932 4
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Dutch Shea Jr 
by John Gregory Dunne.
Weidenfeld, 352 pp., £7.50, September 1982, 0 297 78164 2
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... some dignity and is used to structure an already excellent fiction. Silence among the Weapons, John Arden’s first novel, deals with the mysterious and violent contortions which led up to the disintegration of the Roman Republic in the first century BC. The leading characters are Marius, Sulla, Cinna, Drusus and Mithridates Eupator, except that they ...

Cutting it short

John Bayley, 3 November 1983

Alexander Pushkin: Complete Prose Fiction 
by Paul Debreczeny, translated by Walter Arndt.
Stanford, 545 pp., $38.50, May 1983, 0 8047 1142 9
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The Other Pushkin: A Study of Alexander Pushkin’s Prose Fiction 
by Paul Debreczeny.
Stanford, 386 pp., $32.50, May 1983, 0 8047 1143 7
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... There is all the difference between this kind of effect and those that are sought by Barry Cornwall in his ‘dramatic fragments’, a reading of which in French had given Pushkin his model. Very much in the spirit of the age, Cornwall had sought to wring every ounce of romantic melodrama out of the situations he ...

Cut-Ups

Robert Crawford, 7 December 1989

Perduta Gente 
by Peter Reading.
Secker, £5, June 1989, 0 436 40999 2
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Letting in the rumour 
by Gillian Clarke.
Carcanet, 79 pp., £4.95, July 1989, 9780856357572
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Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman 
by Grace Nichols.
Virago, 58 pp., £4.99, July 1989, 1 85381 076 2
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Studying Grosz on the Bus 
by John Lucas.
Peterloo, 64 pp., £4.95, August 1989, 1 871471 02 8
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The Old Noise of Truth 
by Joan Downar.
Peterloo, 63 pp., £4.95, August 1989, 1 871471 03 6
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... is obviously having an affair with me’) is definitely about the real stuff as opposed to the John Travolta variety, and works because it’s wry and faithful to its subject, without straining after the big effects that phrases like ‘the geography of my thighs’ or ‘cosmic spite’ announce are as yet unavailable to her. With lines like The smell of ...

Scots wha hae gone to England

Donald Davie, 9 July 1992

Devolving English Literature 
by Robert Crawford.
Oxford, 320 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198112983
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The Faber Book of 20th-Century Scottish Poetry 
edited by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 424 pp., £17.50, July 1992, 9780571154319
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... then who is left to man the supposedly overbearing metropolis, unless it is Kingsley Amis and John Betjeman? The ramparts so frailly manned should have given way long ago to the armies massed against them. What Crawford doesn’t realise is that this indeed has happened; he is sounding the bugle for an assault on a fortress that surrendered years ago. The ...

See the Sights!

Gillian Darley: Rediscovering Essex, 1 November 2007

The Buildings of England: Essex 
by James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner.
Yale, 939 pp., £29.95, May 2007, 978 0 300 11614 4
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... heavy snowfall slowed his progress. Pevsner’s successors, currently scouring the country from Cornwall to North Yorkshire as they revise the first pocket-slim volumes of the Buildings of England, take years to complete each hefty replacement. James Bettley, responsible for the new Essex volume, did not even have to bother with Ilford, Romford, Leyton and ...

Half-Wrecked

Mary Beard: What’s left of John Soane, 17 February 2000

John Soane: An Accidental Romantic 
by Gillian Darley.
Yale, 358 pp., £25, September 1999, 0 300 08165 0
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John Soane, Architect: Master of Space and Light 
by Margaret Richardson and Mary-Anne Stevens.
Royal Academy, 302 pp., £45, September 1999, 0 300 08195 2
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Sir John Soane and the Country Estate 
by Ptolemy Dean.
Ashgate, 204 pp., £37.50, October 1999, 1 84014 293 6
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... and the aggressively idiosyncratic construction that is the memorial to the family of Sir John Soane (‘architect to the Bank of England &c &c &c’, as the inscription proclaims) in the burial ground next to Old St Pancras Church – the romantic spot where Shelley first caught sight of Mary Godwin, but now part of some lugubrious gardens sandwiched ...

Main Man

Michael Hofmann, 7 July 1994

Walking Possession: Essays and Reviews 1968-1993 
by Ian Hamilton.
Bloomsbury, 302 pp., £20, May 1994, 0 7475 1712 6
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Gazza Italia 
by Ian Hamilton.
Granta, 188 pp., £5.99, May 1994, 0 14 014073 5
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... too. Greetings, borrowers. What I admire – not the word – about the poems is their intensity. John Berryman once said: write as short as you can, in order, of what matters. Surely no one – least of all Berryman himself – can have fulfilled the terms of that prescription as scrupulously as Hamilton. The majority of the poems are generated by one of two ...

Huff and Puff

John Sutherland, 3 October 1996

We Should Know Better 
by George Walden.
Fourth Estate, 231 pp., £9.99, September 1996, 1 85702 520 2
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All Must Have Prizes 
by Melanie Phillips.
Little, Brown, 384 pp., £17.50, September 1996, 0 316 88180 5
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... drive battered cars and insist that they have always preferred to spend their holidays in Cornwall and the Yorkshire Dales rather than Provence or Umbria – anything to avoid consigning their progeny to the schools used by the majority of their countrymen. Walden is getting out of politics next year and has that freedom which Kris Kristofferson ...

Sweet Sin

J.P. Stern, 5 August 1982

Marbot 
by Wolfgang Hildesheimer.
Suhrkamp, 326 pp., May 1981, 3 518 03205 4
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... with the Allied War Crimes Commission at Nuremberg. He has lived in Southern Germany, Bavaria, Cornwall, and in Urbino (where presumably he first came upon traces of Andrew Marbot’s life); now he seems to have settled in Poschiavo in the Swiss Grisons. Rumour has it that he is a generous host with a fair Knowledge of the local ...

What a carry-on

Seamus Perry: W.S. Graham, 18 July 2019

W.S. Graham: New Selected Poems 
edited by Matthew Francis.
Faber, 144 pp., £12.99, September 2018, 978 0 571 34844 2
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W.S. Graham 
edited by Michael Hofmann.
NYRB, 152 pp., £9.99, October 2018, 978 1 68137 276 1
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... as a poet. ‘It is all a battle,’ he announced to his friend and partner in art, the painter John Minton. He and Dunsmuir lived in conditions of spectacular inconvenience: a poky caravan for some years and later a cottage to which the word ‘spartan’ doesn’t really do justice – ‘a leaking roof, no cooking stove, no electricity, an outside toilet ...

Post-Feminism

Dinah Birch, 19 January 1989

Cat’s Eye 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 421 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 0 7475 0304 4
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Interlunar 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 103 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 224 02303 9
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John Dollar 
by Marianne Wiggins.
Secker, 234 pp., £10.95, February 1989, 0 436 57080 7
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Broken Words 
by Helen Hodgman.
Virago, 121 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 9781853810107
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... or cruelty – or, more starkly, as eating people – is the central theme of Marianne Wiggins’s John Dollar. Her remarkable novel takes up the ancient story of the fall in paradise, and rewrites it in the bleakest terms. This is a book that makes William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the most eminent of its literary forefathers, look like a study in ...

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