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An American Romance

Edward Mendelson, 18 February 1982

Old Glory: An American Voyage 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins, 527 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 9780002165211
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No particular place to go 
by Hugo Williams.
Cape, 200 pp., £6.50, October 1981, 0 224 01810 8
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... Old Glory – the book written by Jonathan Raban – is an altogether different book from the Old Glory that was praised in the reviews, but it is no less wonderful for that. The book the reviewers wrote about does not exist at all, except as the ghost of an intention. This phantasmal Old Glory is the book which Raban originally planned to write, and which he expected would be little more than an elegant travel diary: the record of a passive drifting journey down the Mississippi in the track of Huckleberry Finn ...

Les gages de la peur

Jonathan Fenby, 3 August 1995

... is the fear of hordes of lawless immigrants on the doorstep; in areas where there are few black or brown faces, it is fear of the unknown, fed by tales from the ghettos. That fear has turned the National Front from a fringe movement at the start of the Eighties into France’s fourth strongest political grouping. There is still an understandable but mistaken ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Voices from Beyond the Grave, 20 November 2008

... Conan Doyle, whom one expects to sound like Basil Rathbone. In actual fact he sounds like Gordon Brown. It’s somehow easy to forget that Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, and his voice, recorded in 1930, is here filled with lilting plangencies about the age of materialism and the fact that death is not the end. He was right about that, about death not ...

Reconstruction

Christopher Beha: Jeffrey Eugenides, 6 October 2011

The Marriage Plot 
by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Fourth Estate, 406 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 00 744129 7
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... the modernist and postmodernist masters, these writers – among them Eugenides’s contemporary Jonathan Franzen and a younger cohort that includes Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers – have come to believe that too much was lost – in moral and emotional engagement, in readership – when realism was thrown over. As Franzen wrote in the New Yorker, ‘in ...

Thank God for John Rayburn

Mark Ford, 24 January 1991

Hunting Mister Heartbreak 
by Jonathan Raban.
Harvill, 428 pp., £14, November 1990, 0 00 272031 0
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... Travelling,’ Jonathan Raban once remarked, ‘is inherently a plotless, disordered, chaotic affair, where writing insists on connection, order, plot, signification.’ Even the best contemporary travel writing is haunted by the self-consciousness that grows out of this contradiction. It’s embarrassing to read about seemingly spontaneous encounters with exotic people in far-flung countries, and then suddenly to remember that the whole thing has been set up just so the author can convert it into so much copy for his or her book ...

Home-breaking

Danny Karlin, 23 May 1991

The Clopton Hercules 
by Duncan Sprott.
Faber, 220 pp., £13.99, January 1991, 9780571144082
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Life of a Drum 
by Carlo Gebler.
Hamish Hamilton, 173 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 241 13074 3
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Seventh Heaven 
by Alice Hoffman.
Virago, 256 pp., £12.99, February 1991, 1 85381 283 8
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A Home at the End of the World 
by Michael Cunningham.
Hamish Hamilton, 343 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 241 12909 5
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A place I’ve never been 
by David Leavitt.
Viking, 194 pp., £12.99, February 1991, 0 670 82196 9
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... thoughts, Billy picks up not words but sensations: ‘The scent of warm milk, the smooth brown feathers of an owl in James’s favourite book, the thump of a rubber ball against a wooden floor’. James is altogether that minor miracle of fiction, a believable baby. A Home at the End of the World is a novel which fully deserves the acclaim it has ...

Preacher on a Tank

David Runciman: Blair Drills Down, 7 October 2010

A Journey 
by Tony Blair.
Hutchinson, 718 pp., £25, September 2010, 978 0 09 192555 0
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... He faced two serious and determined enemies during his time in Downing Street: al-Qaida and Gordon Brown. One, he concluded, represented a force so strong and rooted that it had to be uprooted and destroyed, since confrontation was inevitable; the only question was when and how. The other had to be contained, because stepping over the line would have been ...

Joe, Jerry and Bomber Blair

Owen Hatherley: Jonathan Meades, 7 March 2013

Museum without Walls 
by Jonathan Meades.
Unbound, 446 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 908717 18 4
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... Jonathan Meades, for the last thirty years Britain’s most consistently surprising and informative writer on the built environment, has finally published a book on the subject. A volume did appear in 1988 – English Extremists, written with Deyan Sudjic and Peter Cook, celebrating the postmodern architects Campbell Zogolovitch Wilson Gough – but since then his medium has been television ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: ‘Niche’, 3 March 2011

... Fucking Theories. James Harkin’s Niche: Why the Market No Longer Favours the Mainstream (Little, Brown, £13.99) puts forward the hypothesis that between the 1930s and the end of the 20th century in ‘retail, media and politics’ in North America and Western Europe there was something called the ‘mainstream’, which is now in terminal decline, ceding ...

Got to go make that dollar

Alex Abramovich: Otis Redding, 3 January 2019

Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life 
by Jonathan Gould.
Crown, 544 pp., £12.99, May 2018, 978 0 307 45395 2
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... They had a vegetable garden, a hog pen, a chicken coop. Redding’s most recent biographer, Jonathan Gould, says that Otis (14 at the time) ‘felt a special disdain for anything that smacked of “country”, flatly refusing to wear the overalls his parents bought for him’. Four years later, the house burned to the ground and the Reddings moved back ...

Corbyn in the Media

Paul Myerscough, 22 October 2015

... in silence, refusing to answer reporters’ questions: it ‘looked like a perp walk’, Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian. ‘He isn’t playing the game,’ the Times journalist Jenni Russell complained on Newsnight. It was a metaphor, and it wasn’t. Corbyn was being tested: not on his policies, which have hardly been at issue so far, but ...

That Ol’ Thumb

Mike Jay: Hitchhiking, 23 June 2022

Driving with Strangers: What Hitchhiking Tells Us about Humanity 
by Jonathan Purkis.
Manchester, 301 pp., £20, January, 978 1 5261 6004 1
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... on their rucksacks as they criss-crossed Europe meeting up with pen pals and old army buddies. Jonathan Purkis, a self-described ‘vagabond sociologist’, sees hitchhiking as the inheritor of a long tradition celebrating self-sufficient travel, dating back to Lao Tzu’s aphorisms (the journey as more important than the destination) and medieval ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: In Defence of Liz Jones, 12 September 2013

... Liz Jones piece. This should be a resignation matter,’ James Ball of the Guardian tweeted. Jonathan Haynes, also of the Guardian, described it as a ‘JAW-DROPPINGLY irresponsible and stupid paragraph on suicide from Liz Jones. Cannot believe MoS have published it.’ Did she really not care how many vulnerable people might be induced to commit suicide ...

Outside Swan and Edgar’s

Matthew Sweet: The life of Oscar Wilde, 5 February 1998

The Wilde Album 
by Merlin Holland.
Fourth Estate, 192 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 1 85702 782 5
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Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde’s Philosophy of Art 
by Julia Prewitt Brown.
Virginia, 157 pp., $30, September 1997, 9780813917283
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The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde 
edited by Peter Raby.
Cambridge, 307 pp., £37.50, October 1997, 9780521474719
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Wilde The Novel 
by Stefan Rudnicki.
Orion, 215 pp., £5.99, October 1997, 0 7528 1160 6
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Oscar Wilde 
by Frank Harris.
Robinson, 358 pp., £7.99, October 1997, 1 85487 126 9
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Moab is my Washpot 
by Stephen Fry.
Hutchinson, 343 pp., £16.99, October 1997, 0 09 180161 3
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Nothing … except My Genius 
by Oscar Wilde.
Penguin, 82 pp., £2.99, October 1997, 0 14 043693 6
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... snorted Christopher Hart on the day Brian Gilbert’s movie Wilde was released). Julia Prewitt Brown sees him as a philosophical heavyweight; and celebrates his ‘dodginess’ in order to instal him in a post-dualist tradition of aesthetic theory – a missing link between Kierkegaard and Adorno. For Jonathan Dollimore ...

Shtum

John Lanchester: Alastair Campbell’s Diaries, 16 August 2007

The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries 
edited by Alastair Campbell and Richard Stott.
Hutchinson, 794 pp., £25, July 2007, 978 0 09 179629 7
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... know: let’s find our angriest, shoutiest, most tribal, most aggressive party loyalist. As Craig Brown joked in the Mail on Sunday, it is as if, instead of turning to Doctor Watson for advice, Sherlock Holmes had instead consulted the Hound of the Baskervilles. Campbell is a political journalist who, as part of a not-all-that-complex self-loathing, despises ...

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