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Illusionists

Norman Hampson, 20 August 1992

Diderot: A Critical Biography 
by P.N. Furbank.
Secker, 524 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 436 16853 7
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This is not a Story and Other Stories 
by Denis Diderot, translated by P.N. Furbank.
Missouri, 166 pp., £22, December 1991, 0 8262 0815 0
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Diderot: Political Writings 
edited by John Hope Mason and Robert Wokler.
Cambridge, 225 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 521 36044 7
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... perennial attempts to distinguish between appearance and reality. On the first page of his Introduction he quotes at length from Diderot’s ‘dream’ of Plato’s cave. A captive audience – in the sense that they are chained to their seats – is enjoying a show put on by ...

The Fug o’Fame

David Goldie: Hugh MacDiarmid’s letters, 6 June 2002

New Selected Letters 
by Hugh MacDiarmid, edited by Dorian Grieve.
Carcanet, 572 pp., £39.95, August 2001, 1 85754 273 8
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... and occasional enormity of his ego – as well as his lifelong obsession with size and comparison. Norman MacCaig, who knew him well, thought MacDiarmid was an ‘egomaniac’; Seamus Heaney has described him as ‘very egocentric’. Neither of them, sensibly, thinks that an imperfect or monstrous life makes much difference to the poetry. But if poetry ...

The Head in the Shed

Gavin Francis: Reading Bones, 21 January 2021

Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind 
by Sue Black.
Doubleday, 359 pp., £18.99, September 2020, 978 0 85752 690 8
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... in the LRB (22 October 1992) that ‘when William F. Buckley Jr sent a copy of his essays to Norman Mailer, he pencilled a welcoming “Hi, Norman!” in the index, next to Mailer’s name.’ The index discloses a lot about the nature of a book, and the passions of its author, more than is sometimes realised ...

Retrospective

Donald Davie, 2 February 1984

A World of Difference 
by Norman MacCaig.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.95, June 1983, 0 7011 2693 0
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... has lately written an exceptionally searching essay about British poetry since 1945,* in which Norman MacCaig is named just once in passing. There is nothing wrong with that; Crozier isn’t attempting one of those limp ‘surveys’ in which everyone who deserves mention gets it. All the same I have the impression that a nod in passing – usually, it’s ...

Anglo-Saxon Aptitudes

John Gillingham, 17 November 1983

The Anglo-Saxons 
edited by James Campbell.
Phaidon, 272 pp., £16.50, July 1982, 0 7148 2149 7
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Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective 
by C.R. Dodwell.
Manchester, 353 pp., £35, October 1982, 0 7190 0861 1
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Anglo-Saxon Poetry 
edited by S.A.J. Bradley.
Dent, 559 pp., £10.95, August 1982, 0 460 10794 1
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The Anglo-Saxon World 
edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
Boydell and Brewer, 275 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85115 169 8
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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: The Authentic Voices of England, from the Times of Julius Caesar to the Coronation of Henry II 
by Anne Savage.
Heinemann, 288 pp., £14.95, March 1983, 0 434 98210 5
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... and a numismatist, have been roped in to make further contributions in the shape of double-page ‘picture essays’ devoted to particular topics – though it should be said that Campbell and Wormald have themselves composed nine out of 19 of these. The main text is aimed at a fairly wide readership, but it also raises far-reaching issues. All three ...

Hellmouth

Michael André Bernstein: Norman Rush, 22 January 2004

Mortals 
by Norman Rush.
Cape, 715 pp., £18.99, July 2003, 0 224 03709 9
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... Norman Rush’s first novel, Mating (1991), is narrated by an unnamed 32-year-old female doctoral student in nutritional anthropology. It takes the cherished theme of a brilliant and independent woman’s search for a male partner worthy of her, and transplants it to a utopian matriarchal community in Botswana. For a man to recast Pride and Prejudice as a modern, feminist love affair, and then to set it in Africa, is a bold move, and neither the book’s reworking of the conventions of first-person narrative nor its relentlessly artificial language seem to owe anything to Rush’s immediate predecessors or contemporaries ...

Diary

Christopher Hadley: The Lake Taupo Stamp, 18 September 1997

... I came across one which had a solitary stamp mounted in the middle of it. Why it was stuck on a page to itself I had not the faintest idea and I still have not the slightest clue as to how it got there, or from where I got it ... but what was most important, this stamp of mine had its centre completely upside down! That was quite enough to raise my ...

Beyond Discussion

Neal Ascherson, 3 April 1980

The Last Word: An Eye-Witness Account of the Thorpe Trial 
by Auberon Waugh.
Joseph, 240 pp., £6.50, February 1980, 0 7181 1799 9
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... grotesque events are easily forgotten. Thorpe and the others were accused of conspiring to murder Norman Scott; Thorpe, additionally, of inciting the murder of Scott. The latter claimed to have been Thorpe’s lover, and stated that a gunman had shot his dog and attempted to shoot him on Porlock Moor. The gunman, Andrew Newton, said he had been hired to ...

Your mission is to get the gun

Theo Tait: Raoul Moat, 31 March 2016

You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] 
by Andrew Hankinson.
Scribe, 204 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 922247 91 9
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... with time.’ Since In Cold Blood, murderers have been a staple of the non-fiction novel, from Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song to Gordon Burn’s horribly fascinating books about Peter Sutcliffe and Fred and Rosemary West. Andrew Hankinson’s new book dramatises the last days of Raoul Moat, the Newcastle bouncer and bodybuilder who in July 2010 ...

How good is it?

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Inside the KJB, 3 February 2011

The Holy Bible: King James Version, 1611 Text 
edited by Gordon Campbell.
Oxford, 1552 pp., £50, October 2010, 978 0 19 955760 8
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Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 
by Gordon Campbell.
Oxford, 354 pp., £16.99, October 2010, 978 0 19 955759 2
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The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today 
by David Norton.
Cambridge, 218 pp., £14.99, January 2011, 978 0 521 61688 1
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The King James Bible after 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic and Cultural Influences 
edited by Hannibal Hamlin and Norman Jones.
Cambridge, 364 pp., £25, December 2010, 978 0 521 76827 6
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Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language 
by David Crystal.
Oxford, 327 pp., £14.99, September 2010, 978 0 19 958585 4
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... godly Protestant monarch like James I. To hammer home the point, the 1611 book devoted a whole page to the royal arms, just like the big heraldic display which congregations would see proudly affixed to the wall of their parish church as they sat in their pews (in careful hierarchical arrangement), listening to the words of King James’s God. Very often ...

Dostoevsky’s America

Karl Miller, 3 September 1981

In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison 
by Jack Henry Abbott.
Random House, 166 pp., $11.95, June 1981, 0 394 51858 6
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... In 1979 there appeared Norman Mailer’s long book The Executioner’s Song – a thousand paperback pages, as it subsequently became, on the strange case of Gary Gilmore, the murderer who insisted on being put to death, insisted that the state keep its word.* In March of the following year, in the London Review of Books, the book was examined at length by Christopher Ricks, whose piece was reprinted – at Mailer’s suggestion, or so I was told at the time – in the form of an advertisement in the New York Review of Books ...

Tidy-Mindedness

Diarmaid MacCulloch: The Crusades, 24 September 2015

How to Plan a Crusade: Reason and Religious War in the High Middle Ages 
by Christopher Tyerman.
Allen Lane, 400 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 1 84614 477 6
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... the atrocities don’t. Christopher Tyerman exercises self-discipline in leaving to the last page of his text any explicit comparison between the Middle East in 1099 and in 2015. But on his very first page he introduces us to the Crusades as having their own, medieval Christian rationale: he wants us to avoid making ...

Enemies For Ever

James Wolcott: ‘Making It’, 18 May 2017

Making It 
by Norman Podhoretz.
NYRB, 368 pp., £13.98, May 2017, 978 1 68137 080 4
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... one to miss a party, popped into the reception being thrown by Commentary’s editor-in-chief Norman Podhoretz and his wife, the writer and editor Midge Decter, one of the power couples of the Upper West Side intelligentsia – the junior version of Lionel and Diana Trilling. Kazin, a Commentary contributor going back to 1945, found himself in a bobbing ...

Diary

Ian Hamilton: New New Grub Street, 3 February 1983

... Frank Kermode’s review of the new Gissing biography (page 9) brings to mind a project which I have long thought someone ought to tackle: a fearless update of New Grub Street. The job wouldn’t be too taxing – indeed, in many cases, it would be all too easy to attach contemporary names to Gissing’s sunken literary types: his principled dullards as well as his sleek chancers ...

Diary

Richard Usborne: On Cutting P.G. Wodehouse, 4 October 1984

... His plots are very tightly-laced and you cut at your peril. A snatch of dialogue or narrative on page 20 may be a plant for a twist in the story on page 220. Wodehouse himself could cut his novels when occasion demanded – i.e. when the payment for a shorter version was big enough. Sometimes top-paying American ...

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