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Not everybody cries

Christopher Tayler: Tash Aw, 29 August 2013

Five Star Billionaire 
by Tash Aw.
Fourth Estate, 437 pp., £18.99, February 2013, 978 0 00 749415 6
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... oddly shaped cows in the surrounding fields and a young bride and groom drifting through the air. We’re in the prewar Dutch East Indies and the painter is Aw’s version of Walter Spies, a German primitivist who tried to do for Bali what Gauguin did for Tahiti. His visitors are Margaret, a precocious 15-year-old whose parents are American ...

Dressed in Blue Light

Amy Larocca: Gypsy Rose Lee, 11 March 2010

Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee 
by Noralee Frankel.
Oxford, 300 pp., £12.99, June 2009, 978 0 19 536803 1
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Gypsy: The Art of the Tease 
by Rachel Shteir.
Yale, 222 pp., £12.99, March 2009, 978 0 300 12040 0
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... presented its far-flung possibilities and a casual, indifferent, mischievous striptease. Although we claim – more than ever of late – to crave the star who bares it all, we long for the mystery that Gypsy provided.’ Anyone who saw the famous ‘cellulite’ episode of the Keeping Up with the Kardashians – during ...

The One-Eyed World of Germaine Greer

Brigid Brophy, 22 November 1979

The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work 
by Germaine Greer.
Secker, 373 pp., £12.50, November 1979, 1 86064 677 8
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... portable paintings have acquired such prestige is not immediately obvious, especially because we have all grown up taking their prestigiousness for granted and calling other art forms, including the massive ones of architecture and gardening, minor arts.’ With this one sentence Germaine Greer provokes several queries and a vehement expostulation. What ...


Gavin Millar, 13 September 1990

Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles 
by Frank Brady.
Hodder, 655 pp., £18.95, January 1990, 0 340 51389 6
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If this was happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 312 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79630 5
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Norma Shearer 
by Gavin Lambert.
Hodder, 381 pp., £17.95, August 1990, 0 340 52947 4
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Ava’s Men: The Private Life of Ava Gardner 
by Jane Ellen Wayne.
Robson, 268 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 86051 636 9
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Goldwyn: A Biography 
by Scott Berg.
Hamish Hamilton, 579 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 241 12832 3
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The Genius of the System: Hollywood Film-Making in the Studio Era 
by Thomas Schatz.
Simon and Schuster, 514 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 671 69708 0
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... fails from time to time to set the record straight aggressively enough, and falls victim to what we should regard as the received malice. Although an admirer, Brady remains a touch less devoted than Barbara Leaming in her 1986 biography, based as it was on long personal sessions with Welles. Brady never met Welles. They communicated by phone and letter, and ...

Smilingly Excluded

Richard Lloyd Parry: An Outsider in Tokyo, 17 August 2006

The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 
by Donald Richie, edited by Leza Lowitz.
Stone Bridge, 494 pp., £13.99, October 2005, 1 880656 97 3
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... Japan has never attracted the attention of a Chatwin or a Naipaul, let alone fostered a Kipling, a Somerset Maugham, a Hemingway or a Paul Bowles. No one has had a greater yearning or been better qualified to fill this gap than Donald Richie. ‘Almost everything I do, everything that is known about me, is connected to this country,’ he wrote. ‘To be ...


Keith Thomas: Smells of Hell, 16 July 2020

Smells: A Cultural History of Odours in Early Modern Times 
by Robert Muchembled, translated by Susan Pickford.
Polity, 216 pp., £17.99, May, 978 1 5095 3677 1
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The Clean Body: A Modern History 
by Peter Ward.
McGill-Queen’s, 313 pp., £27.99, December 2019, 978 0 7735 5938 7
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... do now. If so, this was bad luck, for they were much more likely to encounter them than we are in our deodorised world.In the tenth century the Welsh ruler Hywel Dda allowed wives a marital separation if their husbands had stinking breath. In later centuries, books on courtesy warned readers against inflicting their personal smell on their ...

Keeping up with the novelists

John Bayley, 20 June 1985

Unholy Pleasure: The Idea of Social Class 
by P.N. Furbank.
Oxford, 154 pp., £9.50, June 1985, 0 19 215955 0
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... belong to a particular class. The three C’s are for other people. In repudiating the categories, we repudiate, in one sense, the society we live in – a very practical example of Marxian alienation. And a significant one, because caring, culture and class are all more or less modern concepts. ‘Caring’, the imperative ...

Sire of the Poor

Linda Colley, 17 March 1988

Victorian Values and 20th-Century Condescension 
by Gertrude Himmelfarb.
Centre for Policy Studies, 15 pp., £2.20, August 1987, 1 870265 10 6
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Peel and the Victorians 
by Donald Read.
Blackwell, 330 pp., £27.50, August 1987, 0 631 15725 5
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Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England 
by Olive Anderson.
Oxford, 475 pp., £40, July 1987, 9780198201014
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... of values was conducive to a single culture, a single society – and a single nation’. Can we really assume that because some labouring men and women adhered to these ‘Victorian values’, the majority did so? Can we indeed believe that Victorian England possessed a consensual value-system, and that all sectors ...

Traven identified

George Woodcock, 3 July 1980

The Man who was B. Traven 
by Will Wyatt.
Cape, 326 pp., £8.50, June 1980, 0 224 01720 9
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The Government 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 231 pp., £6.50, May 1980, 0 85031 356 2
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The Cotton-Pickers 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 200 pp., £5.50, October 1979, 0 85031 284 1
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The White Rose 
by B. Traven.
Allison and Busby, 209 pp., £6.50, May 1980, 0 85031 369 4
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... to be other than German, doubtless prompted by a fear of his real identity being discovered. We now know of his East Prussian birth, yet his German police registration card for 1908 described him as having been born in San Francisco in 1882. (Since the vital records of San Francisco were burned in the great fire of 1906, this was a safely uncheckable ...

Boss of the Plains

D.A.N. Jones, 19 May 1983

The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations 
by Paul Fussell.
Oxford, 284 pp., £9.95, January 1983, 0 19 503102 4
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... him down, you Swazi warriors’ and (when transmogrified into Asian wolf-cubs): ‘Akela! We’ll do our best!’ A Scout is a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout, no matter to what country, class or creed the other may belong. (At least, that was the rule when I was a boy: it’s been trimmed down since. The Scout Laws are not ...


John Sutherland, 7 June 1984

The Place of Dead Roads 
by William Burroughs.
Calder, 306 pp., £9.95, April 1984, 0 7145 4030 7
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by Denis Johnson.
Chatto, 209 pp., £7.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2777 5
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Moll Cutpurse: Her True History 
by Ellen Galford.
Stramullion, 221 pp., £4.50, May 1984, 0 907343 03 1
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... Hall, a real-estate speculator and writer, and Mike Chase. Neither man shot his weapon (later we learn that Hall carried a 44 special action; Chase a 455 Webley; Burroughs loves guns). Both died simultaneously by rifle-fire from an unknown third party. Hall, it is reported, wrote under the pen-name and in the person of Kim Carsons, the famous Western ...

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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... dirtiest of four-letter words, especially if grey, or if worn by a BBC boss and cut by Armani. But we have now reached a point where any sensible ram-raider or child-strangler is careful to wear a suit in the dock; and a suit is not unknown at a terrorist’s funeral. It has been an instructive story. For general urban wear, the lounge or business suit dates ...

Bow. Wow

James Wolcott: Gore Vidal, 3 February 2000

Gore Vidal 
by Fred Kaplan.
Bloomsbury, 850 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7475 4671 1
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... the screenplay of Ben-Hur – ‘I suspect that Heston does not know to this day what luridness we managed to contrive around him’): essays which were reprinted in various collections and have finally come to rest in United States: Essays 1952-92, a lap-buster of nearly 1300 pages. In 1995, Vidal wove his memoirs into a dance of the seven veils called ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine, 3 December 1981

The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... of golf, cricket, rowing and fox-hunting than to professional footballers. By the time we reach the letter B, the tone of the volume is unmistakably established in two scrupulously mandarin pieces by Lord Trend on Bridges and Normanbrook, his predecessors at the Cabinet Office. Here, elegantly catalogued and lucidly unfolded, are the qualities ...


John Bayley, 22 March 1990

Hazlitt: A Life. From Winterslow to Frith Street 
by Stanley Jones.
Oxford, 397 pp., £35, October 1989, 0 19 812840 1
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Shakespearean Constitutions: Politics, Theatre, Criticism 1730-1830 
by Jonathan Bate.
Oxford, 234 pp., £27, September 1989, 0 19 811749 3
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... the novel. Shakespeare was instinctively interpreted: Coleridge was Hamlet, Lamb claimed that ‘we see not Lear but we are Lear – we are in his mind.’ Readers began not only to identify with his characters but to see them personified all around. Bate makes brilliant use of this ...

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