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Stop screaming, Mrs Steiner

Wendy Steiner, 17 December 1992

The American way of Birth 
by Jessica Mitford.
Gollancz, 237 pp., £16.99, October 1992, 0 575 05430 1
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... Suffering pain, writer’s block, and the rage of critics, Philip Roth’s hero Zuckerman resolves to quit writing fiction and go to medical school. ‘Who quarrels with an obstetrician?’ he reasons: He catches what comes out and everybody loves him. When the baby appears they don’t start shouting: ‘You call that a baby!’ No, whatever he hands them, they take it home ...

Mother! Oh God! Mother!

Jenny Diski: ‘Psycho’, 7 January 2010

‘Psycho’ in the Shower: The History of Cinema’s Most Famous Scene 
by Philip Skerry.
Continuum, 316 pp., £12.99, June 2009, 978 0 8264 2769 4
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... book. So if you’re an academic wanting to write a book about Psycho, you really need an angle. Philip Skerry has come up with 60 angles: the 49 shots that make up the ‘shower scene’ proper, from Marion’s feet stepping into the bathtub to the moment when Norman is heard shouting ‘Mother! Oh God! Mother! Blood! Blood!’ back at the house, which ...


Adam Shatz: Ornette Coleman, 16 July 2015

... dreams came true. Here was a music that was frightening in its implications.’ The critic Martin Williams, who persuaded Joe Termini, the owner of the Five Spot, to book Coleman’s band, wrote: ‘I believe that what Ornette Coleman is playing will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively.’ John Lewis agreed; so did the ...

The Common Touch

Paul Foot, 10 November 1994

Hanson: A Biography 
by Alex Brummer and Roger Cowe.
Fourth Estate, 336 pp., £20, September 1994, 1 85702 189 4
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... and mysteriously resigned as Premier. The list, written down by Wilson’s éminence grise, Marcia Williams, on her lavender-coloured writing paper, consisted almost entirely of rich right-wing businessmen who supported the Tory Party. It included the Lord High Buccaneer from Milnsbridge, James Hanson. When Thatcher was returned as Prime Minister in ...
Shelf Life: Essays, Memoirs and an Interview 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 230 pp., £14.99, July 1994, 0 571 17196 6
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... the poem read as being about what it proclaims as its subject: Alexander the Great remembering Philip of Macedon.’ The middle stanza of ‘From an Asian Tent’ reads: You held me once before the army’s eyes; During their endless shout, I tired and slid Down past your forearms to the cold surprise Your plated shoulder made between my thighs. This ...


John Sutherland, 2 October 1980

Copyright: Intellectual Property in the Information Age 
by Edward Ploman and L. Clark Hamilton.
Routledge, 248 pp., £12.50, September 1980, 0 7100 0539 3
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... for the scholar sufficiently rigorous in his principles. The more sceptical British bibliographer, Philip Gaskell, undermines this monist doctrine in From Writer to Reader (1978), where with self-conscious editorial quixotism he sets out to ‘establish’ the text of Stoppard’s Travesties. Using the playwright’s working script, various rehearsal and stage ...

No Light on in the House

August Kleinzahler: Richard Brautigan Revisited, 14 December 2000

An Unfortunate Woman 
by Richard Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 110 pp., £12, July 2000, 1 84195 023 8
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Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-70 
by Richard Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 146 pp., £6.99, June 2000, 1 84195 027 0
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You Can't Catch Death 
by Ianthe Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 209 pp., £14.99, July 2000, 1 84195 025 4
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... or even failed, writer is as interesting as reading the works of ‘successful’ ones, like Philip Roth, say, or Martin Amis, who are strong, sure and able. With Brautigan, one sees the fissures, the slapdash detail, the failures of nerve and, of course, the steep decline just at the point when it should all have been going the other way. Brautigan was ...

Narco Polo

Iain Sinclair, 23 January 1997

Mr Nice: An Autobiography 
by Howard Marks.
Secker, 466 pp., £16.99, September 1996, 0 436 20305 7
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Pulp Election: The Booker Prize Fix 
by Carmen St Keeldare.
Bluedove, 225 pp., £12.99, September 1996, 0 9528298 0 0
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... There’s the hardboiled prison yarn (school of Papillon); the sentimental education (Emlyn Williams with attitude); the Brideshead years (revised by Will Self); Kensington decadence (‘We threw a disgustingly lavish party ... The food was limited to caviar and foie gras, the drink to Stolichnaya and Dom Perignon ... Peter Whitehead married Dido ...

Gielgud’s Achievements

Alan Bennett, 20 December 1979

An Actor and his Time 
by John Gielgud.
Sidgwick, 253 pp., £8.95
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... Thirties, Gielgud was able to put into practice some of the lessons he had learned from Harcourt Williams at the Old Vic, and through Harcourt Williams from Granville Barker. These were simple productions with continuity of action and unity of design, and were entirely modern in feeling. Wardle quotes Tyrone Guthrie as ...

‘No Bullshit’ Bullshit

Stefan Collini: Christopher Hitchens, Englishman, 23 January 2003

Orwell's Victory 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Allen Lane, 150 pp., £9.99, June 2002, 9780713995848
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... it, as though the duffing-up were more important than dealing with Orwell’s own writing. Raymond Williams is taken behind the bike sheds for a particularly nasty going-over; repetition of another kind adds to the problem here, since the substance of this long section was first delivered at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in 1999 (as the Raymond ...

English Fame and Irish Writers

Brian Moore, 20 November 1980

Selected Poems 1956-1975 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 136 pp., £3.95, October 1980, 0 571 11644 2
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Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 224 pp., £7.95, October 1980, 0 571 11638 8
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... poets, at least, may be drawing closet to our Irish omphaloskepsis. In a fine essay on the work of Philip Larkin. Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill. Heaney notes that they now seem to feel that the England they once knew is disappearing, and this has ‘driven all three of these writers into a kind of piety towards their local origins’. ‘All three,’ he ...

Who will stop them?

Owen Hatherley: The Neo-Elite, 23 October 2014

The Establishment and How They Get Away with It 
by Owen Jones.
Allen Lane, 335 pp., £16.99, September 2014, 978 1 84614 719 7
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... between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’. Jones misses the power of what the blogger Alex Williams has defined as ‘negative solidarity’ inside a demoralised, struggling and stratified proletariat. A blunt example: in the 1990s, when my father was working shifts as a sheet-metal worker, he loved to watch Harry Enfield, particularly the characters ...

Not Enough Delilahs

Andrew O’Hagan: Lillian Ross, 4 July 2019

by Lillian Ross.
NYRB, 219 pp., £14.99, June 2019, 978 1 68137 315 7
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... To be fair, there were some men she liked. They tended to be showbusiness people. She liked Robin Williams, Charlie Chaplin, Tommy Lee Jones and Al Pacino. She also liked Salinger. (‘Jerry’ had been a friend since the 1950s and Lillian could sometimes sound like a female Holden Caulfield, railing against the phonies.) She got a fine awareness of ‘the ...

Agh, Agh, Yah, Boo

David Wheatley: Ian Hamilton Finlay, 4 December 2014

Midway: Letters from Ian Hamilton Finlay to Stephen Bann, 1964-69 
edited by Stephen Bann.
Wilmington Square, 426 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 905524 34 1
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... the Beatnik era, establishing important transatlantic connections with Robert Creeley, Jonathan Williams, Lorine Niedecker and others. The break-up of his first marriage in 1964 terminated this period of relative stability, initiating the chapter of uncertainty that coincided with his first letters to Stephen Bann. At no stage in Finlay’s ...


John Lanchester: Among the Balls, 20 July 2006

... Keen’s cheddar? Perfect. Then I went upstairs and read Emmanuel Carrère’s biography of Philip K. Dick for half an hour or so.† Then I tried to sleep. There are quite a large number of books about how to get a good night’s sleep, and good ‘sleep hygiene’ in general, and not a single one of them recommends a combination of late-night ...

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