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Faulting the Lemon

James Wood: Iris Murdoch, 1 January 1998

Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 546 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 7011 6629 0
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... he never created a single character of free and serious depth (he got closest in Late Call). A.S. Byatt has written well about her desire to write what she calls ‘self-conscious realism’; but her realism is seldom deep enough to warrant its self-consciousness. Margaret Drabble appears to want to combine Dickens and Woolf, to combine caricature and ...

Performance Art

John Bayley, 16 November 1995

... remains strong, though some usually avid novel-readers reject it almost with abhorrence – A.S. Byatt, for instance, in whose novels a comparable verbal saturation comes from a close affinity with real Victorian moral tradition. Amis is certainly one of those creators of a fictional world – Evelyn Waugh and Powell himself being other cases – whose ...

Not You

Mary Beard, 23 January 1997

Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship 
edited by J.P. Hallett and T. van Nortwick.
Routledge, 196 pp., £42.50, November 1996, 0 415 14284 9
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... was it not to be found – to follow Tacitus – in richer measure among us barbarians?) They have also wallowed in high-minded nostalgia. For, ever since the Romans (who somewhat ambivalently took over the guardianship of classical Greek culture when they conquered the country), it has been an underlying tenet of most classical scholarship that the present ...


John Bayley: On V.S. Pritchett, the Man of Letters, 30 January 1992

... contemplated the professionalisation of criticism today and the spread of literary theory. But he also recognised that there was something forlorn about such aggressiveness, which only made the professional men more cocky. Their chief weapon is to present their opponents as unconscious and thus benighted theorists, ‘unselfconsciously sustaining traditional ...

‘I worry a bit, Joanne’

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘The Casual Vacancy’, 25 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy 
by J.K. Rowling.
Little, Brown, 503 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 4087 0420 2
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... have claimed that a saga about a young wizard must necessarily be satanically inspired, and A.S. Byatt has implied that if Rowling made a deal with the devil she should have held out for greater imaginative powers. It’s hardly a revelation that War and Peace and Ulysses have more prestige than the Harry Potter books, but no one has ever had as intense a ...


Michael Wood: Chinese Whispers, 8 August 2013

edited by Adam Thirlwell.
Portobello, 380 pp., £20, August 2013, 978 1 84627 537 1
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... Thirlwell has edited, Multiples, but it involves history as much as literature, and the book is also full of gains, and even fuller of instances where we can’t draw up a balance sheet of any kind, and are driven to quite different modes of comparison. The book reproduces a game played in the pages of McSweeney’s in 2012. Twelve stories are on ...

Flying the flag

Patrick Parrinder, 18 November 1993

The Modern British Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 512 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 436 20132 1
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After the War: The Novel and English Society since 1945 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 310 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 9780701137694
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... novel in which the coincidence of the mainstream and the canon are taken for granted. D.J. Taylor also confines a his attentions to mainstream fiction (despite a curious weakness for Angela Thirkell), and at first glance he might seem to be following the same track as Bradbury’s later chapters. In fact, After the War is entirely concerned with ...

Poor Rose

Christian Lorentzen: Against Alice Munro, 6 June 2013

Dear Life 
by Alice Munro.
Chatto, 319 pp., £18.99, November 2012, 978 0 7011 8784 2
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... charms of simple sentences, perfectly polished (‘Alice Munro excites the writer in me,’ A.S. Byatt says, ‘there is something new to learn from her in every sentence’) and perfectly humourless. Reading ten of her collections in a row has induced in me not a glow of admiration but a state of mental torpor that spread into the rest of my life. I became ...

Seeing Things Flat

Jenny Turner: Tom McCarthy’s ‘C’, 9 September 2010

by Tom McCarthy.
Cape, 310 pp., £16.99, August 2010, 978 0 224 09020 9
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... and phenomenological, a matter not so much of people and places as of entities and angles; it’s also one of many suggestions in the novel that correspondences are being drawn between the fictional Serge Carrefax and the historical Sergei Pankeyev, eternally famous for his constipation, his weird compulsions and his sister’s suicide, as written up in ...

Why always Dorothea?

John Mullan: How caricature can be sharp perception, 5 May 2005

The One v. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel 
by Alex Woloch.
Princeton, 391 pp., £13.95, February 2005, 0 691 11314 9
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... Some have seen the literary novelist and the university critic in cahoots in this regard. A.S. Byatt complained recently about the absence of memorable characters from contemporary fiction, as if such portraiture had come to be regarded as old-fashioned. The postmodern novelist is too canny to believe in the illusions of human plenitude once peddled by big ...

Into the Future

David Trotter: The Novel, 22 March 2007

The Novel: Vol. I: History, Geography and Culture 
edited by Franco Moretti.
Princeton, 916 pp., £65, June 2006, 0 691 04947 5
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The Novel: Vol. II: Forms and Themes 
edited by Franco Moretti.
Princeton, 950 pp., £65, June 2006, 0 691 04948 3
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... Children; from Abdelfattah Kilito on Hamadhānī through Perry Anderson on Montesquieu and A.S. Byatt on Balzac to Simon Gikandi on Chinua Achebe. Moretti and his contributors have succeeded in making the study of the novel – if not the entire ‘literary field’ – ‘longer, larger and deeper’ than it was before, or than any single scholar could ...

Why do I have to know what McDonald’s is?

Patricia Lockwood: Rachel Cusk takes off, 10 May 2018

by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 249 pp., £8.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34676 9
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by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 260 pp., £8.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34674 5
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by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 232 pp., £16.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34664 6
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... on one of her most beloved authors, D.H. Lawrence. You are reminded of Frederica Potter (or A.S. Byatt herself) reading English at Newnham, trying to figure out what kind of novel you can write afterwards. Among the flowers of the novels, she also published the Amanita phalloides of three memoirs. The first, A Life’s ...

In the Potato Patch

Jenny Turner: Penelope Fitzgerald, 19 December 2013

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 508 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 7011 8495 7
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... expected Penelope Fitzgerald to win the Booker Prize in 1979 for her novel Offshore. Keneally was also on the shortlist, with Naipaul’s A Bend in the River the clear frontrunner. Julian Barnes remembers Paul Theroux, who was judging, saying he would ‘skim out into the pampas’ the candidates he considered non-starters; back from Patagonia, there he sat ...

Making strange

John Sutherland, 19 March 1981

Other people 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 223 pp., £5.95, March 1981, 0 224 01766 7
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The Magic Glass 
by Anne Smith.
Joseph, 174 pp., £6.50, March 1981, 9780718119867
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The Book of Ebenezer Le Page 
by Gerald Edwards.
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pp., £7.50, March 1981, 0 241 10477 7
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Sharpe’s Eagle 
by Bernard Cornwell.
Collins, 266 pp., £6.50, February 1981, 0 00 221997 2
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by Len Deighton.
Hutchinson, 397 pp., £6.95, March 1981, 0 09 144570 1
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... of pre-publication puff: ‘really marvellous’ (Colin Wilson), ‘wickedly funny’ (A.S. Byatt), ‘very nourishing entertainment’ (Dame Rebecca West). The manuscript’s progress through the hands of less enthusiastic publishers has been recorded in various gossip columns. Anne Smith, editor of the Literary Review, is a canny publicist for herself ...

Move Your Head and the Picture Changes

Jenny Turner: Helen DeWitt, 11 September 2008

Your Name Here 
by Helen DeWitt and Ilya Gridneff., 580 pp., £8, May 2008
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... verbs of vague application’, how she recently transported all her books to Berlin. There’s also a PayPal button by which you can ‘donate’ $1.15 to her when you buy The Last Samurai second-hand, thus paying the author roughly the same as she would get in royalties from a book sold new. ‘The norm in traditional publishing is for a second-hand book ...

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