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16 November 1995
... I knew who he was although we had never met. I remember being impressed by his clothes. In those days after the war clothes were drab; grey flannels as common as jeans today. Those who wore smart jobs, like Ken Tynan in the purple-dyed battledress he had cadged off some ex-army student, did so very consciously. But Amis ...

‘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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... look beyond the streak it makes in the sky. On one level, nothing could be more natural than that a successful writer should try something new. Nobody finds it strange when a composer of symphonies writes chamber music, or a sculptor starts exhibiting drawings. It’s true that in fiction the direction of genre travel is ...

Frazzle

Michael Wood: Chinese Whispers

8 August 2013
Multiples 
edited by Adam Thirlwell.
Portobello, 380 pp., £20, August 2013, 978 1 84627 537 1
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... Versions’ represented his first appearance as a Hellenist. ‘I do not think I shall ascend to a second,’ he added. This modest forecast was based partly, as Borges recognised, on his ‘convenient ignorance of Greek’, but his tone allows all kinds of intriguing questions to creep in. What kind of Hellenist could one be without a knowledge of ...

The screams were silver

Adam Mars-Jones: Rupert Thomson

25 April 2013
Secrecy 
by Rupert Thomson.
Granta, 312 pp., £14.99, March 2013, 978 1 84708 163 6
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... run eagerly towards them, and yet the effect once again is of a genre being unpicked and rewoven.* A superabundance of signposts, it turns out, can be as disorienting as their absolute absence. Exposition of period and person is almost caricaturally lucid in Secrecy, with ‘The year was ...

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 ...

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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... For more than two thousand years, classical culture – as a set of institutions and as a way of life – has been lamenting its own imminent extinction. By inventing the idea of ‘barbarity’ to be the antitype of their own ‘civilised’ values, the ancient Greeks prompted the fear that those barbarians (real or, for the most part, imaginary) would sooner or later triumph ...

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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... attacking the proposed revisions to the National Curriculum. The academics were accused – falsely, I believe – of wanting to undermine the teaching of Shakespeare. A few months earlier, the Education Secretary John Patten sent back an official report on English in schools with the comment that 15-year-olds perhaps ...

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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... subject. 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 ...

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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... counts as a novel? Any ‘fictitious prose work’ over fifty thousand words was E.M. Forster’s answer, in Aspects of the Novel. It’s a broad enough definition, in all conscience, though it has begun to do some useful work by excluding a wide variety of short fiction in prose, and some long poems, such as Eugene Onegin or Vikram Seth’s The Golden ...

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

Patricia Lockwood: Rachel Cusk takes off

10 May 2018
Outline 
by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 249 pp., £8.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34676 9
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Transi
by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 260 pp., £8.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34674 5
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Kudos 
by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 232 pp., £16.99, May 2018, 978 0 571 34664 6
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... photos or illustrations of her in which she looks at you both directly and flinchingly, almost always with a strand of hair in the centre of her forehead, with a smile somewhat like Edna O’Brien’s – another writer who seemed to rouse hatred for her disarranged hair as much as for ...

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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... confusing about the consensus around Alice Munro. It has to do with the way her critics begin by asserting her goodness, her greatness, her majorness or her bestness, and then quickly adopt a defensive tone, instructing us in ways of seeing as virtues the many things about her writing that might be considered ...

Cumin-coated

Colin Burrow: Two Novels about Lost Bellinis

14 August 2008
The Bellini Card 
by Jason Goodwin.
Faber, 306 pp., £12.99, July 2008, 978 0 571 23992 4
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The Bellini Madonna 
by Elizabeth Lowry.
Quercus, 343 pp., July 2008, 978 1 84724 364 5
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... Are there too many novels about missing Old Masters? Anyone who reads Jason Goodwin’s The Bellini Card might be forgiven for thinking so. It’s about a search for a portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror which was supposedly painted by Gentile Bellini during his visit to Istanbul in 1479 ...

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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XPD 
by Len Deighton.
Hutchinson, 397 pp., £6.95, March 1981, 0 09 144570 1
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... Since Success, Martin Amis has been involved in a spectacular case of alleged plagiarism. As the apparently aggrieved author, Amis showed himself notably unresentful and unlitigious. Indeed, he took the offence as an occasion to ruminate good-naturedly on the oddities of literary ‘borrowing’. It’s relevant to bring this up since Other People depends very largely on a trick which is usually thought to be someone else’s trademark ...

Boomster and the Quack

Stefan Collini: How to Get on in the Literary World

2 November 2006
Writers, Readers and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain 1870-1918 
by Philip Waller.
Oxford, 1181 pp., £85, April 2006, 0 19 820677 1
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... heyday it was home to a writer with some claims to be the most widely read, in English and in translation, across the world. Visitors already knew so much because Marie Corelli not only boasted the longest entry in Who’s Who, but had enjoyed commercial success and international celebrity on ...
11 September 2008
Your Name Here 
by Helen DeWitt and Ilya Gridneff.
helendewitt.com, 580 pp., £8, May 2008
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... Some years ago, the novelist David Foster Wallace submitted himself to a long television interview with Charlie Rose, the PBS chat-show host. It was a terrific performance, and in it Wallace talked about why, in much of his work, narrative is split into body-text and footnotes: There’s a way, it seems to me, that reality’s fractured right now, at least the reality that I live in ...

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