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Male and Female

Alex Comfort, 15 May 1980

Sex and Fantasy: Patterns of Male and Female Development 
by Robert May.
Norton, 226 pp., £7.50, February 1980, 0 393 01316 2
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... One theme of this book is that there are significant psychological differences between the sexes.’ The trouble is that from where we are standing the task of distinguishing differences which are or might be programmed, differences due to learning, and differences which are not differences but stereotypes is not operationally feasible. Dr May does not attempt it ...


Jonathan Bate, 27 July 1989

Train, Train 
by Graham Coster.
Bloomsbury, 225 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 9780747503941
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The Philosophers 
by Alex Comfort.
Duckworth, 176 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 9780715625118
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The King of the Fields 
by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Cape, 256 pp., £10.95, July 1989, 0 224 02663 1
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Sister Hollywood 
by C.K. Stead.
Collins, 224 pp., £11.95, June 1989, 0 00 223479 3
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Penelope’s Hat 
by Ronald Frame.
Hodder, 440 pp., £12.95, July 1989, 0 340 49397 6
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... not with other human beings but with green screens, fax machines and modems. Graham Coster and Alex Comfort have each written a Condition-of-England novel for the Yuppie age, but they have handled the task in diametrically opposite ways. Coster’s protagonist, Greg, forsakes his computer terminal and takes a job in a youth hostel in the Lake ...

Knowledge Infinite

D.J. Enright, 16 August 1990

The Don Giovanni Book: Myths of Seduction and Betrayal 
edited by Jonathan Miller.
Faber, 127 pp., £6.99, July 1990, 0 571 14542 6
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... and even bracing fashion by Proust, in a particular connection, one glossed coarsely by Alex Comfort: ‘With better things in hand,/No one would dip a pen’ – let alone complete an enormously lengthy novel. No doubt it has frequently served as a pleasing extenuation of male infidelity; and also as a decent subject (you couldn’t dwell long ...

Unquiet Deaths

Patrick Parrinder, 3 September 1987

Two Lives and a Dream 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 245 pp., £9.95, July 1987, 0 85628 160 3
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The Wedding at Port-au-Prince 
by Hans Christoph Buch, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Faber, 259 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 571 14928 6
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Saints and Scholars 
by Terry Eagleton.
Verso, 145 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 86091 180 2
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Imperial Patient: The Memoirs of Nero’s Doctor 
by Alex Comfort.
Duckworth, 206 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 7156 2168 8
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... become pieties would, presumably, be the lesson of any history of historical misrepresentations. Alex Comfort’s Imperial Patient is a reexamination of the life of the Emperor Nero, who has suffered more from historical misrepresentation than most. A standard modern reference book will tell us that, ‘after a promising start’, Nero murdered his ...

Torch the Getaway Car

Christian Lorentzen, 13 September 2018

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime 
by Ben Blum.
Fourth Estate, 414 pp., £16.99, September 2017, 978 0 00 755458 4
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... of fives. On his way out of the teller pit, the man rubbed the shoulder of one of the tellers to comfort her and said to another as she unlocked the door letting him out to the lobby: ‘Thanks for your co-operation.’ One of his accomplices, tasked with raiding the vault, had got two managers to open it for him and found $200,000 inside. ‘I need a ...

Looking away

Michael Wood, 18 May 1989

First Light 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 328 pp., £12.95, April 1989, 0 241 12498 0
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The Chymical Wedding 
by Lindsay Clarke.
Cape, 542 pp., £12.95, April 1989, 0 224 02537 6
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The Northern Lights 
by Howard Norman.
Faber, 236 pp., £4.99, April 1989, 0 571 15474 3
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... triumphs of the book is a pair of parody rustics who seem to have stepped straight out of Cold Comfort Farm – until we realise that that is the effect they are after, that the parody is theirs, not the author’s. ‘He don’t know no secrets,’ one of them says, provoking a London woman to a mock complaint about rural double negatives, ‘and he ...

The Medium in the Attic

Dinah Birch, 1 June 1989

The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England 
by Alex Owen.
Virago, 307 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 86068 567 5
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... of personality and emotion, is intimately bound up with socially-constructed notions of maleness. Alex Owen’s solid and compelling new book makes it clear that the tenets of science’s disreputable sister, spiritualism, became just as entangled with ideas of gender. Spiritualism may be understood as an elaborated expression of Victorian thinking about what ...

Aestheticise, Aestheticise

Benjamin Markovits: ‘Shroud’, 2 January 2003

by John Banville.
Picador, 408 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 330 48315 3
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... ears. Something vital has gone wrong and they must take account of it. ‘I have the feeling,’ Alex Cleave declared in Banville’s last book, Eclipse, ‘the conviction, I can’t rid myself of it, that something has happened, something dreadful, and I haven’t taken sufficient notice, haven’t paid due regard, because I don’t know what it is.’ This ...

Corporate Imposter

Alex Harvey, 4 February 2021

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden 
by Denis Johnson.
Vintage, 224 pp., £9.99, February 2019, 978 1 78470 817 7
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... not have sought out the despairing woman – but he still watches in ‘ecstasy’ and offers no comfort. Is this the Mystery, that the spectacle we like to watch is the misery of others? Whitman and Fuckhead are both voyeurs, responding to the purity of a sufferer’s emotion. ‘Write naked. Write in blood. Write in exile,’ Johnson once demanded in a ...

Dentists? No Way

Naoise Dolan, 7 January 2021

As You Were 
by Elaine Feeney.
Harvill Secker, 392 pp., £14.99, August 2020, 978 1 78730 163 4
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... buyer beware’) who is terminally ill. For eight months she hides her prognosis from her husband, Alex, and their children. She tells nobody except ‘a fat magpie’, a habit of secrecy formed during childhood; she spent years keeping bad news from an abusive father whose rancour still rings in her ears. Eventually, she collapses and an ambulance brings ...


John Lanchester: A Month on the Sofa, 11 July 2002

... double. Another historical pattern was that we haven’t beaten Sweden since 1968. But that’s no comfort going into the Argentina game. We haven’t beaten them since 1966. 5 June. Germany 1 Ireland 1. Have to go out today, so set the video to tape the game and take steps not to hear the result until getting home (i.e. leave the car radio at home on ...

So Caucasian

Emily Wilson: ZZ Packer, 1 April 2004

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere 
by ZZ Packer.
Canongate, 238 pp., £9.99, February 2004, 1 84195 478 0
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... The epigraph to Drinking Coffee Elsewhere comes from Alex Haley’s Roots: ‘The histories have been written by the winners.’ The implication is that this collection will give us the voice of the losers. But ZZ Packer looks like an outsider only if you concentrate exclusively on racial identity. She went to Yale and then to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop ...

Lucky Boy

Kevin Kopelson, 3 April 1997

directed by Scott Hicks.
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Shine: The Screenplay 
by Jan Sardi.
Bloomsbury, 176 pp., £7.99, January 1997, 0 7475 3173 0
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The Book of David 
by Beverley Eley.
HarperCollins, 285 pp., £8.99, March 1997, 0 207 19105 0
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Love You to Bits and Pieces: Life with David Helfgott 
by Gillian Helfgott, with Alissa Tanskaya.
Penguin, 337 pp., £6.99, January 1997, 0 14 026546 5
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... viable biopic about a man – David Helfgott (played by Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor and Alex Rafalowicz) – who is abnormally inarticulate. Helfgott’s very first words are: ‘Kissed them all, I kissed them all, always kissed cats, puss-cats, kissed them, always did; if a cat’d let me kiss it, I’d kiss it – Cat on a fence I’ll kiss it ...

The Moral Solipsism of Global Ethics Inc

Alex de Waal: Human rights, democracy and Amnesty International, 23 August 2001

Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International 
by Jonathan Power.
Allen Lane, 332 pp., £12.99, May 2001, 0 7139 9319 7
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Future Positive: International Co-operation in the 21st Century 
by Michael Edwards.
Earthscan, 292 pp., £12.99, September 2000, 1 85383 740 7
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East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia 
by Daniel Bell.
Princeton, 369 pp., £12.50, May 2000, 0 691 00508 7
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... acquiring loyal patrons – but that way, they merely institutionalise themselves as peddlers of comfort to rich sponsors and contributors, and do nothing to solve the problems they appear to acknowledge. Edwards advocates a radical alternative in which the fashionable ideas of civil society and ‘good governance’ make them radically accountable, as NGOs ...


Alan Bennett: What I Did in 2015, 7 January 2016

... the wardering was outsourced so the first casualty was the warders’ chairs, and the warders’ comfort. (I’ve a feeling that the warders at the Met in New York don’t get to sit down either.) This outsourcing is presumably a prelude to outsourcing the wardering altogether, with it being done by Serco or some similar organisation. Toynbee says the ...

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