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Rachel Bowlby: At the Checkout, 22 October 2009

Checkout: A Life on the Tills 
by Anna Sam.
175 pp., £6.99, July 2009, 978 1 906040 29 1
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... to think of a title for the ultimate unsellably boring book, he came up with Mr Bailey, Grocer. So Anna Sam’s Checkout fills a gap in what was never imagined as any kind of market. It really is an account of what it is like to work in the contemporary equivalent of the grocer’s, and it was a bestseller in France last year. ...

Powerful People

D.A.N. Jones, 15 October 1987

Anthills of the Savannah 
by Chinua Achebe.
Heinemann, 233 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 434 00604 1
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Familiar Wars 
by Julietta Harvey.
Joseph, 251 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 7181 2823 0
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Lenin: The Novel 
by Alan Brien.
Secker, 703 pp., £11.95, October 1987, 0 436 06840 0
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... of an African state, generally known as His Excellency, though his old schoolmates remember him as Sam. Another is Ikem Osidi, editor of the National Gazette, a fiery journalist and admired poet. At school, Ikem was considered ‘the brightest’, but Sam was the cricket captain and the ‘social paragon’. ...

Cromwell’s Coven

John Sutherland, 4 June 1987

Witchcraft 
by Nigel Williams.
Faber, 390 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 571 14823 9
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Without Falling 
by Leslie Dick.
Serpent’s Tail, 153 pp., £9.95, May 1987, 1 85242 005 7
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Outlaws 
by George V. Higgins.
Deutsch, 360 pp., £10.95, April 1987, 0 233 98110 1
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... also contrives on his second day in the BL to catch the attention of a beautiful red-haired girl, Anna, at the next table in the North Reading Room. Stopping only for a gulped pint at the Museum Tavern, he’s promptly at her flat in Bedford Square rolling with her on the kitchen floor, admiring his own seductive moves like a sexier Jim Dixon. For anyone who ...

Pink and Bare

Bee Wilson: Nicole Kidman, 8 February 2007

Nicole Kidman 
by David Thomson.
Bloomsbury, 311 pp., £18.99, September 2006, 0 7475 7710 2
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... deal of it in Dead Calm (1989), the eerie Australian thriller where she plays the ingénue wife of Sam Neill on a yachting trip gone horribly wrong (‘When Hughie sweeps off her sailing shorts, the exposure of Rae’s bottom is arousing,’ Thomson notes.) There it is again, pink and bare, in Billy Bathgate, where she is the moll of Dustin Hoffman’s ...

Inner Mongolia

Tony Wood: Victor Pelevin, 10 June 1999

The Life of Insects 
by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield.
Faber, 176 pp., £6.99, April 1999, 0 571 19405 2
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The Clay Machine-Gun 
by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield.
Faber, 335 pp., £9.99, April 1999, 0 571 19406 0
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A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories 
by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield.
Harbord, 191 pp., £9.99, May 1999, 1 899414 35 5
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... and the rest of the book satirises types that can only be contemporary. In the first chapter Sam, a visiting US businessman, meets up with two Russian associates to discuss some unspecified but murky deal. The three tumble off a first-floor balcony, only to reappear in the distance as three mosquitoes flying towards the nearest village. This is only the ...

When the beam of light has gone

Peter Wollen: Godard Turns Over, 17 September 1998

The Films of Jean-Luc Godard 
by Wheeler Winston Dixon.
SUNY, 290 pp., £17.99, March 1997, 0 7914 3285 8
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Speaking about Godard 
by Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki.
New York, 256 pp., $55, July 1998, 0 8147 8066 0
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... same time. Samuel Fuller’s extraordinary Crimson Kimono also came out in 1959 and, sure enough, Sam Fuller shows up in Godard’s films six years later, in Pierrot le Fou, where le grand Sam appears as a party guest to define film as ‘like a battleground. Yes ... Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word ...

I dream of islands every night

Emma Hogan: Letters from Tove, 24 September 2020

Letters from Tove 
by Tove Jansson, translated by Sarah Death.
Sort of Books, 496 pp., £12.99, October, 978 1 908745 84 2
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... that satirised Hitler and Stalin. They fought about nationalism and about her former lover, Sam Vanni, who was Jewish. In 1942, aged 27, she moved out to a studio. ‘I knew I’d never become a happy person, or a good painter, if I stayed.’ She bought a lynx stole and painted a self-portrait with it slung over her shoulders: she looks ...

Memories of Tagore

E.P. Thompson, 22 May 1986

... cheerful. So I felt I couldn’t refuse to write about her when they asked me.’ ‘Have you met Anna Bhai?’ I asked. (Anna Bhai is the name Mrs Besant gave herself.) ‘Whom?’ ‘Mrs Besant.’ He shuddered: ‘No, and I never want to.’ ‘She’s never done any good, I think?’ ‘No, not a bit.’ From time to ...

White Slaves

Christopher Driver, 3 March 1983

Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight against White Slavery, 1870-1939 
by Edward Bristow.
Oxford, 340 pp., £15, November 1982, 0 19 822588 1
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Peasants, Rebels and Outcastes 
by Mikiso Hane.
Scolar, 297 pp., £12.50, October 1982, 0 85967 670 6
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... as they were called in a phrase that would have appealed to Sir Harry Flashman. Hersch Gottlieb, Sam Lubelski, ‘Napoleon’ Dickenfaden and other notorieties negotiated for them with agents and principals (that is, parents) at the equivalent of trade fairs in Poland and Austrian Galicia. One well-known exchange point, where Israel Meyrowitz was arrested ...

Bravo l’artiste

John Lanchester: What is Murdoch after?, 5 February 2004

The Murdoch Archipelago 
by Bruce Page.
Simon and Schuster, 580 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 7432 3936 9
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Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Media Wizard 
by Neil Chenoweth.
Crown Business, 416 pp., $27.50, December 2002, 0 609 61038 4
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Autumn of the Moguls: My Misadventures with the Titans, Poseurs and Money Guys who Mastered and Messed up Big Media 
by Michael Wolff.
Flamingo, 381 pp., £18.99, January 2004, 0 00 717881 6
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... businesses is so vast that it is hard to hold them in the mind simultaneously. When his wife Anna filed for divorce and was asked the extent of her husband’s assets, she said she didn’t know what his assets were. In his response, Murdoch was asked the same question, and gave the same answer. The strange thing is that he may have been telling the ...

Miss Lachrymose

Liz Brown: Doris Day’s Performances, 11 September 2008

Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door 
by David Kaufman.
Virgin, 628 pp., £29.95, June 2008, 978 1 905264 30 8
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... to a lyric, extends it, burnishes it before finally giving it away. She was the coloratura soprano Anna Moffo’s favourite singer. ‘Ten Cents a Dance’, a working girl’s anthem, is from Love Me or Leave Me (1955), a biopic about the jazz singer Ruth Etting which in uncanny ways also tells Doris’s own story, down to the manager-turned-husband called ...

Paper this thing over

Colin Kidd: The Watergate Tapes, 5 November 2015

The Nixon Tapes: 1971-72 
by Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 758 pp., $35, July 2014, 978 0 544 27415 0
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The Nixon Defence: What He Knew and When He Knew It 
by John W. Dean.
Penguin, 784 pp., £14.99, June 2015, 978 0 14 312738 3
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Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall 
by Elizabeth Drew.
Duckworth Overlook, 450 pp., £20, August 2014, 978 0 7156 4916 9
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Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair and the Origins of Watergate 
by Ken Hughes.
Virginia, 228 pp., $16.95, August 2015, 978 0 8139 3664 2
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The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan 
by Rick Perlstein.
Simon and Schuster, 860 pp., £25, August 2014, 978 1 4767 8241 6
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... scandal assumed political significance. In February the Senate established a committee, chaired by Sam Ervin, a Democrat from North Carolina, to investigate Watergate and other campaign abuses. The judge in the trial of the Watergate burglars, ‘Maximum John’ Sirica, also aired his suspicions that the whole story had still not been told. Faced with the ...

What does a chicken know of bombs?

David Thomson: A Key to Brando, 5 December 2019

The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando 
by William J. Mann.
HarperCollins, 718 pp., £22, November 2019, 978 0 06 242764 9
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... Terry Malloy, and accepted it with good grace. Then came 18 years of turmoil, a bad marriage (to Anna Kashfi, Christian’s mother), a mounting dread of his own work, and a need to sabotage projects. He scorned Hollywood, but started living there. He disdained phony projects, but took the money, all the while declaring that the entertainment medium was ...

St Marilyn

Andrew O’Hagan: The Girl and Me, 6 January 2000

The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe 
Christie’s, 415 pp., $85, September 1999, 0 903432 64 1Show More
The Complete Marilyn Monroe 
by Adam Victor.
Thames and Hudson, 339 pp., £29.95, November 1999, 0 500 01978 9
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Marilyn Monroe 
by Barbara Leaming.
Orion, 474 pp., £8.99, October 1999, 0 7528 2692 1
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... which may just prove to be the conspiracy sub-genre’s reductio ad absurdum: Bobby Kennedy and Sam Giancana and Marilyn’s psychotherapist tripping over each other in an effort to commit the great pointless homicide.* Monroe Books by Big Writers is another category: Norman Mailer (‘Marilyn was every man’s love affair with America’) to Gloria Steinem ...

Ways to Be Pretentious

Ian Penman, 5 May 2016

M Train 
by Patti Smith.
Bloomsbury, 253 pp., £18.99, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6768 6
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Collected Lyrics 1970-2015 
by Patti Smith.
Bloomsbury, 303 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6300 8
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... warmed to her. (How couldn’t I? Talking to cats, watching Inspector Morse repeats, reading Anna Kavan? She’s stolen my life!) If M Train had stayed there, as an unlikely TV addict’s pillow book, I would have been wholly won over. In her 1979 song ‘Dancing Barefoot’, Smith sang of ‘grave visitations’. If we take M Train at its ...

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