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Civil Service

Anthony Thwaite, 24 November 1988

... The government department is deserted But all the lights are on. It lies below The pavement, rises up, a stump of glass, And all the lights are on, and no one there. It’s Friday night, at nine. And why indeed Should anyone be there? But all the lights are on. Banks of computers sit there, room on room Frozen in rectangles of green on black; And here’s an office where two chairs exchange A dialogue which must have finished when They left at half-past five ...

Snakes (Virginia, 1940)

Anthony Thwaite, 28 May 1992

... Down in the creek, snakes: Snakes in the opposite wood. There were snakes everywhere. This was new. This was good. At home in England, snakes Were pets you kept in a cage. Here they slipped free, and swam. This was a golden age. Most folk I knew hated snakes, Shrank if I brought one back And let it run over my arm Or gathered and then lay slack. Whipsnakes, cornsnakes, snakes Swollen, and black, and green, Crept through my days and nights ...

Two Poems

Anthony Thwaite, 28 January 2010

... Inheritance These little steps and quivers Remind me of my mother’s, Yet now they are made by me In part-senility – Gestures and postures passed Across the years, not lost But, as if imitated, Put on and animated By limbs, and flesh, and features, With movements and with gestures, So that what was me Becomes this parody, Shuddering and moving on In jerks, till I have gone For something else to inhabit This inherited frame, The same and not the same, Inhabit, inherit, give credit To the little steps and the quiver Linking me to my mother, And all that has passed, And all that is not lost ...

Fernando Lobo

Anthony Thwaite, 23 April 2015

... My dark Brazilian friend, seventy years back In Washington. Both of us were foreign, On the edge of Gordon Junior High. After my English prep-school shine wore off, My grades slid down and I lost interest In most things, except stamps and snakes and sex. We visited the embassies, cadging stamps, And messed about off Massachusetts Avenue Playing the hub-cap trick on passing cars (You threw one into the road and shouted ‘Hub-cap!’ And the car screeched to a halt ...

Multiplied

Anthony Thwaite, 18 February 1988

... He’s gone with her, and she has gone with him, And two are left behind; and there’s four more – The children, two of each; grandparents, still Alive and well, till now, and taking sides; And neighbours, six close by, and more besides In half a dozen villages ... Until The whole thing multiplies by seven score – Why he went off with her, and she with him ...

Elegiac Stanzas

Anthony Thwaite, 4 September 1997

... The famous poet’s mistress, forty years ago, Now heard five times a week on radio Acting an ageing upper-class virago. ‘The deadbeats of the Caves de France, the suicidal’, The substance of a novelist’s rapt recall, One who escaped the death from alcohol. The ravaged visage of a copywriter Who was an intimate of him and her, Encountered at the funeral of another ...

Elegy for George Barker

Anthony Thwaite, 21 November 1991

... And there, beneath a bull-nosed Buick Inert in Kensington, the poet lay, Grease smeared on cheek-bones, a fallen god Who rose to greet me, seventeen, with Blake And Langland in the triptych. Stay Yet a little longer, genius of the place, Fitting my footprints in the prints you trod, Letting me see those lineaments, that face. It was apotheosis. It was epiphany ...

Cockroach Story

Anthony Thwaite, 14 June 1990

... The reason for a cockroach in a story must differ from the reason for a cockroach in a kitchen. Leon Wieseltier, TLS It was not home. It was in Tokyo At half-past ten at night or thereabouts. I went into the kitchen, flicked the switch, And saw him crouching on the table’s edge. He was enormous, brown, and very still. His feathery branches waited, so it seemed, For further movement, and for me to move ...

Family Romances

Anthony Thwaite, 2 February 1989

A Little Stranger 
by Candia McWilliam.
Bloomsbury, 135 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 9780747502791
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Running wild 
by J.G. Ballard.
Hutchinson, 72 pp., £5.95, November 1988, 0 09 173498 3
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Breathing Lessons 
by Anne Tyler.
Chatto, 327 pp., £11.95, January 1989, 0 7011 3391 0
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... Candia McWilliam’s first novel, A Case of Knives, won the Betty Trask Award last year. I expect I am wrong in persistently remembering this as a prize for something called Romantic Fiction; I believe I am right in thinking that the rubric was extended to include the words ‘or traditional’. The formidable young McWilliam doesn’t seem to me to fit comfortably under either label ...

Japanese Love

Anthony Thwaite, 14 June 1990

Childhood Years: A Memoir 
by Junichiro Tanizaki, translated by Paul McCarthy.
240 pp., £15, February 1990, 0 00 215325 4
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The Great Mirror of Male Love 
by Ihara Saikaku, translated by Paul Gordon Schalow.
371 pp., $37.50, February 1990, 0 8047 1661 7
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... Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) is rightly regarded as one of the handful of 20th-century Japanese novelists whose work has to be seen as of universal and not just Japanese interest. One can, indeed, number them quickly: Tanizaki’s senior, Soseki; his contemporary, Kawabata; his juniors, Endo, Abe and Mishima. This is to leave out too many writers, I know: but the rest can generally be classed under other headings – the pathologically interesting, such as Dazai; the producers of one powerful novel, such as Osaragi (Homecoming) or Ooka (Fires on the Plain); or those who qualify through a sense of potential rather than actual worldwide achievement, such as Oe ...

Waving

Anthony Thwaite, 27 October 1988

Stevie Smith: A Critical Biography 
by Frances Spalding.
Faber, 331 pp., £15, October 1988, 0 571 15207 4
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... unblinking eyes at the whole thing: if Janet Adam Smith at the New Statesman wouldn’t print her, Anthony Powell at Punch would; a lull in Fleet Street somehow brought on a glut in Portland Place; and – ‘hey-ho’ – the villains in one publishing company would be succeeded by the angels at the next. Too much now is made of Stevie’s ‘neglect’: once ...

In Service

Anthony Thwaite, 18 May 1989

The Remains of the Day 
by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Faber, 245 pp., £10.99, May 1989, 0 571 15310 0
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I served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Chatto, 243 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 7011 3462 3
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Beautiful Mutants 
by Deborah Levy.
Cape, 90 pp., £9.95, May 1989, 0 224 02651 8
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When the monster dies 
by Kate Pullinger.
Cape, 173 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 9780224026338
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The Colour of Memory 
by Geoff Dyer.
Cape, 228 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 224 02585 6
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Sexual Intercourse 
by Rose Boyt.
Cape, 160 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 0 224 02666 6
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The Children’s Crusade 
by Rebecca Brown.
Picador, 121 pp., £10.95, March 1989, 0 330 30529 8
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... There’s an Auden sonnet, written in 1938 as part of the ‘In Time of War’ sequence, in which the setting seems to be a country house where great matters are being discussed: Across the lawns and cultured flowers drifted The conversation of the highly trained. The gardeners watched them pass and priced                              their shoes; A chauffeur waited, reading in the drive, For them to finish their exchange of views; It seemed a picture of the private life ...

Meltdown

Anthony Thwaite, 26 October 1989

Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath 
by Anne Stevenson.
Viking, 413 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 670 81854 2
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... Writing a BBC Third Programme review of Donald Hall’s Penguin Contemporary American Poetry exactly a month before she killed herself early in 1963, Sylvia Plath praised ‘the inwardness of these images ... the uncanny faculty of melting through the leaves of the wallpaper, through the dark looking-glass, into a world which one can only call surrealist and irrational ...

Eyes and Ears

Anthony Thwaite, 23 June 1988

The Silence in the Garden 
by William Trevor.
Bodley Head, 204 pp., £9.95, June 1988, 9780370312187
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Sea Music 
by David Profumo.
Secker, 207 pp., £10.95, May 1988, 9780436387142
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Tell it me again 
by John Fuller.
Chatto, 202 pp., £10.95, April 1988, 0 7011 3288 4
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The Continuing Silence of a Poet: The Collected Short Stories of A.B. Yehoshua 
Peter Halban/Weidenfeld, 377 pp., £11.95, June 1988, 1 870015 14 2Show More
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... The innocent child, eavesdropping on adults and adulteries, puzzled by half-heard conversations and half-understood hints, has a respectable history in fiction: What Maisie knew, The Go-Between, many other novels and stories. Such children are at the centre of William Trevor’s tenth novel and David Profumo’s first; or rather, Trevor seems to have chosen to place young Tom both centrally and peripherally (as children often are, in fiction and in life), while Profumo makes young James the very eyes and ears of his book, though distancing him by telling the tale in the third person ...

Ruined by men

Anthony Thwaite, 1 September 1988

The Truth about Lorin Jones 
by Alison Lurie.
Joseph, 294 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 7181 3095 2
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Latecomers 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 248 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 224 02554 6
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Where the rivers meet 
by John Wain.
Hutchinson, 563 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 9780091736170
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About the Body 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 193 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 436 09784 2
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Stories 
by Elizabeth Jolley.
Viking, 312 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 670 82113 6
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... Alison Lurie’s new novel is, among other things, an anthology of several characters from her earlier novels. Readers unfamiliar with these books need not be apprehensive, however: The Truth about Lorin Jones is perfectly self-contained. Indeed, that self-contained quality helps to account for the powerful, painful oppressiveness of the book, as Polly Alter becomes more and more deeply enmeshed in her quest for the eponymous woman she is pursuing ...

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