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Is this what life is like?

Nicole Flattery: ‘My Phantoms’, 9 September 2021

My Phantoms 
by Gwendoline Riley.
Granta, 199 pp., £12.99, April, 978 1 78378 326 7
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... Like a lonely child’s lair, really.’ There is the limp eulogy which his brother gives: ‘Now, Barry lived life to the full … he was spoiled rotten. And he continued to spoil himself rotten, I think it’s fair to say.’ Christine, her father’s sister, tells her that when her own father died she ran all the way back to the house from the hospital ...

In Letchworth

Gillian Darley: Pevsner's Hertfordshire, 2 January 2020

... half of the 20th century. The plan (and many of the cottages) was the work of Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, who remained closely involved with the area. When George Bernard Shaw, who lived in the nearby village of Ayot St Lawrence, needed a garage, he asked Parker (his revolving writing hut was Shaw’s own work).Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead followed ...

‘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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... Council. Simon has put his name forward for election as a councillor, to replace the popular Barry Fairbrother, whose sudden death has created the ‘casual vacancy’ of the title. The technical means of delivering the poisonous message is an ‘SQL injection’, something mentioned to Andrew’s computing class by a young supply teacher who was trying ...


Tom Paulin: In Donegal, 8 October 1992

... a place so small it’s hard to find on any map. ‘Would Kilclooney mean church field?’ I ask Barry as we sit in the bar in the heel of the day. ‘It would, Tomás,’ he says, then instantly produces etymologies and all sorts of words in Irish – way beyond the dozen I vaguely know, and can never pronounce right. ...

Sweeno’s Beano

Nigel Wheale: MacSweeney, Kinsella and Harrison, 1 October 1998

The Book of Demons 
by Barry MacSweeney.
Bloodaxe, 109 pp., £7.95, September 1997, 1 85224 414 3
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Poems 1980-94 
by John Kinsella.
Bloodaxe, 352 pp., £9.95, April 1999, 1 85224 453 4
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The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony 
by John Kinsella.
Arc, 108 pp., £7.95, January 1997, 1 900072 12 2
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The Kangaroo Farm 
by Martin Harrison.
Paper Bark, 79 pp., £8.95, May 1998, 0 9586482 4 7
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... A tear caught in a mussel shell turns to pearl, the Ancients believed. Barry MacSweeney’s The Book of Demons begins among the living with ‘Pearl’, a 22-poem sequence evoking a childhood love between the poet-persona and his sweetheart, the daughter of a poverty-stricken smallholding family from the ‘rain-soaked’ ‘raw-bone’ laws – the high moors around Allen-heads in Northumberland ...


David Craig: Scotland Changes Again, 20 December 1990

... the about-to-be-privatised Naval dockyard at Rosyth, the oil-rigs under repair between Dundee and Barry which we the people no longer own even 51 per cent of since Lawson sold the family silver. Near Arbroath the hillocky golf links and sandstone skerries haven’t changed but a long brick wall, blank for decades, now flaunts a carefully-painted white ...

Yearning for Polar Seas

James Hamilton-Paterson: North, 1 September 2005

The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule 
by Joanna Kavenna.
Viking, 334 pp., £16.99, February 2005, 0 670 91395 2
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The Idea of North 
by Peter Davidson.
Reaktion, 271 pp., £16.95, January 2005, 1 86189 230 6
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... a documentary about a vast region without a single National Geographic banality concerning square miles, population figures or the value of timber and fur exports. The programme was the first of a projected trilogy; the second was to be about Newfoundland. Gould went there in 1968, fully aware of its Viking history, ‘in search of characters for a ...

The scandal that never was

Paul Foot, 24 July 1986

Shootdown: The Verdict on KAL 007 
by R.W. Johnson.
Chatto, 335 pp., £10.95, May 1986, 0 7011 2983 2
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... from the moment it left Anchorage, KAL 007 strayed northwards off its proper path. It was 365 miles off-course when it was shot down: further than any other plane had strayed in the history of civil aviation. Somehow, none of the waypoints were warned of this deviation. Somehow, no one on board noticed. Somehow, before he set off from Anchorage, the ...

Arctic and Orphic

Chauncey Loomis, 19 June 1986

Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape 
by Barry Lopez.
Macmillan, 464 pp., £14.95, May 1986, 0 333 42244 9
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... fully explored, however, the Arctic remains at least partly a world of fantasy. In Arctic Dreams Barry Lopez writes at length of the Arctic as it is now seen by scientists. Lopez is a professional writer with a near-professional grasp of the natural sciences and anthropology: his book is rich in fact, perhaps the best survey of the Arctic environment ever ...


Neal Ascherson: European Migration to AD 1000, 23 October 2008

Europe between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 
by Barry Cunliffe.
Yale, 518 pp., £30, July 2008, 978 0 300 11923 7
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... If Barry Cunliffe’s large and magnificent new book has a guiding motto, it is a famous sentence by Fernand Braudel about the Mediterranean, which Cunliffe applies to the whole continent and repeats several times in these pages: ‘Our sea was from the very dawn of its prehistory a witness to those imbalances productive of change which would set the rhythm of its entire life ...


Ian Hamilton: Two weeks in Australia, 6 October 1983

... hours from NY. Of course, it could be argued that the Aussies bring it on themselves, with their Barry McKenzies, their Ian Chappells, their self-parodying Foster ads, and so on. And there is the accent: for some reason more readily mimickable than any of our own regional twangs. Theories about the Australian accent are just as snooty as theories about ...

Us and Them

Robert Taubman, 4 September 1980

The Secret Servant 
by Gavin Lyall.
Hodder, 224 pp., £5.50, June 1980, 0 340 25385 1
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The Flowers of the Forest 
by Joseph Hone.
Secker, 365 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 0 436 20087 2
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A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie 
by Robert Barnard.
Collins, 203 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 00 216190 7
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Enter the Lion: A Posthumus Memoir of Mycroft Holmes 
by Michael Hodel and Sean Wright.
Dent, 237 pp., £4.95, May 1980, 0 460 04483 4
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Dorothy I. Sayers: Nine Literary Studies 
by Trevor Hall.
Duckworth, 132 pp., £12.50, April 1980, 9780715614556
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Milk Dime 
by Barry Fantoni.
Hodder, 192 pp., £5.50, May 1980, 0 340 25350 9
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... fall short; what it does, however, is show up the inadequacies of the original. Chandler may be miles away from Miss Marple and her cottage, and he made claims to a kind of realism and moral toughness in his work. But a parody shows up clearly that what you get in Chandler is only another fantasy: one to do with money, dream girls, cars and power, with the ...

The Wildest, Highest Places

David Craig, 17 July 1997

John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other Writings 
edited by Terry Gifford.
Baton Wicks, 912 pp., £20, November 1996, 1 898573 07 7
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... without blankets and ‘made my bed of rich, spicy boughs, elastic and warm’. In a cleft three miles back from the brow of El Capitan, ‘I lay down and thought of the time when the groove in which I rested was being ground away at the bottom of a vast ice-sheet that flowed over all the Sierra like a slow wind.’ He carried little but his notebook tied to ...

Seventy Years in a Colourful Trade

Andrew O’Hagan: The Soho Alphabet, 16 July 2020

Tales from the Colony Room: Soho’s Lost Bohemia 
by Darren Coffield.
Unbound, 364 pp., £25, April, 978 1 78352 816 5
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... at the opening of Harold Pinter’s first play, The Room. ‘It was the alcoholics’ paradise,’ Barry Humphries writes in his introduction to Darren Coffield’s entertaining book.You merely ran up a slate. Later, much later, came the reckoning, but you never knew how they arrived at the astronomical total, and alkies like to pay more anyhow. It’s our ...
... of how tight things had got. After several months of this the Klan finally attacked, and my friend Barry Higgs (who later edited the ANC paper Sechaba from East Berlin) and I had the dubious pleasure of seeing them off. It has to be said that there is no pleasure quite like watching a carload of armed men wearing stockings over their heads drive angrily away ...

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