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It had better be big

Daniel Soar: Ben Marcus, 8 August 2002

Notable American Women 
by Ben Marcus.
Vintage, 243 pp., $12.50, March 2002, 0 375 71378 6
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Assorted Fire Events 
by David Means.
Fourth Estate, 165 pp., £10, March 2002, 0 00 713506 8
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... tired – the sound of words means more than their content; there are reassuring rhythms. I bought Ben Marcus’s first book, The Age of Wire and String, in a remainder shop soon after it was published, without knowing what kind of thing it was. I liked the way it sounded: Certain weather is not recognised by the land it is practised on; funnel clouds ...

How so very dear

Joshua Cohen: Ben Marcus, 21 June 2012

The Flame Alphabet: A Novel 
by Ben Marcus.
Granta, 289 pp., £16.99, June 2012, 978 1 84708 622 8
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... was mature enough to understand that God hates children as much as he hates the rest of us. Ben Marcus’s new novel, The Flame Alphabet, is a commentary on the Elisha text, but a commentary that fulfils both obligations of flame: the text’s illumination is also its destruction. A novel concerned with children and language and the terrors wrought ...

Molasses Nog

Ange Mlinko: Diane Williams, 18 April 2019

The Collected Stories 
by Diane Williams.
Soho, 764 pp., £20, October 2018, 978 1 61695 982 1
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... sexuality is irrepressible. Explaining Williams’s stories in his introduction to this volume, Ben Marcus is deadpan: ‘They are about people. Foolish, foolish people.’ Another category where verbal effect depends on compression and timing is the joke. The only online clip of Williams shows her reading in a bar; you hear the appreciative audience ...

Ruining the Daal

Thomas Jones: Ardashir Vakil, 19 June 2003

One Day 
by Ardashir Vakil.
Hamish Hamilton, 292 pp., £12.99, February 2003, 9780241141328
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... of their banal utterances.’ At the centre of One Day are a married couple, Priya Patnaik and Ben Tennyson. He is a schoolteacher and cookery writer; she works in radio. They live together in North London, in a flat just off the Holloway Road, with their son, Arjun Tennyson Patnaik, or Whacka, as he is more usually known, after the way he mispronounces ...

Coy Mistress Uncovered

David Norbrook, 19 May 1988

Dragons Teeth: Literature in the English Revolution 
by Michael Wilding.
Oxford, 288 pp., £25, September 1987, 0 19 812881 9
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Apocalyptic Marvell: The Second Coming in 17th-Century Poetry 
by Margarita Stocker.
Harvester, 381 pp., £32.50, February 1986, 0 7108 0934 4
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The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defence of Old Holiday Pastimes 
by Leah Marcus.
Chicago, 319 pp., £23.25, March 1987, 0 226 50451 4
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Milton: A Study in Ideology and Form 
by Christopher Kendrick.
Methuen, 240 pp., £25, June 1986, 0 416 01251 5
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... the lovers hang desperately on to their individual identities in the face of mortality. As Leah Marcus argues in The Politics of Mirth, ‘cavalier’ poems like Herrick’s ‘Corinna’s going a maying’ urge the abandonment of a strong sense of identity, in the spirit of the older ritual forms of carnival. In the wake of Bakhtin’s enormously ...

Did you hear about Mrs Binh?

Adam Mars-Jones: Viet Thanh Nguyen, 18 May 2017

The Refugees 
by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Corsair, 209 pp., £12.99, February 2017, 978 1 4721 5255 8
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... a pickpocket, a scabby refugee from the bombed-out countryside who’d sneaked up on them in the Ben Thanh market? The professor starts calling her by a name that isn’t hers, leaving her to wonder if there was another woman in his life, someone she knew nothing about. He brings her a rose, when it was his habit to give her improving books rather than ...

Saints on Sundays, Devils All the Week After

Patrick Collinson: London Burnings, 19 September 2002

The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England 
by Peter Lake and Michael Questier.
Yale, 731 pp., £30, February 2002, 0 300 08884 1
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... containment or non-containment of social and moral tensions and contradictions. Let us begin with Ben Jonson, the source of the title, whom Lake eventually gets to, rather like the dragon in Robert Graves’s poem. Jonson had the most turbulent, up and down existence of any of Britain’s greatest writers. It’s just possible that he was the son, born ...

Les zombies, c’est vous

Thomas Jones: Zombies, 26 January 2012

Zone One 
by Colson Whitehead.
Harvill Secker, 259 pp., £14.99, October 2011, 978 1 84655 598 5
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... Duane Jones was just the best actor who auditioned for the role. Jones’s character, Ben, isn’t very heroic: he’s brimming with authority, but has as little clue as anyone else how to deal with the undead hammering at the doors, and his clear priority is to save himself – which no one else, in the movie or the audience, is in any position ...

Lucky City

Mary Beard: Cicero, 23 August 2001

Cicero: A Turbulent Life 
by Anthony Everitt.
Murray, 346 pp., £22.50, April 2001, 0 7195 5491 8
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... Marcus Tullius Cicero was murdered on 7 December 43 BC: Rome’s most famous orator, off-and-on defender of Republican liberty and thundering critic of autocracy. He was finally hunted down by lackeys of Mark Antony, a member of Rome’s ruling junta and principal victim of Cicero’s dazzling swansong of invective: more than a dozen speeches called the Philippics, after Demosthenes’ almost equally nasty attacks on Philip of Macedon, three centuries earlier ...

Brand New Day

Niela Orr: ‘The Wiz’ and the Prez, 18 March 2021

... a cultural moment that otherwise poked fun at it or tried to avoid it. In an interview from 1977, Ben Harney, who played the Tin Man in the Broadway production, said that ‘for the first time in a long time people were getting Black theatre that wasn’t hitting them over the head with anger and militancy. This was a show that had universality, and it was ...

‘What is your nation if I may ask?’

Colm Tóibín: Jews in Ireland, 30 September 1999

Jews in 20th-century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust 
by Dermot Keogh.
Cork, 336 pp., £45, March 1998, 9781859181492
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... supporters was Robert Briscoe, a Jew who later became Lord Mayor of Dublin (as did his son Ben Briscoe), but he was never a minister in any Fianna Fáil government because of what Keogh calls ‘an undercurrent of hostility towards Jews in the country which even de Valera disappointingly adjudged better left unprovoked’. Although the Free State was ...

Flat-Nose, Stocky and Beautugly

James Davidson: Greek Names, 23 September 2010

A Lexicon of Greek Personal Names. Vol. V.A Coastal Asia Minor: Pontos to Ionia 
edited by T. Corsten.
Oxford, 496 pp., £125, March 2010, 978 0 19 956743 0
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... that already in early 19th-century Yorkshire, children were being baptised with diminutives: Fred, Ben, Willie, Joe, Tom. Everywhere, some names could be given to both girls and boys – Hilary, Evelyn, Lesley, Happy, Providence – and the practice of using surnames as forenames was well established. Particular groups have periodically used this customary ...


John Lanchester, 22 April 2021

Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula 
by Laleh Khalili.
Verso, 368 pp., £20, April 2020, 978 1 78663 481 8
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... away. She booked us passage on the Benvalla, a ship run by the once famous, irrevocably Scottish Ben Line, based in Leith and trading primarily with Asia. The Ben Line operated a fleet of mainly cargo vessels which also took some passengers. There were fourteen passengers on board the Benvalla and the journey was supposed ...

Syme’s Revolution

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 24 January 1980

Roman Papers 
by Ronald Syme, edited by E. Badian.
Oxford, 878 pp., £35, November 1980, 0 19 814367 2
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... violence and illegal arms’ against Antonius he showed himself ‘fanatical and dangerous’. Marcus Antonius has had his history written largely by his enemies: Syme treats him with sympathy, pointing out that a careless and disorderly private life did not prevent him from showing on occasion ‘consummate skill as a statesman’, besides courage and ...

‘It was everything’

Eliot Weinberger: The Republican Convention, 11 August 2016

... from prison early. But he was, because some politician wanted to show their “compassion”.’ Marcus Luttrell, a Navy Seal known from the Afghanistan invasion for his (possibly exaggerated) heroism, host of a television talk show produced by the conspiracist Glenn Beck and a former ‘special guest’ on Duck Dynasty, fired up the hall when he suddenly ...

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