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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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... about the way he writes, and about the subject of his next book. He discusses with a barrister the benefits of revision – he rewrites everything three or four times – and concision. When writing submissions, the lawyer says, ‘you have to condense a story into the space of a page, and tell it well, while making sure that all the points of law are included ...
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

17 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 ...

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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... no longer even figure in the top hundred. Andrew and Robert are barely hanging on. But Joshua, Benjamin, Samuel and Joseph have been restored to the places they held two hundred years ago, after languishing for years in the unfashionable regions of the charts. It is even possible to trace the rise of particular combinations of sounds. The popularity of ...

‘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 ...

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

10 August 2016
... extremist terrorists’), Black Lives Matter and Hillary Clinton. The proceedings opened with a benediction from a pastor asking for God’s help in defeating the ‘enemy’: Clinton and the ‘liberal Democratic Party’. Mothers told sad stories of their deceased children. Two had been murdered in the last eight years by ‘illegal aliens’ in ...

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