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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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... I understand the pleasure of footnotes and parentheses. In certain states of mind – distracted, tired – the sound of words means more than their content; there are reassuring rhythms. I bought BenMarcus’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 ...

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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... claimed that the she-bears responded to Elisha personally, not to any divine command. Neither religion was mature enough to understand that God hates children as much as he hates the rest of us. BenMarcus’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 ...

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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... in some carnal way, there are no #MeToo objections. Walls and boundaries fail at the point where sexuality is irrepressible. Explaining Williams’s stories in his introduction to this volume, BenMarcus 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 ...

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 those to last us fifty years. Whingeing double-income liberal parents, please let us have no more 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 ...
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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... that ‘To his Coy Mistress’ has a grim urgency unexpected in the conventional carpe diem lyric; 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 ...

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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... it possible they’d fed bamboo shoots to the tame deer in the Saigon zoo? Or together had beaten off 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 ...

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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... about what historians can and cannot do with language and rhetoric; and, fundamentally, about the 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 ...

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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... inventing it. The hero, famously and unprecedentedly, is black. According to Romero this wasn’t premeditated; 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 ...

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 ...

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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... is enabled by a traditional freedom in naming. The Rev. Easther noted – merely as a curiosity – 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 ...

‘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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... raised at the League of Nations. But there was always a difficult undertow. Among de Valera’s greatest 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 ...

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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... his life, but declines to sentimentalise him: he believes that in raising up the young Caesar ‘through 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 ...

‘It was everything’

Eliot Weinberger: The Republican Convention

10 August 2016
... a violent predator kicks in the door. He’s a three-time loser who never should have been released 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 ...

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