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Rosehips

Benjamin Markovits, 5 February 2004

... Rosehips or Hagebutten As I grew up calling them Haggard buttons they sound like Though in fact appear brighter Altogether more cherubic Tough in the cheek like a forced smile Hanging on till it cracks The colour of tomato and mascarpone Flourished thornily beside the bicycle path Running along the carefully displaced One on top of the other slightly Wonky seaside rocks interspersed By sand and reed and the sandy towels Wet books hot suntan cream bottles Attracting flies around the cap And sunbathers seaweed footed Turning their pink spots away From the sun can be eaten Peel first and only the thin flesh Mincing in the mouth as the tip Of your own tongue and although The clustered seeds at the core Itch indigestibly a slight forbearance And the gift for contenting Oneself with surfaces only After the broad deep salt of the sea Swum in or sailed in a faceful Of spray (particularly for those Bowriders and jibmen serving Under the captain dry hooking The rudder under his armpit) Sweeten the mineral savour Of the world before you spit them out ...

Lollipop Laurels

Benjamin Markovits: Alice McDermott, 7 August 2003

Child of My Heart 
by Alice McDermott.
Bloomsbury, 242 pp., £14.99, May 2003, 0 7475 6323 3
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... Alice McDermott writes about Irish-American blue-collar neighbourhoods in Queens and Brooklyn, and summer getaways on Long Island. Someone in her novels always has a cottage there, acquired by a stroke of good fortune and maintained in spite of the surrounding gentrification. She writes about the generation before hers: the policemen, mailmen, shoe salesmen and streetcar conductors still recovering from the Second World War; and their wives, who make do, limited by the meagreness of their possible ambitions ...

Diary

Benjamin Markovits: Austin weird, 1 September 2005

... An Englishman landing in Austin will suffer the usual disappointments of arrival. The new airport, just out of town to the south-east, lies in the middle of nothing much. It is expensively spacious, marbled, lit. But even its newness is suggestive of somewhere slightly out of the way: the cleanness of manageable traffic. Nor, as he steps outside, will he find much to impress him ...

Megasuperwarlords

Benjamin Markovits: Mark Costello, 5 August 2004

Big If 
by Mark Costello.
Atlantic, 315 pp., £10.99, February 2004, 9781843542179
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... Before Mark Costello became a writer he was a federal prosecutor. His first book, Bag Men (1997), was set in 1960s Boston. A priest is murdered on the runway at Logan. A new ultra-pure drug is killing the hippies in Cambridge; another one is sending them mad. The hero, just finished at Boston College Law School, explains to his wife why he wants to be a DA: they ‘help people ...

Master of the Revels

Benjamin Markovits: Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy, 14 November 2002

They Were Counted 
by Miklós Bánffy, edited by Patrick Thursfield and Kathy Bánffy-Jelen.
Arcadia, 596 pp., £12.99, March 1999, 9781900850155
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They Were Found Wanting 
by Miklós Bánffy, edited by Patrick Thursfiled and Kathy Bánffy-Jelen.
Arcadia, 470 pp., £12.99, June 2000, 9781900850292
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They Were Divided 
by Miklós Bánffy, edited by Patrick Thursfield and Kathy Bánffy-Jelen.
Arcadia, 326 pp., £11.99, August 2001, 1 900850 51 6
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... Count Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy describes a period of history the author knew at first hand: the decade of Hungarian life before the Great War and the end of the Habsburg Empire. Bánffy played a part in national affairs at the time, and his three novels, written twenty years on, look back with nostalgia, but also with bitterness. It’s clear that the good times contained the seeds of their own end, that a society obsessed with balls and duels and hunts was stepping blindly towards its own dissolution ...

Kiss me!

Benjamin Markovits: Kundera’s Nostalgia, 20 February 2003

Ignorance 
by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher.
Faber, 195 pp., £16.99, November 2002, 0 571 21550 5
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... Milan Kundera’s novels are built around ideas – predicaments, particular emotions, even gestures – like cities around metro stops. His characters live as close to them as possible, meet others of a like mind or misery, then depart for the next stop and the next conception. His new novel, Ignorance, isn’t about ignorance in the ordinary sense, but about the predicaments of both exile and homecoming: ‘In Spanish añoranza comes from the verb añorar (to feel nostalgia), which comes from the Catalan enyorar, itself derived from the Latin word ignorare (to be unaware of, not know, not experience; to lack or miss ...

You can’t get there from here

Benjamin Markovits: Siri Hustvedt, 19 June 2003

What I Loved 
by Siri Hustvedt.
Sceptre, 370 pp., £14.99, January 2003, 9780340682371
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... In Siri Hustvedt’s first novel, The Blindfold, a young woman is hospitalised by the combined forces of an unhappy love affair, an artist’s photograph of her, and her translation of an early 20th-century German novella – this is plausible enough, to Hustvedt’s credit. Her plots depend on the occult power of art and the frailty of our ordinary healthy relation to the world ...

What was it that so darkened our world?

Benjamin Markovits: W.G. Sebald, 18 October 2001

Austerlitz 
by W.G. Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell.
Hamish Hamilton, 415 pp., £16.99, October 2001, 0 241 14125 7
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... Philip Larkin once wondered what it would be like for a lover to step inside his skull. ‘She’d be stopping her ears,’ he decided, ‘against the incessant recital/Intoned by reality, larded with technical terms.’ Stepping inside the mind (or prose) of W.G. Sebald elicits a similar reaction – at any rate, it is always a relief to step outside again ...

Are words pointless?

Benjamin Markovits: Bernhard Schlink, 21 March 2002

Flights of Love 
by Bernhard Schlink, translated by John Woods.
Weidenfeld, 309 pp., £12.99, February 2002, 0 297 82903 3
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... The generation battle, in its particular post-Third-Reich incarnation, runs through Bernhard Schlink’s work, both his bestselling The Reader and Flights of Love, a collection of short stories loosely arranged around various break-ups and infidelities. Reviewers tend to discuss the books together, partly because Flights of Love develops plots, characters and arguments already present in The Reader, but mostly because The Reader is better, more interesting even in its failures than this sequel ...

Aestheticise, Aestheticise

Benjamin Markovits: ‘Shroud’, 2 January 2003

Shroud 
by John Banville.
Picador, 408 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 330 48315 3
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... John Banville’s heroes seem to be in search of a centre or subject for their ruminations. Ghosts pester them; voices ring in their ears. Something vital has gone wrong and they must take account of it. ‘I have the feeling,’ Alex Cleave declared in Banville’s last book, Eclipse, ‘the conviction, I can’t rid myself of it, that something has happened, something dreadful, and I haven’t taken sufficient notice, haven’t paid due regard, because I don’t know what it is ...

Suspicion of Sentiment

Benjamin Markovits: Alice Munro, 13 December 2001

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage 
by Alice Munro.
Chatto, 323 pp., £14.99, November 2001, 0 7011 7292 4
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... It was love she sickened at,’ Alice Munro wrote in The Beggar Maid. ‘It was the enslavement, the self-abasement, the self-deception.’ If that’s her attitude it doesn’t promise much romance for her latest collection, despite its title; and in fact the book describes not so much love as the subtle changes in loyalty and disposition of which sexual love is only one (and not the most important) example ...

The Real Woman in the Real Cupboard

Benjamin Markovits: Jenny Erpenbeck, 30 June 2011

Visitation 
by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky.
Portobello, 176 pp., £7.99, July 2011, 978 1 84627 190 8
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... In the fourth section of The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald (or rather, his narrative alter ego) travels back to Germany from Norwich to look into the childhood of Max Ferber, an artist based loosely on Frank Auerbach. At 15 Ferber had been sent to England by his parents, who were eventually murdered in the camps at Riga. Sebald finds the silence of the people he encounters weird and unsettling: ‘I felt increasingly that the mental impoverishment and lack of memory that marked the Germans, and the efficiency with which they had cleaned everything up, were beginning to affect my head and my nerves ...

Diary

Benjamin Markovits: Michael Jordan and Me, 23 May 2002

... I grew up in Texas with two obsessions: basketball and Romantic verse. Satisfaction of both lay readily at hand. We had a hoop out back overlooked by the kitchen of a curry-house which sent its smell of spice and soapy water across the court. (Another neighbour once took a shotgun to the lights when I had stayed out late, banging the ball on the cement; I came back the next night and played in the dark ...

You Have Never Written Better

Benjamin Markovits: Byron’s Editor, 20 March 2008

The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron 
edited by Andrew Nicholson.
Liverpool, 576 pp., £25, June 2007, 978 1 84631 069 0
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... The relationship between Byron and his editor John Murray lasted a little over ten years. It began in March 1812 with the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which made Byron’s name. (‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous,’ he famously wrote, or is said to have written.) It ended twice: first, in the winter of 1822, when, after a number of disagreements and misunderstandings, Byron transferred his business to the publisher John Hunt; and finally in the spring of 1824, when Murray presided over the destruction of Byron’s memoirs, which he had not read, in his rooms at 50 Albemarle Street ...

Success

Benjamin Markovits: What It Takes to Win at Sport, 7 November 2013

... When I was seven, my father took a job at Oxford and moved us from Texas. We stayed two years. He signed me up to the local football club, Summertown Stars, and sent me to the local Church of England school, St Philip and St James. I was already a competitive, sport-obsessed child, and responded to the sense of cultural difference by exaggerating it ...

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