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Too Obviously Cleverer

Ferdinand Mount: Harold Macmillan, 8 September 2011

Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan 
by D.R. Thorpe.
Pimlico, 887 pp., £16.99, September 2011, 978 1 84413 541 7
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The Macmillan Diaries Vol. II: Prime Minister and After 1957-66 
edited by Peter Catterall.
Macmillan, 758 pp., £40, May 2011, 978 1 4050 4721 0
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... largely paid for by Anthony Cowgill concluded unequivocally that, in the words of one of his team, Christopher Booker (who had originally believed that Macmillan was culpable), ‘Macmillan’s part in the story was (a) marginal at best, and (b) that he actually knew very little about the Cossacks in Austria, apart from what he was told at the briefing at ...


Christopher Tayler: Patrick McCabe, 5 April 2001

Emerald Germs of Ireland 
by Patrick McCabe.
Picador, 380 pp., £14.99, January 2001, 0 330 39161 5
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... to sustain the running joke. On the other hand, it’s hard not to be impressed when a twice Booker-nominated novelist chooses to write descriptions of such brilliantly calculated ineptitude as: ‘The sergeant nodded as a thin river of yolk was released from the unsteady Table Mountain of egg. He smiled as he ...

Young and Old

John Sutherland, 15 October 1981

Life Stories 
by A.L. Barker.
Hogarth, 319 pp., £6.95, September 1981, 0 7012 0538 5
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Many Men and Talking Wives 
by Helen Muir.
Duckworth, 156 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 7156 1613 7
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Good Behaviour 
by Molly Keane.
Deutsch, 245 pp., £6.50, September 1981, 9780233973326
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A Separate Development 
by Christopher Hope.
Routledge, 199 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 7100 0954 2
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From Little Acorns 
by Howard Buten.
Harvester, 156 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 7108 0390 7
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Fortnight’s Anger 
by Roger Scruton.
Carcanet, 224 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 85635 376 0
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... meanness’, or possibly the author doesn’t know what ‘mien’ means. By way of reply, Christopher picks up a brick. When he breaks through the window, Verity sprays him with insecticide. The affair ends. Rebounding from emptiness, Verity takes a job with the Drew Foundation, a body devoted to the enlightenment of underdeveloped countries on health ...

His Peach Stone

Christopher Tayler: J.G. Farrell, 2 December 2010

J.G. Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries 
edited by Lavinia Greacen.
Cork, 464 pp., €19.95, September 2010, 978 1 85918 476 9
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... on the lawn, or to me as I sit writing at a table’. The Siege of Krishnapur won the 1973 Booker Prize. The award dinners of those days were not ready for primetime: Rab Butler, drunk, tried to warm up the audience with some anti-semitic jokes (‘A Scotsman, an Irishman and a Jewboy – that sort of thing,’ according to Martyn Goff; Terence ...


Christopher Driver, 6 October 1983

by Graham Swift.
Heinemann, 310 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 434 75330 0
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Perfect Happiness 
by Penelope Lively.
Heinemann, 233 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 434 42740 3
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Scenes from Later Life 
by William Cooper.
Macmillan, 258 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 333 34204 6
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Summer at The Haven 
by Katharine Moore.
Allison and Busby, 158 pp., £6.95, April 1983, 0 85031 511 5
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... Which goes to show that Swift’s style is infectious. If the novel is not a real contender in the Booker stakes I am a Dutch dyke-digger. But the judges will have to like, as I do, sentences like this (describing what happens in a juvenile strip-tease game when doomed Freddie Parr thrusts an eel, ‘a good three-quarter pounder’, inside the sturdy elastic ...

It wasn’t a dream

Ned Beauman: Christopher Priest, 10 October 2013

The Adjacent 
by Christopher Priest.
Gollancz, 432 pp., £12.99, June 2013, 978 0 575 10536 2
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... of the shortlist for last year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel, Christopher Priest wrote on his blog that part of the award’s purpose is to prove to ‘the larger world’ that science fiction ‘is a progressive, modern literature, with diversity and ambition and ability, and not the pool of generic rehashing that the many ...

Seeing Things Flat

Jenny Turner: Tom McCarthy’s ‘C’, 9 September 2010

by Tom McCarthy.
Cape, 310 pp., £16.99, August 2010, 978 0 224 09020 9
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... beginning and the end of tragic art. And now, with McCarthy’s nomination to this year’s Man Booker longlist, there comes another round of the ancient spectacle. How can the cosy circle open up to absorb him, given how rude he has been about its household gods? ‘The deliberately flattened, almost mechanical characters … make for joyless ...


Christopher Hitchens: On the Original Non-Event , 20 April 1995

... with its own self-satirising pun). I would add the Nobel Prizes though not, oddly enough, the Booker ones. Nothing that has to be done every year is, however, likely to be much good. (Think of Christmas.) And now, the Oscars themselves are starting to bore people. When the original non-event goes stale, then the society of spectacle is in serious ...

Come back if you can

Christopher Tayler: Jhumpa Lahiri, 24 October 2013

The Lowland 
by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Bloomsbury, 340 pp., £16.99, September 2013, 978 1 4088 2811 3
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... in the breeze’). It might not be enough to rescue the novel from being a noble failure/potential Booker winner, but it’s a reminder of what Lahiri can do when she’s feeling artful rather than ...

The Literature Man

Charles Nicholl, 25 June 1987

by Malcolm Bradbury.
Hutchinson, 106 pp., £6.95, April 1987, 0 09 168280 0
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No, Not Bloomsbury 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Deutsch, 373 pp., £17.95, May 1987, 9780233980133
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The Last Romantics 
by Caroline Seebohm.
Weidenfeld, 322 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 297 79056 0
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The Magician’s Girl 
by Doris Grumbach.
Hamish Hamilton, 206 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 241 12114 0
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... circuit, a familiar voice in the literary press. He has stood on both sides of the fence in the Booker stakes, being chairman of the judges in 1981 and a short-listed nominee (for Rates of Exchange) in 1983. He is Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia. He is an editorial director of the magazine Granta. Influential, lucid and ...

Devil take the hindmost

John Sutherland, 14 December 1995

Shadows of the Future: H.G. Wells, Science Fiction and Prophecy 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Liverpool, 170 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 85323 439 6
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The History of Mr Wells 
by Michael Foot.
Doubleday, 318 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 385 40366 6
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A Modern Utopia 
by H.G. Wells, edited by Krishan Kumar.
Everyman, 271 pp., £5.99, November 1994, 0 460 87498 5
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... certain things (death, taxes etc) is the rule that no work of science fiction will ever win the Booker Prize – not even the joke 1890s version. H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine had no chance against ‘literary’ authors like Hardy and Conrad. In the twenty-five years it has been running, no SF title, as I recall, has even been shortlisted for Martyn ...

Major and Minor

Frank Kermode, 6 June 1985

The Oxford Companion to English Literature 
edited by Margaret Drabble.
Oxford, 1155 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 19 866130 4
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... wordage as Day-Lewis and a lot less than Maugham. From Australia we have Patrick White but not Christopher Brennan or A.D. Hope. Elsewhere one notes the ample presence of D. Lessing and the absence of D. Jacobson; his near-namesake Roman Jakobson is in, and said to be still alive, though alas he is not. Why Auerbach and not Curtius or Spitzer? Why the ...

Hairy Fairies

Rosemary Hill: Angela Carter, 10 May 2012

A Card from Angela Carter 
by Susannah Clapp.
Bloomsbury, 106 pp., £10, February 2012, 978 1 4088 2690 4
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... correspondence generated by her unfavourable review of The Official Foodie Handbook in 1985, Christopher Driver made pointed reference to her ‘perpetually forthcoming’ review of his own work. The postcards that punctuate the book, each one the occasion for an excursion by Clapp into biography or reminiscence, are also sometimes laconic, even for ...

The Runaways

Tessa Hadley: Michael Ondaatje, 8 November 2018

by Michael Ondaatje.
Cape, 299 pp., £16.99, June 2018, 978 1 78733 071 9
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... journal. He’s been showered with awards: The English Patient was the winner of the Golden Man Booker, celebrating fifty years of the prize (in his acceptance speech he credited the role Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation may have played in that result). These novels, really, are romances, in the sense that everything that happens in them is charged ...

Love among the Cheeses

Lidija Haas: Life with Amis and Ayer, 8 September 2011

The House in France: A Memoir 
by Gully Wells.
Bloomsbury, 307 pp., £16.99, June 2011, 978 1 4088 0809 2
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... Freddie. Dee retaliates, having a very public affair with the young, black American designer Hylan Booker, whom she brings to parties in place of her husband, by now ‘Sir Freddie’. Gully remains unruffled: ‘Had she not married my two favourite men in the entire world? So I didn’t doubt for a moment that this improbable but amazing-sounding creature was ...

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