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Yun Sheng: Mai Jia, 11 September 2014

Decoded: A Novel 
by Mai Jia, translated by Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne.
Allen Lane, 315 pp., £18.99, March 2014, 978 0 14 139147 2
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... Mai Jia’s success​ in the West comes as no surprise to his readers in China: we like our airport novels as much as anyone else. It’s odd, though, to hear Decoded – a thriller with a genius cryptographer as its hero – praised as a serious work of literature, which is how the Economist greeted it when the English translation appeared this year: ‘finally, a great Chinese novel ...

Spilled Butterscotch

Tessa Hadley: Olive Kitteridge, Again, 21 November 2019

Olive, Again 
by Elizabeth Strout.
Viking, 289 pp., £14.99, October 2019, 978 0 241 37459 7
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... out of Olive’s perceptions and her language. When, late in Olive Kitteridge, she visits her son, Christopher, in New York, we’re meant to imagine ourselves inside her wary suspicion of the city and of Christopher’s second wife and family; at the same time, we comprehend, with all Strout’s sophisticated distance, that ...


Alan Brien: Finding Lenin, 7 August 1986

... of those outstanding biographies which have the deeper and wider resonance of a novel’: Christopher Booker), A.N. Wilson tells a funny anecdote about Mussolini that was new to me, though I had just finished Denis Mack Smith’s Mussolini. It runs: ‘Mussolini had in fact modelled his style of dress on that of his favourite film stars, Laurel and ...

Dummy and Biffy

Noël Annan, 17 October 1985

Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community 
by Christopher Andrew.
Heinemann, 616 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 434 02110 5
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The Secret Generation 
by John Gardner.
Heinemann, 453 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 434 28250 2
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Two Thyrds 
by Bertie Denham.
Ross Anderson Publications, 292 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 86360 006 9
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The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany 1933-1939 
by Wesley Wark.
Tauris, 304 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 1 85043 014 4
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... an organisation whose leaders have names like Dummy Oliver, Blinker Hall, Biffy Dunderdale, Lousy Payne, Buster Milmo, Pay Sykes, Tar Robertson, Barmy Russel and Quex Sinclair (not to be confused with his successor but one, Sinbad Sinclair)? It’s no good reassuring the reader that in the transition from Victorian days, when men called even their closest ...

Best Known for His Guzzleosity

Helen Hackett: Shakespeare’s Authors, 11 March 2010

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 367 pp., £20, April 2010, 978 0 571 23576 6
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... of the works published in his name: not Sir Francis Bacon, or Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, or Christopher Marlowe, living on in secret after his apparent death in a brawl in 1593 (before most of Shakespeare’s works were written), or one of the more than 50 alternative candidates who have been proposed since the mid-19th century. The case for Shakespeare ...

Radio Fun

Philip Purser, 27 June 1991

A Social History of British Broadcasting. Vol. I: 1922-29, Serving the Nation 
by Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff.
Blackwell, 441 pp., £30, April 1991, 0 631 17543 1
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The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs. Vol. III: Serious Pursuits, Communication and Education 
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 470 pp., £30, May 1991, 0 7450 0536 5Show More
The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 
by Colin Seymour-Ure.
Blackwell, 269 pp., £29.95, May 1991, 9780631164432
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... so small it couldn’t be measured. Same with dance music in the heyday of the dance bands: Jack Payne, Henry Hall and Ambrose were all tuneful and popular; the more rarified Fred Elizalde at the Savoy was so disliked that he had to be dropped from the rota. And for the first time, as far as I know, a history of pre-war radio pays serious attention to the ...

Seizing the Senses

Derek Jarrett, 17 February 2000

Edmund Burke. Vol. I: 1730-84 
by F.P. Lock.
Oxford, 564 pp., £75, January 1999, 0 19 820676 3
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... will always stand forth as a man whose political knowledge was complete,’ wrote the editor, E.J. Payne. ‘He was therefore, though a reformer, incapable of rash and inconsiderate action. The man who has arrived at a view of the whole plan of civil society, and taken in the mutual relations and dependencies of distant parts, is not in danger of being ...

Bombes, Cribs and Colossi

R.O. Gandy, 26 May 1994

Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park 
edited by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp.
Oxford, 321 pp., £17.95, August 1993, 0 19 820327 6
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... end of the war there were more than a hundred, each one the size of a very large bookcase. Diana Payne recalls her life tending one. She describes the finicky process of setting up a bombe (particularly when changing rotor positions) and her satisfaction at doing an important, though mysterious, job well. In 1941, the Germans introduced a new kind of ...

Eliot and the Shudder

Frank Kermode: The Shudder, 13 May 2010

... to steal it. If, as I think, the only textual support for ‘bewildering’ was supplied by John Payne Collier, the Victorian scholar and forger, we can even say that Eliot chose a reading he knew to be fraudulent just because he liked it better. (You need authority to do that, and Eliot had some to spare: compare the acceptance into English dictionaries of ...

Enemies For Ever

James Wolcott: ‘Making It’, 18 May 2017

Making It 
by Norman Podhoretz.
NYRB, 368 pp., £13.98, May 2017, 978 1 68137 080 4
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... has died of a heart attack at the age of 37 and Cohen, sunk into depression, is admitted into Payne Whitney, leaving a power vacuum at the magazine. (He would later commit suicide.) In Cohen’s absence, a dual editorship assumes de facto control of the magazine with Podhoretz forced into a subordinate role that he rightly feels he has outgrown; he must ...

The Tower

Andrew O’Hagan, 7 June 2018

... began pouring down his walls from a flooded flat above him. At 6.20, he got a call from his son, Christopher, who was outside, saying that a fire chief wanted to speak to him.‘Mate,’ the firefighter said. ‘Get ready. Someone is coming to get you.’ He heard a knock at the door and it was them. Two firemen.‘How many are in here?’ one of them ...

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