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Can rebels be happy?

D.J. Enright, 23 May 1991

Self-Portrait of the Other: A Memoir 
by Heberto Padilla, translated by Alexander Coleman.
Farrar, Straus, 247 pp., £11.99, April 1991, 0 374 26086 9
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... After the fall of Batista in 1959, the poet Heberto Padilla, then 27 and living in New York, returned elatedly to Havana, joining the staff of the paper Revolucion. Thus helping to create the god who would later fail him. In 1961 the First Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, its motto being ‘To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture’; simultaneously, Padilla says, it became clear that membership of the new Writers’ Union was to depend on approval by the National Board of Culture, a body designed to prevent any repetition of the Pasternak affair ...

The Conversation

D.J. Enright, 25 March 1993

On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored 
by Adam Phillips.
Faber, 165 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 571 16925 2
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... This collection of essays by the psychotherapist Adam Phillips is a peculiarly difficult book to review because it reviews itself as it goes along and is hardly to be described in other than its own words. Much of it consists of a flow of sparkling apophthegms: the effect on the reader is not unlike being hit repeatedly on the head by a small, pointed hammer ...

Running Dogs

D.J. Enright, 13 May 1993

Red Sorghum 
by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt.
378 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 434 88640 8
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... Mo Yan’s novel opens with a kind of prospectus for itself: ‘I didn’t realise until I’d grown up that Northeast Gaomi Township is easily the most beautiful and most repulsive, most unusual and most common, most sacred and most corrupt, most heroic and most bastardly, hardest-drinking and hardest-loving place in the world.’ And forthwith the narrator’s father, aged 15 in the year 1939, is seen hanging onto the coat-tails of Commander Yu Zhan’ao as the latter’s troops (forty of them, poorly armed) advance through the sorghum fields to ambush a Japanese convoy and, as it happens, kill a Japanese general ...

Just going outside

D.J. Enright, 30 January 1992

The Birthday Boys 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 189 pp., £12.99, December 1991, 0 7156 2378 8
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... Under her somewhat demotic exterior, Beryl Bainbridge is concerned (which hardly seems the right word) with myths. Her dealings with them, virtually invisible, are unportentous in the extreme, perhaps too unportentous for her own good – though not for theirs. They need invisibility, being commonly regarded as ancient prescriptions, commandments and warnings, bullying and surely obsolete, for leading our lives ...

The Land of Serendipity

D.J. Enright, 23 September 1993

The True Paradise 
by Gamini Salgado.
Carcanet, 192 pp., £14.95, May 1993, 1 85754 007 7
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... It was a different country that Gamini Salgado was born in: Ceylon, not unhappy Sri Lanka. The first chapter of these childhood memories tells of the hawkers who took turns outside the railway station: the dealer in pills for constipation, the palmist with his dogeared charts, the itinerant vendor of story books (‘he had a lovely high chanting voice, dreamy and faraway like a girl’s’), and best of all the snake-bite man, who appeared every Friday ...

Lost Empire

D.J. Enright, 16 October 1980

Earthly Powers 
by Anthony Burgess.
Hutchinson, 650 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 09 143910 8
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... classes might keep their coal in it.) When he gives Toomey’s catamite-cum-secretary the name ‘Enright’ he spells it correctly, for he knows that in transliterating words from one language into another it is foolish to introduce silent letters, like a ‘w’. (Perhaps he even knows that the meaning of the name in Gaelic is ‘unlawful attack’.) When ...

Tribal Lays

D.J. Enright, 7 May 1981

The Hill Station 
by J.G. Farrell.
Weidenfeld, 238 pp., £6.50, April 1981, 0 297 77922 2
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... This is seemingly the first draft of roughly half of a novel which, had he lived to finish it, the author might possibly have entitled ‘The Doctor of Confusion’. It is right that it should be published, for it is good work, certainly in no obvious need of revision. Perhaps, compared with J.G. Farrell’s previous three novels, The Hill Station (as its editor, John Spurling, decided to call it) might be termed ‘light’, but only in that the writing is less dense, less effortful in the reading, than is the case with the Irish Troubles and, more markedly, with The Singapore Grip ...

A Writer’s Fancy

D.J. Enright, 21 February 1980

Hackenfeller’s Ape 
by Brigid Brophy.
Allison and Busby, 125 pp., £5.50, October 1980, 0 85031 314 7
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Flesh 
by Brigid Brophy.
Allison and Busby, 124 pp., £1.95, October 1980, 9780850313185
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The Snow Ball 
by Brigid Brophy.
Allison and Busby, 143 pp., £1.95, October 1980, 0 85031 316 3
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... Brigid Brophy’s novels have often been described as ‘brilliantly written’: a judgment which can have done her sales little good. (‘Don’t bother with that book – it’s brilliantly written!’) The notion that a writer ought actually to be able to write as distinct from slapping down words on paper is a dying one. Some far grander potency is required if fiction is to compete at all effectively with television ...

Must the grasshopper be a burden?

D.J. Enright, 12 July 1990

I don’t feel old: The Experience of Later Life 
by Paul Thompson, Catherine Itzin and Michele Abendstern.
Oxford, 290 pp., £17.50, June 1990, 0 19 820147 8
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... Impatience is one characteristic of advancing years, and so, this book being delayed in the post, I set to and drafted a review in its absence. There is always another deadline looming up, all too aptly named, the one that Time’s winged chariot is heading for. More soberly, making notes before you have read a book isn’t as monstrous as it sounds: at least you formulate your own, existing, perhaps meagre views on the subject ...

Much to be endured

D.J. Enright, 27 June 1991

Samuel Johnson in the Medical World: The Doctor and the Patient 
by John Wiltshire.
Cambridge, 293 pp., £30, March 1991, 0 521 38326 9
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... I want to draw some connections between Samuel Johnson, the amateur doctor and enthusiast for medicine, and the Doctor Johnson who figures so largely in the cultural imagination ... If we focus on the figure of Samuel Johnson, the unco-ordinated, discontinuous events of 18th-century medicine will seem momentarily at least to converge. He lived a life within medicine, intimate with some of the age’s chief practitioners, learned in both the classical and contemporary branches of the art, receiving upon and within his body its various ingenuities and interventions ...

Showing the sights

D.J. Enright, 15 August 1991

The New Oxford Book of 16th-Century Verse 
edited by Emrys Jones.
Oxford, 809 pp., £25, June 1991, 0 19 214126 0
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... The anthologist’s job is or ought to be a happy one. Less so the reviewer’s, especially if the reviewer is himself or herself an anthologist, and sick and tired of the standard ploys. One reviewer of a recent anthology on the subject of friendship deplored the insufficiency of homoerotic material; well, the editors had striven to avoid eroticism of any sort, as far as was possible ...

Holy Grails, Promised Lands

D.J. Enright, 9 April 1992

Proofs and Three Parables 
by George Steiner.
Faber, 114 pp., £5.99, March 1992, 0 571 16621 0
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... Proofs’, the longest story here, looks to be George Steiner’s farewell tribute on the passing of Communism; hardly a tribute, but rather more magnanimous than the run of postmortems and obituaries elicited by the event. The main character, an Italian somewhat old-fashionedly referred to as the Professore, is a convinced long-time Communist, by métier a fanatical proof-reader ...

Stuck in the slot

D.J. Enright, 8 October 1992

The Collected Stories 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 408 pp., £14.99, October 1992, 0 571 16274 6
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... One of John McGahern’s stories begins thus: ‘There are times when we see the small events we look forward to – a visit, a wedding, a new day – as having no existence but in the expectation. They are to be, they will happen, and before they do they almost are not: minute replicas of the expectation that we call the rest of our life.’ The story ends: ‘I was free in the Sligo morning ...

The German Ocean

D.J. Enright: Suffolk Blues, 17 September 1998

The Rings of Saturn 
by W.G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse.
Harvill, 296 pp., £15.99, June 1998, 1 86046 398 3
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... Change and decay in all around we see. As one of W.G. Sebald’s epigraphs points out, the rings of Saturn are probably fragments of a moon, broken up by tidal effect when its orbit decayed. In August 1992, we are told, Sebald walked through coastal Suffolk. Possibly because of the ‘paralysing horror’ caused in him by the traces of destruction he observed, a year later he was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital ‘in a state of almost total immobility ...
A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein 
by John Kerr.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 608 pp., £25, February 1994, 1 85619 249 0
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... Psychoanalysis, says John Kerr, is ‘in a period of institutional decline’: ‘Candidacies are down, patients are harder to come by’ and other therapeutic disciplines are clamouring for attention. The seeds of this sorry situation were sown during the six-year partnership between Freud and Jung, when ‘historical accuracy first came to be less important than ideological correctness ...

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