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Morituri

D.A.N. Jones, 23 May 1985

Secret Villages 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 170 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 0 571 13443 2
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Miss Peabody’s Inheritance 
by Elizabeth Jolley.
Viking, 157 pp., £7.95, April 1985, 0 670 47952 7
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Mr Scobie’s Riddle 
by Elizabeth Jolley.
Penguin, 226 pp., £2.95, April 1985, 0 14 007490 2
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The Modern Common Wind 
by Don Bloch.
Heinemann, 234 pp., £9.95, May 1985, 0 434 07551 5
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Fiskadoro 
by Denis Johnson.
Chatto, 221 pp., £9.50, May 1985, 0 7011 2935 2
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... missing hands and feet, throats that can be seen through the space where the nose ought to be. Denis Johnson is another American writer who has attempted a large theme in a novel not-for-the-squeamish. Fiskadoro is about desolate survivors in Florida after a nuclear war. It is rather like a teenager’s ‘fantasy-book’, except that the prose is ...

Johnsons

John Sutherland, 7 June 1984

The Place of Dead Roads 
by William Burroughs.
Calder, 306 pp., £9.95, April 1984, 0 7145 4030 7
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Angels 
by Denis Johnson.
Chatto, 209 pp., £7.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2777 5
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Moll Cutpurse: Her True History 
by Ellen Galford.
Stramullion, 221 pp., £4.50, May 1984, 0 907343 03 1
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... might call it, using one virus to eliminate another more virulent.) Nazi genocide is evoked by the Johnson’s SS (‘Shit Slaughter’) commandoes formed to undertake a hygienic final solution and rid the universe of Christian, temperate heterosexuals. In their active character, the Johnsons are vigilantes; less furiously, they are refugees, a utopian ...

Corporate Imposter

Alex Harvey, 4 February 2021

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden 
by Denis Johnson.
Vintage, 224 pp., £9.99, February 2019, 978 1 78470 817 7
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... Death​ was Denis Johnson’s subject: the already dead, the dying but not yet dead and the rush of life in its last seconds. In Angels (1983), his first novel, Johnson describes his protagonist’s final moments. Bill Houston, a petty criminal and heavy drinker, is facing the death penalty after killing a security guard:He felt he could hold his breath for ever – no problem ...

Rut after Rut after Rut

Thomas Jones: Denis Johnson’s Vietnam, 29 November 2007

Tree of Smoke 
by Denis Johnson.
Picador, 614 pp., £16.99, November 2007, 978 0 330 44920 5
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... Americans in Vietnam who made napalm famous. Napalm is one of the first things that the title of Denis Johnson’s new novel brings to mind. Think of the opening of Apocalypse Now, the paradisal grove of palm trees against a clear sky, gradually obscured by clouds of dust whipped up by helicopter rotor blades, then suddenly obliterated by a salvo of ...

Blights

Patricia Craig, 23 April 1987

A Darkness in the Eye 
by M.S. Power.
Heinemann, 212 pp., £10.95, April 1987, 0 434 59961 1
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The Stars at Noon 
by Denis Johnson.
Faber, 181 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 0 571 14607 4
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Like Birds in the Wilderness 
by Agnes Owens.
Fourth Estate, 138 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 0 947795 51 0
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Fool’s Sanctuary 
by Jennifer Johnston.
Hamish Hamilton, 132 pp., £8.95, April 1987, 0 241 12035 7
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A Fatal Inversion 
by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell).
Viking, 317 pp., £10.95, March 1987, 0 670 80977 2
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Sisters of the Road 
by Barbara Wilson.
Women’s Press, 202 pp., £3.95, March 1987, 0 7043 4073 9
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The price you pay 
by Hannah Wakefield.
Women’s Press, 245 pp., £4.95, March 1987, 0 7043 4072 0
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... that life lived in certain conditions is equivalent to a kind of death: this is at the centre of Denis Johnson’s novel too. Here, the blighted land is Nicaragua, which is hot enough for Hell. The air is a compound of diesel oil and greasy dirt. Johnson’s narrator, another unnamed woman, has come to Central America ...

Suckville

Emily Witt: Rachel Kushner, 2 August 2018

The Mars Room 
by Rachel Kushner.
Cape, 340 pp., £16.99, June 2018, 978 1 910702 67 3
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... He fulfils their meagre requests for yarn or packets of seeds. He buys Romy books by Bukowski and Denis Johnson. He Googles the inmates to consider their crimes and Kushner channels some philosophising through his character: The word violence was depleted and generic from overuse and yet it still had power, still meant something, but multiple ...

Was Swift a monster?

Denis Donoghue, 5 June 1986

Jonathan Swift: A Hypocrite Reversed 
by David Nokes.
Oxford, 427 pp., £14.95, October 1985, 0 19 812834 7
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... Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759). In short, was Swift a monster, as Samuel Johnson nearly said: ‘The greatest difficulty that occurs, in analysing his character, is to discover by what depravity of intellect he took delight in revolving ideas from which almost every other mind shrinks with disgust.’ Sixty years after ...
Literature and Popular Culture in 18th-Century England 
by Pat Rogers.
Harvester, 215 pp., £22.50, April 1985, 0 7108 0981 6
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Eighteenth-Century Encounters: Studies in Literature and Society in the Age of Walpole 
by Pat Rogers.
Harvester, 173 pp., £22.50, April 1985, 0 7108 0986 7
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Order from Confusion Sprung: Studies in 18th-Century Literature from Swift to Cowper 
by Claude Rawson.
Allen and Unwin, 431 pp., £30, August 1985, 0 04 800019 1
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Jonathan Swift 
edited by Angus Ross and David Woolley.
Oxford, 722 pp., £6.95, June 1984, 0 19 281337 4
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... themselves established. Rawson’s writers in this collection of his essays include Swift, Pope, Johnson, Fielding, Boswell, Cowper and Christopher Smart. There are major essays on the character of Swift’s satire, Gulliver’s Travels, ‘A Modest Proposal’, the poems, Pope’s ‘Essay on Man’, the Dunciad, Fielding’s Journey from This World to the ...
Who Framed Colin Wallace? 
by Paul Foot.
Macmillan, 306 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 333 47008 7
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... briefing of American journalists, the joint ‘authors’ being Tony Benn, Stan Orme and Denis Healey. One is tempted to say that even in the MI5 officers’ mess, the idea of Denis Healey collaborating with Messrs Benn and Orme on anything at all must surely have required the assistance of a few double ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... known partly for formal experimentation whose work Wolff did include (among them Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson and Mary Robison) did not, in the stories Wolff selected, engage with the question of how a story convinces us of its reality. This is not to say that the stories Wolff selected were not interesting stories. Rather, it became abundantly clear ...

Le Grand Jacques

R.W. Johnson, 9 October 1986

Jacques Doriot: Du Communisme au Fascisme 
by Jean-Paul Brunet.
Balland, Paris, 563 pp., August 1986, 2 7158 0561 6
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... altar boy. Jacques, a tall, painfully thin boy, left school early to become a factory worker in St Denis, the most proletarian suburb of Paris. This perfectly ordinary career was changed for ever by his call-up in 1917. He fought heroically at the front – an experience which scarred his life – and was then retained in the Army after the war, to be sent ...

Her Boy

R.W. Johnson: Mark Thatcher, 16 November 2006

Thatcher’s Fortunes: The Life and Times of Mark Thatcher 
by Mark Hollingsworth and Paul Halloran.
Mainstream, 415 pp., £7.99, July 2006, 1 84596 118 8
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The Wonga Coup: The British Mercenary Plot to Seize Oil Billions in Africa 
by Adam Roberts.
Profile, 304 pp., £9.99, June 2006, 1 86197 934 7
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... on her name and had better access to her than anyone except – maybe not even except – Denis; and that he was happy to get involved with all sorts of shysters and downright crooks in order to become rich. Being rich seems to have been something Mark thought he was born to, that he had a right to, and he was in a great hurry to get to it. He got ...

Provincialism

Denis Donoghue: Karlin’s collection of Victorian verse, 4 June 1998

The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse 
edited by Danny Karlin.
Allen Lane, 851 pp., £25, October 1997, 9780713990492
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... in their lives because of it.’ Yeats had in mind his friends of the Nineties, especially Lionel Johnson, Ernest Dowson and Arthur Symons, poets who had awakened from the vulgarity of ‘the common dream’ – as Yeats calls it in ‘Ego Dominus Tuus’ – at the cost of falling into ‘dissipation and despair’. As a reader of Yeats, I felt obliged to ...

Raiding Joyce

Denis Donoghue, 18 April 1985

James Joyce 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Cambridge, 262 pp., £20, November 1984, 9780521240147
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James Joyce and Sexuality 
by Richard Brown.
Cambridge, 216 pp., £19.50, March 1985, 0 521 24811 6
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Joyce’s Dislocutions: Essays on Reading as Translation 
by Fritz Senn, edited by John Paul Riquelme.
Johns Hopkins, 225 pp., £22.20, December 1984, 0 8018 3135 0
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Post-Structuralist Joyce: Essays from the French 
edited by Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer.
Cambridge, 162 pp., £20, January 1985, 9780521266369
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... Simpson’s housewarming party in 1888, again at Leopardstown Races, and who, now married to Denis Breen, he meets on the morning of the novel and in guilty hallucination in “Circe” ’. If flirtation and hallucination put us on the verge of adultery, we’re in trouble. There is also a very odd passage about masturbation. Brown rebukes Fritz Senn ...

Their Affair and Our Affair

R.W. Johnson, 23 April 1987

The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus 
by Jean-Denis Bredin, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman.
Sidgwick, 628 pp., £20, March 1987, 0 283 99443 6
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Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France 
by Zeev Sternhell, translated by David Maisel.
California, 416 pp., £38.25, December 1986, 0 520 05207 2
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... John Weightman, reviewing Jean-Denis Bredin’s monumental work in the Observer, wrote of the Dreyfus Affair that ‘it was perhaps a good thing for France that the abscess burst when it did, because this brought tensions out into the open and revealed the “undeclared civil war” which would need to be resolved in the 20th century ...

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