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Tom Paulin: Summer in Donegal, 16 September 1999

... I read under Hazel: ‘Fruit, a true nut, egg-shaped, up to 2cm long, pale green becoming brown with woody shell, enclosed in deeply and irregularly lobed involucre, nuts solitary or in clusters.’ I like the Joycean pedantry of that word for husk, ‘involucre’. Hazel is the tree of knowledge, ‘noble of the wood’, its Irish vernacular name is ...

In the Box

Dale Peck, 6 February 1997

How Stella Got Her Groove Back 
by Terry McMillan.
Viking, 368 pp., £16, September 1996, 0 670 86990 2
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by Sapphire.
Secker, 142 pp., £7.99, September 1996, 0 436 20291 3
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The Autobiography of My Mother 
by Jamaica Kincaid.
Vintage, 228 pp., £8.99, September 1996, 0 09 973841 4
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... of the first half of this decade, writers as diverse in talent and sensibility as Rebecca Brown, Dennis Cooper, Kathy Acker, Gary Indiana and Sarah Schulman, writers whose main similarity seemed to be that they all started out at small presses before being ‘discovered’ by big houses. By now – by which I ...

Dream Ticket

Peter Shore, 6 October 1983

The Diary of Hugh Gaitskell 1945-1956 
by Philip Williams.
Cape, 720 pp., £25, September 1983, 0 224 01911 2
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... the officials in the Treasury and gave warnings against AB, WE and NBG. I spoke up strongly for Dennis (Proctor) and proposed that he should try and get John Maude.’ Indeed, so strong was Gaitskell’s recent Civil Service experience that, after attending another Dalton dinner for new MPs on 30 July 1945, he wrote, not a diary entry, but a minute – a ...


Alan Ryan, 26 November 1987

Ruling Performance: British Governments from Attlee to Thatcher 
edited by Peter Hennessy and Anthony Seldon.
Blackwell, 344 pp., £25, October 1987, 0 631 15645 3
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The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Institutions 
edited by Vernon Bogdanor.
Blackwell, 667 pp., £45, September 1987, 0 631 13841 2
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by David Pannick.
Oxford, 255 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 0 19 215956 9
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... and Thatcher have less to go on, and are more vulnerable to the prejudices of their readers. Dennis Kavanagh is nicer about the Heath Government than I find plausible; the Seventies syndrome of absurdly over-optimistic promises followed by continuous industrial strife was started by Heath’s famous promise to reduce prices at a stroke; and the ...

Sickness and Salvation

Sylvia Lawson, 31 August 1989

Aids and its Metaphors 
by Susan Sontag.
Allen Lane, 95 pp., £9.95, March 1989, 0 7139 9025 2
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The Whole Truth: The Myth of Alternative Health 
by Rosalind Coward.
Faber, 216 pp., £12.99, June 1989, 0 571 14114 5
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... multi-author collection Aids: The Burden of History, edited by Elizabeth Fee and Daniel M. Fox; Dennis Altman’s Aids and the New Puritanism. To the extent that Sontag’s essay links with those discussions and with the pleas you can read every week in liberal newspapers and journals – pleas against moralism and bigotry, pleas for correctly-targeted ...

My Missus

John Sutherland, 13 May 1993

Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, 1914-1950 
by Joseph McAleer.
Oxford, 284 pp., £35, December 1992, 0 19 820329 2
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American Star: A Love Story 
by Jackie Collins.
Heinemann, 568 pp., £14.99, March 1993, 0 434 14093 7
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... Mills & Boon to greatness were the tuppenny libraries in the Thirties (for which they supplied brown-jacketed hardbacks) and the cheap, bookstore-racked paperback in the post-Sixties period. Of the two, the first is associated with Mills & Boon’s golden age. In its recent paperback form the identity of the firm has been diluted by multinational ...

Staggering on

Stephen Howe, 23 May 1996

The ‘New Statesman’: Portrait of a Political Weekly, 1913-31 
by Adrian Smith.
Cass, 340 pp., £30, February 1996, 0 7146 4645 8
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... to offer their kind of political rationalism, being composed largely of stolidly unintellectual, brown-booted trade-union hacks. As the PLP itself became more varied after 1918, the paper’s attitude grew more nuanced, though it continued to lambast the emblematic representative of early labourism at its most mediocre and conservative, the former ...

Smirk Host Panegyric

Robert Potts: J.H. Prynne, 2 June 2016

by J.H. Prynne.
Bloodaxe, 688 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 1 78037 154 2
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... 2013, when Prynne could be seen fleetingly on Celebrity Masterchef being served wood pigeon by Les Dennis, might be regarded as a serendipitous objective correlative for this phenomenon.) Appreciation, on the other hand, remains as tricky as ever. The easiest criticism of Prynne’s work has always been that it doesn’t make sense. Many accounts of his work ...

Monstrous Offspring

Freya Johnston: The Rabbit-Breeder’s Hoax, 8 October 2020

The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder: Mary Toft and 18th-Century England 
by Karen Harvey.
Oxford, 211 pp., £16.99, January, 978 0 19 873488 8
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... of the few occasions when we seem to hear her voice, she describes feeling ‘as if very coarse brown Paper was tearing from within her’.The crudest, funniest and most effective of the many Toft satires, the anonymous Much Ado about Nothing: or, The Rabbit-Woman’s Confession, ridiculed her illiteracy and promiscuity in an exposé ‘in her own Stile and ...


David Bromwich: The Establishment President, 13 May 2010

... governor of Virginia; on 19 January, a Republican who describes himself as independent, Scott Brown, won Ted Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts. The scale of these victories made them particularly ominous. McDonnell took 59 per cent of the votes and Brown 52 per cent, in states where Obama a year earlier had ...

So Ordinary, So Glamorous

Thomas Jones: Eternal Bowie, 5 April 2012

Starman: David Bowie, the Definitive Biography 
by Paul Trynka.
Sphere, 440 pp., £9.99, March 2012, 978 0 7515 4293 6
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The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s 
by Peter Doggett.
Bodley Head, 424 pp., £20, September 2011, 978 1 84792 144 4
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... stripped-down funk – no lush horn section or chorus of backing singers – so tight that James Brown lifted Alomar’s riff. Bowie was moving on from Young Americans even before he’d finished making it. One reason for his restlessness, extreme even by his standards, had come in New York at the end of July, when he learned the real nature of his financial ...

In Farageland

James Meek, 9 October 2014

... grinning or laughing; it was strange to see him without a smile. I remembered watching Gordon Brown at a press conference once while Tony Blair was PM, curious about what he would do with his face while Blair was taking questions, and I saw Farage was doing what Brown had: looking away from the other speakers and the ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1998, 21 January 1999

... an empty Leeds and the train to King’s Cross. 10 September. Watch some of a programme about Dennis Potter, but the assumptions it makes about the relationship between art and life are so naive and wide-eyed and scarcely above the tabloid level that I don’t persist. It takes Potter at his own self-valuation (always high) when there was a good deal of ...

Clubs of Quidnuncs

John Mullan, 17 February 2000

The Dunciad in Four Books 
by Alexander Pope, edited by Valerie Rumbold.
Longman, 456 pp., £55, August 1999, 0 582 08924 7
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... as footnotes to the poem. (They are thickest among the writings of Pope’s lifelong enemy, John Dennis: ‘high voiced and never enough quoted’, as Pope has him.) And once the poem had first appeared to settle those stored-up scores, it would duly produce a further flurry of attacks and more material for Pope’s collection, more material for more ...

Across the Tellyverse

Jenny Turner: Daleks v. Cybermen, 22 June 2006

Doctor Who 
BBC1Show More
Doctor Who: A Critical Reading of the Series 
by Kim Newman.
BFI, 138 pp., £12, December 2005, 1 84457 090 8
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... a writer could do more with a Dalek would be to unite him with Basil Fawlty. Except that the dying Dennis Potter went further, maybe, when he called John Birt, the BBC’s then director-general, ‘a croak-voiced Dalek’ in 1993. Much expectation surrounded Doctor Who’s return last year, into an industry that has changed vastly since he went away. Mark ...

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