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Doing something

Ahdaf Soueif, 1 October 1987

Persian Nights 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 352 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 7011 3234 5
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Smile, and Other Stories 
by Deborah Moggach.
Viking, 175 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 670 81658 2
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Fast Lanes 
by Jayne Anne Phillips.
Faber, 148 pp., £8.95, August 1987, 0 571 14924 3
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... is, of course, where a great deal of the humour in writing about foreign places comes from – and Diane Johnson uses it to good effect. When Chloe finds herself in a bathroom with her Iranian friend Noosheen, she is amazed to find that she had no pubic hair. Chloe tried not to stare but it did make a person look strange, statue-like. She could not tell ...

Among the quilters

Peter Campbell, 21 March 1991

by Michael Ignatieff.
Chatto, 313 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 7011 3509 3
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Health and Happiness 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 260 pp., £13.99, January 1991, 0 7011 3597 2
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by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 388 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 1 872180 08 6
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... junior medical staff) a matter for low comedy and a little tactical blackmail, but not high drama. Diane Johnson has struck the right form for modern medical fiction. What other structure could so well show how modern medicine, while it has been unable to remove death from the wards, has so scrambled the traditional ending that the deathbed scene is now a ...

Such a Husband

John Bayley, 4 September 1997

Selected Letters of George Meredith 
edited by Mohammad Shaheen.
Macmillan, 312 pp., £47.50, April 1997, 0 333 56349 2
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... if not entirely refuting, the domestic image of Meredith’s marriage to Mary Peacock concocted by Diane Johnson in her True History of the First Mrs Meredith. In a spirited way, and with a good deal of apparent justification, Diane Johnson signed up Peacock’s daughter in the league of clever persecuted women ...

Gangsters in Hats

Richard Mayne, 17 May 1984

Essays on Detective Fiction 
edited by Bernard Benstock.
Macmillan, 218 pp., £20, February 1984, 0 333 32195 2
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Dashiell Hammett: A Life at the Edge 
by William Nolan.
Arthur Barker, 276 pp., £9.95, September 1983, 0 213 16886 3
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The Life of Dashiell Hammett 
by Diane Johnson.
Chatto, 344 pp., £12.95, January 1984, 9780701127664
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Hellman in Hollywood 
by Bernard Dick.
Associated University Presses, 183 pp., £14.95, September 1983, 0 8386 3140 1
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... He abandoned his wife and children, with cruel intermittent heartlessness well documented by Diane Johnson. Most of his life he was promiscuous, a dissatisfied solitary whose books made women killers. He had problems with his father. In The Glass Key – but not, pace Ms Johnson, in Red Harvest – a father kills ...

A Parlour in Purley

Tessa Hadley: Life as a Wife, 17 June 2021

The True History of the First Mrs Meredith and Other Lesser Lives 
by Diane Johnson.
NYRB, 242 pp., £14.99, July 2020, 978 1 68137 445 1
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... not ungenerously – and providing yet another plausible case of a wife abused by posterity. When Diane Johnson was writing about Mary Ellen Meredith, who died aged forty in 1861, that history was still close enough for her to touch the tail of its reality. The Preface to the reprint begins:I found Mary Ellen Meredith’s letters to her lover Henry ...

English Changing

Frank Kermode, 7 February 1980

The State of the Language 
edited by Leonard Michaels and Christopher Ricks.
California, 609 pp., £14.95, January 1980, 0 520 03763 4
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... End (1910), and discovered that the mistaken association with ‘mean’ was old enough for Johnson to record it in his Dictionary. Now the wrong usage is right, and mine is obsolete, as the ‘right’ sense of jejune, and the ‘correct’ homogeneous, may be in a hundred years or less. I am saying, half-heartedly conservative, that some resistance is ...

Who whom?

Christopher Ricks, 6 June 1985

The English Language Today 
edited by Sidney Greenbaum.
Pergamon, 345 pp., £12.50, December 1984, 0 08 031078 8
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The English Language 
by Robert Burchfield.
Oxford, 194 pp., £9.50, January 1985, 9780192191731
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A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language 
by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik.
Longman, 1779 pp., £39.50, May 1985, 0 582 51734 6
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by John Silverlight.
Macmillan, 107 pp., £17.50, May 1985, 9780333380109
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Faux Amis and Key Words: A Dictionary-Guide to French Language, Culture and Society through Lookalikes and Confusables 
by Philip Thody, Howard Evans and Gwilym Rees.
Athlone, 224 pp., £16, February 1985, 0 485 11243 4
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by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 234 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 631 13793 9
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Fair of Speech: The Uses of Euphemism 
edited by D.J. Enright.
Oxford, 222 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 19 212236 3
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... in the 18th and 19th-century novel; and she points out that ‘maidenhead’ was a euphemism. Diane Johnson and John Murray, on doctors and their proper self-protection, mention ‘consumption’. And John Gross, in a finely judged and moving essay on ‘Intimations of Mortality’, offers a grim humane reminder that some, still, of the uses of ...

Stay Home, Stay Stoned

Andrea Brady: Diane di Prima, 10 March 2022

Revolutionary Letters: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition 
by Diane di Prima.
City Lights, 213 pp., £13.99, September 2021, 978 0 9957162 6 1
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... The laws of hospitality are older than the laws of the United States of America!’ Diane di Prima shouted at the FBI agents who came to her cold-water apartment in Manhattan in 1956, looking for a young dissident writer from Yugoslavia. It was her first encounter with ‘the Big Reality that had undone so much of Hollywood, of New York ...

Against Whales

Paul Keegan, 20 July 1995

The Moon by Whale Light 
by Diane Ackerman.
Phoenix, 260 pp., £6.99, May 1994, 1 85799 087 0
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The Last Panda 
by George Schaller.
Chicago, 292 pp., $13.95, May 1993, 0 226 73629 6
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The Great Ape Project 
edited by Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer.
Fourth Estate, 312 pp., £9.99, June 1993, 1 85702 126 6
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... Moreover, there has been a hybridising of science writers, nature journalists, writer-scientists. Diane Ackerman and George Schaller are representative of either end of an increasingly blurred spectrum. The lengthy reports gathered in The Moon by Whale Light (‘and Other Adventures among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians and Whales’) were written for the New ...

Marquess Untrussed

Malcolm Gaskill: The Siege of Basing House, 30 March 2023

The Siege of Loyalty House: A Civil War Story 
by Jessie Childs.
Vintage, 318 pp., £12.99, May, 978 1 78470 209 0
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... besieged. News and supplies were delivered. Guests arrived, notably the botanist Thomas Johnson, the engraver William Faithorne and the elderly architect Inigo Jones. There was a wedding. Spies came and went. Deserters were caught and hanged. A plot to betray the house was uncovered. Then, early in 1644, the massing of Royalist forces around ...


Susan McKay: Pro-­Union Non­-Unionists, 4 March 2021

... Theresa May’s minority government after the 2017 election, had been forgotten. When Boris Johnson, at that point on the back benches, attended the DUP’s annual conference in 2018, he said what he knew the party wanted to hear. A border in the Irish Sea would turn Northern Ireland into an ‘economic semi-colony of the EU’ and damage the ...

Illustrating America

Peter Campbell, 21 March 1985

Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture 
by Paul Cummings, Jorn Merkert and Claire Stoullig.
Norton, 308 pp., £35, August 1984, 0 393 01840 7
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Abstract Expressionist Painting in America 
by William Seitz.
Harvard, 490 pp., £59.95, February 1984, 0 674 00215 6
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About Rothko 
by Dore Ashton.
Oxford, 225 pp., £15, August 1984, 0 19 503348 5
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The Art of the City: Views and Versions of New York 
by Peter Conrad.
Oxford, 329 pp., £15, June 1984, 0 19 503408 2
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... art galleries apart, was there a natural home for them? In 1958, when Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson’s Seagram Building went up, it seemed that there was. The Abstract Expressionists, who, in the Forties, could see themselves as an embattled avant-garde, were out of their cold-water lofts, and taking on the status of giants and heroes. Pollock was ...

Imperial Graveyard

Samuel Moyn: Richard Holbrooke, 6 February 2020

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century 
by George Packer.
Cape, 592 pp., £25, May 2019, 978 1 910702 92 5
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... of the post-Vietnam moment was to find a middle way between the hard militarism of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, both of whom believed they could bomb their way to victory, and the peace agenda of the Democrat George McGovern, whose dramatic failure in the 1972 presidential election convinced Holbrooke – and his future patrons the Clintons and ...


Marilyn Butler, 22 January 1981

Three-Quarter Face 
by Penelope Gilliatt.
Secker, 295 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780436179587
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Show People 
by Kenneth Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 317 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 297 77842 0
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When the lights go down 
by Pauline Kael.
Boyars, 592 pp., £8.95, August 1980, 0 7145 2726 2
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... of Mencken, not to mention Svetonius’s Lives of the Caesars; and into the garbage goes Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, perhaps the finest book of profile-essays ever written ... I am not, of course, claiming a place for myself among the masters I have named above. (Although, when Lamb is at his most whimsical, I sometimes think I could go a couple ...

Touch of Evil

Christopher Hitchens, 22 October 1992

Kissinger: A Biography 
by Walter Isaacson.
Faber, 893 pp., £25, September 1992, 0 571 16858 2
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... identical conditions for withdrawal, but under less shameful and deceitful circumstances, to which Johnson and even Humphrey had been ready to accede in 1968. Quite hardened men on Kissinger’s own staff were able to see the gruesome fallacy. ‘We bombed the North Vietnamese into accepting our concessions,’ drily remarked John Negroponte, a rough-stuff ...

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