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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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... bush she has no way of making out whether he is dead or merely sleeping. This question of perception is, of course, where a great deal of the humour in writing about foreign places comes from – and DianeJohnson 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 ...

Among the quilters

Peter Campbell

21 March 1991
Asya 
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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Happenstance 
by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 388 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 1 872180 08 6
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... unwittingly publicised by the Chinese intern, are (like an outbreak of cocaine-sniffing among the junior medical staff) a matter for low comedy and a little tactical blackmail, but not high drama. DianeJohnson 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 ...

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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... seemingly about writer’s block. What blocked Hammett? Drink? In part: but why the drinking compulsion? He abandoned his wife and children, with cruel intermittent heartlessness well documented by DianeJohnson. 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 ...

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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... new discoveries, and the admirable way he has arranged his material, go some way towards correcting, if not entirely refuting, the domestic image of Meredith’s marriage to Mary Peacock concocted by DianeJohnson in her True History of the First Mrs Meredith. In a spirited way, and with a good deal of apparent justification, DianeJohnson signed up Peacock’s daughter in the league of clever ...

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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... but then I found the wrong usage (‘You only demean yourself by talking to her’) in Howards 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 ...

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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Words 
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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Puns 
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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... yoof” to rhyme with roof).’ Patricia Beer staunchly defends euphemisms in literature, especially in the 18th and 19th-century novel; and she points out that ‘maidenhead’ was a euphemism. DianeJohnson 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 ...

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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... sequencing project), what were leisurely kinds of writing are being pressed into active service. 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 ...

Reviewers

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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... Beuve and John Aubrey. A brusque kiss-off to Francis Bacon, Charles Lamb, La Bruyère and the best 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 ...
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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... or political alliances, or history, or the land, but the artist himself and his creativity: 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 ...

Imperial Graveyard

Samuel Moyn: Richard Holbrooke

27 January 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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... power’ – the phrase was coined by his disciple Suzanne Nossel. For Holbrooke, the political challenge 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 ...

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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... Of the Vietnamese casualties, one might do better not to speak. All of this in order to accept the 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 ...

We Are Many

Tom Crewe: In the Corbyn Camp

10 August 2016
... that this leadership fight was not about Jeremy, but about the values he represented: ‘Because we believe … that a better world is possible and we are prepared to fight for it’, in the words of Diane Abbott. The crowd cheered wildly at any mention of increased house-building, a break with neoliberalism, the end of austerity, support for junior doctors, environmentalism, the end of tuition fees ...

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