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Illuminating, horrible etc

Jenny Turner: David Foster Wallace, 14 April 2011

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace 
by David Lipsky.
Broadway, 320 pp., $16.99, 9780307592439
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The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel 
by David Foster Wallace.
Hamish Hamilton, 547 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 0 241 14480 0
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... In the spring of 2008, shortly after he started reading Infinite Jest, my friend Francis got in touch to say a) he found the book astonishing, everything I’d said it was, one of the greatest literary works of all time; b) but when he got to the ending – 981 pp. body copy, another 96 of small-print endnotes – did I think he was going to think it was worth it? No, I said, the ending’s infuriating, and although the author denied it and I haven’t made a study of the available papers, I still suspect it was to some extent an afterthought, a way of ducking out of a project that, without it, would maybe never have ended at all ...

How does he come to be mine?

Tim Parks: Dickens’s Children, 8 August 2013

Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens 
by Robert Gottlieb.
Farrar, Straus, 239 pp., £16.99, December 2012, 978 0 374 29880 7
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... and his mother; the Micawbers, man and wife; Uriah Heep and his mother; Aunt Trotwood and Mr Dick; Dora and her friend Julia; Agnes and her father; but David himself, like other alter egos, is never quite locked into any relationship. It is as if the most natural meeting Dickens can imagine is himself alone in the presence of at least two others, who ...

O brambles, chain me too

Tom Paulin: Life and Vowels of Andrew Marvell, 25 November 1999

World Enough and Time: The Life of Andrew Marvell 
by Nicholas Murray.
Little, Brown, 294 pp., £20, September 1999, 0 316 64863 9
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Marvell and Liberty 
edited by Warren Chernaik and Martin Dzelzainis.
Macmillan, 365 pp., £47.50, July 1999, 0 333 72585 9
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Andrew Marvell 
edited by Thomas Healy.
Longman, 212 pp., £12.99, September 1998, 0 582 21910 8
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... In the great quilted cento that is Moby-Dick, there is a passage which might be interpreted as Melville’s response to James Barry’s 1776 engraving The Phoenix or the Resurrection of Freedom. In the engraving Andrew Marvell is depicted with Milton, Locke and Algernon Sidney among the mourners at the bier of Britain’s traditional liberties ...

Holding all the strings

Ian Gilmour, 27 July 1989

Macmillan. Vol. II: 1957-1986 
by Alistair Horne.
Macmillan, 741 pp., £18.95, June 1989, 0 333 49621 3
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... has never been ‘renowned as convivial company’. Has he ever dined with Mr Heath, one wonders? Francis Pym is criticised for ‘publishing a bitter book of self-justification’ immediately after being sacked as Foreign Secretary. That opinion would not survive even a cursory reading of The Politics of Consent. Yet Mr Horne is generally pretty fair, and he ...


Patrick Parrinder, 25 October 1990

Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society and the Imagination 
by Rosalind Williams.
MIT, 265 pp., £22.50, March 1990, 9780262231459
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The Mask of the Prophet: The Extraordinary Fictions of Jules Verne 
by Andrew Martin.
Oxford, 222 pp., £27.50, May 1990, 0 19 815798 3
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... conceptions of modern science and technology, and hence part of this history. In the 17th century, Francis Bacon pioneered the notions of knowledge as an underground seam or deposit, and of research as an assault on ‘nature’s womb’ in order to uncover its secrets. In Bacon’s New Atlantis, the sages of Solomon’s House boast of the artificial caves, up ...

Time Longer than Rope

Greil Marcus, 16 November 1995

... What’s the matter with your mound?’) and she hands him a dismissal (‘What’s it to ya, Moby Dick?’) as thorough as the one he detected in the coachman’s question. Big deals turn into little dreams: a herd of moose the singer buys his girl becomes a truck he thinks he might pick up in Tennessee. ‘Gonna save my money and rip it up,’ he says ...

Maschler Pudding

John Bayley, 19 October 1995

À la Pym: The Barbara Pym Cookery Book 
by Hilary Pym and Honor Wyatt.
Prospect, 102 pp., £9.95, September 1995, 0 907325 61 0
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... the would-be novelist to know from the inside, as it were, what his people are up to. As John Francis more elegantly puts it in his Introduction, ‘you feel Pym knew more about her characters than is necessary for us to know, but that these reserves are expended only if essential for her art.’ As Johnson observed to Boswell, you cannot know a person ...


James Wood: The ‘TLS’, 27 June 2002

Critical Times: The History of the ‘Times Literary Supplement’ 
by Derwent May.
HarperCollins, 606 pp., £25, November 2001, 0 00 711449 4
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... had robustly little time for Conrad’s dense pessimism. Two years later, on Chekhov’s death, Francis Gribble magniloquently wavered on the fine point of the Russian’s stature: ‘he may or may not have been a man of genius.’ Too often, reviewing was an annex of manners. The triply-named bookman – Arthur Quiller-Couch, Arthur Clutton-Brock, John ...

Subject, Spectator, Phantom

J. Hoberman: The Strangest Personality Ever to Lead the Free World, 17 February 2005

Nixon at the Movies: A Book about Belief 
by Mark Feeney.
Chicago, 422 pp., £19.50, November 2004, 0 226 23968 3
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... 1960s, an impressive roster of American writers, including Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Philip Roth and Garry Wills – whose analyses of Nixon, Reagan and Wayne blazed the trail for Nixon at the Movies – took him on as a character. Pundits have searched for literary antecedents (Uriah ...

Making a Break

Terry Eagleton: Fredric Jameson’s Futures, 9 March 2006

Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions 
by Fredric Jameson.
Verso, 431 pp., £20, September 2005, 1 84467 033 3
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... book has some supple, remarkably powerful readings to offer of Le Guin, Brian Aldiss, Philip K. Dick (‘the Shakespeare of science fiction’), A.E. Van Vogt, Kim Stanley Robinson and a range of others. Jameson has always been an energetic retriever of the neglected and maligned, and a brilliant salvage job here on Charles Fourier reflects this ...

Absolutely Bleedin’ Obvious

Ian Sansom: Will Self, 6 July 2006

The Book of Dave 
by Will Self.
Viking, 496 pp., £17.99, June 2006, 0 670 91443 6
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... translations of the Psalms – reading Tyndale, Coverdale, Milton, Sidney, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Francis Bacon, Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw and the inspired committee-work of the Authorised Version – one immediately notices that the biblical texts are really quite vile, and that the poets’ ‘personal agendas’ seem almost without exception ...


Christopher Tayler: Nicholson Baker, 3 November 2011

House of Holes 
by Nicholson Baker.
Simon and Schuster, 262 pp., £14.99, August 2011, 978 0 85720 659 6
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... remembered misquotation’), he mentions his surprise at being compared to Alain Robbe-Grillet and Francis Ponge by reviewers of his first two books. It’s easy to see how they got there: The Mezzanine – Howie’s footnote-strewn account of a morning at his anonymous corporate workplace, defamiliarised by intricate descriptions of vending machines and ...

You have a new memory

Hal Foster: Trevor Paglen, 11 October 2018

Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen 
by John P. Jacob and Luke Skrebowski.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 252 pp., £45, July 2018, 978 1 911282 33 4
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Trevor Paglen 
by Lauren Cornell, Julia This Bryan-Wilson and Omar Kholeif.
Phaidon, 160 pp., £29.95, May 2018, 978 0 7148 7344 2
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... a mode of viewing that is ‘critical-paranoid’ (I mean this term positively, as Philip K. Dick did when he defined the paranoiac as a person hell-bent on the truth). In the mid-19th century a French painter might remove any evidence of industrial production from his beautiful landscapes, while his American counterpart might work to assimilate the ...

Hinsley’s History

Noël Annan, 1 August 1985

Diplomacy and Intelligence during the Second World War: Essays in Honour of F.H. Hinsley 
edited by Richard Langhorne.
Cambridge, 329 pp., £27.50, May 1985, 0 521 26840 0
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British Intelligence and the Second World War. Vol. I: 1939-Summer 1941, Vol. II: Mid-1941-Mid-1943, Vol. III, Part I: June 1943-June 1944 
by F.H. Hinsley, E.E. Thomas, C.F.G. Ransom and R.C. Knight.
HMSO, 616 pp., £12.95, September 1979, 0 11 630933 4
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... the left. (As will be seen, King’s has a tradition of involvement with the Secret Service: Sir Francis Walsingham ran it for Elizabeth I.) Today the hounds are in pursuit of Andrew Gow, the Classical scholar and art collector who was Blunt’s mentor at Trinity. Gow, who had taught at Eton, devoted part of his life to editing Nicander, a didactic Greek ...

The Unrewarded End

V.G. Kiernan: Memories of the CP, 17 September 1998

The Death of Uncle Joe 
by Alison Macleod.
Merlin, 269 pp., £9.95, May 1997, 0 85036 467 1
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Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party 
by Francis Beckett.
Merlin, 253 pp., £9.95, August 1998, 0 85036 477 9
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... now safely dead and buried: there is no live bear to break out of its cage and retaliate. In 1995 Francis Beckett added his Enemy Within to the growing list of works. His researches were thorough; he had gone round meeting veterans of bygone days, nearly all of whom were happy to chew over their recollections with him. The book has now reappeared with an ...

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