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Don’t do it!

Wendy Doniger: Dick Francis

15 October 1998
Field of 13 
by Dick Francis.
Joseph, 273 pp., £16.99, September 1998, 0 7181 4351 5
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... Any DickFrancis novel about horses and crime satisfies my definition of a myth: like a myth, it is one of a corpus of interrelated stories (most, though not all, about horses, and many about an ex-jockey named Sid ...

Flying Colours

Nicholas Best

17 April 1986
Lester: The Official Biography 
by Dick Francis.
Joseph, 338 pp., £12.95, March 1986, 0 7181 1255 5
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Born Lucky 
by John Francome.
Pelham, 157 pp., £9.95, November 1985, 0 7207 1635 7
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... game. And the injuries too. A misshapen thumb for Lester Piggott, a punctured lung, a chunk missing from his femur, an ear almost torn off, a fractured skull, fifteen years’ worth of headaches – DickFrancis devotes two chapters of his biography to injuries alone. It was no doubt a marketing man’s dream to bring Piggott and Francis together for the official version. Each king in his own field ...

Prince of the Track

James Ward: Jane Smiley

19 October 2000
Horse Heaven 
by Jane Smiley.
Faber, 561 pp., £17.99, June 2000, 0 571 20540 2
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... Tale.’ What inspiration could a nervy jockey – or a confident novelist – hope to get from The Winter’s Tale? The closest thing to a horse in the play is that notorious bear. Acevedo sticks to DickFrancis, who inspires him to ‘become the first Mexican steeplechase jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup’. Deirdre Donohue, a disillusioned Irish trainer, takes the complete works of Shakespeare ...

One for the road

Ian Hamilton

21 March 1991
by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 346 pp., £16.99, March 1991, 0 09 174533 0
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... early morning and activity disperses it, as you tell us in your last stanza, so if you feel as bad as you say then fucking get up, or if it’s too early or something then put the light on and read DickFrancis.’ And then what? Sit and wait for it to go away – the feeling, and the poem? Amis believes it was ‘fear of failure’ that prevented Larkin from persisting in his attempts to be a ...

Dying Falls

John Lanchester

23 July 1987
Temporary Shelter 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 231 pp., £11.95, July 1987, 0 7475 0006 1
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Bluebeard’s Egg 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 287 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 224 02245 8
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The Native 
by David Plante.
Chatto, 122 pp., £9.95, May 1987, 0 7011 3247 7
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The March of the Long Shadows 
by Norman Lewis.
Secker, 232 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 436 24620 1
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... to display both his and Lewis’s practicality and competence: the sense of complete familiarity within a milieu, and the well-worked plot, make the book something like a much-better-than-usual DickFrancis novel ...


Thomas Jones: Q and China Miéville

7 January 1999
by Q..
Sceptre, 256 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 0 340 68558 1
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King Rat 
by China Miéville.
Macmillan, 333 pp., £9.99, November 1998, 0 333 73881 0
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... kicked at over 160 beats per minute on a transglobal vibe’. Fine for the initiate, but not much good for anyone else; like all jargon, it is exclusive. Fortunately, both writers use it sparingly. DickFrancis is unusual in being able to arouse in the pedestrian reader some of a jockey’s excitement, though many jockeys have experienced the thrill of winning an important race. Many more people ...

Be interesting!

John Lanchester: Martin Amis

6 July 2000
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 401 pp., £18, May 2000, 0 224 05060 5
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... gets people going, not least because of Kingsley’s expressed lack of reverence for his son’s fiction. Kingsley, however, didn’t like anybody’s novels apart from those of Anthony Powell and DickFrancis, and his absolute honesty about this was a crucial part of his character. As Martin says, in some absolutely central way, Kingsley refused to make allowances for anyone, ever. He never faked ...

A Lethal Fall

Barbara Everett: Larkin and Chandler

11 May 2006
... art: American crime fiction. Larkin enjoyed crime novels (as did, of course, T.S. Eliot). As a reviewer and essayist, he gave respect and appreciation to such various talents as Ian Fleming and DickFrancis, Michael Innes and Gladys Mitchell – all British writers. It is hard to believe that he hadn’t read, at some time between its first British publication in 1943 and the writing of ‘High Windows ...

American Manscapes

Richard Poirier

12 October 1989
Manhood and the American Renaissance 
by David Leverenz.
Cornell, 372 pp., $35.75, April 1989, 0 8014 2281 7
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... into the monomanaical vengefulness, the compulsive penis envy, and the desire to be whipped, of Captain Ahab. Only Richard Henry Dana in Two Years Before the Mast and, in The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman, whose homosexual proclivities deserve more attention here, come forward as relatively standard cases of the urge to ‘be a man’. Leave it to the genteel types – William James being ...

Gentlemen Did Not Dig

Rosemary Hill: 18th-Century Gap Years

24 June 2010
The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment 
by Jason Kelly.
Yale, 366 pp., £40, January 2010, 978 0 300 15219 7
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... and recognisable types to their fellow citizens. One man might nevertheless play several parts. The young Boswell was always trying on new personalities and describing them to himself in his diary. Francis Dashwood, prime mover in the notorious set later known as the Hellfire Club, was not only a member of the Dilettanti but also of the much more respectable, not to say staid, Society of Antiquaries ...

Read my toes

Francis​ Spufford

5 August 1993
The Things That Were Said of Them: Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikigaq People 
told by Asatchaq, translated by Tukummiq and Tom Lowenstein.
California, 225 pp., £18.95, February 1993, 0 520 06569 7
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Ancient Land, Sacred Whale: The Inuit Hunt and its Rituals 
by Tom Lowenstein.
Bloomsbury, 189 pp., £20, April 1993, 0 7475 1341 4
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... kill. Despite and because of this, the grandeur of the hunt is complete and unforced. Sweat and metaphysics go together. To the hunters, what they do touches the whole structure of the world: Moby Dick, annually. To the reader, the hunt confirms Lowen-stein’s extraordinary achievement in focusing and re-composing the mysteries of his source material. The kill achieved, everyone rejoices. Even the ...

Who’s Got the Moxie?

A. Craig Copetas

23 March 1995
The Mexican Tree Duck 
by James Crumley.
Picador, 247 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 330 32451 9
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One to Count Cadence 
by James Crumley.
Picador, 338 pp., £5.99, May 1994, 0 330 32450 0
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... about to be run over by a freight train, a damaged Herradura tequila bottle and a dangerous pile of crystal meth. By the time you come up for air on page five, you’ll have been introduced to Dick Nixon’s political ghost, an ARVN position under the clotted Vietnamese sky, and Solomon Rainbolt, an attorney who can make a jury eat his shorts and convince them it was fettuccine al fredo. I will ...

Night Jars

Thomas Jones: ‘The North Water’

13 July 2016
The North Water 
by Ian McGuire.
Scribner, 326 pp., £14.99, February 2016, 978 1 4711 5124 8
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... through them. And there’s a troubling pleasure to be got from well-made sentences about unspeakable acts. The North Water is self-consciously literary, thick with allusions to other books: Moby-Dick, obviously (Sumner is less Ishmael than Ahab by the time he limps off across the ice in pursuit of a white bear); Conrad (there’s something of Lord Jim about Sumner, trying to redeem his shameful ...

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 ...

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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... are actually double acts. In David Copperfield there are the Murdstones, brother and sister; Steerforth 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 ...

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