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Lumpy, Semi-Dorky, Slouchy, Smarmy

John Lanchester, 23 August 2001

Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous 
by Don Foster.
Macmillan, 340 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 333 78170 8
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... that she had only been doing her job. Autres temps, autres moeurs. This terrific story is told by Don Foster halfway through Author Unknown. Foster is the inheritor or professionaliser of the common-sense insight acted on by Alice Kelly: the fact that writing can give a clue to its author’s identity. ...

Well, duh

Dale Peck, 18 July 1996

Infinite Jest 
by David Foster Wallace.
Little, Brown, 1079 pp., £17.99, July 1996, 0 316 92004 5
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... John Kennedy Toole, whose A Confederacy of Dunces is a book nearly as bloated as its protagonist; Don DeLillo’s social, um, satires owe more than a little to Pynchon’s work; and in a recent essay in Harper’s magazine the young novelist Jonathan Franzen declares Pynchon a personal hero. David Foster Wallace moves ...

Let’s Do the Time Warp

Clair Wills: Modern Irish History, 3 July 2008

Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change c.1970-2000 
by R.F. Foster.
Penguin, 228 pp., £8.99, July 2008, 978 0 14 101765 5
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... and political progress. It is the baffling, ‘fast-forward’ nature of these changes that Roy Foster seeks to capture in this pacey narrative, which brings his 1988 history, Modern Ireland 1600-1972, up to date. Rather than offer a straightforward narrative account, Foster tracks the transformation of contemporary ...

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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... gratifying that people die while watching it, round and round for ever, in an endless loop. David Foster Wallace always had trouble finishing his novels. And yet he put in this one a thought so absorbing and delightful that you could easily imagine yourself, like the rat in the experiment, pressing the lever over and over. ‘Thousands of times an hour,’ as ...

Long Live Aporia!

Hal Foster: William Gaddis, 24 July 2003

Agapē Agape 
by William Gaddis.
Atlantic, 113 pp., £9.99, January 2003, 1 903809 83 5
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The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings 
by William Gaddis, edited by Joseph Tabbi.
Penguin, 182 pp., $14, October 2002, 0 14 200238 0
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... time is the thing that slips away: No but you see I’ve got to explain all this because I don’t, we don’t know how much time there is left and I have to work on the, to finish this work of mine while I, why I’ve brought in this whole pile of books notes pages clippings and God knows what, get it all sorted and ...

Move Your Head and the Picture Changes

Jenny Turner: Helen DeWitt, 11 September 2008

Your Name Here 
by Helen DeWitt and Ilya Gridneff.
helendewitt.com, 580 pp., £8, May 2008
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... Some years ago, the novelist David Foster Wallace submitted himself to a long television interview with Charlie Rose, the PBS chat-show host. It was a terrific performance, and in it Wallace talked about why, in much of his work, narrative is split into body-text and footnotes: There’s a way, it seems to me, that reality’s fractured right now, at least the reality that I live in ...

Pure Vibe

Christopher Tayler: Don DeLillo, 4 May 2016

Zero K 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 274 pp., £16.99, May 2016, 978 1 5098 2285 0
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... When​  Libra came out in 1988, the American writer Robert Towers said that it had made Don DeLillo the ‘chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction’. ‘Paranoid school’ doesn’t get you very far – Pynchon and Mailer, both broad-brush comparisons, were the other faculty members Towers had in mind – but there’s mileage in the notion of DeLillo as a shaman ...

State of the Art

John Lanchester, 1 June 1989

Manchester United: The Betrayal of a Legend 
by Michael Crick and David Smith.
Pelham, 246 pp., £14.95, May 1989, 0 7207 1783 3
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Football in its Place: An Environmental Psychology of Football Grounds 
by David Canter, Miriam Comber and David Uzzell.
Routledge, 173 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 0 415 01240 6
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... but they also tended to have Jekyll-and-Hyde natures, the Hyde component of which their manager, Don Revie, did nothing to suppress. The fact that the most successful team in English football was one of the hardest and dirtiest teams in the League had a considerable, entirely malign effect. English football became, and remains, full of what Eamon Dunphy, the ...

Acapulcalypse

Patrick Parrinder, 23 November 1989

Christopher Unborn 
by Carlos Fuentes, translated by Alfred MacAdam.
Deutsch, 531 pp., £13.95, October 1989, 0 233 98016 4
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The Faber Book of Contemporary Latin American Short Stories 
edited by Nick Caistor.
Faber, 188 pp., £11.99, September 1989, 0 571 15359 3
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Hollywood 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 543 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 9780233984957
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Oldest living Confederate widow tells all 
by Allan Gurganus.
Faber, 718 pp., £12.99, November 1989, 9780571142019
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... own literary genealogy, which includes Tristram Shandy, Nikolai Gogol, Pierre Menard (author of Don Quixote) and many others of what he calls the ‘Sons of La Mancha’. Fuentes has written elsewhere that Cervantes’s great subject is the ‘madness of reading’, a phrase which sounds much much better in Spanish – la locura de la lectura. Christopher ...

The Great Mary

Dinah Birch, 13 September 1990

Mrs Humphry Ward: Eminent Victorian, Pre-Eminent Edwardian 
by John Sutherland.
Oxford, 432 pp., £16.99, August 1990, 0 19 818587 1
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... the attention of men with the power of patronage. She was taken up by Mark Pattison, never slow to foster the hopes of personable girls, and his influence won her a pass to the stacks of the Bodleian. It was a rare privilege for a young woman in the 1860s. Mary made the most of it. She picked on the history and literature of early Spain as her subject (there ...

Humanitarian Art

Jeremy Harding: Susan Sontag, 21 August 2003

Regarding the Pain of Others 
by Susan Sontag.
Hamish Hamilton, 117 pp., £12.99, August 2003, 0 241 14207 5
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Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics 
by David Levi Strauss.
Aperture, 224 pp., £20, May 2003, 1 931788 10 3
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... to the act of remembering. Regarding the Pain of Others is as much about what we do and don’t remember as it is about representations of suffering – photographs of war and disaster, for the most part – and their value. The archives of ordinary individuals are stacked with visual index cards that trigger a range of private ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 1990, 24 January 1991

... as a model for them to emulate. Perhaps it should be shown to Mrs Thatcher.17 July. Supper with Don S. and his wife, Barbara, and with David and Maureen V. They have all recently visited Poland, where they were taken to see the church of the murdered priest Father Popieluszko, which is in the process of being turned into a shrine. Here in the church is the ...

God wielded the buzzer

Christian Lorentzen: The Sorrows of DFW, 11 October 2012

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace 
by D.T. Max.
Granta, 352 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 84708 494 1
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... David Foster Wallace’s parents, Sally and Jim, were the sort of couple who read each other Ulysses in bed while holding hands. Jim read David and his younger sister Amy Moby-Dick as a bedtime story. It wasn’t inevitable that the boy would grow up to write an epic novel, but it wasn’t accidental. Jim was a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois; Sally taught English at a community college, and at home with her children was what her son in his fiction would term a ‘militant grammarian’, constantly monitoring their usage and syntax, turning it into a game ...

What sort of traitors?

Neal Ascherson, 7 February 1980

The Climate of Treason 
by Andrew Boyle.
Hutchinson, 504 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 9780091393403
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... their lapfuls of wizened beans. There must be a connection here. The British Intelligence services don’t divulge the sort of stuff they gave Boyle out of the kindness of their hearts. Most ‘authoritative’ books about them have rather the status of Palace memoirs by governesses and grooms: as a brass watch for long service, a few veterans of relatively ...

Enlightenment Erotica

David Nokes, 4 August 1988

Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America 
by Peter Wagner.
Secker, 498 pp., £30, March 1988, 0 436 56051 8
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’Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorised Sexuality during the Enlightenment 
edited by Robert Purks Maccubin.
Cambridge, 260 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 521 34539 1
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The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature 
edited by Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown.
Methuen, 320 pp., £28, February 1988, 0 416 01631 6
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... faithful to the spirit of his subject-matter. With the single-minded dedication of a Casanova or a Don Giovanni he records several hundred literary encounters of Dick and Fanny, Pego and Pussy, until exhaustiveness gives way to exhaustion. What is most strikingly absent is any sustained attempt at scholarly analysis of the material he presents in such ...

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