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Instead of a Present

Alan Bennett, 15 April 1982

... memories I was a nonstarter. I had not spent hours in the crook of a great tree devouring Alice or Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read (and even then patchily – I never devoured anything) Hotspur, Champion and Knock-Out, not quite the ore of art. It’s true that for a long time I too went to bed early, but most children did in those days, with no effect on the ...

Spying on Writers

Christian Lorentzen, 11 October 2018

... on 16 famous writers, most of whom were in their prime during the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover. It was a Cold War habit in the days of domestic radicalism to collect such files, and the documents are at once fascinating and underwhelming. Most of the information so dutifully gathered would now be available through a call to the author’s ...

Stalking Out

David Edgar: After John Osborne, 20 July 2006

John Osborne: A Patriot for Us 
by John Heilpern.
Chatto, 528 pp., £25, May 2006, 0 7011 6780 7
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... a failure of nerve, bang followed by whimper: you can draw a direct line back from Hare’s George Jones to Jimmy Porter. And onwards to today. The third anti-revisionist argument is that – by putting the playwright back at the centre of the theatre – Osborne opened the door to wave upon wave of socially engaged new theatre writing, from 1957 all the way ...

Shapeshifter

Ian Penman: Elvis looks for meaning, 25 September 2014

Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died 
by Dylan Jones.
Duckworth, 307 pp., £16.99, July 2014, 978 0 7156 4856 8
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Elvis Presley: A Southern Life 
by Joel Williamson.
Oxford, 384 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 19 986317 4
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... some Oedipal tension in the mucosal late 1970s air. Early in Elvis Has Left the Building Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, brushes against some of the paradoxes of Elvis in the age of punk. But it never goes much further than that. We get nearly as much of the author’s own biography as Presley’s: small-town rock obsessive, punk convert, London ...

Chop, Chop, Chop

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Grief Is the Thing with Feathers’, 21 January 2016

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 
by Max Porter.
Faber, 114 pp., £10, September 2015, 978 0 571 32376 0
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... a raven called Grip, in fact a series of birds bearing that name, and was on friendly terms with Edgar Allan Poe, who had admired the depiction of the raven in Barnaby Rudge (also called Grip) and was pleased to learn he had a real-life model. Poe knew (at least this is Guy Davenport’s contention in ‘The Geography of the Imagination’) that the raven ...

Even My Hair Feels Drunk

Adam Mars-Jones: Joy Williams, 2 February 2017

The Visiting Privilege 
by Joy Williams.
Tuskar Rock, 490 pp., £16.99, November 2016, 978 1 78125 746 3
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Ninety-Nine Stories of God 
by Joy Williams.
Tin House, 220 pp., £16.95, July 2016, 978 1 941040 35 5
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... her web. The mother’s name, for a start, is Lenore, and therefore, thanks to two famous poems by Edgar Allan Poe (the name features in ‘The Raven’ as well as ‘Lenore’ itself), steeped in death as a set of literary conventions, something that happens in books. The associations are all the stronger for not being commented on – there’s no weary ...

What the Romans did

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 5 February 1987

English Classical Scholarship: Historical Reflections on Bentley, Porson and Housman 
by C.O. Brink.
James Clark, 243 pp., £11.95, February 1986, 0 227 67872 9
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Latin Poets and Roman Life 
by Jasper Griffin.
Duckworth, 226 pp., £24, January 1986, 0 7156 1970 5
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The Mirror of Myth: Classical Themes and Variations 
by Jasper Griffin.
Faber, 144 pp., £15, February 1986, 0 571 13805 5
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... recalls their association in the art of the Renaissance, powerfully depicted in the chapter of Edgar Wind’s Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance called ‘Amor as a God of Death’. Lovers in poetry will often wish for death or threaten suicide, and the poets sometimes delight in imagining their own funerals or those of their loved ones. Propertius dwells ...

Room 6 at the Moonstone

Adam Mars-Jones: Bill Clegg, 5 November 2015

Did You Ever Have a Family 
by Bill Clegg.
Cape, 293 pp., £12.99, August 2015, 978 0 224 10235 3
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... can hardly be accounted a community when the keynote of the book is isolation. Spoon River in Edgar Lee Masters’s book of poems is a place of hypocrisy and double-dealing where only the dead can tell the truth from their graves. Part of the enduring appeal of It’s a Wonderful Life for cinema and television audiences can be put down to its sense of how ...

Reminder: Mother

Adam Mars-Jones: Helen Phillips, 2 January 2020

The Need 
by Helen Phillips.
Chatto, 272 pp., £16.99, August 2019, 978 1 78474 284 3
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... mildly disorienting function: it makes no claim to alarm or thrill. There will be no entering into Edgar Allan Poe territory. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Phillips has painted herself into a corner by starting with a set of misleading signals – truer to say that she has rationed the amount of paint available to be used, after the first few lurid ...

My Old, Sweet, Darling Mob

Iain Sinclair: Michael Moorcock, 30 November 2000

King of the City 
by Michael Moorcock.
Scribner, 421 pp., £9.99, May 2000, 0 684 86140 2
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Mother London 
by Michael Moorcock.
Scribner, 496 pp., £6.99, May 2000, 0 684 86141 0
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... who play ‘the mythical game of time’. An Occidental Haroun, he wears a broad-brimmed Indiana Jones hat. He’s a role player, a trans-dimensional tourist. Hence the language. ‘Pard’, according to Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang, has no existence outside the fictionalised Wild West. Moorcock is like one of those local library researchers from ...

Squealing to Survive

John Lahr: Clancy was here, 19 July 2018

Black Sunset: Hollywood Sex, Lies, Glamour, Betrayal and Raging Egos 
by Clancy Sigal.
Icon, 352 pp., £12.99, May 2018, 978 1 78578 439 2
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The London Lover: My Weekend that Lasted Thirty Years 
by Clancy Sigal.
Bloomsbury, 274 pp., £20, May 2018, 978 1 4088 8580 2
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... other factor in my favour is that, compared to most other guys, I have nothing to lose.He nurses a jones for the agency’s older, married female boss. When his moment finally comes – her bare legs stretched before him on the coffee table – she says: ‘Take me – or your Christmas bonus.’ It’s a hilarious Jack Benny ‘Your money or your ...

I, Lowborn Cur

Colin Burrow: Literary Names, 22 November 2012

Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 283 pp., £19.99, September 2012, 978 0 19 959222 7
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... back to the landscape of terns and gulls, to Pip’s encounter with Magwitch on the marshes. Tom Jones, on the other hand, gives its hero the least interpretable name you could imagine. This hero sounds not just ordinary but so ordinary he must eventually become as significant as his guardian, the over-aptly named Allworthy. Giving a character a completely ...

Humph, He, Ha

Julian Barnes: Degas’s Achievement, 4 January 2018

Degas: A Passion for Perfection 
Fitzwilliam Museum/Cambridge, until 14 January 2018Show More
Degas Danse Dessin: Hommage à Degas avec Paul Valéry 
Musée d’Orsay/Paris, until 25 February 2018Show More
Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell 
National Gallery, London, until 7 May 2018Show More
Degas and His Model 
by Alice Michel, translated by Jeff Nagy.
David Zwirner, 88 pp., £8.95, June 2017, 978 1 941701 55 3
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... on 8 January 1908: ‘When I am in front of a picture, it speaks better than I do.’ Edgar Degas, ‘Three Women at the Races’ (1885) It is a chastening remark, because most of us, when in front of a picture, do not give the picture time enough to speak. We talk at it, about it, of it, to it; we want to forcibly understand it, get its ...

Burning Witches

Michael Rogin, 4 September 1997

Raymond Chandler: A Biography 
by Tom Hiney.
Chatto, 310 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 0 7011 6310 0
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Raymond Chandler Speaking 
edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Kathrine Sorley Walker.
California, 288 pp., £10.95, May 1997, 0 520 20835 8
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... his own achievement of this, Chandler could have cited the murder of the small-time grifter, Harry Jones, in The Big Sleep, as unforgettable on the page as in Elisha Cook Jr’s performance in the movie. As this example suggests, however, noir content is inseparable from noir form. Noir is menace, despair, darkness, violence and death, the dystopian escape ...

Was he? Had he?

Corey Robin: In the Name of Security, 19 October 2006

The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government 
by David Johnson.
Chicago, 277 pp., £13, May 2006, 0 226 40190 1
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Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security 
by David Cole and James Dempsey.
New Press, 320 pp., £10.99, March 2006, 1 56584 939 6
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General Ashcroft: Attorney at War 
by Nancy Baker.
Kansas, 320 pp., £26.50, April 2006, 0 7006 1455 9
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State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration 
by James Risen.
Free Press, 240 pp., £18.99, January 2006, 0 7432 7578 0
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Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush 
by Eric Boehlert.
Free Press, 352 pp., $25, May 2006, 0 7432 8931 5
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... of schools in St Louis and Kansas City. As a senator, he received an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, which has barred interracial dating, and gave a friendly interview to Southern Partisan, a magazine sympathetic to the Old Confederacy. Like the biblical kings, he had his father anoint his head with oil when he became a governor and then a ...

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