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Catch 28

John Lanchester, 3 March 1988

The Swimming-Pool Library 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Chatto, 288 pp., £11.95, February 1988, 0 7011 3282 5
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The Beautiful Room is Empty 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 184 pp., £9.95, January 1988, 0 330 30394 5
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... legacy of a belief in possibility, a belief in the expandability and perfectibility of the self. Edmund White is very much in this tradition, and remembering that helps one to understand the charm of his work, which has a lot to do with the way his creations seem to have invented themselves in accordance with a clear idea of what they want to be ...

Urgency Is Not Enough

Peter Campbell, 6 April 1995

Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of Aids 
compiled by Ted Gott.
Thames and Hudson, 246 pp., £12.95, March 1995, 0 642 13030 2
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The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of Aids 
by Simon Garfield.
Faber, 406 pp., £17.50, November 1994, 0 571 15353 4
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... a prescription for public policy, made on the understanding that something could be done. Men in white coats should be given the funds to get back to their laboratories and defeat Aids. And ‘ought’ in the sense that we had a particular duty to a persecuted group. As well as the practical, good-housekeeping kind of ‘ought’ there was an ...

Upstaged in Palestine

Nigel Williams, 18 May 1989

Prisoner of Love 
by Jean Genet, translated by Barbara Bray.
Picador, 375 pp., £12.95, February 1989, 9780330299626
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... like The Screens, his last play, is a work with a bewildering multiplicity of backdrops. It is, as Edmund White says in his introduction, ‘a curious mixture of memoir, tract, stylised Platonic dialogue based on actual conversation, allegorical quest, epic’; and it is about as hard to read as that makes it sound. It was written over the last three ...

Are your fingers pointed or blunt?

P.N. Furbank: Medical myths of homosexuality, 22 July 2004

Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century 
by Graham Robb.
Picador, 342 pp., £18.99, November 2003, 0 330 48223 8
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... profession returned to the community emblazoned with technical terms. Liberated gays such as Edmund White and Martin Duberman spent years looking for a psychoanalytic cure. Nineteenth-century homosexuals were untroubled in comparison.’ This might seem horribly like the truth, were one to generalise from what Robb tells us about Magnus ...

All about Me

Kevin Kopelson: Don Bachardy, 9 April 2015

by Don Bachardy.
Glitterati, 368 pp., £45, October 2014, 978 0 9913419 2 4
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... about how I myself would feel should anyone do such a thing to me.) The studio – bright white – had a great view of the Pacific Ocean. It had, as well, displayed on the walls, any number of portraits done – in colour – by Bachardy. Some of these, I noticed as I entered, were of Isherwood. (In Chris and Don, you get a good look at this ...


Graham Hough, 3 April 1980

Old Soldiers 
by Paul Bailey.
Cape, 120 pp., £4.95, February 1980, 0 224 01783 7
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Nocturnes for the King of Naples 
by Edmund White.
Deutsch, 148 pp., £3.95, February 1980, 0 233 97173 4
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Solo Faces 
by James Salter.
Collins, 220 pp., £5.50, February 1980, 0 00 221983 2
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by Mario Satz, translated by Helen Lane.
Sidgwick, 432 pp., £7.95, February 1980, 0 283 98607 7
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... and it relies heavily on this somewhat archaic charm. I suspect, however, that a good deal of Edmund White’s strength lies elsewhere – in an intelligence and analytic power that is at first sight rather obscured by the baroque trappings. The shadowy lover of the hero, about whom the whole book revolves, is some kind of great man ...

Don’t Ask Henry

Alan Hollinghurst: Sissiness, 9 October 2008

by Howard Sturgis.
NYRB, 345 pp., £8.99, May 2008, 978 1 59017 266 7
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... has no taste for games, girls or money; in his new introduction to the novel, Edmund White calls him a ‘sissy’, which is about right, though, oddly, Cissy is the name of the pitiless young woman Sainty is trapped into marrying. Sturgis never makes any play on this lurking pun, though as a treacherous and neglectful wife Cissy is a ...

Tacky Dress

Dale Peck, 22 February 1996

Like People in History: A Gay American Epic 
by Felice Picano.
Viking, 512 pp., $23.95, July 1995, 0 670 86047 6
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How Long Has This Been Going On? 
by Ethan Mordden.
Villard, 590 pp., $25, April 1995, 0 679 41529 7
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The Facts of Life 
by Patrick Gale.
Flamingo, 511 pp., £15.99, June 1995, 0 602 24522 2
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Flesh and Blood 
by Michael Cunningham.
Hamish Hamilton, 480 pp., £14.99, June 1995, 9780241135150
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... its members – Christopher Cox, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White and George Whitmore, together with the film critic Vito Russo and the editor and academic George Stambolian – began producing books whose examination of gay life, though often programmatic, was still infused with the raw brashness of tongues ...

Here was a plague

Tom Crewe, 27 September 2018

How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed Aids 
by David France.
Picador, 624 pp., £12.99, September 2017, 978 1 5098 3940 7
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Patient Zero and the Making of the Aids Epidemic 
by Richard A. McKay.
Chicago, 432 pp., £26.50, November 2017, 978 0 226 06395 9
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Modern Nature: The Journals of Derek Jarman, 1989-90 
by Derek Jarman.
Vintage, 314 pp., £9.99, May 2018, 978 1 78487 387 5
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Smiling in Slow Motion: The Journals of Derek Jarman, 1991-94 
by Derek Jarman.
Vintage, 388 pp., £9.99, August 2018, 978 1 78487 516 9
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The Ward 
by Gideon Mendel.
Trolley, 88 pp., £25, December 2017, 978 1 907112 56 0
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... and voices of the victims, that is what it feels like too. Aids starts in the 1970s. Here’s Edmund White, describing the San Francisco gay ‘look’ in his travel book States of Desire (1980). Bodies made themselves intelligible: A strongly marked mouth and swimming, soulful eyes (the effect of the moustache); a V-shaped torso by metonymy from the ...

Think Tiny

Mark Ford: Nancification, 17 July 2008

The Nancy Book 
by Joe Brainard.
Siglio, 144 pp., $39.50, April 2008, 978 0 9799562 0 1
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... High to be the art director of a magazine they were starting; though it ran for only five issues, White Dove Review succeeded in attracting contributions from a number of the leaders of the country’s emerging counter-culture, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, LeRoi Jones and Robert Creeley. It also ran a selection of the early work of a maverick ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... the reader through the public furores – the outcry over her 1966 pronouncement that ‘the white race is the cancer of human history,’ for example, used as a cudgel against her by conservative foes until their arms went numb – and developments in her personal life familiar from previous biographies, memoirs and profiles. While not stinting on ...

Aryan Warlords in their Chariots

Edmund Leach, 2 April 1987

Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation. 
by Martin Bernal.
Free Association, 575 pp., £30, March 1987, 0 946960 55 0
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... Rhodes in the east, skirting round to the south of Crete. Everything to the north was European and White; everything to the south was Black or Semitic. Since the first millennium BC everything that had ever come out of Egypt or Palestine or Arabia was utterly contemptible. That was what we learned on weekdays: on Sundays Palestine became the Holy Land and St ...

Washed White

Michael Rogin, 10 June 1993

The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America 
by Sacvan Bercovitch.
Routledge, 424 pp., £40, November 1992, 9780415900140
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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America 
by Garry Wills.
Simon and Schuster, 315 pp., £17.99, April 1993, 0 671 76956 1
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... it, proliferates different meanings instead of choosing different acts. Symbolic richness (the white whale, the Scarlet Letter A, Walden Pond) may reconcile writers and readers to the United States or, as in Melville’s Pierre, turn back on the interpreter in a nightmare of self-referentiality that cuts words off entirely from the world. But Pierre’s ...


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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... observer and metaphor-maker – a poem on a magazine page ‘swimming in a little gel pack of white space’; a freshly laundered shirt emitting, when shaken, ‘the sound of a flag at the consulate of a small, rich country’ – Baker can be entertainingly fussy about vocabulary. ‘“Panties” is a word to be avoided, I feel,’ we’re told in The ...


Walter Nash, 18 February 1988

The Panda Hunt 
by Richard Burns.
Cape, 189 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 224 02445 0
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Davy Chadwick 
by James Buchan.
Hamish Hamilton, 145 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 241 12115 9
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Overhead in a Balloon: Stories of Paris 
by Mavis Gallant.
Cape, 196 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 224 02426 4
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Black Idol 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Cape, 157 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 9780224024372
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... tragic – reflected in the reader’s responses as the narrative develops. The story is this. Edmund Sin is a Chicago-born American, of Chinese parentage. We meet him first as the sad narrator, in sight of his 60th birthday, mourning the loss of a wife he has belatedly learned to love, looking back over forty years to another self, squaring accounts with ...

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