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Elizabeth Lowry: Malcolm Lowry, 1 November 2007

The Voyage That Never Ends: Malcolm Lowry in His Own Words 
edited by Michael Hofmann.
NYRB, 518 pp., £16.99, November 2007, 978 1 59017 235 3
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... The two central facts about Malcolm Lowry are that he wrote and that he drank. He drank while writing – or possibly he wrote while drinking. When he died in June 1957 after downing a lethal mix of barbiturates and gin (the coroner’s verdict was ‘death by misadventure’), he left behind a trunk full of unfinished manuscripts and an impracticably ambitious scheme to develop all his work in progress and his two published novels into a complex sequence for which the projected title was The Voyage That Never Ends ...

Whose Bodies?

Elizabeth Lowry: ‘Tinkers’, 23 September 2010

by Paul Harding.
Heinemann, 191 pp., £12.99, July 2010, 978 0 434 02084 3
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... George Crosby, the hero of Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, Tinkers, has been laid out to die on a rented hospital bed in his living-room, surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren. He is 80, a retired teacher and clock repairer, and is suffering from cancer and renal failure. In the last week of his life he begins to hallucinate about his childhood in rural Maine ...

This is how they break you

Elizabeth Lowry: Dinaw Mengestu, 5 June 2014

All Our Names 
by Dinaw Mengestu.
Sceptre, 256 pp., £17.99, June 2014, 978 1 4447 9377 2
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... How​ was I supposed to live in America when I had never really left Ethiopia?’ the immigrant Sepha Stephanos asks in Dinaw Mengestu’s first novel, Children of the Revolution (2007). Mengestu is himself an Ethiopian-American, having settled in the US with his family at the age of two. His second novel, How to Read the Air (2010), revisited the same question in the figure of Jonas Woldemariam, the struggling son of Ethiopian settlers in New York ...

The Fishman lives the lore

Elizabeth Lowry: Carpentaria, 24 April 2008

by Alexis Wright.
Constable, 439 pp., £16.99, March 2008, 978 1 84529 721 3
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... Nine hours’ drive east of Darwin, where the Northern Territory of Australia and Queensland meet, you will find the Gulf of Carpentaria, the sea that separates the top lip of the continent from New Guinea. The surrounding area features in tourist brochures as part of a rugged ‘real Australia’, home to cattle farming, barramundi fishing, a thriving mining industry, a national park and a nature reserve ...

Hands Full of Rose Thorns and Fridge Oil

Elizabeth Lowry: ‘Triomf’, 20 January 2000

by Marlene van Niekerk, translated by Leon de Kock.
Little, Brown, 444 pp., £16.99, November 1999, 0 316 85202 3
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... In the English popular imagination, the grimly oligarchic Old South Africa, with its smug suburban swimmingpools, bullish police force, forbidden wines and ostracised sports teams, has become the sunny New South Africa, a country against which the rest of the civilised world may once again safely play cricket and where a holiday hardly registers on your credit card ...

Seductive Slide into Despair

Elizabeth Lowry: Monica Ali, 6 July 2006

Alentejo Blue 
by Monica Ali.
Doubleday, 299 pp., £14.99, June 2006, 0 385 60486 6
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... Superficially, at least, it’s not remotely like Brick Lane. Does that matter? Yes and no. Following her ambitious and pacy first novel about Bangladeshis in the East End of London, Monica Ali has emphatically changed direction by setting her second book in Portugal. This will inevitably alienate some of her fans. But the change of subject should not really come as a surprise ...

A Severed Penis

Elizabeth Lowry: Magic realism in Mozambique, 3 February 2005

The Last Flight of the Flamingo 
by Mia Couto, translated by David Brookshaw.
Serpent’s Tail, 179 pp., £9.99, March 2004, 1 85242 813 9
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... Mia Couto is a white Mozambican who writes in Portuguese, perhaps the most prominent of his generation of writers – he is 50 this year – in Lusophone Africa. His recurring theme is post-revolutionary Mozambique’s struggle to achieve credible nationhood; specifically, to channel its resources in such a way as to benefit its people rather than its apparatchiks ...

That Roomful of Words

Elizabeth Lowry: Jenny Diski’s new novel, 4 December 2008

Apology for the Woman Writing 
by Jenny Diski.
Virago, 282 pp., £16.99, November 2008, 978 1 84408 385 5
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... Montaigne had his own literary stalker. Eight years after the Essays first appeared in 1580, he received a breathless letter from a young woman called Marie le Jars de Gournay, who declared herself an ardent admirer of his work. Intrigued, he arranged to meet her. We don’t know what the Demoiselle de Gournay said to Montaigne, and in her new novel about their vexed relationship, Jenny Diski imagines the worst: Oh, Sir, from the moment I opened the first volume of the Essays I knew, just knew that I was in the presence of greatness ...


Elizabeth Lowry: Binyavanga Wainaina, 23 February 2012

One Day I Will Write about This Place 
by Binyavanga Wainaina.
Granta, 256 pp., £15.99, November 2011, 978 1 84708 021 9
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... In 2005 the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, then living in Norwich, wrote a blisteringly satirical essay on ‘How to Write about Africa’. He was responding to Granta’s Africa issue, which he hated, as he later explained, for being ‘populated by every literary bogeyman that any African has ever known’. The issue offered ‘nothing new, no insight, but lots of “reportage” … as if Africa and Africans were not part of the conversation, were not indeed living in England across the road from the Granta office ...

The trouble is I’m dead

Elizabeth Lowry: Hilary Mantel’s Fiends, 19 May 2005

Beyond Black 
by Hilary Mantel.
Fourth Estate, 451 pp., £16.99, May 2005, 0 00 715775 4
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... Hilary Mantel’s dark, unsettling and gleefully tasteless new novel about spiritualism, Hell and the condition of contemporary England is part ghost story, part mystery, and as alarmingly funny as it is disturbing. Shakespeare makes an appearance – he passes in the spirit world as ‘Wagstaffe’, something of a louche lad about town – and is caught on tape having a squabble with another spirit: Wagstaffe: This sceptred isle ...

The man who would put to sea on a bathmat

Elizabeth Lowry: Anne Carson, 5 October 2000

Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan) 
by Anne Carson.
Princeton, 147 pp., £18.95, July 1999, 0 691 03677 2
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Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse 
by Anne Carson.
Cape, 149 pp., £10, July 1999, 0 224 05973 4
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... I am going to end up talking about love, but let me start by talking about money. Money, as Marx tells us, is the enemy of mankind and social bonds. ‘If you suppose man to be man and his relation to be a human one,’ he writes, ‘then you can only exchange love for love, trust for trust.’ Money, on the other hand, ‘changes fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, slave into master, master into slave, stupidity into wisdom, wisdom into stupidity ...

Bang, Crash, Crack

Elizabeth Lowry: Primo Levi, 7 June 2007

A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories 
by Primo Levi, translated by Ann Goldstein and Alessandra Bastagli.
Penguin, 164 pp., £20, April 2007, 978 0 7139 9955 6
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... The Italian writer, chemist and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi died twenty years ago, on 11 April 1987, when he plummeted down the stairwell of his apartment building in Turin. He was 67. The coroner’s verdict was straightforward: suicide. The unexpected death of this apparently serene and self-controlled man, particularly the violent and dramatic nature of it, at first stunned his readers, but within weeks the event had come to be regarded as inevitable ...


Elizabeth Lowry: Doris Lessing, 22 March 2001

Doris Lessing: A Biography 
by Carole Klein.
Duckworth, 283 pp., £18.99, March 2000, 0 7156 2951 4
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Ben, in the World 
by Doris Lessing.
Flamingo, 178 pp., £6.99, April 2001, 0 00 655229 3
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... When Doris Lessing brought out the first two volumes of her autobiography, Under My Skin (1994) and Walking in the Shade (1997), she did so, as she explained, partly in ‘self-defence’, aware that at least ‘five American biographers’ were then writing their versions of her life. Some had been in touch and had been given short shrift; others she had never met ...

Little Red Boy

Elizabeth Lowry: Alistair MacLeod, 20 September 2001

Island: Collected Stories 
by Alistair MacLeod.
Cape, 434 pp., £16.99, June 2001, 0 224 06194 1
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No Great Mischief 
by Alistair MacLeod.
Vintage, 262 pp., £6.99, June 2001, 0 09 928392 1
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... Alistair MacLeod is a Canadian of Scottish descent, and, like John McGahern who has written a foreword to his collected stories, an astute observer of a very specific local setting – Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; of its landscape and industry, its closed communities, quotidian tragedies and domestic disappointments. In addition, both McLeod’s voice and McGahern’s are recognisably inflected, in certain patterned stresses, by a common Gaelic linguistic inheritance ...

Like a Dog

Elizabeth Lowry: J.M. Coetzee, 14 October 1999

by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 220 pp., £14.99, July 1999, 0 436 20489 4
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The Lives of Animals 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Princeton, 127 pp., £12.50, May 1999, 0 691 00443 9
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... manner of a novel, by the story of a tense encounter between a mother and her son. The lecturer is Elizabeth Costello, a novelist who has been asked to deliver a series of talks on a subject of her choice at Appleton College (just as Coetzee was asked to deliver the Tanner Lectures, on which the book is based. Mise en abyme, anyone?). The son is John ...

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