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O filth, O beastliness

Elspeth Barker, 8 October 1992

Catullus 
by Charles Martin.
Yale, 197 pp., £22.50, July 1992, 0 300 05199 9
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... With characteristic perversity, Gaius Valerius Catullus has left us a grand profusion of vivid glimpses into his life, but no overall account. The known facts are few. He was born in 84 BC to a wealthy family in Verona. At the age of fourteen or so he moved to Rome to further his education; there he remained. Although he made regular visits to his family’s properties in the north, the city was his element: Illa domus, Illa mihi sedes, illic mea carpitur aetas ...

Stepchildren

Elspeth Barker, 9 April 1992

Stepsons 
by Robert Liddell.
Peter Owen, 228 pp., £14.95, February 1992, 0 7206 0853 8
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Farewell Sidonia 
by Erich Hackl.
Cape, 135 pp., £5.99, February 1992, 0 224 02901 0
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... The end-papers of Stepsons show that classic of nostalgia, a family long ago at tea in a summer garden. A laughing aunt clutches a terrier; ranged round the table are a baleful grandmother, an alert little girl, a father scarcely visible and two boys whose faces rend the heart. Gentle, vulnerable, unbearably tense, they are poised for flight. Opposite, as far off as possible, sits their enemy, the Scottish Gerwoman, the stepmother of this tragic autobiographical novel ...

Auchnasaugh

Patrick Parrinder, 7 November 1991

King Cameron 
by David Craig.
Carcanet, 212 pp., £12.95, May 1991, 0 85635 917 3
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The Hungry Generations 
by David Gilmour.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 194 pp., £13.95, August 1991, 1 85619 069 2
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O Caledonia 
by Elspeth Barker.
Hamish Hamilton, 152 pp., £13.99, August 1991, 0 241 13146 4
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... genuinely funny. And it is the sort of grotesque mischance which is described on every page of Elspeth Barker’s first novel, a black comedy which turns the story of a murdered 16-year-old girl into a sardonic celebration of Sod’s Law rampant. If a thing can go wrong it will go wrong, and the main thing that O Caledonia portrays as going wrong is ...

Lauraphobia

Jenny Turner, 10 March 1994

In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding 
by Deborah Baker.
Hamish Hamilton, 462 pp., £25, October 1993, 9780241128343
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... appalled, relentless tone of a recent review of Deborah Baker’s book, written by the novelist Elspeth Barker, expresses very well how the figure of Laura Riding is, in general, seen. ‘Power-crazed and despotic, Laura raged through the first half of her life on a self-promotional binge of destruction.’ These views belong to a mythology: they are ...

O Wyoming Whipporwill

Claire Harman: George Barker, 3 October 2002

The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker 
by Robert Fraser.
Cape, 573 pp., £25, February 2002, 0 224 06242 5
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... Fame came early to George Barker, but not so early as to take him by surprise. He designed his own ‘crypto-Renaissance catafalque’ at the age of 13, just to be on the safe side, and a year later was writing in these sophisticated terms of his own literary strengths and weaknesses: I am certain that my mind is made if anything for self-contained imaginative work: critical activity of any kind is alien to me, alien and dissonant ...

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