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Madly Excited

John Bayley, 1 June 1989

The Life of Graham Greene. Vol. I: 1904-1939 
by Norman Sherry.
Cape, 783 pp., £16.95, April 1989, 0 224 02654 2
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... usually does come in somewhere: a phrase describing a street, a scrap of dialogue, a character’s sudden gesture. The scrap of authenticity validates the whole. Male novelists are more disingenuous about their romance than women, dividing and dramatising it, pretending to discredit by exaggeration. Ever since Jane Eyre, the female best-seller has usually ...

Red Science

Eric Hobsbawm: J.D. Bernal, 9 March 2006

J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science 
by Andrew Brown.
Oxford, 562 pp., £25, November 2005, 0 19 851544 8
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... Let me begin with a motor trip in 1944 by two scientists down the valley from Lord Mountbatten’s headquarters in Kandy to the jungle. The younger of the two remembers what his companion talked about. He was interested and expert in everything around him – the war, Buddhist religion and art, the geological specimens he would retrieve from every ditch, the properties of mud, luminous insects, the ancestry of cycads, but his recurrent theme was the fundamentals of biology and of the enormous developments just becoming possible through the advances in the physical and chemical techniques of the 1930s ...

Palmers Greenery

Susannah Clapp, 19 December 1985

Stevie 
by Jack Barbera and William McBrien.
Heinemann, 378 pp., £15, November 1985, 0 434 44105 8
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... novels and a torrent of poems and articles, and working as a secretary at Newnes and Pearson’s publishing company. Nor is it easy to write a clear-sighted account of a gifted writer who is wily, opinionated and defensively self-descriptive: ‘This is a foot-off-the-ground novel,’ explains the narrator of Novel on Yellow Paper. ‘And if you are a ...

Michael Gove recommends …

Robert Hanks: Dennis Wheatley, 20 January 2011

The Devil Is a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley 
by Phil Baker.
Dedalus, 699 pp., £25, October 2009, 978 1 903517 75 8
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... Wheatley finally achieved his long-held ambition of being elected to a really smart gentlemen’s club, White’s. On entering the building, so he told a friend, his first objective was to consult the membership book to find out how many had supported his candidacy – a gratifying 35. ‘Not bad for the Streatham born ...

Fashville

Robert Tashman, 9 March 1995

Prêt-à-Porter 
directed by Robert Altman.
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... movies in mandating and legitimising styles of dress. The notable exception is Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957), a Pygmalion story of Audrey Hepburn’s bookshop clerk transformed, under the guidance of Fred Astaire’s Avedon-like photographer, into a supermodel. It is a musical ...

Spadework

John Brown, 18 November 1982

Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett 
by Richard Layman.
Junction, 285 pp., £9.95, August 1981, 0 86245 027 6
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... Shadow Man Richard Layman supplies a terse explanation. It appears that Lillian Hellman, Hammett’s closest friend from 1931 onwards, took steps soon after his death to acquire legal control of all the novelist’s copyrights (despite the terms of Hammett’s will), using as an argument ...

Diary

Perry Anderson: On E.P. Thompson, 21 October 1993

... conjuncture, of course, that clinched it – never did differences of age, however slight, loom so large as at that time. Larkin got the date about right, even if he skipped over the Stones. But at the time the librarian from Hull was probably no wiser than the historian from Halifax, who viewed talk of generational divisions impatiently, as a way of ...

Not a Belonger

Colin Jones, 21 August 1997

The End of the Line: A Memoir 
by Richard Cobb.
Murray, 229 pp., £20, June 1997, 0 7195 5460 8
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... a Tunbridge Wells Childhood (1983) and People and Places (1985). The stories are told with Cobb’s customary skill and enthusiasm, but they also sound an increasingly valedictory note. Cobb was dying as he wrote: the manuscript was completed two days before he died and has been prepared for the press by friends and by his widow, to whom he pays tribute in ...

Gaslight and Fog

John Pemble: Sherlock Holmes, 26 January 2012

The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England 
by Haia Shpayer-Makov.
Oxford, 429 pp., £30, September 2011, 978 0 19 957740 8
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... in 1945. He refused to find out who did, because he’d already discovered that Agatha Christie’s books were garbage and that he couldn’t put them down. This is what you’d expect. Wilson was a literary prude, and detective stories are literature’s oldest profession. They do one thing, they do it once, then they go ...

The Hagiography Factory

Thomas Meaney: Arthur Schlesinger Jr, 8 February 2018

Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian 
by Richard Aldous.
Norton, 486 pp., £23.99, November 2017, 978 0 393 24470 0
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... glasses, bow ties, and neatly stencilled hair, he played for the literary side of Kennedy’s best and brightest, which was meant to balance out the number-crunching prowess of Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids. In his dozens of books of American history – several of which remain indispensable – Schlesinger was among the chief assemblers of the King ...

Vermin Correspondence

Iain Sinclair, 20 October 1994

Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play 
by Ben Watson.
Quartet, 597 pp., £25, May 1994, 0 7043 7066 2
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Her Weasels Wild Returning 
by J.H. Prynne.
Equipage, 12 pp., £2, May 1994
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... It’s quite a popular secret, the Cambridge Poetry Festival; a roomful of freelance delegates, all capable of keeping their eyes to the front, on the platform – no droolers, no crisp packets. By Saturday afternoon, a certain mid-term weariness is evident (so many readings survived, so many still to come); the post-traumatic shock of being allowed into the showpiece ...

‘No Bullshit’ Bullshit

Stefan Collini: Christopher Hitchens, Englishman, 23 January 2003

Orwell's Victory 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Allen Lane, 150 pp., £9.99, June 2002, 9780713995848
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... Kissinger, Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton have been among the glories of the prosecuting counsel’s art in recent years. Taking the global village as his courtroom, Hitchens asks us, the jury, to stare with wonder and loathing at these singular specimens of human depravity who are united in being parsimonious with the truth and in being the object of some ...

A Short History of the Trump Family

Sidney Blumenthal: The First Family, 16 February 2017

... near the elevators of Trump Tower. It will not be stemmed even after the memoirs of Trump’s associates, unreliable narrators in the spirit of their leader, have been removed from the remainder bins in used bookstores.A week after the inauguration, Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Origins of Totalitarianism were number one and number 36 respectively on the ...

The God Squad

Andrew O’Hagan: Bushland, 23 September 2004

... of the unfolding truth as of mailed anthrax, it is a society made menacing by a notion of God’s great plan. America is tolerance-challenged, integrity-poor, frightened to death, and yet, beneath its patriotic hosannahs, a country in delirium before the recognition that it might have spent the last three years not only squandering the sympathy of the world ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2011, 5 January 2012

... we have been having done are now pretty much finished, thanks to Max, a young Latvian who’s unsmiling but an excellent carpenter and Eugene, much jollier and from New Zealand who has supervised it all. Walking round the job this evening R. is shocked to discover in the bathroom above the bath a crudely made wooden cross. He takes this to be the work ...

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