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At the Imperial War Museum

Gaby Wood: Lee Miller, 17 December 2015

... How​ close can you get? That seems to be the question Lee Miller’s war photographs are trying to answer. In theory, it’s the question behind any action shot, or any embedded reporting, but in Miller’s case it was especially wilful. The only cameras she took with her when she joined the 83rd infantry division of the US army, as it advanced across Europe in 1944, were Rolleiflexes ...

My Mummy’s Bones

Gaby Wood, 24 April 1997

The Foundation Pit 
by Andrei Platonov, translated by Robert Chandler and Geoffrey Smith.
Harvill, 168 pp., £14.99, May 1996, 1 86046 049 6
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... Towards the end of The Foundation Pit, our wandering hero pours a miscellany of inanimate objects onto the desk of the local Communist Party ‘activist’ and asks him to make an inventory of his findings. He had been round the village collecting every wretched cast-off object he could find, all the forgotten bits and pieces that had no name or identity, so Socialism could avenge them ...

Diary

Gaby Wood: On Gene Kelly, 21 March 1996

... For years, all that passed across our TV screen was a series of grins. Harpo, Chico, Groucho, wide-eyed and cheesy, and, over and over again, Gene Kelly. There must have been other videos, programmes even, but all I remember are these movies my brothers and I gazed at as if we knew all about classics (Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris) though for all we cared they could have been made the day before ...

What did it matter who I was?

Gaby Wood, 19 October 1995

The Blue Suit 
by Richard Rayner.
Picador, 216 pp., £9.99, July 1995, 0 330 33821 8
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The Liar’s Club 
by Mary Karr.
Picador, 317 pp., £14.99, October 1995, 0 330 33597 9
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... Richard Rayner’s The Blue Suit is a memoir, a work of non-fiction. In it his father dies several times: of cancer, in a car crash, missing presumed drowned and, finally, of a heart attack. He makes guest appearances in between, as a sick man in Scotland, as a diplomat in Australia, as a stepfather. These events all form part of a story, a sort of Arabian Nights of the confessional, in which Rayner admits his real life to his girlfriend (‘one confession veiling the next’), and the whole truth turns out to be a narration of the lies he has told ...

The Kiss

Gaby Wood, 9 February 1995

Jean Renoir: Letters 
edited by Lorraine LoBianco and David Thompson, translated by Craig Carlson, Natasha Arnoldi and Michael Wells.
Faber, 605 pp., £25, October 1994, 0 571 17298 9
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... Jean Renoir was admired by his followers and contemporaries for the relaxed feel of his films. He himself loved the improvisatory quality of the Commedia dell’Arte, which he saw as a struggle between ‘the tendency toward exterior realism and that toward interior realism’, and wrote that what he considered to be ‘the ultimate in cinema as in theatre’ was ‘a style and dialogue that sometimes borders on the burlesque ...

‘Are ya still alive, Djuna?’

Gaby Wood, 4 July 1996

Djuna Barnes 
by Philip Herring.
Viking, 416 pp., £20, May 1996, 0 670 84969 3
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... magazine, and she stayed there for most of the Twenties, having met her legendary lover Thelma Wood, a silverpoint artist from St Louis. Barnes called Nightwood, her most famous book, ‘my life with Thelma’. As seen by their contemporaries, it was a life that involved swanning around cafés dressed in black, Djuna with a sweeping cloak and a walking ...
Cary Grant: A Class Apart 
by Graham McCann.
Fourth Estate, 346 pp., £16.99, September 1996, 1 85702 366 8
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... A man has been mistaken for somebody else. He has been kidnapped, forced to drink a bottle of bourbon and sent off to meet his death in a stolen car. He survives, and decides it is time to get things straight. He bribes his way into the hotel room of the man he is supposed to be. On the table he finds a photograph of the person who tried to kill him the night before ...

Involuntary Memories

Gaby Wood, 8 February 1996

Last Orders 
by Graham Swift.
Picador, 295 pp., £15.99, January 1996, 0 330 34559 1
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... My great-grandfather’s watch did not confer immortality ... it was proof against age and against all those processes by which we are able to say that a man’s time runs out, but it was not proof against external accident. ‘The Watch’ in Learning to Swim For when a body floats into a lock kept by a lock-keeper of my father’s disposition, it is not an accident but a curse ...

Only Incognito

Gaby Wood, 6 July 1995

Katharine Hepburn 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 549 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 297 81319 6
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... Of all the Hollywood beauties of her time, only Katharine Hepburn had the grace to be irritating. She was beautiful, but not always, her looks could change from shot to shot. She was oddly elegant, sometimes bouncy, sometimes brittle. She was mocking, brash, hoity-toity. What she never was, in her films, was silent. John Ford admired her ‘strange, sharp face’ which made Tennessee Williams think of ‘a medieval saint in a Gothic cathedral ...

Nothing to Do with Me

Gaby Wood: Henri Cartier-Bresson, 5 June 2014

Henri Cartier-Bresson 
Pompidou Centre, until 8 June 2015Show More
‘Voir est un tout’: Entretiens et conversations 1951-98 
by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Centre Pompidou, 176 pp., €19.90, January 2014, 978 2 84426 639 2
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Henri Cartier-Bresson: Here and Now 
edited by Clément Chéroux.
Thames and Hudson, 400 pp., £45, March 2014, 978 0 500 54430 3
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... At​ the Pompidou Centre in Paris, a two-hour wait will get you ‘priority access’ to the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition. It’s available only to friends of the museum, members of the press, and those who bought tickets in advance and naively thought they’d walk straight in. As the American woman behind me remarked, it’s the kind of queue that would be generated in the US by the opening weekend of Terminator 4 ...

Diary

Gaby Wood: How to Draw an Albatross, 18 June 2020

... were those that didn’t quite look like something I’d made, yet felt like something I meant. Gaby Wood’s etching of an albatross. By the time I used the camera lucida in the museum, I’d spent several months grappling with the strange proposition offered by its prism. I’d read that the image was sharper if you held it over a dark drawing ...

Boxing the City

Gaby Wood, 31 July 1997

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell 
by Deborah Solomon.
Cape, 426 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 224 04242 4
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... He was Primarily an archivist, but an archivist of a world that didn’t exist. He was a compulsive collector, a browser, cross-indexer. When he died the basement where he worked was full of cardboard boxes marked with labels like ‘stamps’, ‘maps’, ‘Dürer’, ‘plastic shells’, ‘glasses’, ‘cording’. He left a diary, which he called a ‘repository laboratory, picture gallery, museum, sanctuary, observatory, key ...

The Right to Murder

Gaby Wood: ‘In a Lonely Place’, 22 March 2018

In a Lonely Place 
by Dorothy B. Hughes.
NYRB, 224 pp., $14.95, August 2017, 978 1 68137 147 4
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In a Lonely Place 
directed by Nicholas Ray.
Criterion Collection, £14.99
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... What​ does it mean for a romance to take the shape of a murder investigation? In a Lonely Place, Nicholas Ray’s elegantly bitter film about damaged trust, throws that question at its viewers. If all love stories are inquiries of one kind or another, the movie seems to suggest, perhaps they differ only in their relative violence. When filming began, Ray was married to its female lead, Gloria Grahame; by the time it ended, they were living apart ...
... In the centre of the room there are two skeletons. Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant, faces the front. His skeleton, tainted brown because of the speed and secrecy of its preparation, is seven feet ten inches tall. So towering are the bones, and so impossibly hefty is their accompanying leather boot, that it’s easy to walk past without noticing the adjacent filigree form ...

Francine-Machine

Jonathan Rée: Automata, 9 May 2002

Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen 
by Barbara Maria Stafford and Frances Terpak.
Getty, 416 pp., £30, February 2002, 0 89236 590 0
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The Secret Life of Puppets 
by Victoria Nelson.
Harvard, 350 pp., £20.50, February 2002, 0 674 00630 5
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Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life 
by Gaby Wood.
Faber, 278 pp., £12.99, March 2002, 0 571 17879 0
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... Western culture from its exile in the sub-Zeitgeist back into the mainstream’. The human side of Gaby Wood’s graceful account of puppets and toy stories is supplied by ‘Tiny’ Schneider, on whom Wood pays a visit in her Florida mobile home. Tiny is the last survivor of four siblings who never grew to much more ...

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