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Kill the tuna can

Christopher Tayler: George Saunders, 8 June 2006

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil and In Persuasion Nation 
by George Saunders.
Bloomsbury, 358 pp., £10.99, June 2006, 0 7475 8221 1
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... George Saunders – whose semi-official website carries a reminder that the man who played Addison DeWitt in All about Eve was called George SANDERS – was born in Chicago in 1958. A schoolteacher got him interested in literature, but having been exposed at an impressionable age to the novels of Ayn Rand he ended up studying geophysical engineering: ‘I didn’t want to be one of those life-sucking parasitic artists,’ he recalled last year ...

Showers of Hats

Robert Baird: ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, 30 March 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo 
by George Saunders.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £18.99, March 2017, 978 1 4088 7174 4
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... George Saunders​ has long had a thing for ghosts, especially ghosts who haven’t figured out that they’re dead. The title story of his first collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996), concerned a down-on-its-luck theme park with a Blacksmith Shoppe, a ninety-foot section of the Erie Canal, and a holographic projection of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States ...

Rescue us, writer

Christian Lorentzen: George Saunders, 7 February 2013

Tenth of December 
by George Saunders.
Bloomsbury, 251 pp., £14.99, January 2013, 978 1 4088 3734 4
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... So goes ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’, the longest and most engrossing of the stories in George Saunders’s fourth collection, Tenth of December. Eight of the book’s ten stories revolve around rescue scenarios. (The two brief pieces that don’t – ‘Sticks’, from 1995, a two-page sketch about a man who obsessively decorates a pole ...

Ferrets can be gods

Katherine Rundell, 11 August 2016

Gabriel-Ernest and Other Tales 
by Saki and Quentin Blake.
Alma Classics, 156 pp., £6.99, October 2015, 978 1 84749 592 1
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... Donne, Nabokov and Spark, the mechanisms of wit are unseen and so inimitable. Of living writers, George Saunders is the one whose stories most evoke Saki’s clear-eyed surrealism. Both thrive on the question of class; where Saki has landowners eaten by wolves, Saunders imagines third-world women displayed as human ...

Deny and Imply

J. Robert Lennon: Gary Shteyngart, 16 December 2010

Super Sad True Love Story 
by Gary Shteyngart.
Granta, 331 pp., £12.99, September 2010, 978 1 84708 103 2
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... who shunned the physical world in favour of the knottier, more intractable challenges of the mind; George Saunders offers comic heroes who fail excellently. Turn the book over, lift up the flap. We don’t look too bad in black and white, do we, our hair artfully mussed, our beards half-grown, our eyeglasses polished. But can’t you see the fear in our ...

Smash the Screen

Hal Foster: ‘Duty Free Art’, 5 April 2018

Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War 
by Hito Steyerl.
Verso, 256 pp., £16.99, October 2017, 978 1 78663 243 2
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... web. But it is difficult enough to pass through the murky reason of alienated language in fiction (George Saunders and a few others notwithstanding); it is far harder to do so in criticism. Steyerl views almost everything symptomatically, which permits us to attempt the same with her work. Ultimately, her thinking is less dialectical than ...

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said: The CIA, 30 September 1999

Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... assassinations and mass killings. Yet it still gives me an eerie feeling to read about people like George Orwell, Stephen Spender and Raymond Aron, to say nothing of less admirable characters of the Melvin Lasky stripe, taking part in surreptitiously subsidised anti-Communist ventures – magazines, symphony orchestras, art exhibitions – or in the setting up ...

Grandiose Moments

Frank Kermode, 6 February 1997

Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, Vol. II 
by Max Saunders.
Oxford, 696 pp., £35, September 1996, 0 19 212608 3
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... In 1971 Arthur Mizener’s The Saddest Story seemed adequately exhaustive, but now Max Saunders comes along with two vast volumes, even more thorough and more than doubling the page count. Alan Judd, faithful to Ford’s own lack of respect for academic pieties, brought out his footnoteless but still valuable life of Ford in 1990. ...

Unfair to Stalin

Robert Service, 17 March 1988

Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World 
by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Collins, 254 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 00 215660 1
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The Birth of Stalinism: The USSR on the Eve of the ‘Second Revolution’ 
by Michal Reiman, translated by George Saunders.
Tauris, 188 pp., £24.50, November 1987, 1 85043 066 7
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Stalin in October: The Man who Missed the Revolution 
by Robert Slusser.
Johns Hopkins, 281 pp., £20.25, December 1987, 0 8018 3457 0
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... Since 1956 it has been official policy in the USSR to criticise the abuses of power by Joseph Stalin in the period of the so-called Cult of the Individual. It is a widely-held misconception in the West that such criticism ended in the Brezhnev years. In fact, party textbooks continued to castigate Stalin. The negative comments became less specific, however, and many people who weren’t old enough to learn about the purges from Khrushchev’s revelations in the late Fifties and early Sixties were unaware of the scale of the human carnage that Stalin had perpetrated in the Soviet Union ...

What’s wrong with that man?

Christian Lorentzen: Donald Antrim, 20 November 2014

The Emerald Light in the Air: Stories 
by Donald Antrim.
Granta, 158 pp., £12.99, November 2014, 978 1 84708 649 5
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... with a group of US fiction writers around his age that includes the late David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. There are a few things that set Antrim apart: he’s Southern; his strongest affinity to a writer in the previous generation is to Donald Barthelme, not Don DeLillo; he’s the least likely to be ...

I did not pan out

Christian Lorentzen: Sam Lipsyte, 6 June 2019

Hark 
by Sam Lipsyte.
Granta, 304 pp., £12.99, March 2019, 978 1 78378 321 2
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... on his experience in Alcoholics Anonymous, was outed as a reader of self-help after his death. George Saunders has called fiction ‘a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth’. Both writers delivered college commencement addresses that were then marketed as inspirational pamphlets. Lately the writers Sabina Murray and Ocean ...

Gaol Fever

David Saunders-Wilson, 24 July 1986

Prisons and the Process of Justice 
by Andrew Rutherford.
Oxford, 217 pp., £5.95, June 1986, 0 19 281932 1
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Growing out of Crime: Society and Young People in Trouble 
by Andrew Rutherford.
Penguin, 189 pp., £3.95, January 1986, 0 14 022383 5
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... wander onto the wrong side of the law, and get in trouble with ‘the Bill’. Indeed, both George Cole and Dennis Waterman in their Minder roles are now thought suitable characters to help encourage young people to stay off drugs in a series of commercials sponsored by the DHSS. The thought of dear old Arthur ending up inside for some of his misdeeds ...

A Shark Swims through It

Lidija Haas: A Talent for Nonchalance, 8 March 2018

A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays and Poetry 
edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley.
Farrar, Straus, 371 pp., $27, October 2017, 978 0 374 16582 6
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... social justice, non-violence and peace, often putting their bodies on the line’. In his preface George Saunders, though he stays in his corner by focusing mostly on the fiction, suggests that reading Paley will spark ‘a revived concern for other people’s suffering’ and ends by recommending her work to anyone ‘looking for a more full-hearted way ...

Au revoir et merci

Christopher Tayler: Romain Gary, 6 December 2018

The Roots of Heaven 
by Romain Gary, translated by Jonathan Griffin.
Godine, 434 pp., $18.95, November 2018, 978 1 56792 626 2
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Promise at Dawn 
by Romain Gary, translated by John Markham Beach.
Penguin, 314 pp., £9.99, September 2018, 978 0 241 34763 8
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... narrators used a jumbled, malaprop French that served as a vehicle for pathos as well as humour. (George Saunders might be the best current analogue in English.) Gary let his own publisher in on the secret but the rest of the firm was kept in the dark. Raymond Queneau, passing Ajar’s first novel to a Gallimard subsidiary for publication, observed that ...

Degeneration Gap

Andreas Huyssen: Cold War culture conflicts, 7 October 2004

The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War 
by David Caute.
Oxford, 788 pp., £30, September 2003, 0 19 924908 3
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... it is no longer enough either to blame totalitarianism or to demonise the Truman doctrine and George Kennan’s strategy of ‘containment’. More objectionable still are the parallels drawn by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice between the Cold War democratisation of West Germany and Japan and today’s project of bringing democracy to the Middle ...

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