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Diary

Graham Coster: Crop Circles, 28 September 1989

... Apart from me and the man who talked about elves, everyone on the bus to Cheesefoot Head seemed pretty sensible. There was the London stringer for the big provincial daily; the girl from the local paper; the woman doing syndicated interviews for hospital radio; the man from Farmer’s Weekly and the woman from Crops magazine (Organ of the Seed-Growing Trade), and the man with the very large attaché case from a Japanese TV station ...

Through the Grinder

Graham Coster, 8 February 1996

The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 523 pp., £17.50, November 1995, 0 241 13504 4
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... long books – no miniature monographs like Chatwin’s on Patagonia or Rushdie’s on Nicaragua. Graham Greene spun Journey without Maps out of a few weeks’ trek into the Liberian interior, an itinerary further truncated by illness; for Voices of the Old Sea, perhaps his best travel-book, Norman Lewis hung out in a small Portuguese fishing ...

The Marabar Caves

Graham Coster, 29 September 1988

... Faking it is no good. If you need caves, and there are no caves – if you’re shooting A Passage to India you need caves – then you need dynamite. If you need grass on the battlefield – in Heaven’s Gate there was to be grass on the battlefield, and at Kalispell, Montana there was no grass – then you need a comprehensive under-battlefield irrigation system ...

Sir Norman Foster’s Favourite Building

Graham Coster, 11 March 1993

Wide Body: The Making of the 747 
by Clive Irving.
Hodder, 384 pp., £17.99, February 1993, 0 340 53487 7
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... Four million rivets flying in close formation’: thus RAF folklore on its Shackleton early-warning patrol planes. Aircraft development has been so closely analogous to the century’s historical, political and cultural changes that individual designs have often in retrospect assumed a symbolic weight out of all proportion to then contemporary technological success ...

Evils and Novels

Graham Coster, 25 June 1992

Black Dogs 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 176 pp., £14.99, June 1992, 9780224035729
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... As Penguin rescues the novels of Angus Wilson from out-of-print obscurity, here is an excuse to recall the argument of his most important work of literary criticism, the essay ‘Evil in the English Novel’. ‘For some time,’ he wrote in the Listener back in 1962, ‘I have been concerned about what is happening to the contemporary English novel ...

Over the top

Graham Coster, 22 October 1992

Hell’s Foundations: A Town, its Myths and Gallipoli 
by Geoffrey Moorhouse.
Hodder, 256 pp., £19.99, April 1992, 0 340 43044 3
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... Gallipoli has not lent itself to literature. The First World War on the Western Front has furnished a body of poetry, prose fiction and memoir so substantial, and so distinguished, as to equip any O-Level English student with at least an adequate historical knowledge of the campaign. But even if it were true, as Geoffrey Moorhouse claims, that ‘no battle or campaign fought between 1914 and 1918 has ever been remembered quite so tenaciously as the ill-fated Allied expedition to the Dardanelles,’ this would not be the result of any literary work ...

Rainbows

Graham Coster, 12 September 1991

Paradise News 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 294 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 436 25668 1
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... Had the Pentagon, back in the late Sixties, accepted Boeing’s tender for a massive new cargo aircraft for the United States Air Force, David Lodge would not have been able to write Paradise News. Instead, however, Lockheed got the contract, and Boeing were left with a redundant set of blueprints for the biggest furniture van never built. To save all that development money going to waste, they came up with a blindingly simple solution: fill it with seats, and call it an airliner ...

Trips

Graham Coster, 26 July 1990

In Xanadu: A Quest 
by William Dalrymple.
Collins, 314 pp., £14.95, July 1989, 0 00 217948 2
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The Gunpowder Gardens 
by Jason Goodwin.
Chatto, 230 pp., £14.95, March 1990, 0 7011 3620 0
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Silk Roads: The Asian Adventures of André and Clara Malraux 
by Axel Madsen.
Tauris, 299 pp., £14.95, April 1990, 1 85043 209 0
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At Home and Abroad 
by V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto, 332 pp., £14.95, February 1990, 0 7011 3620 0
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Great Plains 
by Ian Frazier.
Faber, 290 pp., £14.99, March 1990, 0 571 14260 5
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... write that: ‘It was a journey that ought not to have been made; it had broken my life in two.’ Graham Greene, surviving a feverish night in the Liberian interior, records a comparable epiphany: ‘I had discovered in myself a passionate interest in living. I had always assumed before, as a matter of course, that death was desirable.’ Between Theroux’s ...

Badoompa-doompa-doompa-doom

Graham Coster, 10 January 1991

Stone Alone 
by Bill Wyman and Ray Coleman.
Viking, 594 pp., £15.99, October 1990, 0 670 82894 7
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Blown away: The Rolling Stones and the Death of the Sixties 
by A.E. Hotchner.
Simon and Schuster, 377 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 671 69316 6
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Are you experienced? The Inside Story of the Jimi Hendrix Experience 
by Noel Redding and Carol Appleby.
Fourth Estate, 256 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 1 872180 36 1
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I was a teenage Sex Pistol 
by Glen Matlock and Pete Silverton.
Omnibus, 192 pp., £12.95, September 1990, 0 7119 2491 0
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Bare 
by George Michael and Tony Parsons.
Joseph, 242 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 7181 3435 4
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... Everyone is agreed: it is the drummer who is most important. ‘No group is any better than its drummer,’ the Rolling Stones’ late piano player Ian Stewart tells A.E. Hotchner. ‘Drummers are the heart of a group,’ confirms Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience: ‘a good one is worth his weight in gold.’ And here is the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock on drummer Paul Cook: ‘that steady rhythm of his was the whole backbone of the Pistols’ sound ...

Uncle Vester’s Nephew

Graham Coster, 27 February 1992

Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession 
by Greil Marcus.
Viking, 256 pp., £17.99, February 1992, 0 670 83846 2
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Rythm Oil: A Journey through the Music of the American South 
by Stanley Booth.
Cape, 254 pp., £16.99, October 1991, 0 224 02779 4
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... A few years ago I met Elvis Presley’s Uncle Vester. Cross the road from Graceland, Elvis’s smallish mansion in Memphis, and you enter the large museum-and-souvenirs complex where you can view his private plane, his collection of police badges and all those swirling, sequined efforts he used to garb himself in for a Las Vegas show, and then go and buy yourself an Elvis alarm clock ...

Spivsville

Jonathan Bate, 27 July 1989

Train, Train 
by Graham Coster.
Bloomsbury, 225 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 9780747503941
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The Philosophers 
by Alex Comfort.
Duckworth, 176 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 9780715625118
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The King of the Fields 
by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Cape, 256 pp., £10.95, July 1989, 0 224 02663 1
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Sister Hollywood 
by C.K. Stead.
Collins, 224 pp., £11.95, June 1989, 0 00 223479 3
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Penelope’s Hat 
by Ronald Frame.
Hodder, 440 pp., £12.95, July 1989, 0 340 49397 6
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... that they communicate not with other human beings but with green screens, fax machines and modems. Graham Coster and Alex Comfort have each written a Condition-of-England novel for the Yuppie age, but they have handled the task in diametrically opposite ways. Coster’s protagonist, Greg, forsakes his computer terminal ...

I only want the OM

Christopher Tayler: Somerset Maugham, 1 September 2005

Somerset Maugham: A Life 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Vintage, 411 pp., £12, April 2005, 1 4000 3052 8
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... harm’ – to write Liza of Lambeth (1897), ‘a very clever realistic study of factory girl and coster life’, as his publisher’s reader put it. Further novels and a Spanish travel book followed, but they didn’t make much money – and money, Maugham believed, was ‘like a sixth sense without which you could not make the most of the other five’. He ...

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