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4 November 1982
China Diary 
by Stephen Spender and David Hockney.
Thames and Hudson, 200 pp., £10, November 1982, 0 500 01290 3
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... of insight. Thus Spender remarks that ‘there are times in China when the tourists seem totally disconnected from the places they are visiting... like the plug of the television set in David and Gregory’s room which failed to fit into its socket.’ He compares conversation with the Chinese to ‘a clear transparent stream with a smiling, friendly surface, but a few inches down an opaque floor of ...

Poetry to Thrill an Oyster

Gregory​ Woods: Fitz-Greene Halleck

16 November 2000
The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck 
by John W.M. Hallock.
Wisconsin, 226 pp., £14.95, April 2000, 0 299 16804 2
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... poem is a strange confection called ‘Young America’, in which the nation is personified as a beautiful 14-year-old boy (‘A bonny boy, with eye-delighting eyes,/Sparkling as stars, and blue as summer’s skies’), fast asleep in the midst of spring foliage. Quite how his eyes manage to be so delightful while he sleeps is not made clear. Three adults in succession wander by and admire ...
13 November 1997
The Origins of English Nonsense 
by Noel Malcolm.
HarperCollins, 329 pp., £18, May 1997, 0 00 255827 0
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... distinction of being England’s first professional manufacturer of nonsense. Taylor’s subsequent work includes, along with mock-eulogies and mock-epitaphs on both Hoskyns and Coryate, the epic Sir Gregory Nonsence His Newes from No Place, the more comprehensibly satirical Mercurius Nonsensicus and the virtually endless The Essence of Nonsence upon Sence (included here with only the comparatively lucid ...

If Only Analogues...

Ange Mlinko: Ginsberg Goes to India

20 November 2008
A Blue​ Hand: The Beats in India 
by Deborah Baker.
Penguin US, 256 pp., £25.95, April 2008, 978 1 59420 158 5
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... correspondences in nature, of a transcendental logic ruling reality. It was this conviction that led Ginsberg to India in the first place. He was not alone. Nor is the story Deborah Baker tells in A Blue Hand – a story about the encounter between optimistic, postcolonial Bengalis and disillusioned American Beats – about Ginsberg alone. It is a dense little slice of bicultural history, collated ...

On the Beach

Peter Campbell: Untucked

5 September 2002
... on native Pacific fabric – tapa cloth, beaten out from the bark of the paper mulberry. In the 1920s, aloha shirts might be made from kimono lengths from Japan – elaborately printed silk or plain blue and white – or from big-patterned florals in English cotton, like the wrap-around pareus Gauguin’s Tahitian women wear. After that, locally designed – and locally printed – patterns, which ...

At the V&A

Esther Chadwick: Opus Anglicanum

5 January 2017
... and Steeple Aston copes, and the Chichester-Constable chasuble, but also the Vatican, Pienza, Toledo and Bologna copes, the Ascoli Piceno cope, probably presented as a diplomatic gift by Edward I to Gregory X, or the Madrid cope, referred to in an inventory of 1397 in the Church of Santa María de los Sagrados Corporales near Zaragoza as ‘an excellent cope or pluviale completely worked in gold with ...
23 July 1992
by Fred Voss.
Bloodaxe, 180 pp., £7.95, November 1991, 1 85224 198 5
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... shops that Voss has sweated in for the past 15 years. From his inconspicuous position as a machinist on the factory floor, Voss describes the conflicts and frustrations which daily beset the American blue-collar worker. He does so in a voice so unassuming it is sometimes only barely audible behind his technical diction. He is rigorous in his resistance of polemics, and the result of this forbearance ...


Colm Tóibín: The Great Irish Famine

30 July 1998
... as though to contain uneasy spirits in the foundations. It is a palpable absence, a warning that this is what can happen to great houses with ambiguous legacies.The copper beech tree on which Lady Gregory’s guests carved their names is close by. You can just make out some of the initials: GBS, SOC, WBY, JBY, AE. ‘All/That comes of the best knit to the best,’ Yeats wrote in ‘Upon a House Shaken ...

Gloves Off

Glen Newey: Torture

29 January 2009
Death by a Thousand Cuts 
by Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon and Gregory Blue.
Harvard, 320 pp., £22.95, March 2008, 978 0 674 02773 2
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Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story 
by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris.
Picador, 286 pp., £8.99, January 2009, 978 0 330 45201 4
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Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law 
by Philippe Sands.
Allen Lane, 315 pp., £20, May 2008, 978 1 84614 008 2
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... Like making jokes or copulating without regard to season, torturing is one of those activities that distinguish human beings from other animals. Inflicted both on our congeners and on other species, it marks us out, in the words of the King of Brobdingnag, as a pernicious race of little odious vermin. Even Richard Rorty, the self-styled postmodernist liberal, felt able to pronounce that cruelty was ...

What if you hadn’t been home

Mary-Kay Wilmers: Joan Didion

3 November 2011
Blue​ Nights 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 188 pp., £14.99, November 2011, 978 0 00 743289 9
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... head and the stephanotis loosened and fell. The plumeria blossom … What Didion doesn’t say, here or elsewhere, is what Quintana looked like: was she tall or short, plump or skinny – who knows? Blue Nights is dedicated to Quintana. The reference in the title is to a colour of evening light – ‘the French called this time of day “l’heure bleue”.’ You see it first in late April when ...

It was gold

Patricia Lockwood: Joan Didion’s Pointillism

4 January 2018
Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold 
directed by Griffin Dunne.
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South and West: From a Notebook 
by Joan Didion.
Fourth Estate, 160 pp., £10, September 2017, 978 0 00 825717 0
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... is actually dying of heat at the edge of the desert. We know about the seven years at Vogue, after Berkeley, where she learned to choose the right word; we know about the forty-year marriage to John Gregory Dunne, who was ‘between me and the world’ – though it is surprising to hear her speak of how it happened, now, at 82: ‘Well I went to Hartford, and fell in love with his family, and ...


Jordan Sand: In Tokyo

28 April 2011
... motif: the suffering of elite merchants and the delight of working men. The man at the top is a wealthy miser: with the encouragement of a catfish, he is vomiting gold coins. Three men wearing the blue leggings, jackets and cloth headbands of craftsmen and builders scramble for the fallen money. The catfish lectures the miser: ‘Sir, you suffer now because you oppressed those beneath you in ...

Man Is Wolf to Man

Malcolm Gaskill: C.J. Sansom

13 January 2020
by C.J. Sansom.
Pan Macmillan, 866 pp., £8.99, September 2019, 978 1 4472 8451 2
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... VIII’s Progress to the North Reconsidered’, in the peer-reviewed journal Northern History. Sansom wants to be taken seriously, the same urge felt by the bestselling historical novelist Philippa Gregory, whose Women of the Cousins’ War (2011) is scholarly non-fiction, co-authored with two historians, exploring the lives of three late-medieval women featured in her novels. Both have PhDs – ...

God bless Italy

Christopher Clark: Rome, Vienna, 1848

10 May 2018
The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe 
by David I. Kertzer.
Oxford, 474 pp., £25, May 2018, 978 0 19 882749 8
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... Ferretti when he acceded to the papal throne after a hurried two-day conclave on 16 June 1846, but he profited from the general relief at the death of his predecessor, the stern and reactionary Gregory XVI. The old pope had died at the age of eighty; the new man, who adopted the name Pius IX, was 54, with a warm personality and a cheerful, winning manner. Whereas Gregory had begun his reign in 1831 ...

The Lie-World

James Wood: D.B.C. Pierre

20 November 2003
Vernon God Little 
by D.B.C. Pierre.
Faber, 279 pp., £10.99, January 2003, 0 571 21642 0
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... telling us why that particular party would be enjoyable or even tolerable. Pierre’s splendour is the creation of a voice, that of a bitter, troubled but smart 15-year-old Texan schoolboy, Vernon Gregory Little. Vernon narrates the book, and hurls his spiked words right at us. At his best, Pierre captures a pathetic combination of defensive cynicism and pain. Vernon hates his stupid, materialistic ...

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