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Rachel and Heather

Stephen Wall, 1 October 1987

A Friend from England 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 205 pp., £9.95, August 1987, 0 224 02443 4
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The New Confessions 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 462 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 241 12383 6
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The Colour of Blood 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 182 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 224 02513 9
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... is embodied in the mutually devoted Livingstones and their unnervingly contented daughter Heather. Despite being an accountant, Oscar Livingstone has won a very large sum on the pools, and this enables him to give his family every luxury that a conventional middle-class imagination can conceive. They take to their wealth as to an oddly onerous ...


Frank Kermode, 22 January 1998

Shakespeare’s Troy: Drama, Politics and the Translation of Empire 
by Heather James.
Cambridge, 283 pp., £37.50, December 1997, 0 521 59223 2
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... these books might have travelled far less well. The most recent addition to the series, Heather James’s Shakespeare’s Troy, is reasonably typical of the rest, so far as I have seen them. Her main argument concerns the theme of the translation of empire (translatio imperii) and its accompanying translatio studii. This idea, which flourished ...


James Lasdun: With the rent-collector, 21 October 2004

... restaurant, and begin knocking on doors. Each one opens onto a world of strangeness. Here are Heather and James, an obese girl of about eighteen living with her boyfriend, who appears to have mild Down’s syndrome. They seem cheerful, but utterly incapable of looking after themselves – there are dirty dishes and ...

Thick Description

Nicholas Spice, 24 June 1993

The Heather Blazing 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 245 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 330 32124 2
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... another way, one could say that these sentences are conspicuously unlike the sentences of Henry James, which were the opposite of bald and remarkable for the poetic thickness they could, at their greatest, deliver. The opening sentence of The Wings of the Dove shows how much work a first sentence can do and what it means to talk of fictional prose as ...

The Coldest Place on Earth

Liam McIlvanney: Colm Tóibín’s ‘Brooklyn’, 25 June 2009

by Colm Tóibín.
Viking, 252 pp., £17.99, April 2009, 978 0 670 91812 6
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... sponsor her passage and find her a job. If Father Rossiter in Colm Tóibín’s second novel, The Heather Blazing, ‘hated to see people emigrating’, Father Flood is all for it. He wants to see Eilis working in an office, not wasting her youth in a corner shop. A girl like Eilis, he is sure, will get ahead in New York. She will also feel right at ...

It makes yer head go

David Craig: James Kelman and Gordon Legge, 18 February 1999

The Good Times 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 246 pp., £14.99, July 1998, 0 436 41215 2
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Near Neighbours 
by Gordon Legge.
Cape, 218 pp., £9.99, June 1998, 0 224 05120 2
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... James Kelman’s style is so mesmerising that after a few hours’ immersion I find myself thinking in it – an experience which is both intriguing and infuriating, although the former prevails. The voice which chats and muses and reasons, and girns and deaves, and argues and contradicts itself throughout these stories, reaching us like the grumbling and bubbling of a burn flowing under grass or heather, is not a transcript of Glasgow speech, or not only that ...


Andrew O’Hagan: Have You Seen David?, 11 March 1993

... The abduction and murder of James Bulger, a two-year-old boy from Liverpool, has caused unprecedented grief and anger. Hours before the two ten-year-old boys accused of the crime arrived at South Sefton Magistrates’ Court, a large, baying crowd had formed outside. As a pair of blue vans drew up, the crowd surged forward, bawling and screaming ...

Brideshead Revered

David Cannadine, 17 March 1983

The Country House 
by James Lees-Milne.
Oxford, 110 pp., £4.50, November 1982, 0 19 214139 2
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English Country Houses and Landed Estates 
by Heather Clemenson.
Croom Helm, 244 pp., £15.95, July 1982, 0 85664 987 2
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The Last Country Houses 
by Clive Aslet.
Yale, 344 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 300 02904 7
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... One of the many contradictory qualities of the British,’ James Lees-Milne rightly notes in his attractive if angry anthology in piam memoriam Bladesover, ‘is to revere, and even lament, the things they are in the process of destroying.’ You cannot, he seems to be saying, have conservation without destruction, or a stay of execution without a sentence ...

Muted Ragu Tones

Michael Hofmann: David Szalay, 21 April 2016

All That Man Is 
by David Szalay.
Cape, 437 pp., £14.99, April 2016, 978 0 224 09976 9
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... novelist worth catching up on and following, in the wake of and on a level with the likes of James Buchan, Tessa Hadley and Edward St Aubyn. The four books are distinct – there’s no real overlap to speak of – but possess the sort of shared traits that a reader likes to find in an author, and an author in himself. London and the South-East is a ...


George Melly, 4 April 1991

A Surrealist Life 
by John Lowe.
Collins, 262 pp., £18, February 1991, 0 00 217941 5
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... Am I eccentric?’ Edward James once asked me in the days before I was added to his long list of enemies both real and imaginary. ‘I suppose I am, but I don’t mean to be. I’ve always tried to behave like everyone else.’ We were sitting on the platform of one of the inevitably incomplete concrete follies he was building at enormous expense on a hillside he owned by proxy in a Mexican jungle ...


James Buchan, 14 December 1995

The Life of Adam Smith 
by Ian Simpson Ross.
Oxford, 495 pp., £25, October 1995, 0 19 828821 2
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... which is the Camerons blown to bits by grape-shot at Culloden Moor or poniarded in the heather, Lochiel dragged off the field with his ankles shattered, his family hounded to death, his brother hanged, drawn and quartered years after the event. For all the disgust of Sir Walter Scott, the cast of thought promoted by The Wealth of Nations had, by ...

‘We would rather eat our cake than merely have it’

Rosemary Hill: Victorian men and women, 4 October 2001

A Circle of Sisters: Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin 
by Judith Flanders.
Penguin, 392 pp., £17.99, September 2001, 0 670 88673 4
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The Hated Wife: Carrie Kipling 1862-1939 
by Adam Nicolson.
Short Books, 96 pp., £4.99, May 2001, 0 571 20835 5
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Victorian Diaries: The Daily Lives of Victorian Men and Women 
edited by Heather Creaton.
Mitchell Beazley, 144 pp., £14.99, February 2001, 1 84000 359 6
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... Janey Morris, whose remarkable appearance was so close to Rossetti’s pictures of her that Henry James was unsure whether she was an original or a copy, the Macdonald sisters, though strikingly attractive, were not in the heavy-eyed big-haired vein. If they were, as suggested, the models for Burne-Jones’s The King’s Daughters then a great deal must have ...

A Useless Body

David Craig: The Highland Clearances, 18 May 2017

Set Adrift upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances 
by James Hunter.
Birlinn, 572 pp., £14.99, September 2016, 978 1 78027 354 9
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... James Hunter​ ’s work has analysed with utter thoroughness the culture of the Highlands and the diaspora that was forced on it. In his latest book, Set Adrift upon the World, he doesn’t try to describe, in a novelist’s or a journalist’s way, how individuals suffered and grieved and retaliated. Rather, he lays out the way systematic dispossession was managed, legally, by the class who engineered the process and who did so for their own gain ...


John Sutherland, 3 December 1992

Robert Louis Stevenson: Dreams of Exile 
by Ian Bell.
Mainstream, 295 pp., £14.99, November 1992, 1 85158 457 9
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... from Samoa in May 1893, eighteen months before his death: ‘I shall never set my foot upon the heather. Here I am until I die and here will I be buried.’ But, as he told another correspondent, his head was ‘filled with the blessed, beastly place [i.e. Scotland] all the time’. It was in these months that he conceived what would have been his greatest ...

Not Very Permeable

Colin Kidd: Rory Stewart’s Borderlands, 19 January 2017

The Marches: Border Walks with My Father 
by Rory Stewart.
Cape, 351 pp., £18.99, October 2016, 978 0 224 09768 0
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... explore the borderlands on foot, in the hope of finding some essence of Britishness in the region James VI and I had described as the ‘navel or umbilic of both kingdoms’. While Stewart set out on his quest with undisguised polemical intent, ‘to show that there were no permanent differences between England and Scotland, between my cottage in Cumbria and ...

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