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Sexy Robots

Ian Patterson: ‘Machines Like Me’

9 May 2019
Machines like Me 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 305 pp., £18.99, April 2019, 978 1 78733 166 2
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... There’s​ a very short story by Diane Williams which came into my mind while I was reading Machines like Me, Ian McEwan’s 15th novel. It’s called ‘Machinery’ and it’s 104 words long. It ends: ‘For some idea of the full range of tools at his disposal, one would have to know what human longings are all about, a calm voice says calmly ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: Books of the Year of the Year

18 December 2008
... of listing ‘100 notable books’ in even-tempered alphabetical order. It’s an egalitarian ideal that British papers can only aspire to, but many bravely attempt authority by delegating the choice to critics with areas of particular expertise: this year, the Financial Times’s analysis of books on ‘Business and Society’ was carried out by ...

Short Cuts

Sheng Yun: ‘Finnegans Wake’ in China

2 April 2014
... of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy.’ I’m not sure this is convertible into any language, even an Indo-European one, but Dai’s translation has been a hit in China, as the Western media reported widely at the time of publication. Perhaps our literary taste has suddenly become ...

Playing with terror

Christopher Ricks

21 January 1982
The Comfort of Strangers 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 134 pp., £5.95, October 1981, 0 224 01931 7
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... Ian McEwan’s tale is as economical as a shudder. It never itself shudders, which is one reason why it makes you do so. By staying cool in the face of the murderous madness which it contemplates, it precipitates an icy sweat. What it does even with equanimity is not to display it. A characteristic McEwan sentence is one of which it might be said (here in Venice revisited) that the law allows it and the court awards it ...

A Knife at the Throat

Christopher Tayler: Meticulously modelled

3 March 2005
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 280 pp., £17.99, February 2005, 0 224 07299 4
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... Ian McEwan’s vividly and meticulously imagined novels often focus on characters whose imaginations are either unwholesomely vivid or dryly meticulous. At one end of the spectrum lurk the sex murderers in The Comfort of Strangers (1981), Robert and Caroline, whose actions lead their victim’s girlfriend to surmise that ‘the imagination, the sexual imagination’, embodies ‘a powerful single organising principle’ which distorts ‘all relations, all truth ...
18 October 1984
... Then I saw him lurking behind the volume of Shakespeare. Martin Amis, the oh-so-lauded so-called giant of his literary generation, was only four inches high. ‘Glad you could make it. Glad in more ways than one,’ said Martin in his self-consciously deep voice. ‘Usually I drop down to the floor on a thread of cotton at about this time and start for the ...

The View from the Passenger Seat

Lorna Sage: Gilbert Adair

1 January 1998
The Key of the Tower 
by Gilbert Adair.
Secker, 190 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 0 436 20429 0
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... here – so that when the literary father-figures he has in mind turn out to be Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, it’s hard to believe him. Father’s ghost has to be grander. And he is. Adair the novelist’s true problem, which Amis notoriously shares, is with Nabokov. Adair’s 1990 novel, Love and ...


R.W. Johnson

9 March 1995
The State We’re In 
by Will Hutton.
Cape, 352 pp., £16.99, January 1995, 0 224 03688 2
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... Will Hutton, the Guardian’s economics editor, has produced a book which is part show-biz – it carries a passionate puff from Ian McEwan on the front cover and leapt straight into the bestseller list – and part political event: it clearly aims to provide a sweeping economic and political platform for Labour, has been elaborated with the help of Tony Blair’s adviser, David Miliband, and sees Blair’s election as leader as an epochal event, finally settling Labour’s commitment to social democracy ...


Nicholas Spice

1 October 1987
The Child in Time 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 220 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 9780224024990
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The Book and the Brotherhood 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 601 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 7011 3251 5
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... the fanatic left-wing soul – that we have, for the time being at least, left behind. Meanwhile McEwan, setting his novel several years into the future of the Thatcherite epoch, that timeless ‘on and on’ of which our leader herself has spoken, seems especially prescient and up-to-the-minute. Such are the risks of writing political fiction in democratic ...


Frank Kermode: Being a critic

27 May 1999
... sadly not for very long, you could make your way to the Pillars of Hercules in Greek Street, where Ian Hamilton, editor of the New Review, was usually to be found. The suppliants, mostly young men not then long out of the universities, have very properly combined to congratulate the sage or gaffer on his 60th birthday.* Some ...

In the Company of Confreres

Terry Eagleton: ‘Modern British Fiction’

12 December 2002
On Modern British Fiction 
edited by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 328 pp., £14.99, October 2002, 0 19 924932 6
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... became respectable for the first time, and the English novel was reborn as the British novel. Indian novelists revealed a ‘fondness for identical twins’, while angels, giants, babies and women who pass as men grew curiously fashionable. ‘In 1999, three British novels and one American novel featured a heroine in a ...

In the Body Bag

Adam Mars-Jones: Ian McEwan’s ‘Nutshell’

5 October 2016
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 198 pp., £16.99, September 2016, 978 1 911214 33 5
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... above the lip – this explains the philtrum – and wipes its mind clean. The unborn narrator of Ian McEwan’s new novel, Nutshell, isn’t omniscient but has formidable mental powers, able to analyse, synthesise and, necessarily, use language. He also has tastes, preferences, opinions, all of which logically depend on something he hasn’t ...


Frank Kermode

8 June 1995
Angus Wilson 
by Margaret Drabble.
Secker, 714 pp., £20, May 1995, 0 436 20038 4
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... It is instructive to see such men sketched, as they are here, solely in their relation to Wilson. Ian Calder, for example, had been one of Wilson’s lovers. He was a brilliant and charming young man – not, perhaps, quite the Adonis, the nonpareil, he is here made out to be, but found fascinating by ...
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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... addicted followers. Anita Brookner’s heroines tend to be bookish – academics, writers, librarians – and it’s no surprise that Rachel, the narrator of A Friend from England, is part-owner of a Notting Hill bookshop and a reader of Stendhal; her first novel A Start in Life (1981) took its title from Balzac and had a heroine whose life was ‘ruined by ...

Last Words

John Bayley

7 January 1988
The Collected Stories of Angus Wilson 
Secker, 414 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 436 57612 0Show More
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... narrational technique is used to conceal Kipling’s own feelings: his hatred of the German barbarian and his lust for revenge. The fantasy, as his cousin may have apprehended, is his, and he uses the figure of Mary Postgate to give it a sort of clinical detachment. In wartime a gentle spinster may be more ruthless than a man: the female of the species not ...

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