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James Francken: Ian Sansom

20 May 2004
Ring Road: There’s No Place like Home 
by Ian Sansom.
Fourth Estate, 388 pp., £12.99, April 2004, 0 00 715653 7
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... At the tail-end of 2000, IanSansom decided to move from London to a small town in County Down. He had half expected friends to dismiss his plan as a backwoods adventure, and was surprised when they said they felt the lure of the place ...

Through Plate-Glass

Ian Sansom: Jonathan Coe

10 May 2001
The Rotters’ Club 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 405 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 670 89252 1
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... There are those who like to mortise a plot, carefully and neatly, and there are those who are content simply to bang it together with panel pins and a tube or two of Gripfill. Jonathan Coe is undoubtedly the craftsman – a counter-sinking, dove-tailing, professional-finishing kind of writer. But he does get away with the occasional bodge. The framing device for his new novel, The Rotters’ Club ...

Everything You Know

Ian Sansom: Hoods

3 November 2016
Hood 
by Alison Kinney.
Bloomsbury, 163 pp., £9.99, March 2016, 978 1 5013 0740 9
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... The​ 21st-century version of Aristotle’s Poetics – and for that matter of Cicero’s On the Orator, Robert McKee’s Story, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the entire works of Syd Field, and just about every other book ever written that pretends to reveal the ways fiction, drama or poetry ‘work’ – is tvtropes.org, the self-described ‘all-devouring pop-culture wiki ...

Wayne’s World

Ian Sansom

6 July 1995
Selected Poems 
by Carol Ann Duffy.
Penguin, 151 pp., £5.99, August 1994, 0 14 058735 7
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... an uncommitted reader to poetry,’ testified Sean O’Brien, ‘I would place Carol Ann Duffy high on my list of examples.’ ‘Carol Ann Duffy is a poet at the height of her powers,’ insisted Ian McMillan in a review of Duffy’s last collection, Mean Time (1993). ‘True. Read. This. Book.’ Beryl Bainbridge provides the key to understanding Duffy’s popularity when she writes that ‘to ...

Dream On

Katha Pollitt: Bringing up Babies

11 September 2003
I Don't Know How She Does It 
by Allison Pearson.
Vintage, 256 pp., £6.99, May 2003, 0 09 942838 5
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A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother 
by Rachel Cusk.
Fourth Estate, 224 pp., £6.99, July 2002, 1 84115 487 3
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The Truth about Babies: From A-Z 
by Ian Sansom.
Granta, 352 pp., £6.99, June 2003, 1 86207 575 1
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What Are Children For? 
by Laurie Taylor and Matthew Taylor.
Short Books, 141 pp., £6.99, January 2003, 1 904095 25 9
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The Commercialisation of Intimate Life 
by Arlie Russell Hochschild.
California, 313 pp., £32.95, May 2003, 0 520 21487 0
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... as taboo truths: what motherhood is really like as opposed to what women are told to feel about it. Given a more playful and paternal spin, that same gap between cliché and reality is the subject of IanSansom’s book, an alphabetically organised grab-bag of tiny chapters made up of autobiographical reflections, epigrams, anecdotes and irresistible quotations. Chekhov shows up in ‘Fathers ...

Shareware

Ian Sansom: Dave Eggers

16 November 2000
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius 
by Dave Eggers.
Picador, 415 pp., £14.99, July 2000, 0 330 48454 0
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... The title of Dave Eggers’s book is fair warning: it prepares the reader to put on a happy face. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius comes emulsioned with the kind of compliments and absurd little pronunciamentos that stretch credulity. ‘The force and energy of this book could power a train,’ apparently. Goodness knows what kind of vehicle you might be able to start up if you could harness ...

Fanfares

Ian Sansom

11 December 1997
The Bounty 
by Derek Walcott.
Faber, 78 pp., £14.99, July 1997, 0 571 19130 4
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... They call him Mister Bombastic: ‘Because he is well capable of rhetoric and flourish, he too often allows these two-edged gifts to deflect him from a real, vivid self into a bombastic stance’ (Eavan Boland); ‘I have found Walcott’s extravagance of poetic diction and tendency to verbosity off-putting in the past’ (Peter Porter); ‘I feel that the fuss and the language are not quite justified ...
20 March 1997
Moon Country: Further Reports from Iceland 
by Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell.
Faber, 160 pp., £7.99, November 1996, 0 571 17539 2
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... This is tricky. First the facts. In 1936 W.H. Auden persuaded Faber and Faber to commission a travel book about Iceland. He spent three months in the country, part of the time travelling with his friend Louis MacNeice and a group of schoolboys and a teacher from Bryanston School. Auden and MacNeice collaborated in the writing of the book, which was published in 1937 as Letters from Iceland. It contained ...

Whamming

Ian Sansom: A novel about work

2 December 2004
Some Great Thing 
by Colin McAdam.
Cape, 358 pp., £12.99, March 2004, 9780224064552
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... Novelists are a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings, obviously. It’s a necessary part of the job, that languid repose; that successful weakening of the usual human determination to do something useful and purposeful rather than just sit around all day trying to think up amusing names for people and places that don’t exist. Trollope, renowned for his determined working habits, and often held up as an ...

Every Rusty Hint

Ian Sansom: Anthony Powell

21 October 2004
Anthony Powell: A Life 
by Michael Barber.
Duckworth, 338 pp., £20, July 2004, 0 7156 3049 0
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... I happened to read Michael Barber’s rather off-beat and amusing biography of Anthony Powell while waiting for a delayed easyJet flight from Stansted to Belfast and enduring all the usual privations of short-haul, low-cost flying: being shunted from gate to gate, and from sky-blue-upholstered departure lounge to sky-blue-upholstered departure lounge; and being jostled, and jostling, on this occasion ...

Happy Knack

Ian Sansom: Betjeman

20 February 2003
John Betjeman: New Fame, New Love 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 736 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 7195 5002 5
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... If there is one pleasure available to mankind it’s doing what we’re not supposed to do – playing, fiddling, mooching, galooting and otherwise tickling our fancies. This explains, for example, why people come home early, or stay out all night long, why we sleep in, sleep over, drink to excess, write, read or publish literary criticism, and commit crime. It certainly helps explain why Bevis Hillier ...
1 October 1998
England, England 
by Julian​ Barnes.
Cape, 272 pp., £15.99, September 1998, 0 224 05275 6
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... fair warning. This strong solicitous streak in the writing and the self-mocking undertone of many of the most brilliant metaphors make Barnes more like Alan Bennett than he is like Martin Amis or Ian McEwan. Indeed, on page 71 of England, England the following serio-ludicro simile suddenly unfurls: It’s like looking for the tag to unwrap a CD. You know that feeling? There’s a coloured strip ...

Bobby-Dazzling

Ian Sansom

17 July 1997
W.H. Auden: Prose 1926-38, Essays and Reviews and Travel Books in Prose and Verse 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Faber, 836 pp., £40, March 1997, 0 571 17899 5
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... W.H. Auden’s first published book review appeared in the Criterion in April 1930, and his first sentence cuts a dash: ‘Duality is one of the oldest of our concepts; it appears and reappears in every religion, metaphysic and code of ethics; it is reflected in (or perhaps reflects) the earliest social system of which we have knowledge – the Dual Organisation in Ancient Egypt; one of its most important ...

‘I was there, I saw it’

Ian Sansom: Ted Hughes

19 February 1998
Birthday Letters 
by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 198 pp., £14.99, January 1998, 0 571 19472 9
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... Captain Hook, ‘cadaverous and blackavised’, ‘never more sinister than when he is most polite’, lives in fear of the crocodile who ate his arm and swallowed a clock. ‘That crocodile,’ Hook announces in Act II of Peter Pan, ‘would have had me before now, but … before he can reach me I hear the tick and bolt.’ ‘Some day,’ retorts the bespectacled boatswain Smee, ‘the clock will ...

What’s this?

Ian Sansom: A. Alvarez

24 August 2000
Where Did It All Go Right? 
by A. Alvarez.
Richard Cohen, 344 pp., £20, September 1999, 1 86066 173 4
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... Every critic,’ H.L. Mencken wrote in his notebooks, is in the position, so to speak, of God ... He can smite without being smitten. He challenges other men’s work, and is exposed to no comparable challenge of his own. The more reputations he breaks, the more his own reputation is secured – and there is no lawful agency to determine, as he himself professes to determine in the case of other ...

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