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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, Ian Sansom 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. Sansom tells the story of moving house, and makes sense of his friends’ enthusiasm, in a typically buoyant essay, ‘Where Do We Live?’* In the English imagination, he argues, Ireland ‘remains a place of refuge and fantasy ...

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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... Six little words carrying more weight of pretension it is difficult to imagine (although the insouciant ‘Special thanks to Carlo Feltrinelli and his family for their generous hospitality in Gargnano, Brescia Province, where a large part of The Rotters’ Club was written’ comes close). And yet he’s only being honest. A Touch of Love is indeed influenced ...

Everything You Know

Ian Sansom: Hoods

3 November 2016
by Alison Kinney.
Bloomsbury, 163 pp., £9.99, March 2016, 978 1 5013 0740 9
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... which looks at ‘the hidden lives of ordinary things’ and which are all utterly ‘Fridge Brilliant’ (defined by TV Tropes as an experience of sudden revelation, like the light coming on when you open a refrigerator door). Kinney’s Hood is not, therefore, to be absolutely clear – for the sake of anyone looking for a book about, say, hoods – about ...
6 July 1995
Selected Poems 
by Carol Ann Duffy.
Penguin, 151 pp., £5.99, August 1994, 0 14 058735 7
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... knickers down. Dad’s got his own mini-cab. We watch the video. I Spit on Your Grave. Brilliant. I don’t suppose I’ll get a job. It’s all them coming over here to work. Arsenal. Masjid at 6 o’clock. School at 8. There was a friendly shop selling rice. They ground it at home to make the evening nan. Families face Mecca. There was much more ...

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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... to suit men, preferably men with stay-at-home wives. The qualities rewarded there – self-reliance, ambition, single-minded devotion to work – make women unfit for marriage and vice versa. By the time they are ready to settle down, their male contemporaries are married or looking for younger, softer women; if it’s not too late for a husband, it’s ...


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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... might be able to start up if you could harness the force and energy of Ulysses or King Lear – a giant Ariane V, powered by a 170-ton liquid-propellant rocket motor assisted by twin 270-ton solid-fuel boosters, perhaps. Forcing one’s way beyond the countdown of air-kisses and back-slappings and venturing on into the book ...


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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... in marinas whose masts agree, in crescent melons left all night in the fridge, in the Egyptian labours of ants moving boulders of sugar, words in this sentence, shadow and light, who live next door like neighbours, and in sardines with pepper sauce. – or you find it rather embarrassing and outré. Enthusiasm is discouraged in ...
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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... described by Bloomfield and Mendelson, in their Auden Bibliography – is bound in brilliant yellowish green (130) cloth lettered down the spine: ‘[in red] LETTERS FROM ICELAND [in bluish grey] W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice’. Across the foot of the spine in bluish grey: ‘FABER’. All edges trimmed, top edge stained light grey. White dust ...


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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... to hear these days between hard covers. What you usually get to hear is semi-professional melancholians beating on tiny little tin drums, squelching, self-pitying, huffing, puffing and generally wallowing in their own bubble-bath solemnity: the sound of the Fabian Society drinking whisky sours in a hot-tub at a nudist ...

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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... rhyme with Noel and not, as you might expect, with towel.’ Powell was about as Welsh as I am Russian: he had an ancestor, Rhys ap Gruffydd, who ruled much of South Wales sometime around the 12th century. The Welsh thing obviously appealed to a wild, romantic longing in Powell’s otherwise rather tight-buttoned upbringing. His father, Philip, was from Melton ...

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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... revealed, in order, presumably, to protect those involved. Hillier, it should be noted, is defiantly pro-Betjeman, and perhaps just a little anti-Penelope, describing her at one point as ‘horse-mad and cantankerous’, which is a bit rich, since one might just as easily describe Betjeman as a silly little man with a taste for posh totty; though one ...
1 October 1998
England, England 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 272 pp., £15.99, September 1998, 0 224 05275 6
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... and authenticity, but is itself something of a poser. This is, I’m sure, entirely by design: Julian Barnes is a writer who knows how to spot a fake. Last year, on 15 September, for example, in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, the New Yorker ran a series of articles in praise of the Princess. Clive James put ...


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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... of ‘not to ... but to’ rubbed down to the old-fashioned one-word, ‘Lest’ – a ‘Victorian echo’, Brodsky notes, whose cold summons leads the reader deep into the Tennysonian ‘haunted wood’. At other points, the contours are made rougher, and sharper: the already insistent ‘never be alone, never stop to ...

‘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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... fiery Christ Child, a ‘Babe of dark flames and screams’, and figuring himself as a Frankensteinian midwife, delivering an ‘explosion/Of screams’ and then being ‘dissolved’, washed away in scorching fluid, ‘engulfed/ In a flood, a dam-burst thunder/Of new myth’. The flaming newborn Plath, ‘child-bride/On a pyre’ feeds on tears, rage, love ...

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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... other challenges. In Where Did It All Go Right? he writes about meeting writers, artists, musicians, critics even (Empson, Leavis, Richards, R.P. Blackmur), many of whom he admired and some of whom became friends, but he writes about none of them with anything like the enthusiasm and passion that he musters for his friend, the climber Mo Anthoine, in ...

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