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... In different ways, most of Ian McEwan’s novels and stories are about trauma and contingency, and he is now best known as the great contemporary stager of traumatic contingency as it strikes ordinary lives. In The Child in Time, a child goes missing at a supermarket, and Stephen and Julie’s domestic existence is shattered; in Enduring Love, Clarissa and Joe witness the death of John Logan as he falls from a balloon, are changed for ever, and spend the rest of the novel trying to absorb the consequences of the spectacle; Black Dogs is in part about how Bernard Tremaine, a politician, scientist and rationalist, drifts away from his wife, June (and vice versa), because of what he deems her fanciful, emotional, overdetermined reading of the trauma that was meted out on her in 1946 by the black dogs of the title ...

Well done, Ian McEwan

Michael Wood, 10 May 1990

The Innocent 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 231 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 224 02783 2
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... is no defence, innocence doesn’t stand a chance. A complex variant of this scene haunts Ian McEwan’s fiction, and creates, among other things, an eerie resonance for the mild-seeming title of his remarkable new novel. For McEwan, the innocent is never entirely innocent, always has a murky relation to the corpse and the knife. But an innocence ...

Barbarians

Stuart Airlie, 17 November 1983

Medieval Germany and its Neighbours 900-1250 
by K.J. Leyser.
Hambledon, 302 pp., £18, February 1983, 0 907628 08 7
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The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987 
by Rosamond McKitterick.
Longman, 414 pp., £9.95, June 1983, 0 582 49005 7
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Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society: Studies presented to J.M. Wallace-Hadrill 
edited by Patrick Wormald, Donald Bullough and Roger Collins.
Blackwell, 345 pp., £27.50, September 1983, 0 631 12661 9
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... investigating the realities of bishops’ power in the Auvergne of the sixth and seventh centuries Ian Wood’s mastery of the evidence and strong sense of place permit him to follow a slow tracking-shot of the hills and cornfields around Clermont with a sudden zoom in on figures like the priest Epachius, ‘notable as a senator and as an ...

Enemies of Promise

Angus Calder, 2 March 1989

Breach of Promise: Labour in Power 1964-1970 
by Clive Ponting.
Hamish Hamilton, 433 pp., £15.95, February 1989, 0 241 12683 5
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James Maxton 
by Gordon Brown.
Fontana, 336 pp., £4.95, February 1988, 0 00 637255 4
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Forward! Labour Politics in Scotland 1888-1988 
edited by Ian Donnachie, Christopher Harvie and Ian Wood.
Polygon, 184 pp., £19.50, January 1989, 0 7486 6001 1
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... Palace, the museum of labour history on Glasgow Green. A bronze bust of Willie Gallacher by Ian Walters was not so much unveiled as proclaimed. It sits at the top of the building, in the room where Ken Currie’s controversial Rivera-style murals of working-class history can be seen around the ceiling: but the speeches were made in the Winter Garden ...

Bonded by the bottle

Michael Wood, 14 June 1990

Writers in Hollywood 
by Ian Hamilton.
Heinemann, 326 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 434 31332 7
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... in a wicker chair, checking a page in his typewriter. The picture appears on the covers both of Ian Hamilton’s Writers in Hollywood and of Tom Dardis’s Some Time in the Sun and instantly announces several elements of a familiar legend. Even in black and white the image is full of warm shadows, and the uncropped version fills out the legend a little ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Da Vinci Code’, 8 June 2006

The Da Vinci Code 
directed by Ron Howard.
May 2006
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... already everywhere, but no one knew it. It’s the greatest cover-up in human history, to quote Ian McKellen quoting Dan Brown. During the Cannes screening of the film critics are said to have laughed when a crowd of bewigged ghosts shows up for Newton’s funeral in Westminster Abbey, forcing the live characters to elbow their way through the shades to ...
... world’s longest escalator takes you well away from screaming Boat People and wet ropes slopping wood. Children of six and seven play inside the Walled City; no more walled than you or I. ‘I mean, it was a million to one chance we’d walk past that shop again and then she dashed out to tell me she’d been through the whole shop and found the matching ...

Diary

Ian Hamilton: Francis Hope, and Tom and Vic, 15 March 1984

... Royal Court. The play purports to be an account of T. S. Eliot’s first marriage, to Vivien Haigh-Wood, and I had been pretty well put off it by Peter Redgrove’s letter to the TLS: ‘if Eliot’s diagnosis of the ills of our civilisation in prose and poetry had its root in his own sexual distress and inability in his prime to form a personal relationship ...

Gruff Embraces

Philip Purser, 21 October 1993

The Expense of Glory: A Life of John Reith 
by Ian McIntyre.
HarperCollins, 447 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 00 215963 5
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... Reading Ian McIntyre’s new Life of Reith I found myself longing for just one deed, one word, one sentiment from the great man which I could admire. In public office, notably as the architect and first Director-General of the BBC, he may have achieved a number of admirable ends, if fewer than pious legend attributes to him ...

Composite Person

Alex Clark: Pat Barker, 24 May 2001

Border Crossing 
by Pat Barker.
Viking, 216 pp., £16.99, April 2001, 0 670 87841 3
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... Parks. Now out on parole he has been given a new identity and must adopt the bland persona of Ian Wilkinson, a 20-year-old English student. Although Barker has left behind the vast historical rigging of Regeneration and its sequels – the preoccupations of the trilogy were still evident in her last novel, Another World – she has clearly drawn on real ...

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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... of our God and King’. The negative, as Eliot has it in his essay on Dante in The Sacred Wood, ‘is the more importunate’. Which perhaps explains why Walcott’s poetry remains a challenge to taste: either his work is too rich, or our palettes are too ...

Lost in the Forest

Ian Hacking: Who needs the DSM?, 8 August 2013

DSM-5: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition 
by the American Psychiatric Association.
American Psychiatric Publishing, 947 pp., £97, May 2013, 978 0 89042 555 8
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... attended to the trees (the kinds of disorder recognised in the manual), but few thought about the wood. I want to talk about the object as a whole – about the wood – and will seldom mention particular diagnoses, except when I need an example. Many worries have already been aired. In mid-May an onslaught was delivered by ...

Diary

Zachary Leader: Oscar Talk at the Huntington, 16 April 1998

... she’s better-looking than Stuart. Last week at lunch, much of the Oscar talk focused on Gordon Wood, Professor of History at Brown. Wood is here on a year’s fellowship to write Volume IV of the new Oxford History of the United Sates, but he has also spent the odd moment reflecting on Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, of Good ...

Jihad

James Wood, 5 August 1993

TheNew Poetry 
edited by Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley.
Bloodaxe, 352 pp., £25, May 1993, 1 85224 244 2
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Who Whispered Near Me 
by Killarney Clary.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £5.95, February 1993, 1 85224 149 7
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Sunset Grill 
by Anne Rouse.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £5.95, March 1993, 1 85224 219 1
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Half Moon Bay 
by Paul Mills.
Carcanet, 95 pp., £6.95, February 1993, 9781857540000
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Shoah 
by Harry Smart.
Faber, 74 pp., £5.99, April 1993, 0 571 16793 4
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The Autonomous Region 
by Kathleen Jamie.
Bloodaxe, 79 pp., £7.95, March 1993, 9781852241735
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Collected Poems 
by F.T. Prince.
Carcanet, 319 pp., £25, March 1993, 1 85754 030 1
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Stirring Stuff 
by Selwyn Pritchard.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 145 pp., £8.99, April 1993, 9781856193085
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News from the Brighton Front 
by Nicki Jackowska.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 86 pp., £7.99, April 1993, 1 85619 306 3
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Translations from the Natural World 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 67 pp., £6.95, March 1993, 1 85754 005 0
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... merely literary’. But then language itself, on the editors’ account, is a poor thing. Ian McMillan’s work is praised for treating language ‘with a healthy Post-Modern disrespect’; Glyn Maxwell’s verse ‘reminds us that language is always debased currency.’ Again, this is vulgar and hasty. Language is a currency, but – exactly like a ...

When the Balloon Goes up

Michael Wood, 4 September 1997

Enduring Love 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 247 pp., £15.99, September 1997, 0 224 05031 1
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... of who she is and what she wants. The walking holiday she and her husband have planned now seems, Ian McEwan says, ‘a pointless detour from her uncertainty’. The phrase is full of trouble, of precise and elusive implications. Uncertainty is a path, a destination, a need. Of course we may not like the thought, and many of us will prefer to see our detours ...

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