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Chinese Leaps

Jon Elster, 25 April 1991

The Search for Modern China 
by Jonathan Spence.
Hutchinson, 876 pp., £19.95, May 1990, 0 09 174472 5
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Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1880s to the 1980s 
by Jack Gray.
Oxford, 456 pp., £35, April 1990, 0 19 913076 0
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... provide keys to otherwise puzzling patterns of behaviour. Among the persisting values discussed in Jack Gray’s Rebellions and Revolutions are those of collective responsibility, respect for the elderly, economic egalitarianism and outward conformity to the changing dictates of authority. Surprisingly, neither Spence nor ...

Our Jack

Julian Symons, 22 July 1993

Imagination of the Heart: The Life of Walter de la Mare 
by Theresa Whistler.
Duckworth, 478 pp., £25, May 1993, 9780715624302
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... necessary to discard Augustan formality (Wordsworth used for odious comparison a sonnet in which Gray wrote that ‘reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire’), so the rejection of a decayed Palgravian romanticism, and the stale or weakened language in which it found expression, were prerequisites of writing serious poems a century later. Eliot’s praise of ...

Oh my oh my oh my

John Lanchester, 12 September 1991

Mao II 
by Don DeLillo.
Cape, 239 pp., £13.99, September 1991, 9780224031523
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Introducing Don DeLillo 
edited by Frank Lentricchia.
Duke, 221 pp., £28, September 1991, 0 8223 1135 6
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... with the wonderfully satisfying, wonderfully interesting fiction he has made of his life. Bill Gray, the central character of Mao II, Don DeLillo’s tenth novel, is one of these Pynchon/Salinger recluses: the mysterious power of the image of the writer-cum-herrnit is one of the book’s main concerns. ‘When a writer refuses to show his face,’ ...

Ooh the rubble

Rosemary Hill: Churchill’s Cook, 16 July 2020

Victory in the Kitchen: The Life of Churchill’s Cook 
by Annie Gray.
Profile, 390 pp., £16.99, February, 978 1 78816 044 5
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... well also be the last, it’s fortunate that she has fallen into the sympathetic hands of Annie Gray. Gray is a food historian and she sets Landemare’s long life in the context of changes in diet and eating habits over nearly a century. The story that unfolds against this background takes us from her birth, as Georgina ...

Tall Tales

Joanne O’Leary: ‘Jackself’, 1 June 2017

Jackself 
by Jacob Polley.
Picador, 67 pp., £9.99, November 2016, 978 1 4472 9044 5
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... poems was spent deciding whether Jackself was a boy or a bird. In the course of a few lines in ‘Jack Snipe’, a stocky wader becomes a teenager heeling off his trainers. ‘Peewit’ frustrates your ability to say whether it’s a child or a lapwing that limps across boggy ground: a little one     drab            barely skyborne, with ...

Heliotrope

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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... how right any sane person is to get out and stay out: ‘There is no special loveliness in that gray country, with its rainy, sea-beat archipelago; its fields of dark mountains; its unsightly places, black with coal; its treeless, sour, unfriendly-looking cornlands; its quaint, gray, castled city, where the bells clash of ...

Poetry to Thrill an Oyster

Gregory Woods: Fitz-Greene Halleck, 16 November 2000

The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck 
by John W.M. Hallock.
Wisconsin, 226 pp., £14.95, April 2000, 0 299 16804 2
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... sleeping beauty, he wakes up. Although Halleck explicitly lays claim to the influence of Thomas Gray (‘I borrow music from the Muse of Gray’), his Grayness keeps veering off uneasily into the tones of Alexander Pope (‘And I – a victim to love’s cruel dart,/Went – to the Opera – with a broken ...

Because We Could

David Simpson: Soldiers and Torture, 18 November 2010

None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture 
by Joshua Phillips.
Verso, 237 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 1 84467 599 9
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... sometimes suicide. His two principal homecoming narratives certainly follow this pattern. Adam Gray was a sergeant in the tank regiment in which his friend Jonathan Millantz was a combat medic. There is strong evidence that both committed suicide, although their deaths were ruled accidental by the military. Both talked about their experiences, Adam to his ...

Everyone, Then No One

David Nasaw: Where have all the bowler hats gone?, 23 February 2006

Hatless JackThe President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat 
by Neil Steinberg.
Granta, 342 pp., £12, August 2005, 1 86207 782 7
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... an A.J. Liebling New Yorker article, is told in Neil Steinberg’s shaggy-dog history, Hatless Jack. The book floats amiably back and forth, but spends most time on JFK. Steinberg’s thesis is simply stated. Once upon a time, everyone wore hats; then no one did; Kennedy was not to blame. Almost from the moment Kennedy announced his candidacy for the ...

Do you like him?

Ian Jack: Ken Livingstone, 10 May 2012

You Can’t Say That: Memoirs 
by Ken Livingstone.
Faber, 710 pp., £9.99, April 2012, 978 0 571 28041 4
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... who in his later academic career encouraged many writers, including Seamus Heaney and Alasdair Gray, got him to read Nineteen Eighty-Four, which Livingstone reckons influenced his political beliefs more than any other book. Raymond Rivers, his biology teacher, stimulated his lifelong enthusiasm for reptiles and amphibians, which reached alarming levels ...

The Unmaking of the President

Benjamin Barber, 7 October 1982

The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power 
by Garry Wills.
Atlantic/Little, Brown, 310 pp., $14.95, February 1982, 0 316 94385 1
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... a savvy journalist turned historian who has written with acuity on Madison and Jefferson and on Jack Ruby (the assassin of Kennedy’s assassin) and Richard Nixon. He is the closest thing the New World has to a Chesterton or a Burke. Who better to reflect on the relationship of sin and power, of eros and daring, of charisma and catastrophe, than an American ...

Pure TNT

James Francken: Thom Jones, 18 February 1999

Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine 
by Thom Jones.
Faber, 312 pp., £9.99, February 1999, 9780571196562
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... from your friend, Sonny Liston.’ But a cornerman’s heavy-handed intervention (‘a man in a gray sweatshirt demanded two dollars each for the photographs’) and the boy’s subsequent failure in the ring stress the lessons of adult life that remain to be learned; the photo and the friendship are shuffled into the past. Norman Mailer reported on the ...

The Right to Murder

Gaby Wood: ‘In a Lonely Place’, 22 March 2018

In a Lonely Place 
by Dorothy B. Hughes.
NYRB, 224 pp., $14.95, August 2017, 978 1 68137 147 4
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In a Lonely Place 
directed by Nicholas Ray.
Criterion Collection, £14.99
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... have been better, but I don’t see why the rest should worry you.’ Enter his alibi: Laurel Gray, a neighbour who saw him come home with Atkinson. At the threshold of the captain’s office she raises an eyebrow, just slightly, and over the next few moments it becomes clear that, for the purposes of irascible romance, Dix and she are the same ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian GrayAn Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... martyr to a subversive cult.’ This was wrong: ‘His childish hints at strange sins in Dorian Gray and other works are mere rhetoric … His one great hatred was of dullness, which is very dangerous and can raise a whole nation in its defence.’ Ford Madox Ford, in an article written in 1939, agreed about Wilde’s essential harmlessness, but viewed his ...

Bounty Hunter

John Sutherland, 17 July 1997

Riders of the Purple Sage 
by Zane Grey.
Oxford, 265 pp., £4.99, May 1995, 0 19 282443 0
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The Man of the Forest: The Authorised Version 
by Zane Grey.
Nebraska, 383 pp., $15, September 1996, 0 8032 7062 3
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The Thundering Herd: The Authorised Version 
by Zane Grey.
Nebraska, 400 pp., $16, September 1996, 0 8032 7065 8
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... the over-exposure of his wares in Hollywood’s window. Zane Grey was born in 1872 as ‘Pearl Gray’ – a name which he later changed for the same reasons that Marion Morrison became ‘Duke’ John Wayne and Izzy Demsky became Kirk Douglas. There was another motive. Grey’s birthplace was Zanesville in Ohio – a town founded by and named after his ...

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