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Phattbookia Stupenda

Nicholas Spice, 18 April 1985

by Peter Carey.
Faber, 600 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 571 13207 3
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... normally a fat book reader, you mustn’t be outfaced by the fatness of Illywhacker, nor by the price, which is hardly a fat book price, especially when the fat book is as comely as this one. Indeed, all the signs are that this is a book the publishers believe in. They’ve put their production values where their blurb ...

How to vanish

Michael Dibdin, 23 April 1987

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis 
by Humberto Costantini, translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni.
Fontana, 193 pp., £3.50, January 1987, 0 00 654180 1
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Requiem for a Woman’s Soul 
by Omar Rivabella, translated by Paul Riviera.
Penguin, 116 pp., £2.95, February 1987, 0 14 009773 2
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Words in Commotion, and Other Stories 
by Tommaso Landolfi, translated by Ring Jordan and Lydia Jordan.
Viking, 273 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 80518 1
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The Literature Machine 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Patrick Creagh.
Secker, 341 pp., £16, April 1987, 0 436 08276 4
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The St Veronica Gig Stories 
by Jack Pulaski.
Zephyr, 170 pp., £10.95, December 1986, 0 939010 09 7
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Kate Vaiden 
by Reynolds Price.
Chatto, 306 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7011 3203 5
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... to which Marco replies: ‘What else do you think I’ve been talking about all this time?’ Jack Pulaski’s stories are set in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in the Fifties. ‘It is a catastrophe that comes from living in a fucking cosmopolitan place,’ one character remarks, and much the same could be said of almost everything that happens in the ...

National Treasure

Christopher Hitchens, 14 November 1996

Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir 
by John Davis.
Wiley, 256 pp., £14.99, October 1996, 0 471 12945 3
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... lost in the praises of those intimidated by their positions. When she sat in that limousine with Jack Kennedy’s brains in her hand, her life crossed a line into blues territory that few of the privileged or the destitute ever know ... Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy had reached across a century to take the hand of Mary Todd Lincoln, to experience the gangster ...

Four Poems

Donald Davie, 21 March 1985

... sang it well                    (‘Lest we forget’): With a hey, jolly Jack, with a hey. When the dead walked in Larkin’s heyday, and the living                    were made of cardboard. With a bang, with a whimper, the world ends, or with a yelp ... with a hey ... lion’s whelp wagging a flag: Burgess in the ...

Be mean and nasty

Jenny Diski: Shirley Porter’s Story, 25 May 2006

Nothing like a Dame: The Scandals of Shirley Porter 
by Andrew Hosken.
Granta, 372 pp., £20, March 2006, 1 86207 809 2
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... have change from a pound? Answer: the London Borough of Westminster. Boom boom. This makes the price of a pint of beer in 1986 slightly less than 85p. The cemeteries, in Hanwell, East Finchley and Mill Hill, whose upkeep was the responsibility of the Highways and Works Committee of Westminster City Council, were sold by the council for 5p each. Aside from ...

Mirror Images

Jenny Diski: Piers Morgan, 31 March 2005

The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade 
by Piers Morgan.
Ebury, 484 pp., £17.99, March 2005, 0 09 190506 0
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... undemanding exemplars of legends. At one party he is quite near to someone who might just count: Jack Nicholson. He asks Fergie (the former Duchess of York) how he can get talking to the ‘superstar’. Don’t tell him you’re a journalist, says Fergie, better say you’re something interesting like a bank robber. Our compulsively cheeky ...

No Crying in This House

Jackson Lears: The Kennedy Myth, 7 November 2013

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy 
by David Nasaw.
Allen Lane, 896 pp., £12.35, September 2013, 978 0 14 312407 8
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Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch 
by Barbara Perry.
Norton, 404 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 0 393 06895 5
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... and urged him to share ‘the beautiful women of Cape Cod’ with his recently married brother Jack. Indeed, Perry writes, Joe Sr ‘modelled the very sort of immoral behaviour that Jack and Teddy embraced’. By ‘immoral behaviour’ Perry means Joe’s legendary philandering, which Nasaw dismisses as conduct that ...

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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... Madison’s caution, that ‘power is also opportunity, and to face danger with confidence is the price of its fulfilment.’ His polemical text, The American Presidency, concluded with a plea to give to the President ‘the power commensurate with the function he has to perform’. Only in this way could what he termed ‘the American adventure’ hope to ...

Comprehensible Disorders

David Craig, 3 September 1987

Before the oil ran out: Britain 1977-86 
by Ian Jack.
Secker, 271 pp., £9.95, June 1987, 0 436 22020 2
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In a Distant Isle: The Orkney Background of Edwin Muir 
by George Marshall.
Scottish Academic Press, 184 pp., £12.50, May 1987, 0 7073 0469 5
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... The item which seems set to stay longest with me from Ian Jack’s alert and precisely-written record of British life in the Seventies and Eighties comes from the opening memoir of his father, which supplies a deeper soil, or subsoil, to the son’s coverage of more recent matters for the Sunday Times and (since Wapping) the Observer: Few of his workplaces survive ...

How does one talk to these people?

Andrew O’Hagan: David Storey in the Dark, 1 July 2021

A Stinging Delight: A Memoir 
by David Storey.
Faber, 407 pp., £20, June, 978 0 571 36031 4
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... shy, still standing at the edge of the party. But it was Storey who most powerfully understood the price of the journey, the dissociation, the consequences of leaving home when the scars were still raw, the family illness undiagnosed, to try to become a person. He attempted to hold on to his Yorkshire instincts, but they curdled at the Slade. (Rugby became ...

Murph & Me

August Kleinzahler, 20 February 2020

... I’m only 14!This plainly displeased him. You could say Murph was my unofficial guardian,The Jack Teagarden to my Stan Getz, sans horns, a somewhat unsavory coupling,And one not without implications down the road …But you can imagine how purgatorial, that rolling, rackety, fitful journey uptownAfter the 25 minutes pinned back in the death seat beside ...

A Country Emptied

Ian Jack: The Highland Clearances, 7 March 2019

The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900 
by T.M. Devine.
Allen Lane, 464 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 0 241 30410 5
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... of improving shipboard conditions but in fact was intended to stall emigration by raising the price of the fare. In this way, migration was at first limited by poverty, and the introduction of the potato made it possible for the dispossessed to stay put. The victims of eviction crowded into already congested townships and the population was rearranged ...

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 Gray mentions how the traditional ...


Duncan McLean: Frank Sargeson, 7 June 2018

... everyone who visited Sargeson complained about how disgusting it was, but drinking it was the price you had to pay for being in his company. Among what remained of Sargeson’s book collection, which included a copy of Ulysses bought in Paris in the late 1920s during his only visit to Europe, was a shelf of New Zealand writers he encouraged or helped get ...

‘Bye Bye Baghdad’

Paul Foot, 7 February 1991

... at last gone mad. But when, the next morning, the Sun devotes its entire front page to the Union Jack with a good old British Tommy in its centre, and the rubric up above SUPPORT OUR BOYS AND PUT THIS FLAG IN YOUR WINDOW, thousands of people do so! The Sun has its best morning for years. The Star, the ailing tabloid from the Express group, has a good time ...

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