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A Pair of Lobsters in a Murky Tank

Theo Tait: James Lasdun, 9 March 2006

Seven Lies 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 199 pp., £14.99, February 2006, 0 224 07592 6
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... A woman threw her glass of wine at me,’ James Lasdun’s second novel begins. At a party held by a wealthy philanthropist in New York, a woman walks up to the narrator and asks: ‘Excuse me, are you Stefan Vogel?’ He says yes; she flings her wine in his face. In keeping with the novel’s mood of dreamlike self-absorption, the event is replayed many times ...

Bow. Wow

James Wolcott: Gore Vidal, 3 February 2000

Gore Vidal 
by Fred Kaplan.
Bloomsbury, 850 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7475 4671 1
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... of Gore Vidal. Kaplan, a professor of English in New York whose taxidermies include Henry James, Dickens and Carlyle (they hardly get deader than Carlyle), understands that it’s much easier to get the paperwork done if you don’t have the living-breathing item second-guessing you at every turn or trying to use you as a ventriloquist’s ...

It’s only a paper moon

Patrick Parrinder, 13 June 1991

Wise Children 
by Angela Carter.
Chatto, 234 pp., £13.99, June 1991, 0 7011 3354 6
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... offer for her to play Hamlet in drag in a tent in Central Park. An American actor, Cassius Booth, appeared as her Horatio, and later as Iago to her Desdemona, which led to a triple killing, attributed to Ranulph, in a New York hotel room. So nobody would ever know whose genes had been transmitted to Melchior and Peregrine. Cassius, according to ...

Supreme Kidnap

James Fox, 20 March 1980

Fortune’s Hostages 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Hamish Hamilton, 256 pp., £8.95, January 1980, 0 241 10320 7
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... In Moro’s daughter’s case, the call – also the last she will get – comes from a public booth in Rome’s Termini station. She must understand that there is now no more time: the decision has just been taken to kill her father. There must be some political intervention. ‘It is a political problem,’ says the caller. The caller seems ...

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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... hidden morphine tablets: ‘the entire action was completed faster than Superman making a phone booth costume change.’ He is pitched into a torpor – ‘what a great inward laugh he laughed as he thought of it all’ – that intensifies his boyish spite. Jones’s prose doesn’t seem gloomy or obscure because his writing is so frequently playful, full ...

Silly Buggers

James Fox, 7 March 1991

The Theatre of Embarrassment 
by Francis Wyndham.
Chatto, 205 pp., £15, February 1991, 0 7011 3726 6
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... white witch of the Palais Royal, most earthy of oracles’) and in pieces on Updike, Balzac, Henry James, written with an authority and perception based on lifelong intimacy. He applied the same seriousness with which he encouraged new writers to reviving the careers of older ones – such as Jean Rhys – and restoring writers consigned by accident or ...

During the war and after the war

J.R. Pole, 11 January 1990

Oxford History of the United States. Vol. VI: Battle Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era 
by James McPherson.
Oxford, 904 pp., $35, June 1988, 0 19 503863 0
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Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 
by Eric Foner.
Harper and Row, 690 pp., $21.95, April 1988, 0 06 015851 4
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... rather as an early difficulty that had to be overcome – one of the Union’s teething troubles. James McPherson, who has spent most of his academic life in the study of abolitionism and the related struggles of the Civil War era, has written a narrative history that comes as close to being both comprehensive and definitive as seems possible in a single ...

Under the Sphinx

Alasdair Gray, 11 March 1993

Places of the Mind: The Life and Work of James Thomson (‘B.V.’) 
by Tom Leonard.
Cape, 407 pp., £25, February 1993, 9780224031189
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... This is the first full-length study of James Thomson’s life and work since Henry Salt’s in 1889. Thomson’s poem The City of Dreadful Night is known by name to many but has seldom been reprinted or discussed. Histories of literature say more about an earlier James Thomson (1700-48) who wrote The Seasons and ‘Rule Britannia’ and got into Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, though Johnson says his diction was ‘florid and luxuriant ...


James Meek: Where does the rubble end and the ground begin?, 3 January 2002

... when the Taliban took Kabul, seized him, tortured him and hanged him from a traffic policeman’s booth outside the Presidential palace. Professor Ghullam Sarwar Humayun is the former head of the Dari Department at Kabul University, a specialist in Dari epic poetry and Persian literature of the 10th and 11th centuries. A few months after the Taliban took over ...

Visible Woman

James Shapiro: Sticking up for Shakespeare, 4 October 2007

Shakespeare’s Wife 
by Germaine Greer.
Bloomsbury, 406 pp., £20, September 2007, 978 0 7475 9019 4
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... to point out that ‘hate away’ would have sounded to Elizabethans like ‘Hathaway’; Stephen Booth added that since the word ‘and’ was regularly pronounced ‘an’, Shakespeare may be hinting in the poem’s final line that ‘Ann saved my life.’ It’s an ingenious reading, though I’m not persuaded. Germaine Greer has no ...


James Lomax: In Ashgabat, 30 July 2020

... email he was copied in on?I saw Phillips at our UK office a few weeks later. He was sitting in a booth, next to the row of executive offices, waiting to be called in. He ignored me. I found out later that he had been dismissed by the dancing senior regional leader, who then proceeded to raise a complaint against me for my handling of the investigation in ...

Rat Poison

David Bromwich, 17 October 1996

Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Beacon, 143 pp., $20, February 1996, 0 8070 4108 4
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... us think otherwise. Her evidence covers a wide range, from Plato and Aristotle to Proust and Henry James, and though she takes a critical interest in thinkers, mostly of the Stoic tradition, who have promoted the rival virtues of self-sufficiency, she writes to call attention to those who preach and practise sympathy. These philosophers and novelists expand ...

Manly Love

John Bayley, 28 January 1993

Walt Whitman: From Moon to Starry Night 
by Philip Callow.
Allison and Busby, 394 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 85031 908 0
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The Double Life of Stephen Crane 
by Christopher Benfey.
Deutsch, 294 pp., £17.99, February 1993, 0 233 98820 3
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... animation on everything the poet saw and put into words. In a sense it was much the same for Henry James, that other great equivocator of the American literary scene, and always a great admirer of Whitman. James’s prose, even the late prose, is paradoxically as physical as Leaves of Grass, and in the same way. A kind of ...

As Bad as Poisoned

Blair Worden: James I, 3 March 2016

The Murder of King James
by Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell.
Yale, 618 pp., £30, October 2015, 978 0 300 21496 3
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... royal adviser said, ‘to be put in a new romanso’ – when the future Charles I and his father James I’s leading minister the Duke of Buckingham donned false beards, assumed the names Tom and John Smith, and journeyed to the Spanish court to woo the infanta for Charles? Incognito travel, a commonplace practice of the age, produced a succession of ...

Trollope’s Delight

Richard Altick, 3 May 1984

The Letters of Anthony Trollope 
edited by John Hall.
Stanford, 1082 pp., $87.50, July 1983, 0 8047 1076 7
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Anthony Trollope: Dream and Art 
by Andrew Wright.
Macmillan, 173 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 34593 2
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... aspiring novelists in the autobiography. He was the Arnold Bennett of his day, not a second Henry James; he was interested in the nuts and bolts of fiction-writing and how one might make a living by that occupation. Never in the faintest degree a theorist, he was concerned only with a story’s effect on the people who paid to read it. His sense of audience ...

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