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James Wood: John Carey, 8 March 2001

Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books 
by John Carey.
Faber, 173 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 571 20448 1
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... who said horrible things about the plebeian Joyce, and about the girls who worked at Woolworths; James Kelman acted like a barbarian at the Booker dinner, and so on. Most of these commentators imagine themselves to be writing a form of intellectual history when they are only pouring gossip into fancy goblets at London book parties. They experience apparently ...

She gives me partridges

Bee Wilson: Alma Mahler, 5 November 2015

Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler 
by Oliver Hilmes, translated by Donald Arthur.
Northeastern, 360 pp., £29, May 2015, 978 1 55553 789 0
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... writer Franz Werfel, Walter Gropius’s divorced wife and Oscar Kokoshka’s former lover. Thomas Mann, who was one of the guests, offered ‘cordial felicitations on your special day’. Some of Mann’s friends were astonished that he could maintain his friendship with Alma when he had been such a prominent opponent of ...

What the Organ-Grinder Said

Christopher Beha: Andrés Neuman, 5 April 2012

Traveller of the Century 
by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia.
Pushkin, 584 pp., £12.99, February 2012, 978 1 906548 66 7
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... It’s this kind of suggestive reticence that Eliot was reacting to when he remarked that Henry James had a mind so fine no idea could violate it. Along its outer border, the desire not to state ideas explicitly approaches the desire not to have them, as expressed by Flaubert’s ideal of a book about nothing. The obvious alternative to all this withholding ...
A Mania for Sentences 
by D.J. Enright.
Chatto, 211 pp., £12.50, July 1983, 0 7011 2662 0
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The Mirror of Criticism: Selected Reviews 1977-1982 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Harvester, 181 pp., £16.95, June 1983, 0 7108 0499 7
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In the Age of Prose: Literary and Philosophical Essays 
by Erich Heller.
Cambridge, 268 pp., £20, January 1984, 0 521 25493 0
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... how tender towards each author’s idiosyncrasies. Enright’s brief portraits of Goethe, Heine, Mann, Brecht, Flaubert, Hasek and numerous others are sprinkled with biographical curiosities, but derive their entertaining animation mainly from his sense of each writer as a distinctive intelligence inquisitively and acquisitively about its business. For a man ...

Too Many Alibis

James Wood: Geoffrey Hill, 1 July 1999

Canaan 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 76 pp., £7.99, September 1996, 0 14 058786 1
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The Truth of Love: A Poem 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Penguin, 82 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 0 14 058910 4
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... the intolerable wrestle with words, but, as it were, a further wrestle with the wrestle. Thomas Mann, like Hill, an artist wary of the claims and capacities of art, lamented that his Doctor Faustus was ‘joylessly earnest, not artistically happy’, and Hill’s two new books certainly tread the gravel of the joyless. Yet in the past, Hill has made great ...

Offered to the Gods

Frank Kermode: Sacrifice, 5 June 2008

Culture and Sacrifice: Ritual Death in Literature and Opera 
by Derek Hughes.
Cambridge, 313 pp., £45, October 2007, 978 0 521 86733 7
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... from the outset. Any close resemblance between Hughes’s method and the methods of Sir James Frazer or René Girard is explained and discounted. The mere thought of Frazer prompts unavoidable and dismissive allusions to George Eliot’s Casaubon and his ‘Key to All Mythologies’, a ‘beguiling and age-old obsession’ that obviously must be ...

Short Cuts

Christopher Tayler: The School of Life, 19 May 2011

... of night school, group therapy and speed dating, took place in the basement. A mural by Charlotte Mann turned the room into a stage set depicting an upmarket holiday home. David spoke of Martin Buber, played a clip from Annie Hall and threw in some tips for tongue-tied office workers; nothing he said seemed stupid or objectionable. At regular intervals we ...

Hooyah!!

James Meek: The Rise of the Private Army, 2 August 2007

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army 
by Jeremy Scahill.
Serpent’s Tail, 452 pp., £12.99, August 2007, 978 1 84668 630 6
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... In a James Bond film, viewer credulity gets its toughest workout with the hero’s tour of, and subsequent escape from, the villain’s lair. This power-crazed evil genius, this smug gentleman in a tightly tailored suit posing as a bold entrepreneur: how was he able to construct a paramilitary base over a dozen square miles in the middle of, say, the United States, without its raising an eyebrow among the local constabulary? How did he get the zeppelin hangar past the county planning board? Such vast amounts of concrete ...

Are you having fun today?

Lorraine Daston: Serendipidity, 23 September 2004

The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science 
by Robert Merton and Elinor Barber.
Princeton, 313 pp., £18.95, February 2004, 0 691 11754 3
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... On 28 January 1754, Horace Walpole coined a pretty bauble of a word in a letter to Horace Mann, apropos of a happy discovery made while browsing in an old book of Venetian heraldry: Mann had just sent him the Vasari portrait of the Grand Duchess Bianca Capello, and Walpole stumbled on the Capello coat of arms ...

Lucky Brrm

John Sutherland, 12 March 1992

Brrm! Brrm! 
by Clive James.
Cape, 160 pp., £12.99, November 1991, 0 224 03226 7
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Saint Maybe 
by Anne Tyler.
Chatto, 337 pp., £14.99, October 1991, 0 7011 3787 8
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Faustine 
by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 140 pp., £12.99, March 1992, 9780571142637
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... with his largest viewing constituency in Britain. The same – but more – could be said of Clive James. James has earned himself reputations as a television host, reviewer, newspaper columnist, songwriter, ‘metropolitan critic’, versifier and novelist (Brrm! Brrm! is his third published title). He is the master of many ...

Muffled Barks, Muted Yelps

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Hurricane Season’, 19 March 2020

Hurricane Season 
by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes.
Fitzcarraldo, 232 pp., £12.99, February, 978 1 913097 09 7
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... unsupported, cantilevered over empty space.This is not the long sentence as practised by James, Proust or Mann. Their sentences were magnificently terraced earthworks, but Melchor’s are more like slow-motion mudslides. There’s no question of any surprise, a sting in the tail, the equivalent of Columbo’s ...

Against it

Ross McKibbin, 24 February 1994

For the Sake of Argument 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 353 pp., £19.95, May 1993, 0 86091 435 6
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... Sake of Argument records a life of action, of being in the right place at the right time. Thomas Mann could never find the revolution: Hitchens cannot help tripping over it. This is, no doubt, the privilege of the foreign correspondent, but some are clearly more privileged than others. He turns up in Central America, in Central Europe, in Eastern Europe, in ...
Democracy and Sectarianism: A Political and Social History of Liverpool 1868-1939 
by P.J. Waller.
Liverpool, 556 pp., £24.50, May 1981, 0 85223 074 5
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... was an additional worry for the Unionists, which culminated in the dock strike of 1890. Tom Mann took over Liverpool as his special sphere of activity. Liverpool Labour, though not yet formidable, contributed further confusion to Roman Catholic and Orangeman, Unionist and Liberal. The Unionist boss, Forwood, was growing old and had been dazzled by the ...

We offered them their chance

Michael Wood: Henry James and the Great War, 2 June 2005

The Ivory Tower 
by Henry James.
NYRB, 266 pp., £8.99, July 2004, 1 59017 078 4
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... as ‘a person without an alternative’, the very worst fate that can befall anyone in a Henry James novel, and all he thinks about is his neighbour’s legacy, or more precisely ‘what old Frank would have done with the fruits of his swindle, on the occasion of the rupture that had kept them apart in hate and vituperation for so many years’. It’s a ...

Keeping up the fight

Paul Delany, 24 January 1991

D.H. Lawrence: A Biography 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Macmillan, 446 pp., £19.95, August 1990, 0 333 49247 1
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D.H. Lawrence 
by Tony Pinkney.
Harvester, 180 pp., £30, June 1990, 0 7108 1347 3
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England, My England, and Other Stories 
by D.H. Lawrence, edited by Bruce Steele.
Cambridge, 285 pp., £37.50, March 1990, 0 521 35267 3
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The ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ Trial (Regina v. Penguin Books Limited) 
edited by H. Montgomery Hyde.
Bodley Head, 333 pp., £18, June 1990, 0 370 31105 1
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Boy 
by James Hanley.
Deutsch, 191 pp., £11.99, August 1990, 0 233 98578 6
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D.H. Lawrence: A Literary Life 
by John Worthen.
Macmillan, 196 pp., £27.50, September 1989, 0 333 43352 1
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... thing, and to Lawrence, such sickness represents the fatal flaw of the modern novel. He described Mann as ‘the last sick sufferer from the complaint of Flaubert. The latter stood away from life as from a leprosy. And Thomas Mann, like Flaubert, feels vaguely that he has in him something finer than ever physical life ...

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