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A Prize from Fairyland

Andrew Bacevich: The CIA in Iran

2 November 2017
Foreign Relations of the US, 1952-54, Iran, 1951-54 
edited by James Van Hook.
for the Department of State/Washington DC. Chiron Academic Press, 970 pp., £20, September 2017, 978 91 7637 496 2
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... The series​ in which this volume appears constitutes the official historical record of American diplomacy. In 1989, the State Department published a volume with the same title as this one, nearly 1100 pages in length, which purported to document US-Iran relations in the early 1950s. In fact, focused as it was on the disputed nationalisation of Iranian oil and issues relating to prospective US economic ...

Caretaker/Pallbearer

James​ Wolcott: Updike should stay at home

1 January 2009
The Widows of Eastwick 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 308 pp., £18.99, October 2008, 978 0 241 14427 5
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... Some nerve he has, refusing to vacate the stage and vanish into a silver cloud, insisting instead on bringing out one new book after another, no matter how fine a steam rises from the dome of James Wood. (Writing in the New Republic, Wood welcomed Updike’s bestseller Terrorist into the world by wishing it had been aborted: ‘John Updike should have run a thousand miles away from this subject ...

Top Brands Today

Nicholas Penny: The Art World

14 December 2017
The Auctioneer: A Memoir of Great Art, Legendary Collectors and Record-Breaking Auctions 
by Simon de Pury and William Stadiem.
Allen and Unwin, 312 pp., £9.99, April 2017, 978 1 76011 350 6
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Rogues’ Gallery: A History of Art and Its Dealers 
by Philip Hook.
Profile, 282 pp., £20, January 2017, 978 1 78125 570 4
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Donald Judd: Writings 
edited by Flavin Judd and Caitlin Murray.
David Zwirner, 1054 pp., £28, November 2016, 978 1 941701 35 5
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... he conducted, the deals he struck, the parties he attended. It resembles a board game, with smaller parts assigned to the ‘hedge fund overlord’, the ‘polo-playing playboy millionaire’, the ‘James Bond of the Russian oligarchy’, the ‘French luxury goods tycoon’ (also appearing as the ‘French luxury titan’), the ‘serial dater of supermodels’, and the ‘leveraged-buyout king ...

There are some limits Marlowes just won’t cross

Christopher Tayler: Banville’s Marlowe

2 April 2014
The Black-Eyed Blonde 
by Benjamin Black.
Mantle, 320 pp., £16.99, February 2014, 978 1 4472 3668 9
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... 1939). Marlowe’s response: ‘Who’s he?’ ‘A French writer,’ she says, ‘a connoisseur in degenerates. You wouldn’t know him.’ She couldn’t have said the same to Philo Vance, S.S. Van Dine’s famous aesthete-sleuth – polo player, expert in Chinese ceramics, former student of William James – whom Raymond Chandler regarded as ‘the most asinine character in detective fiction ...

A Moustache Too Far

Danny Karlin: Melville goes under

8 May 2003
Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol. II: 1851-91 
by Hershel Parker.
Johns Hopkins, 997 pp., £31, May 2002, 0 8018 6892 0
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... as their name suggests, were Dutch settlers, who had come to New Amsterdam in the 17th century, and were connected by marriage to other great Dutch colonial families: the Douws, the Ten Eycks, the Van Schaicks, the Van Vechtens, the Van Renssalaers. The values of their world are enshrined, satirised and lamented in Washington Irving’s History of New York. The Melvills had come to America from ...

Diary

Mary-Kay Wilmers: The Menopause

10 October 1991
... on contributing to the world’s population (and the planet’s decline) till they drop, then it follows that they will go on strutting and preening and considering themselves eligible for what Clive James used to call ‘the grade A crumpet’ until at last senility takes hold. (In James’s phrase, Ford Madox Ford, himself neither young nor pretty, had the grade A crumpet ‘coming at him like ...

Rub gently out with stale bread

Adam Smyth: The Print Craze

2 November 2017
The Print Before Photography: An Introduction to European Printmaking 1550-1820 
by Antony Griffiths.
British Museum, 560 pp., £60, August 2016, 978 0 7141 2695 1
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... such as mezzotint and aquatint, produced a culture that stretched from cheap, ephemeral images by workers we can no longer name to the early 16th-century masterpieces of Dürer (in Germany), Lucas van Leyden (in the Netherlands) and Marcantonio Raimondi working with Raphael (in Italy). As Sayer’s guide shows, the relationship between printing and drawing was rich. In The Compleat Drawing-Book ...

The HPtFtU

Christopher Tayler: Francis Spufford

5 October 2016
Golden Hill 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 344 pp., £16.99, May 2016, 978 0 571 22519 4
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... Mr Smollett’ and ‘Mr Sterne’ are at the narrator’s elbow, and a sneaky pre-echo of Mr Conrad addresses the ‘immense darkness’ of the continent beyond. Another unnamed presence might be Mr James, whose list of the ‘items of high civilisation … absent from the texture of American life’ finds a counterpart in the hero’s observations. After mulling over James’s views in The Child that ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2004

6 January 2005
... from a first draft and the rest from the revised version. It’s a scratch round-up of whoever’s available and an exercise we went through both with The Madness of George III and The Lady in the Van partly to find out how long the play is likely to be and also to get some notion of what it’s about. And it is helpful, though painful and embarrassing too as some sections are far from finished ...

My son has been poisoned!

David Bromwich: Cold War movies

26 January 2012
An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War 
by J. Hoberman.
New Press, 383 pp., £21.99, March 2011, 978 1 59558 005 4
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... cases sowed a suspicion that there were agents everywhere. Hoberman often writes history by compiling lists, but the lists themselves are interesting. For example: Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, James Wong Howe, Dudley Nichols, Clifford Odets, Robert Rossen, John Garfield, Charlie Chaplin and Leo McCarey all attended a reception in July 1943 for the Soviet director and administrator Mikhail ...

I Wish I’d Never Had You

Jenny Turner: Janice Galloway

9 October 2008
This Is Not about Me 
by Janice Galloway.
Granta, 341 pp., £16.99, September 2008, 978 1 84708 061 5
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... her to death.’ But no one is ever simple, and especially not this person, who, when she doesn’t know anyone is watching, can be caught ‘staring, eyes rimmed with flaking liner, mind off the hook’, her eyes with ‘something frightening and sad about them’. Sometimes, she forces her little sister to sing at strangers out of the window: ‘What do you want to make those eyes at me for/When ...
13 May 1999
... tent show on the far side of a swamp. There was nothing original about this structure, it was a quotation from the Festival of Britain, the Dome of Discovery tricked out with bright yellow – ‘Van Gogh cornfield’ – cocktail sticks. Now I appreciated the concept of the Millennium Bug. Here it was, a white spider-crab quivering on the foreshore. A video-grab from Spielberg’s Close ...
13 September 2012
... to open up their markets but they never did.’ The DTI asked Brussels to let Britain’s own competition authorities decide on the EDF bid. The European competition commissioner, the late Karel van Miert, refused, and soon afterwards issued an eight-page judgment clearing the EDF takeover. Ignoring EDF’s monopoly in France, he focused instead on the cross-Channel cable through which EDF ...

The Ground Hostess

Francis Wyndham

1 April 1983
... of her. I kept on telling myself: ‘I mustn’t be rushed.’ Somehow or other, the friends had to be warned off, kept at bay. I desired the hitherto unattainable – to be left alone: what Henry James once described as ‘uncontested possession of the long, sweet, stupid day’: that peace to which no living creature has a natural right. Yes, for a time I was decidedly neurotic on the subject of ...

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