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Hot Fudge

Jane Campbell, 19 October 1995

by Jane Smiley.
Flamingo, 414 pp., £15.99, May 1995, 9780002252355
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... Jane Smiley’s gift for making the unthinkable compulsively readable is most apparent in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres, a transposition of King Lear to contemporary Iowa. Larry Cook is an ageing farmer who, by dint of hard work, canny management and lack of aversion to profiting from the misfortunes of others, has built up his farm to 1000 acres ...

Prince of the Track

James Ward: Jane Smiley, 19 October 2000

Horse Heaven 
by Jane Smiley.
Faber, 561 pp., £17.99, June 2000, 0 571 20540 2
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... behind. Horse Heaven sets itself a difficult task: to be at once a good read and a good book. Smiley manages this easily enough. Her last book, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998), set a Dickensian heroine against the expansion of the American West – well worn territories, and mired in pastiche. Before that, Moo (1995) had ...

The Glamour of Glamour

James Wood, 19 November 1992

The Secret History 
by Donna Tartt.
Viking, 524 pp., £9.99, October 1992, 0 670 84854 9
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A Thousand Acres 
by Jane Smiley.
Flamingo, 371 pp., £5.99, October 1992, 0 00 654482 7
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... novel arrived in this country with a red flag going before it. Its opposite in every way, Jane Smiley’s novel came much more silently, but trailing a jet-stream of prizes (it won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award). It is a quiet, easy, irritating novel which is deeper than Tartt’s but without any of its lively ...

Typical CIA

Ken Follett, 18 December 1980

Who’s on first 
by William Buckley.
Allen Lane, 276 pp., £5.95, September 1980, 0 7139 1359 2
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... department. John le Carré writes novels about this kind of espionage: we know that whether or not Smiley defeats Karla, it will make no difference to the price of eggs. The alternative is to link the spies with some event or threat of world-shaking importance, like the assassination of De Gaulle or the kidnapping of Churchill. William F. Buckley Jr. is a ...

Born to Lying

Theo Tait: Le Carré, 3 December 2015

John le Carré: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Bloomsbury, 652 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 1 4088 2792 5
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... You​ don’t need the detective powers of George Smiley, or a conspiratorial mindset, to divine that something odd is going on behind the scenes of Adam Sisman’s new biography of John le Carré. In the past, would-be biographers have been discouraged from poking their noses into the business of David Cornwell, the former spy who has written under that curious pseudonym since 1961 ...

Bring me the good scrub

Clare Bucknell: ‘Birnam Wood’, 4 May 2023

Birnam Wood 
by Eleanor Catton.
Granta, 423 pp., £20, March, 978 1 78378 425 7
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... trespassing on the property, Mira shapeshifts again, this time into Sarah Foster, a confident, smiley Hollywood location scout tasked with finding somewhere on the South Island a bit like ‘the Lake District’. The man who catches her, Robert Lemoine, an American billionaire and former CEO of a drone manufacturer, shuttles between disguises of his ...

The Monster Plot

Thomas Powers: James Angleton, Spymaster, 10 May 2018

The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton 
by Jefferson Morley.
Scribe, 336 pp., £20, December 2017, 978 1 911344 73 5
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... was not the ideal spy. The ideal spy is a mouse-coloured blur in the crowd, someone like George Smiley, described by his wife as ‘breathtakingly ordinary’. There was nothing ordinary about Angleton. Once experienced, his history, his appearance, his manner, and his stubborn refusal to be clear were all indelible. I spent an afternoon with him once in ...

The Greening of Mrs Donaldson

Alan Bennett: A Story, 9 September 2010

... Just thought I’d give it an outing.’ ‘And a hairdo as well. Not to mention the lipstick. Jane. I think you’ve turned a corner.’ ‘No, no,’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘You don’t understand. It’s work. I’m in drag.’ Parfitt, a sandy-haired spindly young man, was sitting at the table on the rostrum. Mrs Donaldson knocked. ‘Come,’ said ...

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