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Plato Made It Up

James Davidson: Atlantis at Last!, 19 June 2008

The Atlantis Story: A Short History of Plato’s Myth 
by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Exeter, 192 pp., £35, November 2007, 978 0 85989 805 8
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... scientists investigating the Atlantis Massif along the mid-Atlantic ridge. When it appeared in the frame of their remotely controlled camera – named Argo – there was, by all accounts, a certain degree of excitement. The Lost City consisted of a field of white towers: hydrothermal vents, populated by tiny see-through creatures. So did this mean that Plato ...

‘This is not a biography’

Jacqueline Rose: Sylvia Plath, 22 August 2002

... to be said. I watch this story shut down around her, clamping her writing into its hollow wooden frame. Death and marriage may have fed and fuelled her writing, but – posthumously at least – they cramp her style. According to Freud, the act of suicide always involves more than one person. Maybe that is one reason why suicide is classified as a ...

It’s Been a Lot of Fun

David Runciman: Hitchens’s Hitchens, 24 June 2010

Hitch-22: A Memoir 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 435 pp., £20, June 2010, 978 1 84354 921 5
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... a peace treaty in the hope of halting our feud. I can still picture this doomed pact in its red frame, briefly hanging on the wall. To my shame, I was the one who repudiated it, ripped it from its frame and angrily erased my signature, before recommencing hostilities. In a way, the treaty has remained broken ever ...

Forget that I exist

Susan Eilenberg: Mary Wollstonecraft, 30 November 2000

Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life 
by Janet Todd.
Weidenfeld, 516 pp., £25, April 2000, 0 297 84299 4
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... and the more she cares about her subject, the more she can tell – the worse the story sounds. Janet Todd has been a champion of Wollstonecraft for the length of her scholarly career. Unsurprisingly, she has taken exception to works that treat her with less respect than Todd believes her to have deserved. When Claire Tomalin’s biography appeared (one of ...

Sisyphus at the Selectric

James Wolcott: Undoing Philip Roth, 20 May 2021

Philip Roth: The Biography 
by Blake Bailey.
Cape, 898 pp., £30, April, 978 0 224 09817 5
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Philip Roth: A Counterlife 
by Ira Nadel.
Oxford, 546 pp., £22.99, May, 978 0 19 984610 8
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Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth 
by Benjamin Taylor.
Penguin, 192 pp., £18, May 2020, 978 0 525 50524 2
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... Ass, Copper: Rereading Philip Roth) and the fictionalised portraits of Roth in his former lover Janet Hobhouse’s The Furies, his former protégé Alan Lelchuk’s Ziff: A Life? and his former protégée-lover Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry – it may feel at times as if we’ve made this expedition before, with Claire Bloom hovering overhead.But buoyancy ...

Sophie missed the train

Samuel Earle: Carrère’s Casual Presence, 4 February 2021

97,196 Words: Essays 
by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by John Lambert.
Vintage, 304 pp., £9.99, December 2020, 978 1 78470 582 4
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... down to killing someone.’One of the shorter pieces in the collection is Carrère’s review of Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer (1989). He admires the way Malcolm exposes the games writers play to entrap their subjects. But he has one objection: his own innocence. ‘At the risk of transforming this review into a plea on my own behalf, I ...


Alan Bennett: Where I was in 1993, 16 December 1993

... bothering to look through the lens, just enquiring from time to time where the edge of the frame is. He explains he wants me to seem to sit on the branch but actually to lean forward into the camera at the same time. I try. ‘You’re game,’ says Julie Kavanagh of the New Yorker. Actually I’m not game at all, just timid; and, short of taking my ...

Madness and Method

Mark Philp, 3 April 1986

The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry Vol. I: People and Ideas, Vol. II: Institutions and Society 
edited by W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter and Michael Shepherd.
Tavistock, 316 pp., £19.95, November 1985, 0 422 79430 9
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Madness, Morality and Medicine: A Study of the York Retreat 1796-1914 
by Anne Digby.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £27.50, October 1985, 0 521 26067 1
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... and causes of madness were directly legible in the physiognomies of the insane – although, as Janet Browne points out in her account of Charles Darwin’s encounter with this approach, it seems that what the psychiatrist could see in the photographs of madmen was simply not visible to the layman.) This separation means that even if we acknowledge the ...

Christian v. Cannibal

Michael Rogin: Norman Mailer and American history, 1 April 1999

The American Century 
by Harold Evans.
Cape, 710 pp., £40, November 1998, 0 224 05217 9
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The Time of Our Time 
by Norman Mailer.
Little, Brown, 1286 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 316 64571 0
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... centre). Did the devil paint the picture, as Norman Mailer might have it, while God supplied the frame (or, since Mailer’s eschatology is not easy to decipher, was it the other way around)? Mailer, too, is having a love affair with America, but unsurprisingly he is entirely up-front about its ambivalent character. Introducing half a century of his writing ...

Glimpsed in the Glare

Michael Neill: Shakespeare in 1606, 17 December 2015

1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 423 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 0 571 23578 0
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... efforts of the craftsmen hired to erect the new building on the Bankside: Raising the Globe’s frame could only take place after the foundation work was completed. The late cold spell brought frost, and frost was the bane of labourers who had to break through the foot or so of frozen ground to excavate the foundation and prevent frost heave before sinking ...

Bourgeois Nightmares

Gilberto Perez: Michael Haneke, 6 December 2012

... original? The answer lies not least with the actors: Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn are no match for Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. Haneke’s American remake of Funny Games, even closer to the original movie in story and shot arrangement, is also inferior, and again the actors are a primary reason. The villains aren’t quite right in their social ...

The Darwin Show

Steven Shapin, 7 January 2010

... words, one of those rare beings, as likeable as he was impressive.’ To Darwin’s biographer Janet Browne, Darwin was ‘basically a good man, humble and kind, and always did his best to act according to the traditional values he had learned as a child’. ‘It was his very ordinariness,’ she writes, ‘that captivated people expecting to meet a ...

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