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Always a Diet Coke

Jason Brown, 16 March 2000

Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age 
by John Jakle and Keith Sculle.
Johns Hopkins, 394 pp., £27, January 2000, 0 8018 6109 8
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... When I eat at McDonald’s, it’s because I’ve lapsed into a fugue state brought on by nostalgia for my 1970s childhood. Or simply resorted to an act of roadside desperation. Driving on the highway in America is like flying economy class: you take your own food or suffer the consequences. Fast food can easily stand for all that is wrong with America, but that is not the way John Jakle, a professor of geography, and Keith Sculle, a professor of history, see it ...

Very Tight Schedule

Theo Tait, 1 June 2000

Driving the Heart 
by Jason Brown.
Cape, 224 pp., £10, January 2000, 0 224 06053 8
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... Jason Brown’s sometimes excellent first book is a collection of stories mostly set in and around Portland, Maine. His subject is what Sherwood Anderson, a pioneer of the genre, called the ‘buried lives’ of individuals. His narrators – loners, neglected children, thieves, substance abusers – are isolated, unsuccessful people, longing, more or less consciously, for some kind of wider community ...

From Bagram

Jason Burke: In Afghanistan, 23 May 2002

... the base. The road had recently been named Disney Drive, in the memory of 21-year-old Specialist Jason Disney, of the 7th Transportation Battalion of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who was killed in a welding accident on the base on 13 February. According to the new commemorative sign planted in the concrete, his ‘dedication, diligence and dogged ...


John Burnside, 17 March 2011

... with your father? Or was it someone else rigged up the boat to drag a skier through the sweet brown river, kids taking turns to stand tall in the wake and feel the cool of it, the unaccustomed thrill of seeing themselves from the outside, almost grown and elegant, like people who had luck and money? All afternoon they hurtled back and forth at breakneck ...

That Stupid Pelt

Helen King: Wolf’s retelling of Medea, 12 November 1998

Medea: A Modern Retelling 
by Christa Wolf, translated by John Cullen.
Virago, 256 pp., £16.99, April 1998, 1 86049 480 3
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... have tended to focus on issues of gender and race, portraying her either as a feminist challenging Jason’s misogyny, or as a freedom fighter on behalf of the oppressed Colchian immigrants in Corinth. In what remains the best-known version of her myth, the one created by Euripides in 431 BC, her actions turn out to be as violent and tyrannical as those of her ...


Christopher Hadley: The Lake Taupo Stamp, 18 September 1997

... Three and a half hours into the auction at the Westbury Hotel in London earlier this year, Jason Chapman is smoking Old Holborn rolled in liquorice paper. In the inside left pocket of his blazer is the ‘Lake Taupo’. He has been assigned to guard it with his life. The stamp has a caramel brown frame, with ‘New Zealand’ at the top, ‘Postage Revenue’ and ‘4d Four Pence 4d’ at the bottom ...


Andrew O’Hagan: Have You Seen David?, 11 March 1993

... stood high in our repertoire of time-fillers. ‘Where’s Broon?’ – the boy’s name was Alan Brown – took its place in a list of nasty games that included snipes (skinning each other’s knuckles with cards after each lost game), kiss-cuddle-and-torture (with girls), Blue-Murder (the same, but sorer) and that kind of thing. If anyone came to the door ...


Colin Burrow: Two Novels about Lost Bellinis, 14 August 2008

The Bellini Card 
by Jason Goodwin.
Faber, 306 pp., £12.99, July 2008, 978 0 571 23992 4
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The Bellini Madonna 
by Elizabeth Lowry.
Quercus, 343 pp., July 2008, 978 1 84724 364 5
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... Are there too many novels about missing Old Masters? Anyone who reads Jason Goodwin’s The Bellini Card might be forgiven for thinking so. It’s about a search for a portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror which was supposedly painted by Gentile Bellini during his visit to Istanbul in 1479. It relentlessly assembles all the standard fixtures and fittings of the sub-genre: exploitative forgers, dodgy art dealers, even dodgier descriptions of Venice, a blonde contessa who allows her hair to fall ‘in golden sheaves’ before she fences with our hero (who has the rare distinction of being an Ottoman eunuch detective, which alleviates the rich diet of cliché a little) and reveals that she has Something to Hide ...


Jason Burke: In Kurdistan, 19 September 2002

... outside, glared through the window. The Deputy Chief himself, handgun jammed in the waist of his brown slacks, had gone to a meeting. Shahab, my translator and I sat and looked at one another. Shahab had been brought out from the cells a few minutes earlier. The conditions, he told me, were fine. The prisoners could even watch television. Earlier I had seen ...

Adulterers’ Distress

Philip Horne, 21 July 1983

A Nail on the Head 
by Clare Boylan.
Hamish Hamilton, 135 pp., £7.95, July 1983, 0 241 11001 7
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New Stories 8: An Arts Council Anthology 
edited by Karl Miller.
Hutchinson, 227 pp., £8.95, May 1983, 9780091523800
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The Handyman 
by Penelope Mortimer.
Allen Lane, 199 pp., £6.95, May 1983, 0 7139 1364 9
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Open the Door 
by Rosemary Manning.
Cape, 180 pp., £7.95, June 1983, 0 224 02112 5
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A Boy’s Own Story 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 218 pp., £2.50, July 1983, 0 330 28151 8
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... The most valuable juxtaposition pairs two longish stories set in Scotland, David Craig’s ‘Jason and the Green Woman’ and John Murray’s ‘The Señor and the Celtic Cross’, which operate quite different ironies about the limits of civilised society. The latter story, told in a tormented parodic mélange of styles, recounts a tourist’s ...

Manila Manifesto

James Fenton, 18 May 1989

... suit He’s a cruising bruiser with a shooter and a cute little Twin blade Sin trade In a Blue brown New Town. It’s the same hand on the windpipe! It’s the same sand in the windsock! It’s the same brand on the handbag! It’s the same gland in the handjob! The room is black. The knuckles crack. The blind masseuse walks up your back. The saxophone is ...

Spookery, Skulduggery

David Runciman: Chris Mullin, 4 April 2019

The Friends of Harry Perkins 
by Chris Mullin.
Scribner, 185 pp., £12, March 2019, 978 1 4711 8248 8
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... resembled him. By this point, Peter Mandelson was communications director, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in Parliament and Neil Kinnock – scarred by having to defend unilateral disarmament in the 1987 general election – was on the long march to respectability and another defeat in 1992. That defeat didn’t breathe new life into the left. It redoubled ...

But I invested in you!

Sheila Heti: How to Be an Asshole, 17 July 2014

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. 
by Adelle Waldman.
Windmill, 244 pp., £8.99, April 2014, 978 0 09 955899 6
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... After showering, ‘he still hadn’t decided how to respond to Hannah. As he pulled on a pair of brown socks, he noticed that one had a dime-sized hole near the seam. He rotated the fabric so the hole wouldn’t catch his toe as he walked.’ Is there a more clever way of showing the link between his easy privilege and that of a man stepping past a child ...

Lost Boys

Andrew O’Hagan, 8 June 1995

... word ‘Racing’ stitched onto the left pocket. Underneath he had a green jumper. He also wore brown boots. The lake at the top of Beckton District Park had been dredged with special equipment; the gasworks and sewage treatment plant to the east had been searched repeatedly; warehouses and parks had been gone into; and door-to-door calls were under way all ...

Gentlemen Did Not Dig

Rosemary Hill: 18th-Century Gap Years, 24 June 2010

The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment 
by Jason Kelly.
Yale, 366 pp., £40, January 2010, 978 0 300 15219 7
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... beer and Bread & Cheese to my friends the Garretteers in Grubstreet for these few days past.’ Jason Kelly, writing for a transatlantic audience, goes to greater lengths to account for this and other similar ‘moments of semiotic disjuncture’, as he calls them, than is perhaps necessary for a British readership whose ears still occasionally ring to the ...

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