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Duncan Campbell

19 October 1995
The Autobiography of a Thief 
by Bruce Reynolds.
Bantam, 320 pp., £15.99, April 1995, 0 593 03779 0
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... the wife in Up-minster. So why did Bruce Reynolds, a main player in this country’s robbery of the century, choose to call his book The Autobiography of a Thief ? It was, he says, a bit of homage to JeanGenet. The Thief’s Journal was being translated into English just as Bruce and Buster and Charlie were driving £2,631,684 in mail bags to Leather-slade Farm on 8 August 1963, with Tony Bennett ...

Going Against

Frank Kermode: Is There a Late Style?

5 October 2006
On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain 
by Edward Said.
Bloomsbury, 176 pp., £16.99, April 2006, 9780747583653
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Late Thoughts: Reflections on Artists and Composers at Work 
edited by Karen Painter and Thomas Crow.
Getty, 235 pp., $40, August 2006, 0 89236 813 6
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... opera itself, we are told, took its authors close to a vision of ‘a universe shorn of any redemptive or palliative scheme’, which makes it sound more like King Lear. The rest of the book is about JeanGenet, Lampedusa (and also Visconti’s film of The Leopard), Britten’s Death in Venice (and Thomas Mann’s novella): all cases in which it is easy enough for interpreters to discover or insert ...

Bitch Nation

Musab Younis: ‘Sex, France and Arab Men’

7 February 2019
Sex, France and Arab Men 
by Todd Shepard.
Chicago, 317 pp., £37.50, February, 978 0 226 49327 5
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... that was turning France into a ‘bitch nation’. ‘Perhaps if I hadn’t gone to bed with Algerians I might not have been in favour of the FLN’ (the Algerian National Liberation Front), JeanGenet told Playboy in 1968. His remark became a rallying cry. In 1971, Tout!, then France’s most popular leftist periodical, published a manifesto under the heading ‘We have been buggered by Arabs ...


Alan Hollinghurst

19 November 1981
by Michel Tournier, translated by Anne Carter.
Collins, 452 pp., £8.95, September 1981, 0 00 221448 2
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The Death of Men 
by Allan Massie.
Bodley Head, 249 pp., £6.50, October 1981, 0 370 30339 3
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Tar Baby 
by Toni Morrison.
Chatto, 309 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 7011 2596 9
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... virtuosic translation, with none of the trumpeting which announced his earlier triumphs, Friday and The Erl King. All his publishers have managed to come up with is an ambiguous commendation from Genet: ‘An exceptional, incomparable novel’. Le Roi des Aulnes is the only novel to have won the Prix Goncourt by unanimous decision, but Les Météores has enjoyed less acclaim, and it is not hard to ...


John Sutherland: The pushiness of young men in a hurry

5 May 2005
by Tom Maschler.
Picador, 294 pp., £20, March 2005, 0 330 48420 6
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British Book Publishing as a Business since the 1960s 
by Eric de Bellaigue.
British Library, 238 pp., £19.95, January 2004, 0 7123 4836 0
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Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane 
by Jeremy Lewis.
Viking, 484 pp., £25, May 2005, 0 670 91485 1
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... be invisible clearly irritated them. And, like many of the outstanding British publishers of the 20th century, Maschler is English but not quite English enough. Like Anthony Blond, the publisher of JeanGenet and Harold Robbins, he is ‘A Jew Made in England’, as the title of Blond’s memoir had it. The outline of Maschler’s career also recalls that of John Calder, whose memoir, Pursuit, was ...
20 November 1986
by Jerry Hopkins.
Elm Tree, 275 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 241 11548 5
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Alias David Bowie 
by Peter Gillman and Leni Gillman.
Hodder, 511 pp., £16.95, September 1986, 0 340 36806 3
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... songs are what Bowie may be remembered by. They are like the observations of a Martian at a village dance, quoting older songs – ‘Look at that caveman go!’ – in a funny voice, giving ‘Jean Genie’ a smell of JeanGenet, chanting to a jolly tune: ‘All your nightmares came today, and it looks as if they’re here to stay!’ His movies, photographs and record covers are as decadent ...

It’s she, it’s she, it’s she

Joanna Biggs: Americans in Paris

2 August 2012
Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis 
by Alice Kaplan.
Chicago, 289 pp., £17, May 2012, 978 0 226 42438 5
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As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1964-80 
by Susan Sontag.
Hamish Hamilton, 544 pp., £18.99, April 2012, 978 0 241 14517 3
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... For owers ’n ’owers.’ She spent most of her time with Harriet, the ‘finest flower of American bohemia’, who worked for the Herald Tribune, and who some say was the inspiration for the Jean Seberg role in A bout de souffle. Sontag would write ecstatically of Sohmers – ‘It’s she, it’s she, it’s she’ – but they also gave each other bruises and pushed each other to tears ...

Not in the Mood

Adam Shatz: Derrida’s Secrets

22 November 2012
Derrida: A Biography 
by Benoît Peeters, translated by Andrew Brown.
Polity, 629 pp., £25, November 2012, 978 0 7456 5615 1
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... égation – was Louis Althusser, who immediately spotted his brilliance, though he too had trouble making sense of his writing. Derrida’s thesis on Husserl revealed him to be, in the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s words, ‘fully armed and helmeted, like Athena’. All he lacked was ‘a certain youth, with its playfulness’. As a student he had frequent bouts of anxiety and depression. ‘I’m ...


Stephanie Burt: D.A. Powell’s poems

24 September 2009
Chronic: Poems 
by D.A. Powell.
Graywolf, 79 pp., $20, February 2009, 978 1 55597 516 6
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... green triangle where two freeways form a crotch’. Sex and death and nostalgia and hunger, abjection and mourning and ecstasy and regret, all arrive together in Powell’s poems, as in the prose of JeanGenet, and it is a persistent, over-civilised folly to think that we can sort them out. Nor can we separate youth from maturity (the crematorium will always be close to the high school). The supposed ...
6 February 2014
Becoming a Londoner: A Diary 
by David Plante.
Bloomsbury, 534 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 1 4088 3975 1
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The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy 
edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 481 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 0 7011 8678 4
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... have told him he had more important things to write about. But perhaps Plante knew he didn’t. His best book to date is Difficult Women, an unflattering account of his friendship with Sonia Orwell, Jean Rhys and Germaine Greer. He won’t be winning first prize for dignity, but he tells it pretty much like it was – and like he was, you imagine. But discretion is never his first instinct. As for ...


Edward Said: An encounter with J-P Sartre

1 June 2000
... Once the most celebrated intellectual, Jean-Paul Sartre had, until quite recently, almost faded from view. He was already being attacked for his ‘blindness’ about the Soviet gulags shortly after his death in 1980, and even his humanist ...

Writing Absurdity

Adam Shatz: Chester Himes

25 April 2018
Chester B. Himes: A Biography 
by Lawrence P. Jackson.
Norton, 606 pp., £25, July 2017, 978 0 393 06389 9
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... light-bright-and-damn-near-white” social clique’ – his mother’s people. Neglecting his studies, he befriended a thief called Benny Barnett, who taught him to steal cars and introduced him to Jean Lucinda Johnson, a precocious 16-year-old whose ‘skin was the warm reddish brown of a perfectly roasted turkey breast the moment it comes from the oven’. She would become his first wife. Himes ...

One day I’ll tell you what I think

Adam Shatz: Sartre in Cairo

22 November 2018
No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Decolonisation 
by Yoav Di-Capua.
Chicago, 355 pp., £26, March 2018, 978 0 226 50350 9
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The Stillborn: Notebooks of a Woman from the Student-Movement Generation in Egypt 
by Arwa Salih, translated by Samah Selim.
Seagull, 163 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 0 85742 483 9
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... In the spring​ of 1961, Frantz Fanon wrote to his publisher in Paris to suggest that he ask Jean-Paul Sartre for a preface to his anti-colonial manifesto, The Wretched of the Earth. ‘Tell him that every time I sit down at my desk, I think of him.’ For revolutionary intellectuals in the Third ...

The Adulteress Wife

Toril Moi: Beauvoir Misrepresented

11 February 2010
The Second Sex 
by Simone de Beauvoir and Constance Borde, translated by Sheila Malovany-Chevallier.
Cape, 822 pp., £30, November 2009, 978 0 224 07859 7
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... In June 1946 Simone de Beauvoir was 38. She had just finished The Ethics of Ambiguity, and was wondering what to write next. Urged by JeanGenet, she went to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, on show for the first time after the war. Citizen Kane was also being shown in Paris for the first time, and Beauvoir was impressed: Orson Welles ...

Models and Props

Nicholas Penny: Caravaggio in the Studio

10 August 2000
by Catherine Puglisi.
Phaidon, 448 pp., £24.95, May 2000, 0 7148 3966 3
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Caravaggio’s Secrets 
by Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit.
MIT, 118 pp., £18.50, September 1998, 0 262 02449 7
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by Peter Robb.
Bloomsbury, 567 pp., £25, January 2000, 0 7475 4599 5
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Quoting Caravaggio: Contemporary Art, Preposterous History 
by Mieke Bal.
Chicago, 305 pp., £28.50, October 1999, 0 226 03556 5
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Doubting Thomas: A Novel About Caravaggio 
by Atle Naess, translated by Anne Born.
Owen, 159 pp., £14.95, June 2000, 0 7206 1082 6
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Caravaggio: A Life 
by Helen Langdon.
Pimlico, 447 pp., £15, November 1999, 9780712665827
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... and Ulysse Dutoit, who turned to Caravaggio from studies of Beckett, Rothko and Resnais, assure us that ‘he truly was – even more, say, than one of the great social pariahs of our own time, JeanGenet – an outlaw.’ Peter Robb is well aware that it was Caravaggio’s detractors – and chiefly the great theorist and critic Bellori – who associated the dark, dirt and violence of his character ...

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