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The cow, the shoe, then you

Philip Oltermann: Hans Fallada, 8 March 2012

More Lives than One: A Biography of Hans Fallada 
by Jenny Williams.
Penguin, 320 pp., £12.99, February 2012, 978 0 241 95267 2
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A Small Circus 
by Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Penguin, 577 pp., £20, February 2012, 978 0 14 119655 8
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... his brother died on the Eastern Front and Fallada ‘discovers his heart for the revolution’. Jenny Williams’s meticulous biography More Lives than One narrates the 1911 episode in painstaking detail, but doesn’t pathologise Fallada’s entire life in the light of the early misfortune, as Fallada himself does. And to her, the outbreak of the ...

This Condensery

August Kleinzahler: In Praise of Lorine Niedecker, 5 June 2003

Collected Works 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
California, 471 pp., £29.95, May 2002, 0 520 22433 7
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Collected Studies in the Use of English 
by Kenneth Cox.
Agenda, 270 pp., £12, September 2001, 9780902400696
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New Goose 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
Listening Chamber, 98 pp., $10, January 2002, 0 9639321 6 0
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... poets of this past century and in bringing her work into the mainstream, where it belongs. Jenny Penberthy, a professor at Capilano College in Vancouver and the editor of Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet (1996) and Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky, 1931-70 (1993), devoted nearly ten years to this project, sorting through the formidable ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Melanie Phillips, 13 May 2010

... Rousseau, Hume, Comte, Marx, Bergson, William James, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Gramsci, Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, liberation theologians, Princess Diana, Professor Nutt, someone called Matthew Fox, Madonna, Cherie Blair – and Barack Obama. Nor is our gratitude due for her elucidation of why human beings are not in any way responsible for climate ...


Jenny Diski, 5 November 1992

by Madonna.
Secker, 128 pp., £25, October 1992, 0 436 27084 6
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Sex and Sensibility 
by Julie Burchill.
Grafton, 269 pp., £5.99, October 1992, 0 00 637858 7
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Too hot to handle 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Peter Owen, 134 pp., £15.50, November 1992, 0 7206 0875 9
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... book is taken up with a series of letters written over a period of years by Pitt-Kethley to Hugo Williams, in the hope that he would finally come to requite her love for him. She offers these letters to the world as evidence of her real self. They are truer than her other writing, she says, because ‘they reveal all of myself – the tender side as well as ...

A Human Being

Jenny Diski: Karl Marx, 25 November 1999

Karl Marx 
by Francis Wheen.
Fourth Estate, 441 pp., £20, October 1999, 1 85702 637 3
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Adventures in Marxism 
by Marshall Berman.
Verso, 160 pp., £17, September 1999, 9781859847343
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... swarthy, a Jew tormented by self-loathing’ (voiced undoubtedly by a frantically guttural Robin Williams) scribbling The Communist Manifesto at his desk while a chorus of comically evil creditors sing a hummy hymn to capitalism, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose but our claims.’ Oh, what an exciting new century we have to look forward to. Wheen wants to ...

Facing it

Nicholas Lezard, 23 September 1993

Crossing the River 
by Caryl Phillips.
Bloomsbury, 233 pp., £15.99, May 1993, 0 7475 1497 6
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... 1984 radio play, the young Solly Daniels writes a note to a girl asking her out: ‘Dear Jenny, I know that I don’t know you very well so please forgive me for just writing to you like this.’ ‘Where,’ asks the girl, ‘did he learn to write like that?’ That question resonates. The first joke it contains is that he learnt to write like that ...

Utterly in Awe

Jenny Turner: Lynn Barber, 5 June 2014

A Curious Career 
by Lynn Barber.
Bloomsbury, 224 pp., £16.99, May 2014, 978 1 4088 3719 1
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... along to see the film being made; they were shooting a classroom scene between Mulligan and Olivia Williams, who was playing her English teacher. ‘Do you think he was a paedophile?’ Williams asked. And without a second’s thought I answered yes. Amanda Posey, the co-producer of the film, almost fainted. Apparently this ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Angels aren’t what they used to be, 16 December 2004

... Christmas film favourite’) to Charlie’s Angels (‘the ladies are not actual angels’). Jenny Smedley, a TV presenter and the author of a book called Come Back to Life (I don’t know whether the title is imperative or adjectival or both), puffs An Angel Treasury as ‘the only angel book I’ve read where there really doesn’t seem to be a thing ...


Jenny Diski: On Palm Island, 22 April 1993

... become a spiritualist, and is certain it’ll all come right in his next incarnation. Tennessee Williams, anyone? Best, I suppose, to get back to the land of disappearing faxes. Anyway, I’ve got a lunch date at The Ivy with my publisher: maybe she knows what ...


Michael Wood: Émigré Words, 1 April 2021

Émigrés: French Words that Turned English 
by Richard Scholar.
Princeton, 253 pp., £25, September 2020, 978 0 691 19032 7
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... ennui when we have old-fashioned boredom?In a subtle piece for this paper (15 December 2005), Jenny Diski answered the question by looking into English uses of ‘je ne sais quoi’: ‘a public phrase for the mannered’, as she called it. The English language isn’t keen on the ineffable – in his book on translation David Bellos memorably says that ...

Even My Hair Feels Drunk

Adam Mars-Jones: Joy Williams, 2 February 2017

The Visiting Privilege 
by Joy Williams.
Tuskar Rock, 490 pp., £16.99, November 2016, 978 1 78125 746 3
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Ninety-Nine Stories of God 
by Joy Williams.
Tin House, 220 pp., £16.95, July 2016, 978 1 941040 35 5
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... Hard to imagine​ a brisker, bleaker opening than this one from the title story of Joy Williams’s 2004 collection, Honoured Guest: She had been having a rough time of it and thought about suicide sometimes, but suicide was so corny in the eleventh grade and you had to be careful about this because two of her classmates had committed suicide the year before and between them they left 24 suicide notes and had become just a joke ...

You could scream

Jenny Diski, 20 October 1994

Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me 
by Marlon Brando and Robert Lindsey.
Century, 468 pp., £17.99, September 1994, 0 7126 6012 7
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Greta & Cecil 
by Diana Souhami.
Cape, 272 pp., £18.99, September 1994, 0 224 03719 6
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... over into self-disgust, and the skills that each of them possessed became worthless. Tennessee Williams said of Garbo, as he might have said of Brando: ‘How sad a thing for an artist to abandon his art. I think it’s much sadder than death.’ The autophagists eat themselves away and never satisfy their ...

Learned Insane

Simon Schaffer: The Lunar Men, 17 April 2003

The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 588 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 571 19647 0
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... was printed it lacked all but the most rudimentary expressions of Enlightened doctrine. Now Jenny Uglow’s The Lunar Men, a collective biography of Erasmus Darwin and his extraordinary group of Midlands friends, announces its aim as the recovery of the repute and reality of their visionary milieu of science, industry and art from Romantic contempt and ...
Djuna Barnes 
by Philip Herring.
Viking, 416 pp., £20, May 1996, 0 670 84969 3
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... by her lover, giving herself up to drink and to a middle-aged widow with a ‘beaked head’ named Jenny Petherbridge. (Herring shows that the Petherbridge figure is a woman named Henriette Metcalf, who is quoted in Andrew Field’s 1983 biography of Djuna Barnes, but whose real name could not at that time be revealed.) When her eight-year relationship with ...

Mother! Oh God! Mother!

Jenny Diski: ‘Psycho’, 7 January 2010

‘Psycho’ in the Shower: The History of Cinema’s Most Famous Scene 
by Philip Skerry.
Continuum, 316 pp., £12.99, June 2009, 978 0 8264 2769 4
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... chapters she’d best skip. He explains, finally: ‘In her incisive analysis of Psycho, Linda Williams argues that the film should be considered “quintessentially postmodern”. In the same way, I should like to argue that my book about Psycho is also “quintessentially postmodern” [sic].’ I suppose that the scattered structure is the postmodernism ...

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