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The Inner Lives of Quiet Women

Joanna Kavenna, 21 September 2000

May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian 
by Suzanne Raitt.
Oxford, 307 pp., £19.99, April 2001, 0 19 812298 5
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... With the decline of religious faith, we drift, so it’s said, on the current, clinging to the raft of materialism. The last flickers of collective spiritual belief were doused by the technological advances and grotesque warfare of the early years of the 20th century. Which led, the argument runs, to the mimesis-warping nihilism of Dada and the Vorticists, the semiotic anarchies of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein ...

Punch-up at the Poetry Reading

Joanna Kavenna: Dorothy Porter’s verse novel, 7 May 1998

The Monkey's Mask 
by Dorothy Porter.
Serpent’s Tail, 264 pp., £9.99, October 1997, 1 85242 549 0
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... Sherlock Holmes tugging on his pipe in the fog-drenched London streets, Philip Marlowe swilling whiskey, waiting for the phone to release him from the solitude of his seedy office, Fitz – ‘Cracker’ – barking at imbecile bureaucracy: the detective is perennially cast as a disaffiliated flâneur, wandering the urban sprawl, collecting pay cheques from the highest bidder ...

‘Come, my friend,’ said Smirnoff

Joanna Kavenna: The radical twenties, 1 April 1999

The Radical Twenties: Aspects of Writing, Politics and Culture 
by John Lucas.
Five Leaves, 263 pp., £11.99, January 1997, 0 907123 17 1
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... In 1916, D.H. Lawrence wrote to Lady Cynthia Asquith of his abiding ‘sadness’: ‘for my country, for this great wave of civilisation, 2000 years, which is now collapsing’. Driving to Garsington, Ottoline Morrell’s country seat, he was overwhelmed with a sense of so much beauty and pathos of old things passing away and no new things coming ...

Tight in the Cockpit

Joanna Kavenna: Tim Parks’s ‘The Rapids’, 5 May 2005

Rapids 
by Tim Parks.
Secker, 246 pp., £15.99, March 2005, 0 436 20559 9
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... Tim Parks’s latest novel opens in the forests of the South Tyrol, where a group of white-water enthusiasts are taking a kayaking holiday. The river is overflowing with melt water from a thawing glacier, and the kayakers find themselves endangered by the force of the current, as the river runs ever faster and fuller. It’s a symbolic river, too: Parks explores the ripples of minor social dramas experienced by a group of semi-strangers; the undercurrent of their memories, their past unhappinesses; and the crashing waves of environmental apocalypse ...

Trauma Style

Joanna Kavenna: Joyce Carol Oates, 19 February 2004

The Tattooed Girl 
by Joyce Carol Oates.
Fourth Estate, 307 pp., £16.99, January 2004, 0 00 717077 7
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... Joyce Carol Oates is fascinated by the seedy corners of American life. Her recent novels are narrated by orphans, mutilated girls, the abused, the impoverished, celebrities destroyed by fame, children from families destroyed by rape. Oates’s books often open with a riddling exposition which implies a hidden trauma. We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) begins: ‘No one would be able to name what had happened, not even Marianne Mulvaney to whom it had happened ...

Diary

Joanna Kavenna: In Tromsø, 31 October 2002

... Winter comes but nearly all the year to the city of Tromsø, a wind-lashed port standing precariously on the western coast of Norway, 69.7 degrees North – beyond the Arctic Circle. The inhabitants are proud of their small city, inaccurately called the ‘Paris of the North’ or, more realistically, ‘the Gateway to the Arctic’. It’s a quiet place, bleached by the cold, where everything flaunts its latitude, from the Arctic Hotel to the Arctic Cathedral ...

Plugs of Muscle

Joanna Kavenna, 5 July 2001

A Friend of the Earth 
by T.C. Boyle.
Bloomsbury, 275 pp., £15.99, October 2000, 9780747547532
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... The point at which the consequences of global warming will become inescapable is often placed around 2050. By then the world’s present population will, according to some estimates, have doubled. T.C. Boyle, in his new, provocative novel, A Friend of the Earth, brings Doomsday forward to 2025. It matters little what the oil-powered President does now, Boyle suggests: time has run out – no further preaching and petitioning can undo the devastation ...

Mixed Up

Joanna Kavenna: In the génocidaire’s wake, 3 March 2005

The Optimists 
by Andrew Miller.
Sceptre, 313 pp., £16.99, March 2005, 9780340825129
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... Andrew Miller’s first two novels, Ingenious Pain (1997) and Casanova (1998), were extended fantasies set in an imaginatively embellished 18th century. In his third novel, Oxygen (2001), Miller cast off the breeches and capes to write about a mother suffering from terminal cancer whose sons go to her house in the country to help nurse her. His new novel, The Optimists, describes a war-traumatised contemporary journalist who leaves the city to nurse his mentally ill sister in the countryside ...

Tiny Little Lars

Joanna Kavenna: Von Trier’s Provocations, 15 April 2004

Trier on von Trier 
edited by Stig Björkman, translated by Neil Smith.
Faber, 288 pp., £16.99, February 2004, 0 571 20707 3
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Dogville 
directed by Lars von Trier.
May 2003
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... The provocation begins with the name. Lars Trier, a boy from Denmark, went to film school and changed his name to the more aristocratic Lars von Trier. In Trier on von Trier the question of the name opens the account of the director’s life. ‘I started using the name again at film school, because it seemed the most provocative thing I could do,’ von Trier explains ...

Yearning for Polar Seas

James Hamilton-Paterson: North, 1 September 2005

The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule 
by Joanna Kavenna.
Viking, 334 pp., £16.99, February 2005, 0 670 91395 2
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The Idea of North 
by Peter Davidson.
Reaktion, 271 pp., £16.95, January 2005, 1 86189 230 6
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... set. Like Auden, who was never not thinking of Iceland, I have never not faced the Orient. Joanna Kavenna’s inner compass also seems to have been set early, but hers pointed north. Even as a child in Suffolk she loved the cold: ‘Winters were never cold enough, even when the snows fell and blocked the roads.’ I, too, can still be thrilled by ...

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