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The Future of John Barth

Michael Irwin, 5 June 1980

Letters 
by John Barth.
Secker, 772 pp., £7.95, May 1980, 0 436 03674 6
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The Left-Handed Woman 
by Peter Handke, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Eyre Methuen, 94 pp., £4.95, April 1980, 0 413 45890 3
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Passion Play 
by Jerzy Kosinski.
Joseph, 271 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 7181 1913 4
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... Offering a critical account of John Barth’s new book within the confines of a periodical review is like trying to haul a whale on board a fishing smack. For the sake of brevity, even my formal description of the work must be brutally oversimplified. It is an epistolary novel, divided into seven sections, one for every ‘letter’ of the title ...

Playing

Robert Taubman, 5 August 1982

Sabbatical 
by John Barth.
Secker, 366 pp., £7.50, July 1982, 0 436 03675 4
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Distant Relations 
by Carlos Fuentes.
Secker, 225 pp., £7.95, July 1982, 0 436 16764 6
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Keepers of the House 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Cape, 183 pp., £6.95, July 1982, 0 224 02001 3
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An Old Song 
by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Wilfion Books, 102 pp., £5.95, June 1982, 0 905075 12 9
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... and melos. Like most Post-Modernist fantasies, Sabbatical takes a lot of unpacking. But this is John Barth in holiday mood, and a virtuoso display of techniques brought together from different kinds of novel is here frankly offered for enjoyment. One of its methods is purely realistic: it is full of information, for instance, about sailing in the ...

Less and More

Adam Begley, 15 September 1988

Elephant, and Other Stories 
by Raymond Carver.
Collins Harvill, 124 pp., £9.95, August 1988, 0 00 271912 6
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The Tidewater Tales 
by John Barth.
Methuen, 655 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 413 18770 5
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... and authority of his prose. If Raymond Carver ranks among the great American short-story writers, John Barth is a master of the out-sized Post-Modern novel. They belong at opposite poles of the American literary spectrum. In ‘On Writing’, Carver mentions an essay by Barth in which the latter regrets the lack of ...

No Light on in the House

August Kleinzahler: Richard Brautigan Revisited, 14 December 2000

An Unfortunate Woman 
by Richard Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 110 pp., £12, July 2000, 1 84195 023 8
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Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-70 
by Richard Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 146 pp., £6.99, June 2000, 1 84195 027 0
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You Can't Catch Death 
by Ianthe Brautigan.
Rebel Inc, 209 pp., £14.99, July 2000, 1 84195 025 4
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... prose writings are occasionally grouped with those of certain of his contemporaries – Barth, Coover, Vonnegut, Barthelme – under the rubric New Fiction. There is in Brautigan, as with the others, what Borges called ‘that measure of irrealism indispensable to art’; as with the others, too, a foregrounding of form and language, blurred ...

Queen to King Four

Robert Taubman, 19 June 1980

The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five 
by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 245 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 9780224017909
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No Country For Young Men 
by Julia O’Faolain.
Allen Lane, 368 pp., £5.95, May 1980, 0 7139 1308 8
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The Girl Green as Elderflower 
by Randolph Stow.
Secker, 150 pp., £5.50, May 1980, 9780436497315
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The Sending 
by Geoffrey Household.
Joseph, 192 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 7181 1872 3
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... fantasy of Joyce in Ulysses than with the free-wheeling American ‘put-on’, the extravagance of John Barth. But, as against repression and silencing, the book bubbles with talk and streams with consciousness – artfully enacting its theme. Two novels about witchcraft carry credentials. The Girl Green as Elderflower is based on medieval sources, which ...

Dirty Little Secret

Fredric Jameson: The Programme Era, 22 November 2012

The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 
by Mark McGurl.
Harvard, 466 pp., £14.95, November 2012, 978 0 674 06209 2
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... literary history (even though the story wends its way from Thomas Wolfe through Nabokov and John Barth, Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, all the way to Raymond Carver), nor those of traditional aesthetics and literary criticism, which raise issues of value and try to define true art as this rather than that. The dialectical problems come in the ...

Catching up with Sammy

John Lanchester, 21 November 1991

Among the Thugs 
by Bill Buford.
Secker, 317 pp., £14.99, October 1991, 0 436 07526 1
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A Strange Kind of Glory 
by Eamon Dunphy.
Heinemann, 396 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 9780434216161
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... me that Buford’s tastes were formed at university in the USA during the late Seventies, when John Barth and long bad teachable literary books were all the rage. Buford had responded by going the other way.) Among the Thugs isn’t like that, however: it’s written in a loose, chatty, almost gossipy style that works very well during the book’s ...

Overflow

Frank Kermode: John Updike, 21 January 1999

Beck at Bay: A Quasi-Novel 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 241 pp., £16.99, January 1999, 0 241 14027 7
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... That John Updike has a Trollopian fidelity to his characters is evident from the four books of the Rabbit series; this new book is the third of a sequence about the New York Jewish novelist Henry Bech. As it carries him into his seventies it may be that this is the last of Bech, as Rabbit at Rest was presumably the last of Rabbit, but as long as the real author is alive, fertile and motile, one cannot be sure ...

Mid-Century Male

Christopher Glazek: Edmund White, 19 July 2012

Jack Holmes and His Friend 
by Edmund White.
Bloomsbury, 390 pp., £18.99, January 2012, 978 1 4088 0579 4
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... and Chekhov’. By this point, White was trying to get a deal to write a book of criticism on John Barth, Robert Coover, Rudolph Wurlitzer and Donald Barthelme. The proposal was rejected. Though ‘crushed at the time’, White was later glad, because metafiction ‘no longer intrigues’ him ‘or anyone else’. It’s ‘the sort of ...

Soft-Speaking Tough Souls

Joyce Carol Oates: Grace Paley, 16 April 1998

The Collected Stories of Grace Paley 
Virago, 398 pp., £12.99, January 1998, 1 86049 423 4Show More
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... fiction of Paley’s neighbour and good friend Donald Barthelme. The gargantuan mock-epics of John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goat-Boy, now little-read, were much praised at the time, and the ‘literature of exhaustion’ was the literature of the future – if there was a future for humanistic literature at all. Like a number of realist ...

Post-Humanism

Alex Zwerdling, 15 October 1987

The Failure of Theory: Essays on Criticism and Contemporary Theory 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Harvester, 225 pp., £28.50, April 1987, 0 7108 1129 2
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... none is really among the writers associated with the more radical forms of ‘Post-Modernism’. John Fowles and Iris Murdoch are not discussed. Parrinder himself notes that ‘postmodernists such as Pynchon, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Barth and Barthelme’ are most usefully understood in relation to the revival of fantasy: but ...

Towards the Transhuman

James Atlas, 2 February 1984

The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... the tense problem of the modern muse and the sexual prompt of modern art’, or that John Updike is largely concerned with ‘the revelation of form, the moment of aesthetic revelation in the contingencies of life’. Bradbury is just going through the motions, hastening from name to name, reciting worn-out academic phrases, too bored even to ...

I’ll be back

Marjorie Garber: Sequels, 19 August 1999

Part Two: Reflections on the Sequel 
edited by Paul Budra and Betty Schellenberg.
Toronto, 217 pp., £40, February 1999, 0 8020 0915 8
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... with attention to authors from Homer, Chaucer and Charlotte Yonge to Donald Barthelme and John Barth. A number of the contributors focus on 18th-century fiction, others on 20th-century film, two places where one might most readily expect to find evidence of sequelmania. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s self-fulfilling prophecy in The ...

Bow. Wow

James Wolcott: Gore Vidal, 3 February 2000

Gore Vidal 
by Fred Kaplan.
Bloomsbury, 850 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7475 4671 1
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... or even fifteen-minute pick-ups, none likely to have any emotional content. As he had told John Lehmann, “I freely admit to having no romantic notions about trade.”’ ‘Their residence in Paris in spring 1965 made clear to both Howard and Gore how much more they preferred Rome. Nightlife and cruising were easier, more casual there, and there were ...

One’s Thousand One Nightinesses

Steven Connor: ‘The Arabian Nights’, 22 March 2012

Stranger Magic 
by Marina Warner.
Chatto, 540 pp., £28, November 2011, 978 0 7011 7331 9
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... the body never falls) to idendifine the individuone.’ The most conspicuous absentee is probably John Barth, in whose work, from Chimera (1972), through The Tidewater Tales (1987), The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991) and On with the Story (1996), The Arabian Nights are interbred with many other tall tales and shaggy-dog relations. More even ...

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