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On the Road

John Tranter, 17 February 2000

... bad writing calling students to their doom. ‘I didn’t disillusion my poor charges,’ the old guy sobbed. Why do I remember this? He was too much like me, and I saw my father in the mirror, growing sad, he had a tale to tell me urgently, but I couldn’t hear, or stay to listen. I moved out of bohemia, Kerouac went mad there, that’s a lesson, then he ...

How criminals think

John Lanchester, 13 September 1990

Love and Death on Long Island 
by Gilbert Adair.
Heinemann, 138 pp., £10.95, July 1990, 9780434006229
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Going wrong 
by Ruth Rendell.
Hutchinson, 250 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 09 174300 1
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The Burden of Proof 
by Scott Turow.
Bloomsbury, 515 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 7475 0673 6
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Crucible of Fools 
by M.S. Power.
Hamish Hamilton, 165 pp., £12.99, August 1990, 0 241 13006 9
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... is a particularly vivid example of Rendell’s skill in exploring obsessive psychopathologies. Guy Curran, from whose point of view the story is told, is a 29-year old drug dealer, who has been fixatedly in love with an upper-middle-class girl called Leonora Chisholm for over ten years, since they spent time together on the streets of Notting Hill as ...

The Poetry of John Ashbery

John Bayley, 2 September 1982

Shadow Train 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 50 pp., £3.25, March 1982, 0 85635 424 4
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... with the line ‘A pleasant smell of frying sausages’ or (in inverted commas) ‘Once I let a guy blow me. I kind of backed away from the experience,’ we know that an anecdote or drama, with Auden’s or Larkin’s narrative punch, will not follow. And yet the absence of a drama in some of the poems of Shadow Train is also its presence. A good example ...

The View from the Passenger Seat

Lorna Sage: Gilbert Adair, 1 January 1998

The Key of the Tower 
by Gilbert Adair.
Secker, 190 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 0 436 20429 0
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... hearing it spoken with his un-English, un-American accent, and reinvented as an estrangement. John Updike is a self-confessed fan, but Joyce Carol Oates, who is not, has also conducted a wonderfully ingenious argument with Nabokov in several novels including The Childwold in 1976 and her Chappaquiddick novella, Black Water, in 1992, where the question of ...

Short Cuts

John Sturrock: Reading Butler, 5 August 2004

... than it could bear.’ We know from Hutton, however, that the JIC wasn’t simply the fall guy in this deception, since its members had played their part in meeting the not so subconscious desires of their political masters and dressing the intelligence up. So should John Scarlett, the head of the JIC, take the ...

Squealing to Survive

John Lahr: Clancy was here, 19 July 2018

Black Sunset: Hollywood Sex, Lies, Glamour, Betrayal and Raging Egos 
by Clancy Sigal.
Icon, 352 pp., £12.99, May 2018, 978 1 78578 439 2
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The London Lover: My Weekend that Lasted Thirty Years 
by Clancy Sigal.
Bloomsbury, 274 pp., £20, May 2018, 978 1 4088 8580 2
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... Bill, where he studied English and edited the Daily Bruin (Watergate conspirators Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were his arch-enemies on the paper). By then, he’d already been part of the Allied occupation of Germany pulling bodies out of the rubble, gone AWOL to attend the Nuremberg Trials (with the intention of assassinating Hermann Göring) and worked ...

Hugging the cats

John Bayley, 14 June 1990

by Gay Clifford.
188 pp., £14.99, May 1990, 0 241 12976 1
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Selected Poems 1940 – 1989 
by Allen Curnow.
Viking, 209 pp., £15.99, May 1990, 0 670 83007 0
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Collected Poems and Selected Translations 
by Norman Cameron, edited by Warren Hope and Jonathan Barker.
Anvil, 160 pp., £14.95, May 1990, 0 85646 202 0
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Collected Poems 
by Enoch Powell.
Bellew, 198 pp., £9.95, April 1990, 0 947792 36 8
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... like a person. Allen Curnow, like the later Auden, has the gift of making a contraption with a guy inside it, someone whose interest is not that of being a poet. Nor of coming from New Zealand. He has his own country, caught in a transparent gleam by such poems as ‘A Passion for Travel’. It’s quite often a question of a letter or two. The ...


Jerome McGann, 22 June 1989

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century 
by Greil Marcus.
Secker, 496 pp., £14.95, June 1989, 0 436 27338 1
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... movements and events: the Catharists, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Lollards, the Ranters, John of Leyden and the French Commune. Marcus draws these and others into his secret history of the 20th century because he is interested in revolution and apocalypse: the kind of secret history which moves not in a world elsewhere, beyond the periphery of our ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Inside Man’, ‘V for Vendetta’ , 11 May 2006

Inside Man 
directed by Spike Lee.
March 2006
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V for Vendetta 
directed by James McTeigue.
March 2006
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... except style: sly, fake-lazy, apparently frivolous in the case of Washington, a clever black guy playing other people’s idea of a not so bright black guy; and brisk, smooth and bitchy in the case of Foster, everyone’s idea of what power would look like if women had it. There is some kind of metaphor in the making ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’, 6 August 2009

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three 
directed by Tony Scott.
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... The chief pleasure of the new version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is the sight of John Travolta as the model bad guy. He is genial and livid by turns, entirely persuasive in both moods, the very image of crazed behaviour, and far more engaging and unhinged than he was in Pulp Fiction ...


John Lanchester: The Rise and Rise of Ian Rankin, 27 April 2000

Set in Darkness 
by Ian Rankin.
Orion, 415 pp., £16.99, February 2000, 0 7528 2129 6
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... Ian Rankin’s novel Knots & Crosses introduced us to a tough Edinburgh Detective Sergeant called John Rebus. A series of local girls had been kidnapped and strangled. Rebus – 41-year-old drinker, ex-soldier, failed husband, absentee father, Christian, annual rereader of Crime and Punishment – begins receiving a series of cryptic notes. The first few ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Manhunt 2, 19 July 2007

... The missions include tasks such as breaking up union meetings, murdering a pizza delivery guy by running him over, buying clothes appropriate for Miami Vice-era Florida, and arranging drug buys. The soundtrack to this is provided by the radio stations available in the player’s car, which play the relevant music with an often hilarious commentary. A ...

Find the birch sticks

R.W. Johnson: A spy’s diary, 1 September 2005

The Guy Liddell Diaries. Vol. I: 1939-42 
edited by Nigel West.
Frank Cass, 329 pp., £25, February 2005, 0 415 35213 4
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... On 2 February 1940, Guy Liddell, MI5’s director of counter-espionage, wrote in his diary: An elderly statesman with gout When asked what the war was about In a written reply Said ‘My colleagues and I Are doing our best to find out’ A not inapposite comment on the Phoney War (and we learn from Liddell that there was a good deal of hidden last-minute talk between Chamberlain and Goering), the verse also conveys something of the self-contained world of MI5 ...

In the Line of Fire

George O’Brien: The Sniper, 28 November 2002

... too – our time. In all the dread and anger and peculiar sense of humiliation at having one guy call all the shots (‘I am God’), at least there was the white van. It was a godsend, even if the kind of van it was and whether it was white or cream kept shifting, like everything else, right to the very end, when it turned out to be a blue car. But at ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Ken or Boris?, 10 April 2008

... known as the Modified d’Hondt Formula. (Modified d’Hondt . . . crazy name, crazy guy.) M d’H features an ‘exclude the loonies’ clause: for a party to win seats, it has to win more than 5 per cent of the overall vote. The British National Party is going to win votes in some parts of the capital where immigration is an inflamed issue. So ...

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