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A Vast Masquerade

Deborah Cohen: Dr James Barry, 2 March 2017

Dr James Barry: A Woman ahead of Her Time 
by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield.
Oneworld, 479 pp., £16.99, August 2016, 978 1 78074 831 3
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... hope for the two women, whose other male relatives had proven unreliable. Margaret’s brother, John, apprenticed to a Dublin lawyer, had already squandered the family property. Du Preez and Dronfield interpret the motivation behind Bulkley’s decision to take on the persona of James Barry much as Stoker would have. Writing of Hannah Snell and her ...

A whole lot of faking

Valentine Cunningham, 22 April 1993

by John Banville.
Secker, 245 pp., £14.99, April 1993, 0 436 19991 2
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... morals to aesthetics in a challenging new-old fashion. And it’s a question, as ever with John Banville, within other questions. Who, for instance, you’re made to wonder at this point in Ghosts, is actually asking? Some anonymous narrator? The author? The novel’s own enigmatic ‘evil man’, the one who does so much of its telling and, it turns ...

Wrecking Ball

Adam Shatz: Trump’s Racism, 7 September 2017

... tones, while falling far short of withdrawing their support for Trump. Listening to Paul Ryan, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Orrin Hatch inveigh against the evil of white supremacy, you might have thought they’d just dusted off their copies of Between the World and Me. They can hardly claim to have been ...

Clubs of Quidnuncs

John Mullan, 17 February 2000

The Dunciad in Four Books 
by Alexander Pope, edited by Valerie Rumbold.
Longman, 456 pp., £55, August 1999, 0 582 08924 7
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... as footnotes to the poem. (They are thickest among the writings of Pope’s lifelong enemy, John Dennis: ‘high voiced and never enough quoted’, as Pope has him.) And once the poem had first appeared to settle those stored-up scores, it would duly produce a further flurry of attacks and more material for Pope’s collection, more material for more ...

Balls and Strikes

Charles Reeve: Clement Greenberg, 5 April 2007

Art Czar: The Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg 
by Alice Goldfarb Marquis.
Lund Humphries, 321 pp., £25, April 2006, 0 85331 940 5
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... pure in scare quotes. Many readers suspected that the scare quotes were a rhetorical escape hatch through which Greenberg could slip when pursued by Marxists claiming that art should be understood as a socio-historical product. So he faced derision for believing in art’s autonomy just as, despite his disavowals, he was criticised for believing in its ...

Errant Pinkies

Robert Macfarlane, 1 June 2000

by Ha Jin.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £10, May 2000, 0 434 00914 8
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... and China in particular, sells books in the West and always has done. Marco Polo knew this, as did John Mandeville, that great early impresario of the exotic. It has appealed at a general level as a substantial, unknown space into which, with the right promptings, the individual imagination could rush, expand, unfurl and luxuriate. More specifically, it has ...

In Finest Fig

E.S. Turner: The Ocean Greyhounds, 20 October 2005

The Liner: Retrospective and Renaissance 
by Philip Dawson, foreword by Stephen Payne.
Conway Maritime, 256 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 85177 938 7
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... Kungsholm, pride of neutral Sweden, was sold in mid-war to America, converted to trooping as the John Ericsson, then sold back after the war to her original owners. In a burst of postwar activity, before the jet age took over, the Americans made the running on the Atlantic. In 1952 the United States, ‘long believed … fast enough to exceed the US highway ...

Ten Typical Days in Trump’s America

Eliot Weinberger, 25 October 2018

... That is one of the signs of lunacy, believing something that isn’t real’); Senator Orrin Hatch says she is clearly ‘mixed up’; Donald Trump Jr tweets a crude drawing making fun of her; if the assault ‘was as bad as she says’, President Trump tweets, why didn’t she report it? ‘Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?’ (She was 15 ...

Belgravia Cockney

Christopher Tayler: On being a le Carré bore, 25 January 2007

The Mission Song 
by John le Carré.
Hodder, 339 pp., £17.99, September 2006, 9780340921968
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... When John le Carré published A Perfect Spy in 1986, Philip Roth, then spending a lot of time in London, called it ‘the best English novel since the war’. Not being such a fan of A Perfect Spy, I’ve occasionally wondered what Roth’s generous blurb says about the postwar English novel. As a le Carré bore, however, I’ve also wondered how Roth managed to overlook Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), the central novel in le Carré’s career, in which George Smiley – an outwardly diffident ex-spook with a strenuously unfaithful wife and an interest in 17th-century German literature – comes out of retirement to identify the turncoat in a secret service that’s explicitly presented as a metaphorical ‘vision of the British establishment at play ...

All he does is write his novel

Christian Lorentzen: Updike, 5 June 2014

by Adam Begley.
Harper, 558 pp., £25, April 2014, 978 0 06 189645 3
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... I had​ this foresight,’ John Updike’s mother, Linda, once told a journalist, ‘that if I married his father the results would be amazing.’ Was Updike amazing? In the most simple terms, which were the ones he favoured, he was an exemplary American success story: a child of the Depression who passed from a hardscrabble youth through the halls of the meritocracy to become a rich man on the earnings of his fiction ...

Ten Days that Shook Me

Alan Bennett, 15 September 1988

... to creature comforts. I wondered, for instance, if the Russians had got round to mineral water. John Sturrock reassured me. ‘Haven’t you heard of Perrierstroika?’ The Writers’ Union is a pleasant one-storeyed 19th-century building set round a leafy courtyard and currently being refurbished against Mr Reagan’s visit. He is to have lunch here. We ...

Haley’s Comet

Paul Driver, 6 February 1997

The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Weidenfeld, 431 pp., £25, September 1996, 0 297 81720 5
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... stodgy and old-fashioned’; and, before they got rid of him, McIntyre was told by David Hatch, Director of Programmes, Radio, that Radio 3 staff were regarded within the BBC as ‘off-putting, exclusive and unwelcoming’. McIntyre, something of an intellectual Reithian (not that Reith had been any friend to the Third) who rejected the idea of ...


Norman Hampson, 20 August 1992

Diderot: A Critical Biography 
by P.N. Furbank.
Secker, 524 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 436 16853 7
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This is not a Story and Other Stories 
by Denis Diderot, translated by P.N. Furbank.
Missouri, 166 pp., £22, December 1991, 0 8262 0815 0
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Diderot: Political Writings 
edited by John Hope Mason and Robert Wokler.
Cambridge, 225 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 521 36044 7
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... hoax. With a man of Diderot’s mischievous and inventive energy, any simple prank was liable to hatch into a literary butterfly. His favourite vehicle was dialogue. Occasionally this was no more than the means by which the writer met and confounded the superficial objections of his stooge. More often, it involved looking at a question from various possible ...

Tell us, Solly

Tim Radford: Solly Zuckerman, 20 September 2001

Solly Zuckerman: A Scientist out of the Ordinary 
by John Peyton.
Murray, 252 pp., £22.50, May 2001, 9780719562839
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... of autobiography, and 900 boxes of letters, speeches and papers to the University of East Anglia. John Peyton, the author of this Life, was Transport Minister from 1970 to 1974. Most of the research work into bombing that I quoted at the beginning is taken from Zuckerman’s autobiography rather than Peyton’s. Neither man makes much sense of the big ...

Omnipresent Eye

Patrick Wright: The Nixon/Mao Show, 16 August 2007

Seize the Hour: When Nixon Met Mao 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Murray, 384 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 7195 6522 7
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... jet labelled ‘The Spirit of 76’ lands and taxis over to its appointed resting place. A hatch opens to reveal President Nixon. The former Red-baiter blinks before launching himself down the ramp slightly ahead of his wife, who is wearing a scarlet coat. China’s prime minister, Zhou Enlai, begins to clap as the Americans descend. After pausing to ...

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