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Deep down

Julian Symons, 28 June 1990

The Last World 
by Christoph Ransmayr, translated by John Woods.
Chatto, 202 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 7011 3502 6
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The End of Lieutenant Boruvka 
by Josef Skvorecky, translated by Paul Wilson.
Faber, 188 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14973 1
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The Dwarves of Death 
by Jonathan Coe.
Fourth Estate, 198 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 1 872180 51 5
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Last Loves 
by Alan Sillitoe.
Grafton, 190 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 333 51783 0
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... and gigantic spiders. The whole confection is a muddled, grotesque piece of Germanic romanticism. John Woods’s beautifully lucid translation often emphasises the book’s mock profundity by its very clarity. At the heart of it is the contrast between Ovid’s and Ransmayr’s metamorphoses, pointed up by a 25-page ‘Ovidian Repertory’ of comparisons ...

Lost in the Woods

Nicholas Penny: Victorian fairy painting, 1 January 1998

Victorian Fairy Painting 
edited by Jane Martineau.
Merrell, 200 pp., £25, November 1997, 1 85894 043 5
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... ideas. The most startling object in the exhibition, the frame composed of gilded twigs surrounding John Austen Fitzgerald’s spooky painting of a fairy-infested bird’s nest, is a three-dimensional development of the sort of border design common in illustrated books of the period. The most beautiful paintings in the exhibition, those by the little-known ...

French Air

John Sutherland, 12 November 1987

The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Miriam Kochan.
Berg, 307 pp., £18, November 1986, 0 907582 47 8
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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by John Woods.
Penguin, 263 pp., £3.95, September 1987, 0 14 009244 7
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The Double Bass 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 57 pp., £8.95, September 1987, 9780241120392
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... In his autobiographical papers, Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman?, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, describes being piqued by an article in Science about how well bloodhounds can smell. Feynman hates not being best, and so he took time off from inventing the atom bomb (he was working at Los Alamos) to run an experiment. He had his wife handle certain coke bottles in an empty six-pack while he was out of the room for a couple of minutes ...

Impossible Wishes

Michael Wood: Thomas Mann, 6 February 2003

The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann 
edited by Ritchie Robertson.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £45.50, November 2001, 9780521653107
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Thomas Mann: A Biography 
by Hermann Kurzke, translated by Leslie Willson.
Allen Lane, 582 pp., £30, January 2002, 0 7139 9500 9
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... of Mann’s writing, and even of the recent versions of Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain by John Woods. The failings are apparently mostly lexical and syntactical: ‘Knopf have once again employed a translator whose knowledge of German appears inadequate to the task, and who is capable of careless errors.’ Of course it’s good to get things ...

A Magazine of Wisdom

Linda Colley, 4 September 1997

Edmund Burke: A Life in Caricature 
by Nicholas Robinson.
Yale, 214 pp., £30, October 1996, 0 300 06801 8
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The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke. Vol. III: Party, Parliament and the American War 1774-80 
edited by Warren Elofson and John Woods.
Oxford, 713 pp., £75, September 1996, 0 19 822414 1
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Edmund Burke and India: Political Morality and Empire 
by Frederick Whelan.
Pittsburgh, 384 pp., £39.95, December 1996, 0 8229 3927 4
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... Infinitely more profound and productive than his nearest 18th-century equivalent, Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, he was also far more prominent in national politics over a much longer span than John Milton or the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury in the 17th century, J.S. Mill in the 19th century, and Bertrand Russell ...

Poetry to Thrill an Oyster

Gregory Woods: Fitz-Greene Halleck, 16 November 2000

The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck 
by John W.M. Hallock.
Wisconsin, 226 pp., £14.95, April 2000, 0 299 16804 2
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... as a mere imitator. Richard Dana thought his ‘Marco Bozzaris’ was America’s best lyric poem. John Quincy Adams referred to one of his poems in a speech to the House of Representatives in 1836. Most inexplicable of all, on 15 May 1877, fifty thousand people gathered in Central Park to see President Hayes unveil a statue of Halleck in the so-called ...

Are words pointless?

Benjamin Markovits: Bernhard Schlink, 21 March 2002

Flights of Love 
by Bernhard Schlink, translated by John Woods.
Weidenfeld, 309 pp., £12.99, February 2002, 0 297 82903 3
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... The generation battle, in its particular post-Third-Reich incarnation, runs through Bernhard Schlink’s work, both his bestselling The Reader and Flights of Love, a collection of short stories loosely arranged around various break-ups and infidelities. Reviewers tend to discuss the books together, partly because Flights of Love develops plots, characters and arguments already present in The Reader, but mostly because The Reader is better, more interesting even in its failures than this sequel ...

Three Poems

John Burnside, 11 September 2014

... Krüger I heard something out by the gate and went to look. Dead of night; new snow, the larch woods filling slowly, stars beneath the stars. A single cry it was, or so it seemed, though nothing I had recognised as native; and when it came again, I knew for sure. No badger there. No gathering of deer. Forgive me, if I choose not to believe the snow ...

Two Poems

John Burnside, 7 October 2010

... to say they are together, but sometimes, when she dreams, she comes upon a scuffed trail in the woods, a beaten track where something killed was dragged and trodden down and hidden in the leaves. Its eyes are blind, and what it clutches in its broken hand, is painfully familiar, shreds of black and steel-grey, like that overcoat he wore the day he ...

Two Poems

John Burnside, 4 December 2008

... St Hubert and the Deer He has come to a halt in the woods: snow on the path                and everything gone to ground in its silken lair; gone to ground              or folded in a death so quiet, he can almost taste the fade of hair and vein, the flesh gone into light and water          part-song                   lost in all this glister ...

Catching the Prester John Bug

John Mullan: Umberto Eco, 8 May 2003

by Umberto Eco, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 522 pp., £18, October 2002, 0 436 27603 8
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... Somewhere in the skirts of the fabled land of Prester John, late in the 12th century, Baudolino, the protagonist of Umberto Eco’s latest novel, encounters a pygmy. He discovers that ‘the greeting to exchange with him was Lumus kelmin pesso desmar lon emposo, which means that you pledged not to make war against him and his people ...


John Tranter, 15 September 1988

... Humanism. Those ice reefs repeat the motto whispered by the snow-drifts on the north side of the woods and model villages: the sun has a favourite leaning, and the Nordic flaw is a glow alcohol can fan into a flame. And what is this truth that holds the grey shaking metal whole while we believe in it? The radar keeps its sweeping intermittent promises ...

In the Shady Wood

Michael Neill: Staging the Forest, 22 March 2018

The Shakespearean Forest 
by Anne Barton.
Cambridge, 185 pp., £75, August 2017, 978 0 521 57344 3
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... even rewriting a little where necessary, Lees-Jeffries has added a fine introduction, ‘Into the Woods’, pieced together from Barton’s draft original and from portions of a discarded chapter; she has also appended a comprehensive bibliographical essay of her own, bringing the reader up to date with the large amount of related material published in the ...


John Burnside, 5 April 2001

... beginning where an idle mind spools out to borderline and limit half a mile of shadow in the pine woods or a rim of wetland – rush and willow gathered close like mourners in the dark – a sudden ambiguity of liverwort or birch suggesting no man’s land or journey’s end. As everything is given and conceived imagined real a stone’s throw in the mind ...

Two Poems

John Burnside, 7 September 2017

... but the rain. Before I came in, I stood in the drive to listen: an owl called, down in the woods by Gillingshill, then nothing, but for a drone I could not parse as music. The pibroch, I might have said; but I’ve never felt native so much as local and brief like the stone chill crossing the sands when the haar moves in. Curious, now, to think ...

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