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Yellow as Teeth

Nikil Saval: John Wray’s ‘Lowboy’, 11 June 2009

by John Wray.
Canongate, 258 pp., £12.99, March 2009, 978 1 84767 151 6
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... John Wray’s first book, The Right Hand of Sleep (2001), was a historical novel, narrating the slow collapse of an Austrian hilltown into the embrace of the Nazis. His second, Canaan’s Tongue (2005), was set during the American Civil War, but in place of the wistfulness and nostalgia that pervaded his previous book, this one was reminiscent of William Faulkner in his demonic vein ...

The New Grunge

Lauren Oyler, 23 May 2019

by John Wray.
Canongate, 228 pp., £14.99, January 2019, 978 1 78211 962 3
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... In the late​ 1990s a white teenager called John Walker Lindh converted to Islam and began worshipping at the Islamic Centre of Mill Valley in Marin County, California. Brought up as a Catholic, he studied many world religions but was attracted to Islam after seeing Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. He soon found himself out of place in his American suburb – according to a family friend, he wore ‘the long robes and pillbox hat’ and grew a beard – so instead of university he went to Yemen to learn Arabic and then to a madrasa in Pakistan, where he intended to memorise the Quran ...

Draining the Whig bathwater

Conrad Russell, 10 June 1993

The Personal Rule of Charles I 
by Kevin Sharpe.
Yale, 983 pp., £40, November 1992, 0 300 05688 5
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... less so. Indeed, there was no parallel in English history since the French invasion against King John in 1216. Before explaining why people reacted in this way, we should consider who reacted in this way. The answer, clearly, is the group around the Twelve Peers: Saye, Warwick, Pym, Hampden, St John, Cotworthy and their ...


Michael Wood: Chinese Whispers, 8 August 2013

edited by Adam Thirlwell.
Portobello, 380 pp., £20, August 2013, 978 1 84627 537 1
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... story ‘The Animal in the Synagogue’ with the words: ‘Look away, look away, look away.’ John Wray and Nathan Englander in English and Alejandro Zambra in Spanish all have a phrase about the impossibility of getting rid of the creature – and I’m guessing that Etgar Keret has something similar in Hebrew. That’s certainly what Kafka says, to ...

Dykes, Drongs, Sarns, Snickets

David Craig: Walking England, 20 December 2012

The English Lakes: A History 
by Ian Thompson.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £16.99, March 2012, 978 1 4088 0958 7
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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot 
by Robert Macfarlane.
Hamish Hamilton, 432 pp., £20, June 2012, 978 0 241 14381 0
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... beauty and ensconces himself above Coniston Water as a grumpy sage. With Canon Rawnsley of Wray near Windermere, and following Wordsworth’s lead, he resists the extension of the railway to Ambleside, because he loathes the thought of the common people ‘seeing Helvellyn while they are drunk’. Beatrix Potter writes and illustrates sharp-eyed ...


Rosemary Hill: Love and madness in 18th century London, 7 October 2004

Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the 18th Century 
by John Brewer.
HarperCollins, 340 pp., £20, March 2004, 9780002571340
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... The mutable nature of our relationship with the past is the underlying theme of Sentimental Murder, John Brewer’s compelling and surprising pursuit, across two and a half centuries, of the events of a single evening in 1779. What happened in Covent Garden on 7 April was simple enough and largely undisputed at the time or later ...

On the Red Carpet

David Thomson, 7 March 2024

... Benjamín Labatut (Pushkin, £20), which is an astonishing scenario of the Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann. He was a helpless genius, who laid down principles that were vital in the development of computers, game theory and our understanding of evolution (he was a father to fathers), and in the decision at Los Alamos to use implosion for the Bomb. I ...
An Awfully Big Adventure 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 193 pp., £10.95, December 1989, 0 7156 2204 8
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The Thirteen-Gun Salute 
by Patrick O’Brian.
Collins, 319 pp., £11.95, November 1989, 0 00 223460 2
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Family Sins, and Other Stories 
by William Trevor.
Bodley Head, 251 pp., £11.95, January 1990, 0 370 31374 7
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... early 1800s? A third group makes one think of modern instances. The homosexual couple Ledward and Wray – arch-villains who were unmasked as French agents in an earlier book (but not before they had inflicted very nearly permanent harm on Aubrey’s career) – reappear in The Thirteen-Gun Salute, attached to a French embassy to the Sultan of Pulo ...

Ticket to Milford Haven

David Edgar: Shaw’s Surprises, 21 September 2006

Bernard Shaw: A Life 
by A.M. Gibbs.
Florida, 554 pp., £30.50, December 2005, 0 8130 2859 0
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... much you claim to stand on the shoulders of the mighty beast, you still risk ending up, like Fay Wray, squeezed in its paw. A.M. Gibbs spends most of the introduction to Bernard Shaw: A Life justifying his decision to return to a very well-ploughed furrow. But by citing no less than four previous biographies by the end of page two, he is being consciously ...

It’s me, it’s me, it’s me

David Thomson: The Keynotes of Cary Grant, 5 November 2020

Cary Grant: The Making of a Hollywood Legend 
by Mark Glancy.
Oxford, 550 pp., £22.99, October, 978 0 19 005313 0
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Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise 
by Scott Eyman.
Simon and Schuster, 556 pp., £27.10, November, 978 1 5011 9211 1
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... to say rival) in this quest is Scott Eyman, an American expert in movie history. His book on John Wayne from 2014 is extraordinary for its revelation of awkwardness in a cinema celebrity. Eyman has also written excellent books on Ernst Lubitsch, Cecil B. DeMille and John Ford, and about the moment when sound changed ...


David Bromwich: I met a Republican, 7 March 2019

... of Trump in 2016. The new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the national security adviser, John Bolton, are believers in US force projection whose appetite for wars can only frustrate Trump’s announced purpose to withdraw from the wars we are already in. The extent to which this president understands so basic a fact about a government he nominally ...

When the Floods Came

James Meek: England’s Water, 31 July 2008

... can’t carry much at my age. A little pint bottle is quite heavy.’ He introduced me to John Russell, an 88-year-old ex-engineer in a residential care home. ‘I saw one old lady trying to stagger off with six bottles,’ Russell said. ‘They were carried for her by a complete stranger.’ He introduced me to Joan Bufton, whose daughter needs ...

One Summer in America

Eliot Weinberger, 26 September 2019

... is a for-profit run by a military contractor, Caliburn International. The anti-immigrant zealot John Kelly – once considered the only ‘adult’ in the White House when he was chief of staff – joined Caliburn’s board immediately after leaving government.*In a televised interview with Vice President Pence, the host reads from an article about the ...

Bloody Sunday Report

Murray Sayle: Back to Bloody Sunday, 11 July 2002

... introduced himself and his two colleagues of the tribunal, Justices William Hoyt of Canada and John Toohey of New South Wales, the last a member of a well-known Catholic family of lawyers, journalists and brewers. All three wore business suits and asked occasional sharp questions. Behind the bench loomed the ninety-odd volumes of Widgery Tribunal ...

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