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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 JohnBarth’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 ...

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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... a day by a storm at sea, itself interrupted by a dialogue on Aristotle’s distinction between lexis and melos. Like most Post-Modernist fantasies, Sabbatical takes a lot of unpacking. But this is JohnBarth 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 ...

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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... is neither brevity nor the bleak realities of damaged working-class lives, but rather the accuracy and authority of his prose. If Raymond Carver ranks among the great American short-story writers, JohnBarth 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 ...

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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... are about going fishing as a boy, just heading off into the woods and rain with his rod and reel. Brautigan’s 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 ...

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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... organisation of Irish speech. The fantastical pub scenes have less in common with the controlled fantasy of Joyce in Ulysses than with the free-wheeling American ‘put-on’, the extravagance of JohnBarth. 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 ...

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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... materialism and that makes unique demands on the reader, demands which are neither those of traditional literary history (even though the story wends its way from Thomas Wolfe through Nabokov and JohnBarth, 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 ...

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 ...

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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... him yearn for a time before the ‘classy jugglers’ of modernism vandalised the ‘tradition of Tolstoy and Chekhov’. By this point, White was trying to get a deal to write a book of criticism on JohnBarth, 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 ...

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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... values also account for the rather parochial choice of novelists in Part Two. All are British, and 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 ...
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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... in Philip Roth’s The Professor of Desire, the old woman who claims to have been Kafka’s whore ‘concentrates 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 ...

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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... short sentences that us Granta fans think are just exquisitely macho. (An acquaintance of his once told me that Buford’s tastes were formed at university in the USA during the late Seventies, when JohnBarth 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 ...

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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... this scherzarade of one’s thousand one nightinesses that sword of certainty which would indentifide the body never falls) to idendifine the individuone.’ The most conspicuous absentee is probably JohnBarth, 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 ...

So this is how it works

Elaine Blair: Ben Lerner

19 February 2015
10:04 
by Ben Lerner.
Granta, 244 pp., £14.99, January 2015, 978 1 84708 891 8
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... They are writers, which accounts for their fluency and their interest in how poetry and fiction work. Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04 incorporate passages of literary and art criticism (on John Ashbery’s poems, or Christian Marclay’s film The Clock) into their narratives, some of it taken almost verbatim from Lerner’s own published essays. It’s a remarkable thing to create a ...

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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... symbolism and ‘experimentation’ were in vogue, as well as the fey, relentlessly parodistic short fiction of Paley’s neighbour and good friend Donald Barthelme. The gargantuan mock-epics of JohnBarth, 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 ...

Everlasting Fudge

Theo Tait: The Difficult Fiction of Cynthia Ozick

19 May 2005
The Bear Boy 
by Cynthia Ozick.
Weidenfeld, 310 pp., £12.99, March 2005, 0 297 84808 9
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... the old generous comedy of human types, becomes something much more rarefied, self-conscious and pinched. It also takes Ozick a lot of literature to produce a little literature. As much as Borges or JohnBarth, she is a metafictional author: her subject is books and writers; obsessive readers, people driven to distraction by fiction. Lars Andemening, the protagonist of her third novel, The Messiah of ...

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