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Believing in Unicorns

Walter Benn Michaels: Racecraft

7 February 2013
Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life 
by Karen Fields and Barbara Fields.
Verso, 302 pp., £20, October 2012, 978 1 84467 994 2
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... The historian Barbara Fields and her sister, the sociologist KarenFields, open Racecraft, their collection of linked essays, by denying that there are such things as races. Race today does not, they point out, refer to ‘a traditionally named group of people’ but to ...

A Miscalculation

Karen​ Solie

2 March 2017
... set out on the path from Crail, and by sunset, at four, could neither return nor make Kingsbarns before dark. Though no one knew where I was, real danger lay elsewhere. No cows even. Just sleepless fields staring skyward and the firth prowling the forest of itself, what’s hidden as well as what hides it. To turn back would have made sense but I chose otherwise, a lamp post at what I assumed was ...

I put a spell on you

John Burnside: Murder in Corby

2 June 2011
... and manhandling heavy buckets of grain from here to there while he watched, with a soft, contained amusement. On the other side of the house, towards what I liked to think of as open country, the fields ran away to the strip woods, in one direction, and the grey, leechy waters of Loch Fitty, in the other, and I wandered out there whenever I could, imagining myself a child of the countryside, like ...

No-Shit Dinosaur

Jon Day: Karen​ Russell

2 June 2011
by Karen​ Russell.
Chatto, 316 pp., £12.99, March 2011, 978 0 7011 8602 9
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... room for manoeuvre. Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner and Look at the Harlequins! by Nabokov, on the other hand, are more subtle, creating some distance between us and their tellers, if not their tales. Karen Russell’s exclamation marks reveal varying degrees of insincerity, but they are always employed with a Nabokovian lightness of touch. Swamplandia! – her second book and first novel – wears its ...

First Person

Tony Wood: Putin’s Russia

5 February 2015
‘Sistema’, Power Networks and Informal Governance 
by Alena Ledeneva.
Cambridge, 327 pp., £19.99, February 2013, 978 0 521 12563 5
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The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin 
by Masha Gessen.
Granta, 314 pp., £9.99, January 2013, 978 1 84708 423 1
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Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? 
by Karen​ Dawisha.
Simon and Schuster, 464 pp., £11.50, September 2014, 978 1 4767 9519 5
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... a statist model. In The Man without a Face, Masha Gessen concluded that Putin’s goal was a steady and deliberate ‘transformation of Russia back into the USSR’, while in Putin’s Kleptocracy, Karen Dawisha insisted, in more excitable vein, that we need to understand his rule as the triumph of a nefarious KGB ‘cabal’ which had spent the 1990s preparing for a creeping revanchist takeover. The ...

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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... Noland’s Number One, its verso inscribed, ‘To my friend Clem who has more to do with it than anybody’; Jules Olitski’s shifting colours; Anthony Caro’s decisively abstract steel sculptures. Karen Wilkin writes in the catalogue of his collection that Greenberg didn’t miss the art he sold, but surely he winced as works by David Smith, Jackson Pollock or Morris Louis went out the door.* His ...


Marina Warner: Baba Yaga

27 August 2009
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 
by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.
Canongate, 327 pp., £14.99, May 2009, 978 1 84767 066 3
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... reminds us how pitilessly Odysseus orders them to be hanged, every one. The resonances with contemporary matters, which this series of books aims to stir, are powerful in this new handmaid’s tale. Karen Armstrong opened the series with an introduction that stressed myth’s archaic origins and links to religion and ritual, to national or tribal identity. This is the ontological version of myth ...
23 June 1994
... have been built. Expressionist weather systems have been brought indoors, a wall of light in the smokey darkness. These endearing celebrations of place glisten in the firelight, when the rock fields they represent are lost in the inevitable sea-fret, the mist drifting down from the hills.But they have to go, these images. They have to be stacked away in the reserve collection, along with the ...

The natives did a bunk

Malcolm Gaskill: The Little Ice Age

19 July 2018
A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America 
by Sam White.
Harvard, 361 pp., £23.95, October 2017, 978 0 674 97192 9
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... The assumption for a long time was that after the Ice Age ended 11,700 years ago temperatures had been relatively stable. Thanks to Lamb, a different picture emerged, clarified by scholars in other fields, notably the great French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, whose Times of Feast, Times of Famine was published in 1971. A decade later, Robert Rotberg and Theodore Rabb published a trailblazing ...

I’m an intelligence

Joanna Biggs: Sylvia Plath at 86

20 December 2018
The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. I: 1940-56 
edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen​ Kukil.
Faber, 1388 pp., £35, September 2017, 978 0 571 32899 4
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The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. II: 1956-63 
edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen​ Kukil.
Faber, 1025 pp., £35, September 2018, 978 0 571 33920 4
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... days this week & I’ve had Frieda out in the park while I sat on a bench and read this week’s New Yorker,’ she wrote to her mother on 9 and 10 February. On the 11th, she wrote ‘Parliament Hill Fields’: ‘Your absence is inconspicuous;/Nobody can tell what I lack,’ the first stanza ends. The speaker’s winter walk home takes in a crocodile of small girls, a pink plastic barrette, a cloudbank ...
3 July 1986
Melanie Klein: Her World and her Work 
by Phyllis Grosskurth.
Hodder, 516 pp., £19.95, June 1986, 0 340 25751 2
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Bloomsbury/Freud: The Letters of James and Alix Strachey 1924-1925 
edited by Perry Meisel and Walter Kendrick.
Chatto, 360 pp., £14.95, February 1986, 0 7011 3051 2
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... Klein demonstrated absolutely clearly that these children (from 2¾ upwards) were already wrecked by the repression of their desires.’ There was some support for Klein in Berlin, particularly from Karen Horney, who was later to become a major figure in psychoanalysis in the United States. And Karl Abraham was a powerful chairman who could ensure that her views were always given fair hearing. But ...

The Tower

Andrew O’Hagan

7 June 2018
... floor below the Jafaris, the 10th, lived a man in his early fifties called Antonio Roncolato. He had just got back from a week in Padua. And in the two-bedroom flat above the Jafaris, number 92, was Karen Aboud, who lived with her sons, who were 12 and 17. She works as a make-up artist in a hairdressing salon in Maida Vale, often doing weddings and photography. She took half days so she could pick the ...


Alan Bennett: Notes on 1997

1 January 1998
... designated scrapheaps is altering. Ranged in vacant rows or stood immobile by a radiator, these shrunken creatures still answer to Hannah, Arthur, Peggy and Bill. But soon it will be Melanie and Karen, Dean and Sandra Louise. Somewhere I wrote some half-heard dialogue on the edge of a scene outside an old people’s home: as the middle-aged children of one deceased resident come away carrying his ...
3 January 2019
... home but will remain among the 2.5 million Bulgarians working abroad (3.5 million work at home). What their departure will mean for Britain – which faces labour shortages on its roads, in its fields, restaurants and hospitals – isn’t a Bulgarian concern. Of all the EU states, Bulgaria is one of the least attached to the UK in economic terms: Britain receives 2.4 per cent of Bulgaria’s ...

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