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Father of the Light Bulb

J. Robert Lennon: Kurt Vonnegut, 22 February 2018

Kurt VonnegutComplete Stories 
edited by Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield.
Seven Stories, 911 pp., £29.99, November 2017, 978 1 60980 808 2
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... For decades​ , Kurt Vonnegut was an unshakeable, if unconventional, part of the American literary canon: even if his books didn’t find a lot of traction in academia, they were in every high school library. That’s where I first encountered him, some time in the mid-1980s, when I was supposed to be getting a head start on my homework before track practice ...

Old Codger

Dale Peck, 11 December 1997

Timequake 
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Cape, 219 pp., £15.99, October 1997, 0 224 03640 8
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... Kurt Vonnegut’s latest book, and, according to its author, his last, is almost impossible to appreciate without extensive knowledge of his previous work. As far as I can tell, this is deliberate and it can be considered a flaw or a virtue depending on one’s view of writing in general and Kurt Vonnegut in particular ...

Oedipal Wrecks

Michael Mason, 26 March 1992

Fates Worse than Death 
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Cape, 240 pp., £14.99, October 1991, 0 224 02918 5
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... Kurt Vonnegut will be 70 this year. At this age he would indeed be a remarkable writer if his latest book – which is a collection of occasional pieces in the vein of the earlier Wampeters Foma and Granfaloons (1975) and Palm Sunday (1981) – had broken much new ground. In that sense his detractors and his admirers need not fall out on this occasion ...

Paradise Lost

Stephen Bann, 17 March 1983

Deadeye Dick 
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Cape, 224 pp., £7.50, February 1983, 0 224 02945 2
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Bluebeard 
by Max Frisch, translated by Geoffrey Skelton.
Methuen, 142 pp., £5.95, February 1983, 0 413 51750 0
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The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British ‘New Wave’ in Science Fiction 
by Colin Greenland.
Routledge, 244 pp., £11.95, March 1983, 0 7100 9310 1
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More Tales of Pirx the Pilot 
by Stanislaw Lem, translated by Louis Iribarne, Magdalena Majcherczyk and Michael Kandel.
Secker, 220 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 9780436244117
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Yesterday’s Men 
by George Turner.
Faber, 234 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 571 11857 7
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Rebel in Time 
by Harry Harrison.
Granada, 272 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 246 11766 4
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Three Six Seven: Memoirs of a Very Important Man 
by Peter Vansittart.
Peter Owen, 236 pp., £8.95, February 1983, 0 7206 0602 0
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... In a recent interview, Kurt Vonnegut rated his latest novel, Deadeye Dick, at B-. The gesture is disarming, and no doubt his critics will conclude that he has got it just about right. But if we start from the tacit assumption that Deadeye Dick is not a masterpiece, whether or not it becomes a best-seller, we can concentrate our minds on what it is that makes Vonnegut’s style of storytelling so distinctively beguiling ...

Vonnekit

Michael Mason, 7 February 1980

Jailbird 
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Cape, 246 pp., £5.50, October 1980, 0 224 01772 1
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... up to entertain us. But America undoubtedly does exist, her problems are often akin to ours, and Vonnegut is a novelist to be taken seriously. It is true, of course, that no comment on recent events in Britain is intended in Jailbird. And, while a serious comment on America is intended, the novel has another aspect which requires some discussion first (and ...

Carrying on with a foreign woman

John Sutherland, 7 November 1985

Galapagos 
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Cape, 269 pp., £9.50, October 1985, 0 224 02847 2
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A Family Madness 
by Thomas Keneally.
Hodder, 315 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 340 38449 2
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A Storm from Paradise 
by Stuart Hood.
Carcanet, 188 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 85635 582 8
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Samarkand 
by John Murray.
Aidan Ellis, 255 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 85628 151 4
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The Sicilian 
by Mario Puzo.
Bantam, 410 pp., £9.95, May 1985, 0 593 01001 9
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Putting the boot in 
by Dan Kavanagh.
Cape, 192 pp., £8.95, August 1985, 0 224 02332 2
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... Kurt Vonnegut’s new novel finds him on old ground. All his hallmarks are prominently here: the cute narrative manner belying an apocalyptic message (the end of the world is once again nigh); the little ‘so it goes’ tics of style (here an asterisk placed before the names of characters about to die); comic-scientific periphrasis (marriage is ‘biologically significant copulation ...

Yossarian rides again

Michael Wood, 20 October 1994

Closing Time 
by Joseph Heller.
Simon and Schuster, 464 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 671 71907 6
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... like the narrative egoism which says that if Yossarian is going to die, everyone is going to die. Kurt Vonnegut appears in this book as well as Heller himself, because Lew was in Dresden when Vonnegut was, but the best literary jokes involve the repeated appearance of the enigmatic figure with red hair and a straw hat ...

Bounty Hunter

John Sutherland, 17 July 1997

Riders of the Purple Sage 
by Zane Grey.
Oxford, 265 pp., £4.99, May 1995, 0 19 282443 0
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The Man of the Forest: The Authorised Version 
by Zane Grey.
Nebraska, 383 pp., $15, September 1996, 0 8032 7062 3
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The Thundering Herd: The Authorised Version 
by Zane Grey.
Nebraska, 400 pp., $16, September 1996, 0 8032 7065 8
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... can draw fanciful conclusions from the fact that Hitler was addicted to the ersatz Westerns of Kurt May, and even as President of the US, Ronald Reagan looked as if he’d just walked off the Death Valley set). The Man of the Forest (1921) is one of the more ‘scenic’ of Grey’s novels, set in the White Mountains of Arizona. The Mysterious Rider ...

President Gore

Inigo Thomas: Gore Vidal, 10 May 2007

Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964-2006 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 278 pp., £17.99, November 2006, 0 316 02727 8
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... cicadas, scented air, the physical drama: all the sense-heightening Mediterranean stuff. Kurt Vonnegut, a house guest, had disappeared: his photographer wife, Jill Krementz, couldn’t find him anywhere on the eight acres of the Vidal estate. Vidal, who seemed to know something about Vonnegut his wife ...

Shakers

Denis Donoghue, 6 November 1986

Write on: Occasional Essays ’65-’85 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 211 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 436 25665 7
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... cell in my body shakes with ravenous applause’ – fell back exhausted upon the prose style of Kurt Vonnegut, who describes his starving POW licking a spoonful of malt syrup: ‘A moment went by, and then every cell in Billy’s body shook him with ravenous gratitude and applause.’ But only a professor could end his lecture on Success with a tone of ...

Sinister Blandishments

Edmund White: Philip Hensher, 3 September 1998

Pleasured 
by Philip Hensher.
Chatto, 304 pp., £14.99, August 1998, 0 7011 6728 9
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... much, we need the opposite of what we want, so that we can live our lives.’ This idea – which Kurt Vonnegut suggested so many years ago in Cut’s Cradle, his book about an island divided into two warring countries by its leaders, who recognise that their people need the idea of an opposition – is as profound as it is familiar. Indeed, if it is so ...

Nutmegged

Frank Kermode: The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis., 10 May 2001

The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 506 pp., £20, April 2001, 0 224 05059 1
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... virtuously impressive. It remains to ask two questions. The first may seem a bit academic. Why did Kurt Vonnegut, as reported in one of these reviews, call the central figure of his novel Galapagos ‘James Wait’ – a name pre-empted long before, and with good reason, by an even better writer? Somebody must know, and I’d have expected Amis would ...

Prattletraps

Sophie Pinkham: Sergei Dovlatov, 20 May 2015

Pushkin Hills 
by Sergei Dovlatov, translated by Katherine Dovlatov.
Counterpoint, 163 pp., £15.99, April 2014, 978 1 61902 477 9
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The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard’s Story 
by Sergei Dovlatov, translated by Anne Frydman.
Alma, 176 pp., £7.99, October 2013, 978 1 84749 357 6
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... have been something Dovlatov did to make the works more intelligible to Anglophone readers. After Kurt Vonnegut sent him a fan letter, Dovlatov wrote back: ‘However much I might publish in English, nobody will ever write about my language … and that is the only thing, as I am brash enough to believe, that is of any interest.’ Fortunately, he was ...

The Tarnished Age

Richard Mayne, 3 September 1981

David O. Selznick’s Hollywood 
by Ronald Haver.
Secker, 425 pp., £35, December 1980, 0 436 19128 8
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My Early life 
by Ronald Reagan and Richard Hubler.
Sidgwick, 316 pp., £7.95, April 1981, 0 283 98771 5
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Naming Names 
by Victor Navasky.
Viking, 482 pp., $15.95, October 1980, 0 670 50393 2
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... Law School, has worked on Monocle and the New York Times, and became editor of the Nation in 1978. Kurt Vonnegut, E.L. Doctorow, Studs Terkel and Tom Wicker are among the admirers quoted on the dust-jacket; and, as if that weren’t enough, Navasky himself twinkles out on the back flap in a checked open-neck shirt, a beard, wiry glasses, and an ...

Manly Scowls

Patrick Parrinder, 6 February 1986

An Artist of the Floating World 
by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Faber, 206 pp., £9.95, February 1986, 0 571 13608 7
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Revolutionary Road 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 337 pp., £4.50, January 1986, 0 413 59720 2
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Young Hearts Crying 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 347 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 9780413597304
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Ellen 
by Ita Daly.
Cape, 144 pp., £8.95, January 1986, 0 224 02833 2
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... reminds us of nothing so much as a Japanese Vicar of Bray. Richard Yates has been hailed, by Kurt Vonnegut and others, as the chronicler of the generation of middle-class Americans who came of age on the battlefields of Europe in the closing stages of World War Two. In Revolutionary Road (first published in 1961) and his new novel Young Hearts ...

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