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Paean to Gaiety

Lorna Sage, 22 September 1994

The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture 
by Terry Castle.
Columbia, 322 pp., £20, January 1994, 0 231 07652 5
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... In this camp and dashing and deliberately lightweight study of a certain strand of ‘sexual ontology’ Terry Castle pursues the lesbian-as-ghost from Defoe’s wistful nearly-real Mrs Veal onwards. She had, she explains, been planning and researching a much heavier straight book about hauntings – on ‘the waning of belief in apparitions in Western culture after the Enlightenment’ – but in the end decided to come out of the closet and produce this labour of love: ‘I felt scandalously energised ...

Bad Blood

Lorna Sage, 7 April 1994

Monkey’s Uncle 
by Jenny Diski.
Weidenfeld, 258 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 297 84061 4
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... This is a compendious, layered novel – see ‘historiographic metafiction’ in the narratology handbook – the sort of novel that intercuts time zones and genres of fiction (realism, fantasy) and so fleshes out the present’s bleakness. In the present, middle-aged Charlotte FitzRoy is having a breakdown, precipitated very likely (thinks the business-like psychiatrist who plies her with anti-depressants she doesn’t take) by the death of her daughter Miranda in a car-crash; though as Charlotte sees it, loss of her political faith, dating from the coming-down of the Berlin Wall, has had rather more to do with it ...

Well Downstream from Canary Wharf

Lorna Sage: Derek Beavan, 5 March 1998

Acts of Mutiny 
by Derek Beavan.
Fourth Estate, 280 pp., £14.99, January 1998, 1 85702 641 1
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... Derek Beavan burst on the scene four years ago with his own bold brand of palimpsest history in Newton’s Niece, a wonderfully circumstantial novel about magic in the new age of science. Real people, from Newton to Swift, Handel, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Mrs Manley, mingled with imaginary ones, not least the eponymous narrator of the title him/herself, a time-traveller from a late-20th-century mental hospital who switches gender in the process ...

Mother’s back

Lorna Sage: Feminists with Tenure, 18 May 2000

What is a Woman? And Other Essays 
by Toril Moi.
Oxford, 517 pp., £25, October 1999, 9780198122425
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... Feminism is fiftysomething if you start counting from The Second Sex, and, like Toril Moi, a lot of academic women are taking stock. The good news is that wherever positive discrimination in favour of men has been suspended, there are many more women in universities than there used to be, as students, teachers and even tenured professors. What’s been lost is the sense of connection with utopian politics ...

Both Sides

Lorna Sage, 5 October 1995

The Ghost Road 
by Pat Barker.
Viking, 196 pp., £15, September 1995, 0 670 85489 1
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... The present novel completes Pat Barker’s First World War trilogy. It ends just before the war itself ends, with the attempted crossing of the Sambre-Oise canal in which Wilfred Owen was killed. You can read it without having read Regeneration or The Eye in the Door, because these are novels that cover the same ground again, and again, like the battles their characters replay in memory and nightmares ...
After Hannibal 
by Barry Unsworth.
Hamish Hamilton, 242 pp., £16, September 1996, 0 241 13342 4
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... Property-owning and picaresque were once upon a time in opposition, but the new middle-class diaspora has changed all that. People want to put down roots where they wander, buy themselves a piece of the view and a share of the sky, a place of their own. Marvellous time. Wish I was here. We don’t simply holiday and go home, we dream in brick and stucco and terracotta ...

How to do the life

Lorna Sage, 10 February 1994

Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World 
by Carol Brightman.
Lime Tree, 714 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 413 45821 0
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... Bloody Mary, the blurb suggests, has found her match in her biographer Carol Brightman. Not that this is a hatchet job: if Brightman is a woman in some sense after her subject’s own heart it’s not in the way Randall Jarrell was thinking of when he put Mary McCarthy in Pictures from an Institution, saying that people couldn’t mention her style ‘without using the vocabulary of a salesman of kitchen knives ...

The View from the Passenger Seat

Lorna Sage: Gilbert Adair, 1 January 1998

The Key of the Tower 
by Gilbert Adair.
Secker, 190 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 0 436 20429 0
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... Gilbert Adair the critic writes with feeling and practised bitterness about the anxiety of influence – ‘that looming, lowering pressure exerted, wilfully or not, by those who have already “made it” on those who have not, a pressure cramping, crushing and on occasion castrating the creative energies of the rising generation’. There’s a smack of Hamlet (cabined, cribbed, confined) here – so that when the literary father-figures he has in mind turn out to be Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, it’s hard to believe him ...

A Simpler, More Physical Kind of Empathy

Lorna Sage: Haruki Murakami, 30 September 1999

South of the Border, West of the Sun 
by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel.
Harvill, 187 pp., £9.99, July 1999, 1 86046 594 3
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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle 
by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin.
Harvill, 609 pp., £12, May 1998, 9781860464706
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... Talking to Jay McInerney in 1992, the year South of the Border, West of the Sun was published in Japanese, Haruki Murakami said that he wasn’t so much an international writer, as a non-national writer: ‘You might call it the Japanese nature that remains only after you have thrown out, one after another, all those parts that are altogether too “Japanese” ...

Landlocked

Lorna Sage: Henry Green, 25 January 2001

Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green 
by Jeremy Treglown.
Faber, 340 pp., £25, September 2000, 0 571 16898 1
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... Henry Green put in an incongruous cameo appearance in Jeremy Treglown’s 1994 biography of Roald Dahl. When an interviewer from the Houston Post asked the bestselling author of the low-life and hilarious ‘adult’ short-story collection Someone like You who his favourite British writer was, he answered loftily: ‘Henry Green.’ Treglown thought the reason might have been that Dahl (who anyway loved a put-down) shared a friend with Green, the painter Matthew Smith, whose work he did know and like ...

Waving the Past Goodbye

Lorna Sage, 3 April 1997

A Regular Guy 
by Mona Simpson.
Faber, 372 pp., £15.99, February 1997, 0 571 19079 0
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The Keepsake 
by Kirsty Gunn.
Granta, 224 pp., £14.99, March 1997, 9781862070134
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... Mona Simpson’s novels are long and loose, and make compulsive reading. She not only writes about obsession, but she passes on the effect with extraordinary directness, almost as though there’s no separate authorial presence in her books at all – art concealing art with a vengeance. A Regular Guy is her third novel, and in it she celebrates her first ten years in the business by surrendering her addiction to ‘I’, and edging just a little further over into fictionality with the invention of self-made hero Tom Owens, the multi-millionaire founder of a West Coast biotech company he christens ‘Genesis’: ‘He thought of himself as a guy in jeans, barefoot in the boardroom ...

Winter Facts

Lorna Sage, 4 April 1996

Remake 
by Christine Brooke-Rose.
Carcanet, 172 pp., £9.95, February 1996, 1 85754 222 3
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... Christine Brooke-Rose’s story of how this new book came to be is that she set out to write about her life, and instead produced a kind of antibiography. It’s described in the jacket’s blurb by Carcanet as ‘an autobiographical novel with a difference’ which ‘uses life material to compose a third-person fiction’. Inside the covers we’re told with confessional baldness that ‘the old lady’s publisher has asked for an autobiography ...

Spells of Levitation

Lorna Sage: Deborah Eisenberg, 3 September 1998

All around Atlantis 
by Deborah Eisenberg.
Granta, 232 pp., £8.99, March 1998, 1 86207 161 6
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... The short story is the most popular form for people to practise on in Creative Writing workshops where the craft of making things up is meant to be passed on. Still, contemporary stories are always falling out of fiction into documentary of one sort or another – confession, travel, postcards from the front line. Deborah Eisenberg’s writing is so striking because it is impeccably, formally fictional ...

The First Bacchante

Lorna Sage: ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’, 29 April 1999

The Ground Beneath Her Feet 
by Salman Rushdie.
Cape, 575 pp., £18, April 1999, 0 224 04419 2
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... The philosopher Plotinus was such a good Idealist that he refused to have a portrait done – why peddle an image of an image? – and argued that the true meaning of the myth of Narcissus was that the poor boy didn’t love himself enough. If Narcissus had recognised whose the reflection in the water was, he’d have lived and grown and changed himself, instead of being the helpless subject of a pretty tale of metamorphosis ...

I, too, write a little

Lorna Sage: Katherine Mansfield, 18 June 1998

The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks: Vol I 
edited by Margaret Scott.
Lincoln University Press, 310 pp., NZ $79.95, September 1997, 0 908896 48 4
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The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks: Vol II 
edited by Margaret Scott.
Lincoln University Press, 355 pp., NZ $79.95, September 1997, 0 908896 49 2
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... These handsome volumes contain the last remains of Katherine Mansfield: a full and final transcription of the amorphous mass of hopeful notes, dissatisfied jottings, bad poems, sick scribbles, lists, sums and drafts, some dating back to her youth, which she left behind when she died in January 1923. All her bits and pieces are here, chronologically arranged and beautifully bound, with a picture of the cheap exercise books she used on the cover, their faded marbled fronts transformed into a bookish reliquary ...

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