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Diary

Lorna ScottFox: Aznar’s Mistake, 1 April 2004

... The bodies were still being collected, and the families had just begun their anguished search through hospitals and morgues, when Spanish embassies abroad received telegrams from their government instructing them to pin the blame on the Basque terrorist group ETA, to the exclusion of all other hypotheses – ‘in order to dispel whatever doubts certain interested parties might seek to spread’ (the message from Ana Palacio, the foreign minister, was leaked to El País ...

Dirty Linen

Lorna ScottFox, 6 April 1995

Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father 
by Richard Rodriguez.
Penguin, 230 pp., £6.99, November 1994, 0 14 009622 1
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... At the end of Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez’s 1982 account of becoming an American, he tells how his mother came across one of his articles and was moved to write to him. Her letter begins tenderly, urging Rodriguez not to blame himself, as he appears to do, for giving up Mexican culture in order to ‘make it’. Then: ‘Writing is one thing, the family is another ...

Nothing but the Present

Lorna ScottFox, 23 May 1996

The Law of Enclosures 
by Dale Peck.
Chatto, 287 pp., £15.99, February 1996, 0 7011 6160 4
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... The first thing the literary world noticed about Dale Peck was his youth. Now 28, he produced the harrowing Martin and John (attractively published in Britain as Fucking Martin) at 25. Why do we expect so little of the (not all that) young? Peck’s sophistication needs no excuse or applause on those grounds. There is something far more remarkable about him within the youth consensus itself, and that is his death wish – or that of his fiction ...

Diary

Lorna ScottFox: ETA goes to the Guggenheim, 13 November 1997

... Jeff Koons didn’t know how right he nearly was when he told a reporter from El País that his monumental flower sculpture Puppy had an ‘untamed’, ‘belligerent’ quality. The next day, Monday 13 October, a florist’s van pulled up outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and two men proceeded to unload a delivery of shrubs as if to stick them onto the giant dog looming over the esplanade ...

Dancing in Her Doc Martens

Lorna ScottFox, 18 September 1997

Monsieur Shoushana’s Lemon Trees 
by Patricia Duncker.
Serpent’s Tail, 197 pp., £9.99, August 1997, 1 85242 572 5
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... Dares to be intellectual,’ breathed the Guardian’s review of Patricia Duncker’s first novel, Hallucinating Foucault. But co-opting the defenceless Michel Foucault into a romanticised fantasy about the Reader does not guarantee a novel’s intellectuality. The story of the timid Cambridge student who falls in love with the subject of his thesis – French writer Paul Michel, a malign blend of Dany Cohn-Bendit and Guy Hocquenghem – and carries him off from an asylum, struck me above all as daring to be improbable ...

Little Viper

Lorna ScottFox: Mario Vargas Llosa, 17 September 1998

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto 
by Maria Vargas Llosa, translated by Edith Grossman.
Faber, 259 pp., £15.99, July 1998, 0 571 19309 9
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... Some time in 1970 or 1971, I was picking boring books at random off my employer’s shelf – I was an au pair in Barcelona – when I opened a novel that had me laughing, and transfixed, by the bottom of the first page. My ignorance meant that I was one of the few people to discover One Hundred Years of Solitude without all that baggage of pleasures foretold ...

Diary

Lorna ScottFox: Reviva Zapata!, 10 February 1994

... The Zapatistas a the best. Because they eat snake. They eat lion, and birds, like that one,’ whispered the little girl. She had come running up with a fistful of woven bracelets, the minute we’d edged past our first soldiers into the square at San Cristóbal. Night had just fallen, and it was almost empty. The ‘problems’, as everyone called the war, were hurting the crafts lifeline of the Chamula Indians as well as the tourist industry: mass cancellations meant that when the last of the reporters had left, the town would he bankrupt ...

Barbie Gets a Life

Lorna ScottFox, 20 July 1995

Barbie’s Queer Accessories 
by Erica Rand.
Duke, 213 pp., £43.50, July 1995, 0 8223 1604 8
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The Art of Barbie: Artists Celebrate the World’s Favourite Doll 
edited by Craig Yoe.
Workman, 149 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 1 56305 751 4
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... Barbie can be anything you want her (yourself) to be!’ Thus the sales pitch for a plastic toy that in most people’s minds simply represents the essence of bimbo-ness. But what if the big hair and tacky costumes were actually vehicles of patriarchal and racial hegemony, while also enabling a potentially subversive network of reappropriative authorial narratives? Investigations like Barbie’s Queer Accessories defy you to giggle as they unfold with Monty Pythonesque obliviousness to the gulf between high-minded scrutiny and its silly object ...

Spanish for Beginners

Lorna ScottFox, 14 November 1996

Lola Montez: A Life 
by Bruce Seymour.
Yale, 468 pp., £20, May 1996, 0 300 06347 4
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... The fake Spanish dancer Lola Montez, née Eliza Gilbert, had one of those lives which make us aware of unlikely simultaneities. Operetta clanked against Western as she toured the gold-towns of the American West and Australia with a skit called ‘Lola Montez in Bavaria’. It was a farcical whitewash of her most infamous hour, when as a fake countess she had rocked an Ancien Règime court in the Year of Revolutions ...

Diary

Lorna ScottFox: Reality in the Aguascalientes, 23 January 1997

... Village names in the Mexican state of Chiapas read like a rosary of Indian aspirations and frustrations. There’s Liberty, Solitude, Hope, Sigh, Alliance, Future; Triumph lies not far from Revenge. As poet and stage-manager of the three-year-old Zapatista insurrection, the EZLN leader Subcomandante Marcos can’t have been unaware of the resonance of choosing poor, forgotten Reality as his base in the eastern part of the state ...

Static

Lorna ScottFox, 22 September 1994

The Still Moment 
by Paul Binding.
Virago, 290 pp., £20, May 1994, 1 85381 441 5
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... Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1909, the daughter of two ‘outsider’ parents, an Ohian and a Virginian, Eudora Welty has made a life’s work of belonging. She wandered only briefly, to the University of Wisconsin and then to Columbia, NY, an episode which left no trace in her writing. Soon she was back with her mother in Jackson, where she lives to this day, setting almost all her work within a hundred-mile radius of her home ...

Dark Underbellies

Lorna ScottFox, 24 March 1994

A Trip to the Light Fantastic: Travels with a Mexican circus 
by Katie Hickman.
HarperCollins, 301 pp., £16.99, October 1993, 0 00 215927 9
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... Here are three strangely similar book openings: Many years later, in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to recall that distant afternoon when his father took him to see ice. Barrabas came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy. She was already in the habit of writing down important matters, and afterward, when she was mute ...

On the Trail of the Alleged Werewolf

Lorna ScottFox: Fred Vargas’s romans policiers, 9 April 2009

Un lieu incertain 
by Fred Vargas.
Viviane Hamy, 385 pp., €18, June 2008, 978 2 87858 285 7
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Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand 
by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds.
Vintage, 388 pp., £7.99, January 2008, 978 0 09 948896 5
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This Night’s Foul Work 
by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds.
Vintage, 409 pp., £7.99, February 2009, 978 0 09 950762 8
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The Chalk Circle Man 
by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds.
Harvill Secker, 247 pp., £12.99, February 2009, 978 1 84343 272 2
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... Fred Vargas is a woman. Said to be the sixth best-selling author in France, she is unusual there in being a female crime writer, in contrast with women’s dominance of the genre in Britain. Vargas also writes like a woman, if that implies an interest in character, feeling and motive, rather than ‘brutality and eroticism’ (Queneau’s description of the polar – a contraction of policier – a genre inspired by the Série noire’s postwar translations of American crime novels ...

Decrepit Lit

Lorna ScottFox: David Lodge, 8 May 2008

Deaf Sentence 
by David Lodge.
Harvill Secker, 294 pp., £17.99, May 2008, 978 1 84655 167 3
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... Thirty years ago, the campus novels of David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury mythologised a setting that expressed, better than any other, the cultural and ideological chaos of the 1960s and 1970s. The main characters were rarely students, but all the energy in these comedies of social transition flowed from the young: it was their politics and their sexuality that the generations above them were forced to flatter or fight, exploit or succumb to ...

Heil Putain!

Lorna ScottFox: Lydie Salvayre, 26 January 2006

The Company of Ghosts 
by Lydie Salvayre, translated by Christopher Woodall.
Dalkey Archive, 184 pp., £7.99, January 2006, 1 56478 350 2
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... The grumble from the camp of the so-called Anglo-Saxon model is that people have too easy a time over there in France. Social safety nets, protection of small businesses, quality food, pampered workers, productive yet lovely countryside, cheap dentists: you name it, it’s got to stop. But those to whom these errors look rather attractive will be confused by Lydie Salvayre’s radical idealism, because she thinks that no such social-democratic redoubt exists ...

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