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The Rear-View Mirror

Michael Hofmann, 31 October 1996

The End of the Story 
by Lydia Davis.
Serpent’s Tail, 231 pp., £8.99, October 1996, 1 85242 420 6
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Break it Down 
by Lydia Davis.
Serpent’s Tail, 177 pp., £8.99, October 1996, 1 85242 421 4
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... of ‘narrator’ and ‘first-person speaker’, but I need to begin by saying that what Lydia Davis proposes to us – even if (fat chance!) it’s a hoax from first word to last – is utterly compelling. As Auden would first look at a poem as a ‘contraption’ before going on to assess the kind of thing it might be, so one has to say of The ...

Things they don’t want to hear

Clancy Martin: Lydia Davis, 22 July 2010

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis 
Hamish Hamilton, 733 pp., £20, August 2010, 978 0 241 14504 3Show More
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... down the embankment but couldn’t dislodge it. Then I remembered I had The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis in my backpack. I put it under the jack, it held – paper is much denser than you think, it’s the reason moving your books is such a pain, they’re heavy – and I changed the tyre. I was back in my truck, with the heat blasting out, turning ...

Writer’s Writer and Writer’s Writer’s Writer

Julian Barnes: ‘Madame Bovary’, 18 November 2010

Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways 
by Gustave Flaubert and Lydia Davis.
Penguin, 342 pp., £20, November 2010, 978 1 84614 104 1
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... Commune), as is the very latest, by the American short-story writer – and Proust translator – Lydia Davis. In between, most of the 15 or more versions have been made by men. The best-known of them are Francis Steegmuller and Gerard Hopkins; and though Steegmuller did write some fiction – including mysteries under the name of David Keith – it’s ...

Reality Is Worse

Adam Mars-Jones: Lydia Davis, 16 April 2014

Can’t and Won’t 
by Lydia Davis.
Hamish Hamilton, 304 pp., £16.99, April 2014, 978 0 241 14664 4
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... In her approach​ to story-writing Lydia Davis might almost have taken a vow of chastity, of the aesthetic sort publicised by the Dogme 95 group of filmmakers. Dogme principles included shooting on location, recording the soundtrack at the same time as the images (so as to exclude music other than what the characters could hear), using natural sources of light and a hand-held camera ...

Alphabetophile

Michael Hofmann: Eley Williams, 6 September 2017

Attrib. and Other Stories 
by Eley Williams.
Influx, 169 pp., £9.99, March 2017, 978 1 910312 16 2
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Frit 
by Eley Williams.
Sad, 35 pp., £6, April 2017
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... In the reader, it produces a kind of constructive estrangement from words. Think William Gass, Lydia Davis or Anne Carson, and you won’t be too wrong. Now I feel like someone who thinks there’s a shower on the way, and then it rains for ten days straight. Williams is just full of alphabets. The first story is even called ‘The Alphabet’, and ...

The Thing

Michael Wood: Versions of Proust, 6 January 2005

In Search of Lost Time: Vol. I: The Way by Swann’s 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Lydia Davis.
Penguin, 496 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118031 5
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol.II: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by James Grieve.
Penguin, 576 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118032 3
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. III: The Guermantes Way 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Mark Treharne.
Penguin, 640 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118033 1
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. IV: Sodom and Gomorrah 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by John Sturrock.
Penguin, 576 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 9780141180342
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. V: ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Fugitive’ 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Carol Clark and Peter Collier.
Penguin, 720 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118035 8
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. VI: Finding Time Again 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Ian Patterson.
Penguin, 400 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118036 6
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The Proust Project 
edited by André Aciman.
Farrar, Straus, 224 pp., $25, November 2004, 0 374 23832 4
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... space in our lived life than the country we physically inhabit – and both Scott Moncrieff and Lydia Davis settle for it. ‘Like a halcyon’s downy nest’ sounds distinctly Edwardian. This must be Scott Moncrieff’s language, and it is. It’s Clark’s too. But then, to stay with the same passage, an elaborate evocation of the narrator’s ...

Carthachinoiserie

Paul Grimstad: Flaubert’s ‘Gueuloir’, 23 January 2014

Flaubert’s ‘Gueuloir’: On ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Salammbô’ 
by Michael Fried.
Yale, 184 pp., £25, October 2012, 978 0 300 18705 2
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... of extravagant self-conception doomed to mediocrity in the banlieue of Yonville – someone, as Lydia Davis put it, ‘whose character fatally determined the course of her life’ – is mirrored in a prose in which intention and automatism, will and fate, are themselves indissociable. The question of authorial intent has always preoccupied Fried. In ...

Sex on the Roof

Patricia Lockwood, 6 December 2018

Evening in Paradise: More Stories 
by Lucia Berlin.
Picador, 256 pp., £14.99, November 2018, 978 1 5098 8229 8
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Welcome Home: A Memoir with Selected Photographs 
by Lucia Berlin.
Picador, 160 pp., £12.99, November 2018, 978 1 5098 8234 2
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... her friends Ed and Helene Dorn. The lack of variety is puzzling (why not a few of her letters to Lydia Davis, say?) and the letters are not interesting in themselves, but they are worth reading to hear how much more herself she is in the stories. In the letters, curiously, she sounds like just anyone. She even goes through that phase where you open with ...

Hmmmm, Stylish

Brian Dillon: Claire-Louise Bennett, 19 October 2016

Pond 
by Claire-Louise Bennett.
Fitzcarraldo, 177 pp., £10.99, October 2015, 978 1 910695 09 8
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... Krapp, but stuck brooding on bananas and potential pratfalls. The more pressing comparison is with Lydia Davis. A few of the stories seem to ape the crisp, elliptical quality of Davis’s short, very short, texts. They are among the funniest pieces in Pond. ‘Oh, Tomato Purée’ is a half-page ode to a tube of ...

I’m here to be mad

Christopher Benfey: Robert Walser, 10 May 2018

Walks with Robert Walser 
by Carl Seelig, translated by Anne Posten.
New Directions, 127 pp., £11.99, May 2017, 978 0 8112 2139 9
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Girlfriends, Ghosts and Other Stories 
by Robert Walser, translated by Tom Whalen, Nicole Köngeter and Annette Wiesner.
NYRB, 181 pp., £9.99, October 2016, 978 1 68137 016 3
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... preference for short, fragmentary forms (which can seem to prefigure those used by a writer like Lydia Davis, who has translated some of Walser’s writings on art) over the epic and ‘mature’ monumentality of the novel. With Hannah Arendt’s advocacy, Kafka’s bureaucratic nightmares were seen as having predicted the rise of the Third Reich, and ...

His Secret Opening

Joe Dunthorne: Revism, 2 April 2020

Childhood 
by Gerard Reve.
Pushkin, 160 pp., £9.99, October 2019, 978 1 78227 459 9
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... of the past hundred years, and there have been a number of failed attempts to translate it. Even Lydia Davis had a go before admitting that ‘there are stylistic subtleties that I would not be equal to.’ Happily, in 2016 Pushkin published a wonderfully fresh rendering by Sam Garrett, the success of which has led to his translating two more of ...

Tocqueville in Saginaw

Alan Ryan, 2 March 1989

Tocqueville: A Biography 
by André Jardin, translated by Lydia Davis and Robert Hemenway.
Peter Halban, 550 pp., £18, October 1988, 1 870015 13 4
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... When Americans test the health of their republic, scrutinise the civic virtue of their fellow citizens, or worry that religion is playing too large or too small a role in public life, the text from which they draw their standards of political health and psychological well-being, and the text from which they draw their hopes and fears is a one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old treatise written by a French aristocrat of 30 who had spent barely nine months in the country ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... Sorrentino, Ronald Sukenick and Paul West, as well as their heirs, such as T. Coraghessan Boyle, Lydia Davis, Rick Moody, William Vollmann and David Foster Wallace. None of these writers – however popular or influential, however frequently their writing appeared in the Paris Review or Conjunctions or the year-end Best American and Pushcart anthologies ...

Poor Rose

Christian Lorentzen: Against Alice Munro, 6 June 2013

Dear Life 
by Alice Munro.
Chatto, 319 pp., £18.99, November 2012, 978 0 7011 8784 2
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... might have proved useful to a writer churning over material she’s used before, as in the case of Lydia Davis. I started to think of reading Munro’s sentences as something like walking across a field after a blizzard in a good pair of snowshoes: it’s a trudge, but when you get to the other side your feet aren’t wet. A new turn comes with Friend of ...

Even My Hair Feels Drunk

Adam Mars-Jones: Joy Williams, 2 February 2017

The Visiting Privilege 
by Joy Williams.
Tuskar Rock, 490 pp., £16.99, November 2016, 978 1 78125 746 3
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Ninety-Nine Stories of God 
by Joy Williams.
Tin House, 220 pp., £16.95, July 2016, 978 1 941040 35 5
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... wholeness. Williams prefers a sense of fracture and ambush. There’s no sense, as there is with Lydia Davis, whose taste for brevity amounts almost to obsession, that there is a moral hygiene involved in removing the superfluous, except perhaps in the piece numbered 61, which might almost be a homage to Davis; it ...

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