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Double and Flight

Mark Illis, 17 August 1989

This Boy’s Life 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 292 pp., £12.95, April 1989, 0 7475 0274 9
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... Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life is the story of two boys, Toby and Jack. Toby is an ‘A’ grade student, a boy deeply concerned about the world’s esteem, a loyal support to his mother, destined for Princeton like his brother Geoffrey. Jack is a liar and a thief, graceless and violent. Both are versions of Tobias Wolff himself, alternating throughout this exhilarating memoir of his childhood ...


Mark Illis, 20 June 1985

... bottom. On the floor of the pool, to his surprise, there was a greenish film, like mould or the mark of a disease. A fingernail whirled it into a tiny mist, dust caught in a shaft of sun. – Breathe, I want the surface, it’s cold. He churned upwards, seeming to grope for invisible hand-holds, and as he broke the surface Eddie splashed him full in the ...

Wasps and all

Philip Horne, 8 December 1988

A Chinese Summer 
by Mark Illis.
Bloomsbury, 135 pp., £11.95, October 1988, 0 7475 0257 9
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Three Uneasy Pieces 
by Patrick White.
Cape, 59 pp., £7.95, October 1988, 0 224 02594 5
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The Captain and the Enemy 
by Graham Greene.
Reinhardt, 189 pp., £10.95, September 1988, 1 871061 05 9
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View of Dawn in the Tropics 
by G. Cabrera Infante, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine.
Faber, 163 pp., £10.95, September 1988, 0 571 15186 8
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The House of Stairs 
by Barbara Vine.
Viking, 282 pp., £11.95, September 1988, 0 670 82414 3
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... off-balance by some traumatic event might feel persecuted, or that he had been told something. In Mark Illis’s exceptionally promising first novel, A Chinese Summer, a young man tipped into crisis by the unexplained departure of his girlfriend tries in his deep depression to make sense of odd things in the world by interpretative procedures which have ...

A Messiah in the Family

Walter Nash, 8 February 1990

Kingdom come 
by Bernice Rubens.
Hamish Hamilton, 312 pp., £12.99, February 1990, 0 241 12481 6
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The Other Side 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 337 pp., £13.99, January 1990, 0 7475 0473 3
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The Alchemist 
by Mark Illis.
Bloomsbury, 244 pp., £13.95, January 1990, 0 7475 0468 7
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The way you tell them: A Yarn of the Nineties 
by Alan Brownjohn.
Deutsch, 145 pp., £11.95, January 1990, 0 233 98496 8
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... fade garrulously on the page, unmysteried and unmissed. Mysterious persons are all the rage in Mark Illis’s The Alchemist, which the publisher’s blurb not untruthfully describes as ‘a subtle and richly-layered tale of a child’s nightmarish quest for truth’. Accepting ‘subtle’ (for which Grumpy might read ‘clever’) and ...

Gloves Off

Glen Newey: Torture, 29 January 2009

Death by a Thousand Cuts 
by Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon and Gregory Blue.
Harvard, 320 pp., £22.95, March 2008, 978 0 674 02773 2
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Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story 
by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris.
Picador, 286 pp., £8.99, January 2009, 978 0 330 45201 4
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Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law 
by Philippe Sands.
Allen Lane, 315 pp., £20, May 2008, 978 1 84614 008 2
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... bad and distinctively human, leads to an unpalatable conclusion. To be good at torturing is the mark of a bad person. In other words, to do something distinctively human is to display the mark of a bad person. This is unwelcome news for the naturalist project of trying to elaborate an account of the human good, or the ...

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