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Up the Garden Path

R.W. Johnson: Michael Foot, 26 April 2007

Michael Foot: A Life 
by Kenneth O. Morgan.
Harper, 568 pp., £25, March 2007, 978 0 00 717826 1
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... One day in 1993, I found myself on a bus in Oxford with Michael Foot. He looked shambolic even by my standards – donkey jacket, stick, long hair all over the place. But nobody minded. You don’t often see leading politicians on a bus and passenger after passenger came up to say hello. He smiled and was the soul of friendliness ...

A Family of Acrobats

Adam Mars-Jones: Teju Cole, 3 July 2014

Every Day Is for the Thief 
by Teju Cole.
Faber, 162 pp., £12.99, April 2014, 978 0 571 30792 0
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... It’s​ not entirely clear which of Teju Cole’s books, Open City or Every Day Is for the Thief, has seniority. Open City made a strong impression when it appeared in 2011, and now Every Day Is for the Thief has arrived in consolidation, though it first appeared in Nigeria in 2007. Neither book offers much of the structure or imaginative texture of fiction, with Open City resembling a beautifully composed and extended blog, while Every Day Is for the Thief starts off journalistically, as if its subject (as the title suggests) is going to be Nigerian corruption, as experienced by an American resident visiting his native country after a long absence ...

Short Cuts

Chase Madar: Human Rights Window Dressing, 2 July 2015

... on human rights in the reworked US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Or Michael Posner, the founder of Human Rights First, now a business professor at NYU, who, as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour in Obama’s first term, helped bury the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations to ...

Having it both ways

Peter Clarke, 27 January 1994

A.J.P. Taylor: A Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 468 pp., £18.99, January 1994, 1 85619 210 5
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A.J.P. Taylor: The Traitor within the Gates 
by Robert Cole.
Macmillan, 285 pp., £40, November 1993, 0 333 59273 5
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From Napoleon to the Second International: International Essays on the 19th Century 
by A.J.P. Taylor, edited by Chris Wrigley.
Hamish Hamilton, 426 pp., £25, November 1993, 0 241 13444 7
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... is not usually taken in, least of all by unsubstantiated assertions from Taylor himself. Robert Cole’s book, The Traitor within the Gates, forms an instructive contrast. In his treatment of several episodes, Cole has placed his reliance on the authority of the autobiography. For example, he simply reiterates its ...

‘Mmmmm’ not ‘Hmmm’

Michael Wood: Katharine Hepburn, 11 September 2003

Kate Remembered 
by A. Scott Berg.
Simon and Schuster, 318 pp., £18.99, July 2003, 0 7432 0676 2
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... picture, and Hepburn says, ‘Oh, I see; you’re one of those,’ and recalls the visits of Cole Porter, who would ‘straighten pictures for five minutes before he’d even sit down’. There are some fine set pieces. There is a Parcheesi game at Hepburn’s house in Connecticut, where Hepburn, who hates to lose, blames her defeat on having Berg as a ...

All Woman

Michael Mason, 23 May 1985

‘Men’: A Documentary 
by Anna Ford.
Weidenfeld, 196 pp., £10.95, March 1985, 0 297 78468 4
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Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure 
by John Cleland, edited by Peter Sabor.
Oxford, 256 pp., £1.95, February 1985, 0 19 281634 9
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... between women is one of the striking motifs in Fanny Hill’s main sequence: the sequence in Mrs Cole’s brothel, where Fanny is most thoroughly a ‘woman of pleasure’, living with no thought but that of giving and receiving as much sexual gratification as she can (although she does not join Mrs Cole’s extraordinary ...

Secession

Michael Wood, 23 March 1995

The Stone Raft 
by José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero.
Harvill, 263 pp., £15.99, November 1994, 0 00 271321 7
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... frivolous to sober eyes. But there would be a real liberation in it too. If we wanted to refer to Cole Porter or Philip Marlowe or Lassie, we could do it without being suspected of trying for the popular touch; if we came across Thomas Aquinas, we wouldn’t have to pretend we found the thought in an old cookbook. This may sound utopian (or ...
... and about socialism as the rhetoric of the Labour Party. There was even a hasty attempt to redraw Michael Foot as a moderate, a nice old thing who had had a wild youth, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. This reappraisal, however grotesque, may in part have been motivated by a sudden desire to be analytical and reasonably truthful, after all the intoxicating ...

At the Movies

Andrew O’Hagan: M. Night Shyamalan, 17 July 2008

The Happening 
directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
June 2008
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... which was nominated for six Oscars and made more than $600 million. The little boy in the film, Cole Sear (played with audience-beguiling depth by Haley Joel Osment), sees dead people who don’t know they’re dead, and when the film came out it was not merely a success on every front, but, like every success of that sort, caused people to see it as ...

Diary

Sean Wilsey: Going Slow, 17 July 2008

... In the fall of 2002, in the company of a dog named Charlie Chaplin and an architect named Michael Meredith, I set out to drive a 1960 Chevy Apache 10 pick-up truck, at 45 mph, from far west Texas to New York City: 2364 miles through desert, suburbs, forests, lake-spattered plains, mountains, farmland, more suburbs and the Holland Tunnel ...

Steamy, Seamy

David Margolick: The Mob’s Cuban Kleptocracy, 20 March 2008

The Havana Mob: Gangsters, Gamblers, Showgirls and Revolutionaries in 1950s Cuba 
by T.J. English.
Mainstream, 400 pp., £17.99, September 2007, 978 1 84596 192 3
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... II – on the balcony of one, Hyman Roth slices up a birthday cake with a frosting map of Cuba as Michael Corleone and other Mob chieftains look on – or from the classic Soviet-era agitprop film I Am Cuba, in which rich Americans frolic around rooftop swimming-pools. Meantime, a few storeys below, a revolution looms. These relics are the hotels the Mob ...

Über-Tony

Ben Pimlott: Anthony Crosland, 3 September 1998

Crosland’s Future: Opportunity and Outcome 
by David Reisman.
Macmillan, 237 pp., £47.50, October 1997, 0 333 65963 5
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... Why is Tony Crosland one of the few Old Labour heroes that nobody mocks? Keir Hardie, G.D.H. Cole, Stafford Cripps, Gaitskell, even Nye Bevan, have become the subject of New Labour locker-room ribaldry. Yet to describe yourself as a ‘Crosland socialist’ still carries meaning. Maybe it is because of that sardonic smile, and an uneasy feeling that, if he were alive today, he would be doing the mocking ...

Act like Men, Britons!

Tom Shippey: Celticity, 31 July 2008

The History of the Kings of Britain 
by Geoffrey of Monmouth, edited by Michael Reeve, translated by Neil Wright.
Boydell, 307 pp., £50, November 2007, 978 1 84383 206 5
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The History of the Kings of Britain 
by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Broadview, 383 pp., £8.99, January 2008, 978 1 55111 639 6
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... to Holinshed and on to Spenser, Shakespeare and Dryden. It gave us Cymbeline, Lear and Old King Cole, as well as Merlin. But has there ever been a definitive text? It survives with four different dedications, to three different people, singly or paired, and sorting that out is only the start of an immense process of comparison and collation, manageable (as ...

‘Tiens! Une madeleine?’

Michael Wood: The Comic-Strip Proust, 26 November 1998

À la recherche du temps perdu: Combray 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Stéphane Heuet.
Delcourt, 72 pp., €10.95, October 1998, 2 84055 218 3
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Proust among the Stars 
by Malcolm Bowie.
HarperCollins, 348 pp., £19.99, August 1998, 0 00 255622 7
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... Proust among other authors, from Dante to Emily Dickinson, and from Erasmus to Kierkegaard and Cole Porter, and it situates reading among a set of other activities, like listening to jazz or Mahler or looking at Rothko. How many other high-powered critical works, I wonder, have Buñuel next to Sir Thomas Browne in the index, or Stan Getz, next to ...

Where the hell?

Michael Wood, 6 October 1994

The Crossing 
by Cormac McCarthy.
Picador, 426 pp., £14.99, August 1994, 9780330334624
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... much harder to talk about, or illustrate. In All the Pretty Horses, the year is 1949. John Grady Cole is 16, his grandfather has just died, his parents are separated, his girlfriend has found someone else. He leaves his home in San Angelo, Texas and takes off with a friend for Mexico. They meet up with another, even younger boy riding a fine horse he has ...

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