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Michael Ignatieff, 8 May 1986

The Silent Twins 
by Marjorie Wallace.
Chatto, 230 pp., £10.95, February 1986, 0 7011 2712 0
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... they tried to write themselves into existence as separate selves. They were like a schizoid Robinson Crusoe, their island a cramped upstairs bedroom in a North Wales semi. When, like Crusoe, they discovered the self needed its Friday, they began stalking the American boys at the nearby airbase, eventually offering up their virginities to a loathsome ...


Michael Rogin, 20 August 1998

Celebrity Caricature in America 
by Wendy Wick Reaves.
Yale, 320 pp., £29.95, April 1998, 0 300 07463 8
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... And Henry Major’s Ernst Lubitsch, Will Cotton’s Theodore Dreiser, Hirschfeld’s Bojangles Robinson, and more and more, all well-known and all made new. That shock of the familiar, the celebrity instantly recognisable by the trademark logo that the artist reinvents distinctively as his or her own, defines the genre that Reaves has discovered and ...

A Djinn speaks

Colm Tóibín: What about George Yeats?, 20 February 2003

Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W.B. Yeats 
by Ann Saddlemyer.
Oxford, 808 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 19 811232 7
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... smile to herself and sit back again.’ When George’s daughter Anne was born in 1919 and son Michael in 1921, the sisters became enthusiastic babysitters and general chroniclers of their brother’s household. ‘I think George enjoys the thrill she gets when she gives her name in shops,’ Lolly wrote. ‘Mrs W.B. Yeats.’ Lily thought her ...

Todd Almighty

Peter Medawar, 16 February 1984

A Time to Remember: The Autobiography of a Chemist 
by Alexander Todd.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £15, November 1983, 0 521 25593 7
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... of anthocyanins (the red and blue colouring matters of flowers) under the brilliant Professor Robinson, a professorial Fellow of Magdalen, where he was treated with undisguised contempt by his fellow Fellow C.S. Lewis, who regarded Robinson as a typical scientist and an object of almost automatic censure. Todd himself ...

Reading with No Clothes on

Michael Hofmann: Guernsey’s Bard, 24 January 2008

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page 
by G.B. Edwards.
NYRB, 400 pp., £10.99, July 2007, 978 1 59017 233 9
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... that old Boer axis again. Ebenezer has read just one book in his life, which, not unnaturally, is Robinson Crusoe. Stuck at one point for something to do, he takes it down, thinking perhaps to read it again, but decides against: he knows what happens, after all. He has something of Crusoe, though not Defoe’s so much as Elizabeth Bishop’s sadder, more ...

Franklin D, listen to me

J. Hoberman: Popular (Front) Songs, 17 September 1998

Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs and the American Left, 1926-53 
edited by Ronald Cohen and Dave Samuelson.
Bear Family Records, DM 390, June 1996
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... manufactured mythology even as it built itself on the ruins of the Communist counter-culture. Michael Denning, in his long interpretative history The Cultural Front, has questioned this disdain. His notion of the culture of the Popular Front embraces sturdy proletarian sagas like Mike Gold’s Jews without Money and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath ...

What’s going on, Eric?

David Renton: Rock Against Racism, 22 November 2018

Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge 
by Daniel Rachel.
Picador, 589 pp., £12.99, May 2017, 978 1 4472 7268 7
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... the Socialist Workers Party, which had called for the National Front to be driven off the streets. Michael Foot, on Labour’s left since the 1930s, insisted that ‘the most ineffective way of fighting the fascists is to behave like them.’ The Liberal Party called for a prohibition on marches by ‘extreme left-wing organisations’, a message taken up by ...

At Tate Britain

Brian Dillon: ‘Phantom Ride’, 4 July 2013

... reimagined for Phantom Ride involve images or technologies of violence. The camera swerves around Michael Sandle’s A 20th-Century Memorial: an elaborately queasy rendering in bronze and brass of a skeletal Mickey Mouse equipped with machine gun and tripod. There’s another machine gun among a cluster of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s sculptures. Patrick ...

My Year of Reading Lemmishly

Jonathan Lethem, 10 February 2022

... the 20th century. Lem belongs in that company of SF writers – Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Kim Stanley Robinson – who have practised intentional extrapolation with regular and sustained success.Is prescience the measure of SF as an art? An attractive truism says that the best writing about the future is a lens for apprehending the present: Orwell’s Nineteen ...


Anne Barton: Mary Shelley, 8 February 2001

Mary Shelley 
by Miranda Seymour.
Murray, 665 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7195 5711 9
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Mary Shelley in Her Times 
edited by Betty Bennett and Stuart Curran.
Johns Hopkins, 311 pp., £33, September 2000, 0 8018 6334 1
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Mary Shelley's Fictions 
edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra.
Palgrave, 250 pp., £40, August 2000, 0 333 77106 0
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... such excellent studies in the accurately entitled Literary Lives series (published by Palgrave) as Michael O’Neill’s Percy Bysshe Shelley (1989) or Caroline Franklin’s Byron (2000), not-very-literary biographies, some running to four hundred and more pages, continue to accumulate in the bookshops. There (presumably) they attract readers far more ...

Stony Ground

Peter D. McDonald: J.M. Coetzee, 20 October 2005

J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event 
by Derek Attridge.
Chicago, 225 pp., £13.50, May 2005, 0 226 03117 9
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Slow Man 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 265 pp., £16.99, September 2005, 0 436 20611 0
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... In a respectful but chary review of The Life and Times of Michael K (1983) in the New York Review of Books, Nadine Gordimer wrote about J.M. Coetzee’s ‘conscious choice’ of allegory as a literary mode in his first three novels. The reasons for this, she speculated, were temperamental: It seemed he did so out of a kind of opposing desire to hold himself clear of events and their daily, grubby, tragic consequences in which, like everyone else living in South Africa, he is up to the neck, and about which he had an inner compulsion to write ...

Always the Bridesmaid

Terry Castle: Sappho, 30 September 1999

Victorian Sappho 
by Yopie Prins.
Princeton, 278 pp., £40, May 1999, 0 691 05918 7
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... more spectacular instances of 19th-century Sapphic impersonation. First is the strange case of ‘Michael Field’: a pair of homosexual female lovers, aunt and niece, whose jointly-authored, Sapphically-inspired verses in Long Ago (1889) set the stage for later lesbian appropriations of the poet. Second up is Swinburne, whose outrageously sado-masochistic ...


John Sutherland, 8 November 1979

The Devil’s Alternative 
by Frederick Forsyth.
Hutchinson, 479 pp., £5.95
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The Four Hundred 
by Stephen Sheppard.
Secker, 374 pp., £5.25
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... sown in the national and provincial press during the run-up to publication day. With luck, Robert Robinson or a lesser TV person will be recruited to do a celebratory book programme. In addition to the traditional newspaper, shop-window and point-of-sale displays there will also be extensive coverage on commercial radio. This ...

Solid Advice

Michael Wilding, 8 May 1986

A Fortunate Life 
by A.B. Facey.
Viking, 331 pp., £10.95, February 1986, 0 670 80707 9
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... any more. The unpretentious manner creates a sense of authenticity. And this is reinforced by the Robinson Crusoe-like episodes of clearing the virgin bush and establishing a farm. This was the activity of Facey’s early years: clearing, fencing, preparing the ground. After escaping from the family of rustlers, Bert goes off to work for other impoverished ...

Back to the Cold War?

Michael Byers: Missile Treaties, 22 June 2000

... has been marked by a belligerent stance towards opponents, whether at home or abroad – as Mary Robinson discovered when she dared to criticise his Government for human-rights violations in Chechnya. His brutal suppression of that independence movement and his renouncing of the no-first-strike principle of Russian nuclear strategy provided clear indications ...

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