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Ripping Yarns

John Sutherland, 8 April 1993

by Michael Thorn.
Little, Brown, 566 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90299 3
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by Peter Levi.
Macmillan, 370 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 333 52205 2
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... vestige of reticence or shame) was the petit mal, dread of whose grand sequel blighted his life. Michael Thorn opens with a deferential salutation to ‘Professor Martin’s magisterial biography’. This is, however, decoy fire. What follows is a prolonged undermining of The Unquiet Heart (often without naming the author or his book). ...

Aunts and Uncles

Michael Hofmann, 19 November 1992

A Feast in the Garden 
by George Konrad, translated by Imre Goldstein.
Faber, 394 pp., £14.99, October 1992, 0 571 16623 7
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Wartime Lies 
by Louis Begley.
Picador, 198 pp., £5.99, August 1992, 0 330 32099 8
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by Carmelo Samona, translated by Linda Lappin.
Carcanet, 131 pp., £13.95, August 1992, 0 85635 990 4
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by Thomas Healy.
Polygon, 161 pp., £7.95, July 1992, 0 7486 6121 2
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... he seems to feel that nothing less than the whole life of his hero, the alcoholic wanderer Michael Thorn, will do, and nothing less than the full monty of a novel. This is a great pity, generally, where modern British writing is concerned, and, specifically, for Rolling, which for the first fifty pages (a love affair with a schoolboy in ...

In the Realm of the Senses

Michael Hofmann, 16 February 1984

... as the throbbing duet of the pigeons in their bay on the roof, as the hours he spent trapped in a thorn-bush, inhaling a local ...


Gabriele Annan, 5 November 1992

Death in Rome 
by Wolfgang Koeppen, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 192 pp., £9.99, November 1992, 9780241132388
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... This German novel has waited nearly forty years for its English translator. Michael Hofmann fell in love the moment the Good Fairy told him about it, and set out to liberate it from the thorn hedge of neglect. The Good Fairy, in this case, was a Berlin bookseller ‘who First recommended Koeppen ...

Short Cuts

Chris Mullin: Michael Foot, 25 March 2010

... Of all the many tributes to Michael Foot it was David Cameron who hit the nail on the head. He was, Cameron said, ‘almost the last link to a more heroic age in politics’. In appearance, and demeanour, Foot resembled an Old Testament prophet. An impression which, in later life, his shock of white hair, the passion of his delivery and the magnificence of his rhetoric served only to enhance ...

Carpetbagging in Bermondsey

Nicholas Murray, 19 August 1982

... planning centre until its grant was cut by a council no longer prepared to go on funding a thorn in its side. Nothing is resented more bitterly amongst the traditionalist old guard of Bermondsey than the fact that the new oppositionists were ‘outsiders’ and even in some cases actually ‘middle-class’. This mattered far more than the fact that ...

O cruel!

Michael Mason, 16 June 1983

Far Away and Long Ago 
by W.H. Hudson.
Eland, 332 pp., £3.95, October 1982, 0 907871 25 9
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W.H. Hudson: A Biography 
by Ruth Tomalin.
Faber, 314 pp., £13.50, November 1982, 0 571 10599 8
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... as recurrent in the rural-descriptive writing as in the fiction, while stories such as ‘An Old Thorn’ and the startling ‘El Ombu’ are entirely founded on this motif. The idea makes an especially interesting appearance at the end of Far Away and Long Ago. When he was 16, Hudson tells us, he was warned by the doctors that he might die at any moment ...

Confounding the Apes

P.N. Furbank, 22 August 1996

The Divine Comedy 
by Dante Alighieri, translated by Allen Mandelbaum.
Everyman, 798 pp., £14.99, May 1995, 1 85715 183 6
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The Inferno of Dante. A New Verse Translation 
by Robert Pinsky, illustrated by Michael Mazur.
Dent, 427 pp., £20, February 1996, 9780460877640
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Dante’s Hell 
translated by Steve Ellis.
Chatto, 208 pp., £15.99, March 1994, 0 7011 6127 2
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... merely be hung on their branches: ‘ciascuno al prun dell’ombra sua molesta’ (each on the thorn of its own molesting shade). The extra emblematic meaning of this line is not difficult to spell out – someone so self-hating as to kill himself can be imagined as having already spent his life ‘on the thorn of his ...


Tobias Jones: San Giovanni Rotondo, 13 May 1999

... on for advice, and when he arrived at the grotto he received a visitation from the Archangel Michael, who ordered him to consecrate a Christian altar on the site. It’s not known what happened to the man with the arrow in his forehead, but the result of his misadventure was the famous Santuario di San Michele. In 999 AD, the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto ...


Donald Davie, 11 June 1992

In the Circumstances: About Poems and Poets 
by Peter Robinson.
Oxford, 260 pp., £35, May 1992, 0 19 811248 3
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... Basil Bunting, and who else? In a tight spot Wall-ace Stevens appealed to the famous line from ‘Michael’, ‘And never lifted up a single stone’ (drawing from it unwarrantable inferences, as Robinson points out): but Stevens’s admirers know they are on safer ground if they appeal to Coleridge or Keats, Blake Or Emerson. It takes some nerve, in ...

Imagine Tintin

Michael Hofmann: Basil Bunting, 9 January 2014

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting 
by Richard Burton.
Infinite Ideas, 618 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 1 908984 18 0
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... long, and covered with loose pieces of pumice about as big as a man’s head. A sort of pale grey thorn scrub, and a few camels eating it. A sort of green shrub, much rarer, and a goat or two eating that. A second daughter, Roudaba, was born on Tenerife in 1934, but mostly Bunting was pretty wretched. He wrote to Pound that ‘the people of this island ...

Kings and Kinglets

Michael Kulikowski: Cassiodorus, 12 August 2021

The Selected Letters of Cassiodorus: A Sixth-Century Sourcebook 
translated and edited by M. Shane Bjornlie.
California, 328 pp., £25, September 2020, 978 0 520 29734 0
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... and more lethally competent at politics. Theodoric the Amal had since the early 470s been a thorn in the side of the Eastern emperors at whose court he was educated. Though he helped Zeno as much as he harmed him, by 488 the emperor had had enough. He offered the governance of Italy to Theodoric and his followers (whom we may for convenience call the ...

Ireland at Swim

Denis Donoghue, 21 April 1983

The Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, 1977-1981 
edited by M.P. Hederman and R. Kearney, with a preface by Seamus Heaney.
Blackwater Press/Colin Smythe, 930 pp., £25, October 1982, 9780905471136
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A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers 
by Hugh Kenner.
Knopf, 352 pp., $16.95, April 1983, 0 394 42225 2
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... of their colleagues are from the North: the poets Seamus Heaney, Seamus Deane, John Montague, Michael Longley. Deane, especially, has been important to them, arguing about Irish literature and the question of tradition, the North, the two languages, the available rhetorics. I have been reading The Crane Bag in association with Hugh Kenner’s new book, A ...

Where the Apples Come From

T.C. Smout: What Makes an Oak Tree Grow, 29 November 2007

by Oliver Rackham.
Collins, 609 pp., £25, September 2006, 0 00 720243 1
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Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees 
by Richard Mabey.
Chatto, 289 pp., £20, October 2007, 978 1 85619 733 5
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Wildwood: A Journey through Trees 
by Roger Deakin.
Hamish Hamilton, 391 pp., £20, May 2007, 978 0 241 14184 7
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The Wild Trees: What if the Last Wilderness Is above Our Heads? 
by Richard Preston.
Allen Lane, 294 pp., £20, August 2007, 978 1 84614 023 5
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... thorny thickets where animals could not get at them. Once they had grown up and overtopped the thorn they created an oak grove. They did not reproduce beneath themselves, but grew up in new thickets in the savannah, to which their acorns had been carried by jays. Eventually, a grove would collapse from old age, grazing beasts would get in as it became ...

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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... writes of turning ‘Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,/Into my honest roadside prose –/All thorn, but cousin to your rose.’ When Nabokov’s version of the poem came out in 1964, it was prose laid out in stanza form, and more woody stalk than thorn. Readers of the poem in English are best advised to have the two ...

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