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Going Straight

Neal Ascherson

17 March 1983
After Long Silence 
by Michael Straight.
Collins, 351 pp., £11.95, March 1983, 0 00 217001 9
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A Matter of Trust: MI5 1945-72 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 196 pp., £8.95, December 1982, 0 297 78253 3
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... The long clamour about those who have come so strangely to be called ‘the Cambridge spies’, revelations malevolent, piteous or merely inaccurate, ought to be wound up after the publication of MichaelStraight’s contribution. Very possibly, Anthony Blunt will one day write such a book himself. But the names have almost all been named, the questions of motive worn smooth, the titles and pensions ...

Joining the Gang

Nicholas Penny: Anthony Blunt

29 November 2001
Anthony Blunt: His Lives 
by Miranda Carter.
Macmillan, 590 pp., £20, November 2001, 0 333 63350 4
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... we are given no evidence of it here: indeed, it isn’t clear that the game was so ‘wonderfully complex’. What does seem clear is that by 1950 he had narrowed his life and become, in the words of Michael Hirst – one of his appointments to the staff of the Courtauld Institute – ‘a driven man and increasingly closed in’, relentlessly working on his scholarly books but rarely listening to music ...

A Conversation with Gore Vidal

Thomas Powers: Meeting Gore Vidal

30 July 2014
... the last volume. He’s rewriting his own history. Apparently he didn’t even know Edmund Wilson all that well, and I don’t think Wilson much liked him.’ He said he’d read Wilson’s letters straight through, liked them very much, but still didn’t know why Wilson had been fired by the New Republic. MichaelStraight was his sister’s husband – can that be right? the chains of relation are ...

Digital Recordings

Michael​ Hofmann

20 June 1985
... his thinning, pliant hair and scalloped temples – there to threaten or impress women, I once read, with the frontal bone of intellect ... The central heating clicks on, and the warm air shoots straight up into the triangular apex of the studio, against twenty feet of northlight, now darkness and fog. I’ve no reason to believe there’s anything below me – the presumed foundations, whichever of ...

Room to Rhyme

Michael​ Longley

23 September 2015
... we read our poems in Lisdoonvarna Two weeks before you died. Arrayed in straw The Armagh Rhymers turned up at the end. II In the middle of a field in Mourne country Standing side by side, looking straight ahead We peed against a fragment of stone wall, St Patrick’s windbreak, the rain’s urinal. III On our pilgrimages around the North In your muddy Volkswagen, we chanted Great War songs: Hush! ...

Desolation Studies

Edward Luttwak

12 September 1991
The Lessons of History 
by Michael​ Howard.
Oxford, 217 pp., £17.50, March 1991, 0 19 821581 9
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... I still recall my acute disappointment with Michael Howard’s The Franco-Prussian War, published some thirty years ago. The subject was exciting – what with the desperate German infantry assaults at Gravelotte and the dramatic unveiling of the ...

Two Poems

Michael​ Hofmann

2 July 1981
... damaging?” I’d ask. To which they replied that there were many kinds of honesty, before you could be said to be lying ... I began without a tape-recorder, like a secretary taking confession – straight to the boulevard papers. Later, I was often admitted to their life-style, but it was more than I could cope with. Migraine, the affliction of the sensitive, made me retire to my hotel bedroom ...

Two Poems

Michael​ Symmons Roberts

17 May 2017
... for shame. We tried to get a rise from them by breakage: a cabinet of crystal cups, statuettes of local gods, but they are patient in their sad-masks. Such acquiescence, you knew they saw you straight, and even so would give you everything. Our only rule: we never touched them. Save one time I saw a blue heart-shaped soap clutched in a woman’s hand and something in her would not give it up to ...
30 October 1997
The Reader 
by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway.
Phoenix House, 216 pp., £12.99, November 1997, 1 86159 063 6
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... Museum of Modern History (Haus der Geschichte) I watched a video about concentration camps. A row of female guards captured by the Allies stood in line, middle-aged and grim. Then a younger one spoke straight to camera. She was blonde and dishevelled; she said her name, her age – 24 – and that she had been at Belsen two months. She looked terrified. I felt sorry for her, and shocked that I was. This ...

Banality and Anxiety

Michael​ Mason

19 March 1981
Thirty Seconds 
by Michael​ Arlen.
Farrar, Straus/Faber, 211 pp., £5.50, February 1981, 0 374 27576 9
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The Crystal Bucket 
by Clive James.
Cape, 238 pp., £6.95, February 1981, 0 224 01890 6
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The Message of Television 
by Roger Silverstone.
Heinemann, 248 pp., £14.50, March 1981, 0 435 82825 8
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... from a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh). One is a piece of vivid journalism recognisably in the tradition of Norman Mailer and other modern American writers. All these books are from literary stables. Michael Arlen’s first appeared in the New Yorker, and comes to the British reader via two very respected publishing houses (Fabers, incidentally, are apparently issuing the American edition with its ...

Coats of Every Cut

Michael​ Mason

9 June 1994
Robert Surtees and Early Victorian Society 
by Norman Gash.
Oxford, 407 pp., £40, September 1993, 0 19 820429 9
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... perpetually rule-breaking Dickens, even if not up to Dickens’s cool overall command of long episodes of linguistic disruption. Gash calls this passage from Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour a piece of ‘straight visual reporting’: Away they rumble up the Edgware Road; the gradual emergence from the brick and mortar of London being marked as well by the telling out of passengers as by the increasing ...
25 June 1987
Our Conquest 
by Gert Hofmann, translated by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 281 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 0 85635 687 5
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... and the speculative, that darken each episode. One of my father’s gifts is to scatter among images or lines of thought that are mysterious or wilful or decorative, some that are so challengingly straight and direct that the reader has to treat them as allegorical. In the slaughterhouse episode, there is a little excursus in which is described, first how the music-school was relocated in the ...

Mr Straight​ and Mr Good

Paul Foot: Gordon Brown

19 February 1998
Gordon Brown: The Biography 
by Paul Routledge.
Simon and Schuster, 358 pp., £17.99, February 1998, 0 684 81954 6
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... against the Tories long before John Smith died in 1994 – and that the reasons for this shift had far more to do with the rise in VAT on fuel, Norman Lamont’s Exchange Rate Mechanism fiasco, and Michael Heseltine’s pit closures than with any decision of a Labour Party Special Conference. The evidence suggests that large numbers of people who voted Tory in 1992 were persuaded very soon that they ...

Wharton the Wise

D.A.N. Jones

4 April 1985
The Missing Will 
by Michael​ Wharton.
Hogarth, 216 pp., £10.95, November 1984, 0 7011 2666 3
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... For 27 years Michael Wharton has written the ‘Peter Simple’ column in the Daily Telegraph. He was only 43 when he secured this good, steady job and now he has published an autobiographical account of his 43 ...

Dazzling Philosophy

Michael​ Hofmann

15 August 1991
Seeing things 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 113 pp., £12.99, June 1991, 0 571 14468 3
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... brings to coherence Heaney’s personal loss in ‘Clearances’ and the several meditations on the practice of his art. Seeing things has a similar geometrical leitmotiv or schema, and that is the straight line, or pattern of straight lines, dazzling as op art, and producing the sensation of depth. The lines are not adduced from such obvious sources as waves, layers of rock or clouds at sunset; they ...

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