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Ripping Yarns

John Sutherland

8 April 1993
Tennyson 
by Michael Thorn.
Little, Brown, 566 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90299 3
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Tennyson 
by Peter Levi.
Macmillan, 370 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 333 52205 2
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... with lager. It seems highly unlikely that what Tennyson describes (to a complete stranger, without any vestige of reticence or shame) was the petit mal, dread of whose grand sequel blighted his life. MichaelThorn 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 ...

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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Brothers 
by Carmelo Samona, translated by Linda Lappin.
Carcanet, 131 pp., £13.95, August 1992, 0 85635 990 4
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Rolling 
by Thomas Healy.
Polygon, 161 pp., £7.95, July 1992, 0 7486 6121 2
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... length, but although Healy is wonderfully adventurous where his idea of what makes a sentence is concerned, he seems to feel that nothing less than the whole life of his hero, the alcoholic wanderer MichaelThorn, 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 ...
16 February 1984
... manipulative, knowing where it wants to go. Too tense for sex, too slow to kill, nothing is as loud 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 beauty ...

Self-Hatred

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’. Wolfgang Koeppen is 86. He wrote a couple of novels before the war, but his fame (now in ...

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 ...
19 August 1982
... é of the speculators’ game drawing partly on evidence from North Southwark where he worked in a community 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 ...
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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... to the sorrowful wood, they will not, because of their sin, be allowed to reassume them. The bodies will 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 ...

Jokes

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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... for Wordsworth as a live presence in the poetry of this century, we come up with Norman Nicholson and 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 ...

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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... down on him from forty yards. Death sentences have a great importance in Hudson’s work. They are 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 ...

Diary

Tobias Jones: San Giovanni Rotondo

13 May 1999
... the arrow turned in the wind and embedded itself in the man’s forehead. The Bishop of Siponto was called 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 ...
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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... Eugene Onegin. In his 1955 poem ‘On Translating Eugene Onegin’, Nabokov, addressing Pushkin, 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 ...

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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... do otherwise, living in Dublin since the violence started up again in Northern Ireland in 1968. Several 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 ...

Hormone Wars

A. Craig Copetas

23 April 1992
Crazy Cock 
by Henry Miller.
HarperCollins, 202 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 0 00 223943 4
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The Happiest Man Alive 
by Mary Dearborn.
HarperCollins, 368 pp., £18.50, July 1991, 0 00 215172 3
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... ! Managing editor: Alfred Perles; society editor: Anais Nin; sports editor: Charles Nordon (aka Lawrence Durrell); butter news editor: Walter Lowenfels; department of metaphysics and metapsychosis: Michael Fraenkel; fashion editor: Earl of Selvage (aka Henry Miller); and Lawrence Durrell and William Saroyan as the literary editors. As Dearborn notes in a wonderful chapter on life at the Villa Seurat ...

Don’t pick your nose

Hugh Pennington: Staphylococcus aureus

15 December 2005
... first clinical trial of the new antibiotic at Oxford was infected with it. Albert Alexander, a 43-year-old policeman, was suffering from a spreading infection of his face that had started with a rose thorn scratch. He had lost an eye and the infection had spread to his lungs and his shoulder. On 12 February 1941 he was injected with penicillin made by Howard Florey and his team. Alexander’s condition ...

Where the Apples Come From

T.C. Smout: What Makes an Oak Tree Grow

29 November 2007
Woodlands 
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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... lime had mysteriously declined after the Bronze Age. Vera believes that oaks reproduced within light 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 ...

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