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A Bit of Ginger

Theo Tait: Gordon Burn, 5 June 2008

Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel 
by Gordon Burn.
Faber, 214 pp., £15.99, April 2008, 978 0 571 19729 3
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... has become a kind of fiction, constantly shaped and tweaked and distorted. As the epigraph from Milan Kundera puts it, ‘Beyond the slender margin of the incontestable (there is no doubt that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo), stretches an infinite realm: the realm of the approximate, the invented, the deformed, the simplistic, the ...

Speech Melodies

Paul Mitchinson: Leoš Janáček, 4 December 2008

Janáček: Years of a Life, Volume I 
by John Tyrrell.
Faber, 971 pp., £60, November 2006, 0 571 17538 4
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Janáček: Years of a Life, Volume II 
by John Tyrrell.
Faber, 1074 pp., £60, November 2007, 978 0 571 23667 1
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... career and reputation persisted long after his death. In Testaments Betrayed, published in 1993, Milan Kundera complained that his compatriots had still not written ‘a single important musicological study analysing the aesthetic newness’ of Janáček’s work: ‘No complete recorded edition of his works. No complete edition of his theoretical and ...

Get out

Julian Bell: Francis Bacon, 19 October 2000

Looking back at Francis Bacon 
by David Sylvester.
Thames and Hudson, 272 pp., £29.95, June 2000, 0 500 01994 0
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... captured the imagination of literary Paris: Michel Leiris, Philippe Sollers, Gilles Deleuze and Milan Kundera all produced high-flown testimonies to the stature of his work as a comment on the human predicament. Nearer home, the existential fervour surrounding the paintings was kept up by Lawrence Gowing – ‘The imagination that does not recognise ...

No Longer Handsome

William Skidelsky: Geoff Dyer, 25 September 2003

Yoga for People who Can't Be Bothered to Do It 
by Geoff Dyer.
Abacus, 238 pp., £10.99, April 2003, 0 316 72507 2
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... trend, he continues, might writers not be better off abandoning fiction altogether? He then quotes Milan Kundera, who, in his ‘Notes Inspired by The Sleepwalkers’, ‘demonstrated the need for “a new art of the specifically novelistic essay”’. According to Dyer, the finest example of this form in Kundera’s ...


Mary-Kay Wilmers: Putting in the Commas, 15 September 1988

... to the reader to be merely a matter of chance whether this week will find Joe Smith writing about Milan Kundera in the Guardian, about Kafka in the Observer, or Keats in the TLS. Since every paper has some writers with which it is specially associated, I am again exaggerating – but not that much. What principally distinguishes one paper from another ...

Imaginary Homelands

Salman Rushdie, 7 October 1982

... art, including the novel of memory, becomes politicised. ‘The struggle of man against power,’ Milan Kundera has written, ‘is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ Writers and politicians are natural rivals. Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory. And the novel is one way of denying the ...


James MacGibbon: Fashionable Radicals, 22 January 1987

... its rare triumphs will rarely be unblemished. So it proved with my share in the introduction of Milan Kundera to this country. I read his first novel, The Joke, in German, and the way the story went to and fro in time, together with the injection of what can only be called a monograph on Moravian folk music, seemed certain to confuse English ...

When the Balloon Goes up

Michael Wood, 4 September 1997

Enduring Love 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 247 pp., £15.99, September 1997, 0 224 05031 1
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... thinking, which has always been difficult for the novel. The genre thrives on irony and play, as Milan Kundera repeatedly remarks, and T.S. Eliot meant to praise Henry James by suggesting he had a mind so fine no idea could violate it. We might say the same of dozens of other novelists. Plenty of ideas, but none of them nailed down, all of them ...

Nuremberg Rally, Invasion of Poland, Dunkirk …

James Meek: The never-ending wish to write about the Second World War, 6 September 2001

Ghost MacIndoe 
by Jonathan Buckley.
Fourth Estate, 469 pp., £12.99, April 2001, 1 84115 227 7
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The Twins 
by Tessa de Loo.
Arcadia, 392 pp., £6.99, May 2001, 1 900850 56 7
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by John Lawton.
Weidenfeld, 322 pp., £16.99, March 2001, 0 297 64345 2
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The Day We Had Hitler Home 
by Rodney Hall.
Granta, 361 pp., £15.99, April 2001, 1 86207 384 8
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Five Quarters of the Orange 
by Joanne Harris.
Doubleday, 431 pp., £12.99, April 2001, 0 385 60169 7
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The Fire Fighter 
by Francis Cottam.
Chatto, 240 pp., £15.99, March 2001, 0 7011 6981 8
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The Element of Water 
by Stevie Davies.
Women’s Press, 253 pp., £9.99, April 2001, 0 7043 4705 9
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The Bronze Horsewoman 
by Paullina Simons.
Flamingo, 637 pp., £6.99, April 2001, 0 00 651322 0
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The Siege 
by Helen Dunmore.
Penguin, 304 pp., £16.99, June 2001, 0 670 89718 3
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... Let a Czech write about Prague in 1968, or a Colombian write about La Violencia. That’s what Milan Kundera and Gabriel García Márquez are there for. No it isn’t. The experiences of Kundera and Márquez in their own countries, their Czechness and Colombianness, give their work something irreproducible by an ...

Anger and Dismay

Denis Donoghue, 19 July 1984

Literary Education: A Revaluation 
by James Gribble.
Cambridge, 182 pp., £16.50, November 1983, 0 521 25315 2
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Reconstructing Literature 
edited by Laurence Lerner.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £15, August 1983, 0 631 13323 2
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Counter-Modernism in Current Critical Theory 
by Geoffrey Thurley.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 33436 1
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... But the pressure of literary theory seems particularly regrettable in David Lodge’s essay on Milan Kundera. Much of it is an interesting, useful account of The Joke and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, but Lodge thinks it necessary to spend several pages working out his notion that ‘the modernist novel is generally characterised by a radical ...

Father and Son

Tony Gould, 23 June 1988

When the fighting is over: A Personal Story of the Battle for Tumbledown Mountain and its Aftermath 
by John Lawrence and Robert Lawrence.
Bloomsbury, 196 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 0 7475 0174 2
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by Charles Wood.
Penguin, 80 pp., £3.95, April 1988, 0 14 011198 0
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... of its individual regiments and is more or less indistinguishable from the Civil Service. As Milan Kundera puts it in a reference to The Good Soldier Schweik: ‘Hasek’s army is nothing but an immense bureaucratic institution, an army-administration in which the old military virtues (courage, cunning, skill) no longer matter.’ Robert ...

Albino Sea-Cucumber

Glen Newey: The Long March of Cornelius Castoriadis, 5 February 1998

The Imaginary Institution of Society 
by Cornelius Castoriadis.
Polity, 418 pp., £14.95, May 1997, 0 7456 1950 9
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Les Carrefours de Labyrinthe: Fait et a faire 
by Cornelius Castoriadis.
Seuil, 281 pp., frs 139, February 1997, 2 02 029909 7
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The Castoriadis Reader 
edited by David Ames Curtis.
Blackwell, 470 pp., £50, May 1997, 1 55786 703 8
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... since repudiated the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (four words, four lies, as he later told Milan Kundera). His opposition to the USSR and his support of workers’ uprisings in Eastern Europe were bones of contention with Sartre, who later admitted that Castoriadis had been ‘right, but at the wrong time’: Castoriadis riposted, fairly ...

Ethnic Cleansers

Stephen Smith, 8 October 1992

Four Hours in My Lai: A War Crime and its Aftermath 
by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim.
Viking, 430 pp., £17.99, May 1992, 0 670 83233 2
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Tiger Balm: Travels in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia 
by Lucretia Stewart.
Chatto, 261 pp., £10.99, June 1992, 0 7011 3892 0
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... completely forgotten, erased almost entirely from the national consciousness.’ They also quote Milan Kundera on the struggle of memory against forgetting. Bilton and Sim are entitled to be proud of their efforts, which involved taking a toothcomb to published but neglected documents, as well as negotiating access to material held at the US Army’s ...

Willesden Fast-Forward

Daniel Soar: Zadie Smith, 21 September 2000

White Teeth 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 462 pp., £12.99, January 2000, 9780241139974
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... Barbusse, whose hero lives for the moment he sees a girl’s skirt lift in the wind. A writer like Milan Kundera (not one of Wilson’s outsiders) gets away (just) with making women walk naked up and down his pages because he writes about the fact of fantasy: he knows what he’s doing. Douglas Adams, on the other hand, in one of his later novels, has a ...

Citizen Grass and the World’s End

Neal Ascherson, 17 October 1985

On Writing and Politics: 1967-1983 
by Günter Grass, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Secker, 157 pp., £12, September 1985, 0 436 18773 6
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Günter Grass 
by Ronald Hayman.
Methuen, 80 pp., £2.75, September 1985, 0 416 35490 4
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... to face with the question: is writing – is anything – worth doing if there is to be no future? Milan Kundera has asked the West, with polite irony, to imagine what it is like to work in a culture which may quite possibly be extinguished – its language, its history eradicated. Grass, in more dramatic shock, confronts the possibility that the entire ...

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