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Mooching

Nicholas Spice: Dreaming of Vikram Seth, 29 April 1999

An Equal Music 
by Vikram Seth.
Phoenix House, 381 pp., £16.99, April 1999, 1 86159 117 9
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... if I should tell him. He might find it interesting. This would depend on whether he’d had Nicholas Spice in mind when he invented Nicholas Spare, an odious music critic whom the nice characters in An Equal Music loathe. I decided to avoid the subject of ...

Take that white thing away

Nicholas Spice, 17 October 1985

The Good Apprentice 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 522 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 7011 3000 8
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... A novel must be a house,’ wrote Iris Murdoch in 1960, ‘fit for free characters to live in.’ The Good Apprentice carries within it an apt image of itself as a house. Seegard stands in a coastal fen within sight of the sea. Architecturally it is singular and original, the creation of Jesse Baltram, an artist of disputed greatness who specialises in paintings with a heavily symbolic content ...

On Loathing Rees-Mogg

Nicholas Spice, 21 February 2019

... Brexit​ is beginning to do my head in. I feel it messing with my mind. As we draw close to the moment of rupture, I notice in myself a rise in anxiety and a gathering gloom. I imagine many thousands of people in Britain are not particularly fussed by Brexit. Then there are others for whom Brexit is a source not of anxiety but of energy and a reason for optimism ...

Diary

Nicholas Spice: Karl Miller is leaving, 5 November 1992

... Karl Miller’s decision to resign from the London Review of Books is a sad moment for the magazine which, with Mary-Kay Wilmers and Susannah Clapp, he founded in 1979. In all important respects, the present character of the London Review was established then, in the closing months of 1979 and the first months of 1980, even though it appeared as an insert in the New York Review of Books ...

Sensitive Sauls

Nicholas Spice, 5 July 1984

Him with his foot in his mouth, and Other Stories 
by Saul Bellow.
Alison Press/Secker, 294 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 0 436 03953 2
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... Thirty hours’ drive west of Chicago, out beyond the Dakotas, on the far side of Montana, you come to Red Lodge – a small cowboy town at the foot of the Rockies, special in nothing except a single neglected curiosity: an opera house, built on a modest scale in the grandest late 19th-century style. Boarded up and crumbling, quizzical caryatids (Fin-de-Siècle Viennese, half-laughing, half-weeping) silhouetted against the big blue sky, this diminutive Staatsoper tells the story of how prosperity, moving westwards, flared for a moment in Red Lodge, Montana, supporting European cultural pretensions at the far edge of the Great Plains ...

An Outpost of Ashdod

Nicholas Spice, 1 August 1985

A Perfect Peace 
by Amos Oz, translated by Hillel Halkin.
Chatto, 374 pp., £9.95, July 1985, 9780701129590
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... Of all the raw deals meted out in the Bible – not excluding Job’s or that blighted fig tree’s – Moses surely suffered the meanest. After all he had gone through for Yaweh and the Chosen People, his exclusion from the Promised Land within sight of it was cruelly unfair. Or so it seemed to my child’s mind, as repeatedly in Scripture classes and Sunday school we rehearsed the story of the Exodus, the 40 years wandering in the wilderness and the entry of the Children of Israel into the Land of Canaan ...

Ways of being a man

Nicholas Spice, 24 September 1992

The English Patient 
by Michael Ondaatje.
Bloomsbury, 307 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 9780747512547
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... Can a penis sleep like a sea horse? The question arrests us on the first page of The English Patient:   Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet ...   She has nursed him for months and she knows the body well, the penis sleeping like a sea horse, the thin tight hips. Hipbones of Christ, she thinks. He is her despairing saint ...

Worlds Apart

Nicholas Spice, 6 March 1986

Kiss of the Spider Woman 
by Manuel Puig, translated by Thomas Colchie.
Arena, 281 pp., £2.95, January 1986, 0 09 934200 6
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Back in the World 
by Tobias Wolff.
Cape, 221 pp., £8.95, January 1986, 0 224 02343 8
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... As a biology teacher at a large comprehensive school, my sister was given the job of taking the second-formers for sex education. To unblock inhibitions in the first lesson, she decided on a mild form of aversion therapy: covering the blackboard with taboo words, words normally out of bounds in the discourse between a teacher and her twelve-year-old pupils ...

Tucked in

Nicholas Spice, 24 February 1994

Fima 
by Amos Oz.
Chatto, 352 pp., £15.99, September 1993, 0 7011 4004 6
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... In Fima the asymmetry in relations between men and women is presented with indulgent humour and excessive sensitivity, and from a predominantly, if not dominatingly, male viewpoint. Oz’s treatment of the theme is ragged and passionate, discursive and repetitive. This is inevitable given that the novel is almost entirely entrusted to a single character, Efraim Nomberg Nisan (known as Fima to his friends), whose profligacy with words and speculation and sympathy is a symptom of his constitutional inability to contain himself ...

Menaces and Zanies

Nicholas Spice: Hanif Kureishi, 10 April 2008

Something to Tell You 
by Hanif Kureishi.
Faber, 345 pp., £16.99, March 2008, 978 0 571 20977 4
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... Sometimes what is left out of a poem or a story creates a more arresting sense of reality than what is left in. Keats’s poetic fragment ‘This Living Hand’ ends with the hand thrust towards the reader: ‘See here it is/I hold it towards you.’ The poem’s rhetoric conjures a space in which the spectral hand appears like a hallucination, hovering somewhere between us and the page ...

At Tate Modern

Nicholas Spice: Agnes Martin , 10 September 2015

... Agnes Martin​ ’s lifelong dedication to simplicity of mind was perhaps made easier (it was certainly not impeded) by the faint trace of simple-mindedness in her nature. Had she not had about her a touch of the holy fool, the strange and specialised soul of a secular saint, her life and work would not have attained its compelling singularity. She famously said that the artist should paint with her back to the world ...

Diary

Nicholas Spice: In the Isolation Room, 4 June 2020

... It’ll  have me in its sights,’ I liked to say, as if by naming the worst I could ward it off. Sure, as a 67-year-old man with a chronic respiratory allergy I was cleanly in the demographic dark zone; but I was fit; I biked to work, so could avoid public transport; and, in any case, I had ‘no intention’ of getting the virus.26 February ...

Spicy

Nicholas Spice, 15 March 1984

The Fetishist, and Other Stories 
by Michel Tournier, translated by Barbara Wright.
Collins, 220 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 00 221440 7
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My Aunt Christina, and Other Stories 
by J.I.M. Stewart.
Gollancz, 207 pp., £8.95, May 1983, 0 575 03256 1
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Mr Bedford and the Muses 
by Gail Godwin.
Heinemann, 229 pp., £7.95, February 1984, 0 434 29751 8
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Alexandra Freed 
by Lisa Zeidner.
Cape, 288 pp., £8.95, January 1984, 0 224 02158 3
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The Coffin Tree 
by Wendy Law-Yone.
Cape, 195 pp., £8.50, January 1984, 0 224 02963 0
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... and puppy dogs’ tails. Little girls, as in my childhood I knew to my cost, are made of sugar and spice. And all things nice (which was a small consolation). Prickly, the infant protagonist of the sixth story in this collection of 14 by Michel Tournier, would agree. Maleness repels, femaleness attracts him. Papa is grizzled, tobacco-smelling, stiff and, above ...

Kl’Empereur

Nicholas Spice, 22 December 1983

Otto Klemperer: His Life and Times. Vol.I: 1885-1933 
by Peter Heyworth.
Cambridge, 492 pp., £15, October 1983, 0 521 24293 2
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Score and Podium: A Complete Guide to Conducting 
by Frederik Prausnitz.
Norton, 530 pp., £18.50, November 1983, 0 393 95154 5
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The New Oxford Companion to Music 
edited by Denis Arnold.
Oxford, 2017 pp., £37.50, October 1983, 0 19 311316 3
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... Inevitably, as time passes, the art of Otto Klemperer is identified in the memories of those who heard him with caricatures of the qualities that happened to distinguish it at the end of his career. In London, where between 1955 and 1972 that career was played to its close, Klemperer is recalled as a grand, old-style, Continental man of music, who presided over ponderously literal readings of the German and Viennese classics ...

Phattbookia Stupenda

Nicholas Spice, 18 April 1985

Illywhacker 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 600 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 571 13207 3
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... With the publication of his latest novel, Illywhacker, the author of The Fat Man in History has secured himself a prominent place in the history of the fat book. If you’re not normally a fat book reader, you mustn’t be outfaced by the fatness of Illywhacker, nor by the price, which is hardly a fat book price, especially when the fat book is as comely as this one ...

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