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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 ...


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 ...

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 ...

Tucked in

Nicholas Spice, 24 February 1994

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...


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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...


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 ...

Unfair to Furtwängler

Nicholas Spice, 5 December 1991

Trial of Strength: Furtwängler and the Third Reich 
by Fred Prieberg, translated by Christopher Dolan.
Quartet, 394 pp., £30, October 1991, 0 7043 2790 2
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Menuhin: A Family Portrait 
by Tony Palmer.
Faber, 207 pp., £15.99, September 1991, 0 571 16582 6
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... The special venom we reserve for collaborators has something defensive about it, as though we reviled them so as to separate ourselves from them, warding off the fear that in their situation we might have acted as they did. Trial of Strength is written in the conviction that those who have never known the dilemmas of the subject in an occupied state, are in no position to judge those who have ...

Images of Displeasure

Nicholas Spice, 22 May 1986

If not now, when? 
by Primo Levi, translated by William Weaver.
Joseph, 331 pp., £10.95, April 1986, 0 7181 2668 8
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The Afternoon Sun 
by David Pryce-Jones.
Weidenfeld, 214 pp., £8.95, March 1986, 0 297 78822 1
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August in July 
by Carlo Gebler.
Hamish Hamilton, 188 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 241 11787 9
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... Norman Tebbit, Conservative Party Chairman, was displeased by television coverage of the American attack on Libya. British public opinion had swung so decisively against the raid, he said, because of the pictures people had seen on their television sets. Not pictures of bombed-out military installations, which would have been all right, but pictures of dead and wounded civilians ...

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