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Arsenals

Nicholas Spice, 18 October 1984

On the Perimeter: Caroline Blackwood at Greenham Common 
by Caroline Blackwood.
Heinemann, 113 pp., £5.95, September 1984, 0 434 07468 3
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The Witches of Eastwick 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 316 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 233 97665 5
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Corrigan 
by Caroline Blackwood.
Heinemann, 279 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 434 07467 5
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According to Mark 
by Penelope Lively.
Heinemann, 218 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 9780434427420
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... It can’t be doubted that On the Perimeter and The Witches of Eastwick are quite different kinds of book. They were destined to be sold, reviewed and read separately. They have fallen together here by chance and a certain editorial logic, and though at first they appear strange bedfellows, they turn out to breed fruitfully with one another. They should be bought and read together, for they are both in their different ways texts for (and perhaps of) the end of time, books of the Apocalypse ...

Forgetting

Nicholas Spice, 7 February 1985

A Late Divorce 
by A.B. Yehoshua, translated by Hillel Halkin.
Harvill, 352 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 00 271448 5
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Machine Dreams 
by Jayne Anne Phillips.
Faber, 331 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 571 13398 3
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... Anyone who has had experience of the sad and subtle ways in which human beings torment one another under licence of family ties will appreciate the merits of A.B. Yehoshua’s A Late Divorce. The public for the book should therefore be large. Yehoshua is an Israeli writer writing about Israelis (the action of A Late Divorce takes place in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem one spring in the late Seventies), so only those readers with an intimate feeling for life in modern Israel will be able to measure fully the accuracy and depth of the book’s portraiture ...

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 ...

The Things about Bayley

Nicholas Spice, 7 May 1987

The Order of Battle at Trafalgar, and other essays 
by John Bayley.
Collins Harvill, 224 pp., £12, April 1987, 0 00 272848 6
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... There is a certain kind of knowledge – perhaps the most important – that cannot be explicitly taught or diligently learnt. For example, a tribe of Indians on the river Xingu lives on the water. Their houses are built on stilts in the swamps and the inhabitants move from place to place by boat. The survival of the tribe depends on good boats, and the chief task of the men is to make them ...

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 ...

Looking after men

Nicholas Spice, 9 July 1987

The Present Moment 
by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye.
Heinemann, 155 pp., £9.95, July 1987, 0 434 44027 2
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Memory of Departure 
by Abdulrazak Gurnah.
Cape, 159 pp., £9.95, April 1987, 0 224 02432 9
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You can’t get lost in Cape Town 
by Zöe Wicomb.
Virago, 184 pp., £3.95, May 1987, 0 86068 820 8
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... A novel may have a coherent plot, passably differentiated characters, fluent dialogue, passages of well-turned prose, and still be worthless if it isn’t also about something that matters. In this respect, the contemporary British novelist has a hard time of it, coming to the form when so much has already been said, when the necessary subjects have already been turned into novels many times over ...

Thatcherschaft

Nicholas Spice, 1 October 1987

The Child in Time 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 220 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 9780224024990
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The Book and the Brotherhood 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 601 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 7011 3251 5
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... A Labour victory in the 1987 British General Election would have been a good thing for The Book and the Brotherhood and a disaster for The Child in Time. As it is, with Mrs Thatcher set to complete at least 13 years in office, Iris Murdoch may now be thought to look a little out of touch with the times, addressing herself to a danger – the destructive beauty of the fanatic left-wing soul – that we have, for the time being at least, left behind ...

Underparts

Nicholas Spice, 6 November 1986

Roger’s Version 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 316 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 233 97988 3
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The Voyeur 
by Alberto Moravia, translated by Tim Parks.
Secker, 186 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 436 28721 8
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Dvorak in Love 
by Josef Skvorecky, translated by Paul Wilson.
Chatto, 322 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 7011 2994 8
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Moments of Reprieve 
by Primo Levi, translated by Ruth Feldman.
Joseph, 172 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 7181 2726 9
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... Readers of John Updike’s previous novel, The Witches of Eastwick, will not have forgotten Darryl Van Horne’s bottom: how, at the end of a game of tennis, Darryl dropped his shorts and thrust his hairy rump into his partner’s face, demanding that she kiss it, which she did. In Roger’s Version the roles are reversed. Now it is a young woman – Verna Ekelof – who exposes herself ...

Open Book

Nicholas Spice, 4 September 1986

A Simple Story 
by S.Y. Agnon, translated by Hillel Halkin.
246 pp., £13.10, March 1986, 0 8052 3999 5
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At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon 
by David Aberbach.
Oxford, 221 pp., £18, November 1984, 0 19 710040 6
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Snakewrist 
by Christopher Burns.
Cape, 240 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 224 02351 9
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... Shmuel Yosef Czaczes, one of the finest writers of the 20th century, was born in 1888, in Buczacz, a small town in Galicia. Take out a large atlas and look up Buchach. You will find it in the Ukraine, about a hundred miles east of Ivano-Frankovsk (formerly Stanislav) and two hundred miles south-east of Lvov (formerly Lemberg). To the south-west lie the Carpathian mountains, and beyond them Transylvania ...

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 ...
Daring to Excel: The Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain 
by Ruth Railton.
Secker, 466 pp., £20, August 1992, 0 436 23359 2
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... Ruth gave the Prime Minister as a Christmas card an old map of the Broadstairs area of Kent.’ The Prime Minister thanked her for it, writing from Chequers ‘in his own hand’. In his 1970-74 diaries Cecil King records a warm relationship between his wife, Dame Ruth Railton, and Edward Heath. ‘I think he is fond of her,’ he wrote on 6 March 1971 after Ted had been round for tea, ‘and finds the friendship of an intelligent and musical woman, with no possible axe to grind, very welcome ...

Thick Description

Nicholas Spice, 24 June 1993

The Heather Blazing 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 245 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 330 32124 2
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... To write simply is always to seem to write well. Bad writing is usually identified with over-writing: too many adjectives and adverbs, flowery figures of speech, verbosity. No one is ever accused of under-writing. Yet the unadorned prose which often passes for good writing these days could aptly be described as under-written. The sentences which open several of the pieces in Granta’s much trumpeted Best of Young British Novelists are plain to a fault ...

Attercliffe

Nicholas Spice, 17 May 1984

Present Times 
by David Storey.
Cape, 270 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 0 224 02188 5
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The Uses of Fiction: Essays on the Modern Novel in Honour of Arnold Kettle 
edited by Douglas Jefferson and Graham Martin.
Open University, 296 pp., £15, December 1982, 9780335101818
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The Hawthorn Goddess 
by Glyn Hughes.
Chatto, 232 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 7011 2818 6
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... In the press box of the Morristown football ground ‘the stockily-built, the tousled-haired, the pugnaciously-featured Attercliffe’ – 47 years old, father of five, separated from his wife – takes notes on the Saturday afternoon match. One eye on the game below, he chats to his fellow journalists: ‘the pug-nosed, the pug-eared Morgan’, Davidson-Smith (‘overcoated’, ‘deerstalker-hatted’) and Freddie Fredericks, Frank Attercliffe’s aging and alcoholic mentor, and co-author with him of Pindar’s Weekend Round-up, a sports column on the Northern Post ...

I hear, I see, I learn

Nicholas Spice, 4 November 1993

The Green Knight 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 472 pp., £15.99, September 1993, 0 7011 6030 6
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... The question of how we are to take Iris Murdoch’s characters (indeed, whether we can take them at all) is raised, even before we get to know them, by their names. In The Green Knight we have to contend with Lucas and Clement Graffe, Harvey Blacket, Bellamy James and his dog Anax, the Anderson women – Louise and her daughters Alethea (Aleph), Sophia (Sefton) and Moira (Moy) – Emil and Clive and the Adwardens ...

The Phonic and the Phoney

Nicholas Spice: Being Hans Keller, 4 February 2021

Hans Keller 1919-85: A Musician in Dialogue with His Times 
by Alison Garnham and Susi Woodhouse.
Routledge, 421 pp., £34.99, December 2018, 978 1 138 39104 8
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... Two scenes​ from his teenage years in prewar Vienna defined Hans Keller’s later life: one a kind of heaven, the other a window on hell. He was a viola pupil of Oskar Adler, a doctor and musician, and took part in the famously select chamber music salons at Adler’s house in the Neubaugasse, where on Saturday afternoons the luminaries of Vienna would play string quartets and talk about music ...

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