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Larceny

Adam Mars-Jones

24 March 1994
The Fermata 
by Nicholson Baker.
Chatto, 305 pp., £14.99, January 1994, 0 7011 5999 5
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... The hero of The Fermata has an intermittent gift for stopping time, which he exploits entirely for purposes of sexual satisfaction, but NicholsonBaker’s trademark as a novelist has always been a fetishising descriptiveness that retards the speed of events almost to the point of non-existence and has in the past generated much literary joy. The ...

Lost Youth

Nicholson Baker

9 June 1994
The Folding Star 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Chatto, 422 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 7011 5913 8
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... Alan Hollinghurst is better at bees than Oscar Wilde. On the opening page of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde has them ‘shouldering their way through the long un-mown grass’. A bee must never be allowed to ‘shoulder’. Later that afternoon, Dorian Gray, alarmed by Lord Henry Wotton’s graphic talk of youth’s inevitable degeneration, drops a lilac blossom that he has been ‘feverishly ...

Keep talking

Julian Loose

26 March 1992
Vox 
by Nicholson Baker.
Granta, 172 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 0 14 014232 0
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... UK attempts to shut down such hi-tech services, in America they are already writing academic papers on ‘Sex and Death among the Disembodied’. And as the gold-embossed cover helpfully explains, NicholsonBaker’s new novel Vox is also ‘about Telephone Sex’, about getting turned on by tuning in. Jim and Abby meet on the phone-sex party line ‘2VOX’. By the time the book starts, they have ...

Both Ends of the Tub

Thomas Karshan: Nicholson Baker

24 July 2003
A Box of Matches 
by Nicholson Baker.
Chatto, 178 pp., £10, February 2003, 0 7011 7402 1
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... Howie, the protagonist of NicholsonBaker’s first novel, The Mezzanine (1988), asks whether our ‘disorganised do-it-yourself evening life’ can ‘really be the same as the clean, noble, Pendaflex life we lead in office buildings ...

Porndecahedron

Christopher Tayler: Nicholson Baker

3 November 2011
House of Holes 
by Nicholson Baker.
Simon and Schuster, 262 pp., £14.99, August 2011, 978 0 85720 659 6
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... Sometimes,’ a woman says during phone sex in Vox, NicholsonBaker’s first foray into smut, ‘I think with the telephone that if I concentrate enough I could pour myself into it and I’d be turned into a mist and I would rematerialise in the room of the person I ...
21 March 1991
... reveal: ‘All but one of the saddles I noticed were rim-fire rigs, that is having both front and rear cinches, as is true of Texas, Montana and Wyoming rigs.’ Clearly this prairie precursor of NicholsonBaker had stumbled onto something here: the hidden agenda, evolution and variation in Western Stock Saddles. Following a brief survey of cantles and wedge-shape prolongations, the author eventually ...

Turbulence

Walter Nash

9 November 1989
The Mezzanine 
by Nicholson Baker.
Granta, 135 pp., £10.95, September 1989, 0 14 014201 0
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The Memoirs of Lord Byron 
by Robert Nye.
Hamish Hamilton, 215 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 241 12873 0
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All you need 
by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 219 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 09 173574 2
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The woman who talked to herself 
by A.L. Barker.
Hutchinson, 186 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 09 174060 6
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Restoration 
by Rose Tremain.
Hamish Hamilton, 371 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 241 12695 9
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... NicholsonBaker’s The Mezzanine is a book about the mind electrically at odds with vacancy and repose; about the astonishing turbulence in the little grey cells of little grey people like you, and me, and Howie ...
24 August 1995
Independence Day 
by Richard Ford.
Harvill, 451 pp., £14.99, July 1995, 1 86046 020 8
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... with six or seven people, all breathing down his neck. (Ford, as far as I know, is the first novelist to have tapped the potential of this relatively recent technological innovation; I’m surprised NicholsonBaker hasn’t made a whole book out of it.) I mention these messages because of the way they reveal Ford’s skill at conveying entire lives in very few words. (Nothing in The Sportswriter is more ...

Redeemable Bad Guy

Ian Hamilton: Rabbit and Zooey

2 April 1998
Toward the End of Time 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 334 pp., £16.99, February 1998, 0 241 13862 0
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Golf Dreams 
by John Updike.
Penguin, 224 pp., £6.99, February 1998, 0 14 026156 7
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... are wondrously first-rate, as composition, and so, too, are certain of his several soliloquies on what it’s like to be, well, past it. There is perhaps a surfeit of that Updikean fine writing which NicholsonBaker parodied so well – ‘the blank seemed, in its blankety blankness, and blanketed blinkness, almost blonky in the late afternoon blonk’ – or, to put it in Updike’s own words, too much ...

Satisfaction

Julian Loose

11 May 1995
The Information 
by Martin Amis.
Flamingo, 494 pp., £15.99, March 1995, 0 00 225356 9
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... the chicken crossed the road, Marco would ask you what the chicken did next’). Rather, The Information is a study of envy and egomania that happens to play itself out in the world of publishing. NicholsonBaker in U and I probed the devastating realisation that Updike ‘writes better than I do and is smarter than I am’. Here, though, there is no sense of one writer warding off another’s ...

Sight, Sound and Sex

Adam Mars-Jones: Dana Spiotta

17 March 2016
Innocents and Others 
by Dana Spiotta.
Scribner, 278 pp., £17.95, March 2016, 978 1 5011 2272 9
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... discomfort of that duration would be the same for everyone’. Here again is a defining difference between the filmed and the written. In literature there is no clock time, no ‘real time’. When NicholsonBaker decides to set a whole novel in a lunch break (The Mezzanine) or Olaf Stapledon chooses a timescale of two billion years for Last and First Men, no technical innovation is necessary. They aren ...

Tied to the Mast

Adam Mars-Jones: Alan Hollinghurst

18 October 2017
The Sparsholt Affair 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Picador, 454 pp., £20, October 2017, 978 1 4472 0821 1
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... also had embodied narrators: all too embodied for some readers, taken aback by the mixture of aesthetic connoisseurship and defiant frankness. This qualm was both expressed and lightly lampooned by NicholsonBaker, writing in U&I: ‘Hey, I’m reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library, and you know, once you get used to the initially kind of disgusting level of homosexual sex, which ...

The Tangible Page

Leah Price: Books as Things

31 October 2002
The Book History Reader 
edited by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery.
Routledge, 390 pp., £17.99, November 2001, 0 415 22658 9
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Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays 
by D.F. McKenzie, edited by Peter D. McDonald and Michael F. Suarez.
Massachusetts, 296 pp., £20.95, June 2002, 1 55849 336 0
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... populist. Not only do they analyse Oprah’s Book Club and theorise the uses to which peasant audiences put learned culture, they’ve also carved out a general readership for themselves – witness NicholsonBaker on card catalogues – and joined forces with groups slighted by literary theorists: librarians, book dealers, local historians. Even the form of The Book History Reader privileges empirical ...

Introversion Has Its Limits

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Essayism’

8 March 2018
Essayism 
by Brian Dillon.
Fitzcarraldo, 138 pp., £10.99, June 2017, 978 1 910695 41 8
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Sound: Stories of Hearing Lost and Found 
by Bella Bathurst.
Wellcome, 224 pp., £8.99, February 2018, 978 1 78125 776 0
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Proxies: A Memoir in Twenty-Four Attempts 
by Brian Blanchfield.
Picador, 181 pp., £9.99, August 2017, 978 1 5098 4785 3
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... no reason not to incorporate corrections in the text by the process known as editing – memorialising the process in the finished volume is a matter of rhetoric. It was a different thing when NicholsonBaker, writing about his literary relationship with John Updike in U & I, decided not to reread Updike’s work, or to read for the first time the books he hadn’t finished (or hadn’t started ...

God’s Own

Angus Calder

12 March 1992
Empire and English Character 
by Kathryn Tidrick.
Tauris, 338 pp., £24.95, August 1990, 1 85043 191 4
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Into Africa: The story of the East African Safari 
by Kenneth Cameron.
Constable, 229 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 09 469770 1
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Burton: Snow upon the Desert 
by Frank McLynn.
Murray, 428 pp., £19.95, September 1990, 0 7195 4818 7
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From the Sierras to the Pampas: Richard Burton’s Travels in the Americas, 1860-69 
by Frank McLynn.
Barrie and Jenkins, 258 pp., £16.99, July 1991, 0 7126 3789 3
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The Duke of Puddle Dock: Travels in the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles 
by Nigel Barley.
Viking, 276 pp., £16.99, March 1992, 0 670 83642 7
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... its capital’s street names are a bizarre mélange. North of Selous the next avenue is Livingstone; then comes Herbert Chitepo, named after an African leader martyred in the struggle. To the south, Baker and Speke intrude between Samora Machel and Mugabe. Since those two famous explorers never came anywhere near the territory formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, their continued invocation in the ...

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