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13 February 1992
Authors and Authority: English and American Criticism 1750-1990 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Macmillan, 392 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 333 43294 0
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A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Vol. VII: German, Russian and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950 
by René Wellek.
Yale, 458 pp., £26, October 1991, 0 300 05039 9
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... of the first four volumes of the series covered earlier critics that fall within the scope of Patrick Parrinder’s study. Authors and Authority in turn is an expansion of a 1977 book that stopped with the beginning of the 20th century. Now nearly twice its original length, it comes all the way down to the Yale Deconstructionists, the American ...

An American Genius

Patrick Parrinder

21 November 1991
The Runaway Soul 
by Harold Brodkey.
Cape, 835 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 224 03001 9
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... This man has been called America’s greatest writer,’ boasts Cape’s press release. ‘On the evidence of two collections of short stories, he has been compared to Proust, Wordsworth and Milton.’ After more than twenty-five years’ labour, he has finally published ‘the most eagerly awaited first novel of all time’. Sadly, The Runaway Soul is only the most overweight first novel of all time ...
11 February 1993
The Porcupine 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 138 pp., £9.99, November 1992, 0 224 03618 1
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... It seems to me the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains.’ Bram Stoker’s Dracula was the source for this epigraph to the best-known British novel of the Eighties set in Eastern Europe, Malcolm Bradbury’s Rates of Exchange. The Soviet Empire in those distant days was scarcely conceivable to English novelists except as a setting for a comedy or a thriller – two genres which tend to lionise the Englishman abroad, and to subtly belittle the natives ...

By an Unknown Writer

Patrick Parrinder

25 January 1996
Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Tim Parks.
Cape, 276 pp., £15.99, November 1995, 0 224 03732 3
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... Italo Calvino was born in 1923 and came to prominence in post-war Italy as a writer of neo-realist and politically committed short stories, some of them published in the Communist paper L’Unità. A major social-problem novel set in contemporary Italy was naturally expected of him, but he found himself unable to write it. Instead, as he subsequently explained, he ‘conjured up’ the sort of books he himself would have liked to read – ‘the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic ...

Diary

Patrick Parrinder: On Raymond Williams

18 February 1988
... No one could describe the last ten years as an uneventful period in English criticism, but there are times, and this February is one, when it all seems to boil down to a couple of brawls and a series of obituary notices. One by one the giants have departed: Leavis, Richards, Empson, and now Raymond Williams. The first three had come through to ripe and embattled old age, but Williams was still in his prime as a writer and critic ...

Mini-Whoppers

Patrick Parrinder

7 July 1988
Forty Stories 
by Donald Barthelme.
Secker, 256 pp., £10.95, April 1988, 0 436 03424 7
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Tiny Lies 
by Kate Pullinger.
Cape, 174 pp., £9.95, April 1988, 0 224 02560 0
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Ellen Foster 
by Kaye Gibbons.
Cape, 146 pp., £9.95, May 1988, 0 224 02529 5
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After the War 
by Frederick Raphael.
Collins, 528 pp., £11.95, April 1988, 0 00 223352 5
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... There are not many facts available about Donald Barthelme, at least on this side of the Atlantic. He has been hailed as a leading Post-Modernist, but Post-Modernism (to the extent that it has a credo) stresses the unreliability of facts and the supremacy of fictions. He has also been viewed as a pungent satirist. One thing that can be stated is that Barthelme’s literary career has mostly been pursued in the pages of the New Yorker ...

It’s only a paper moon

Patrick Parrinder

13 June 1991
Wise Children 
by Angela Carter.
Chatto, 234 pp., £13.99, June 1991, 0 7011 3354 6
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... Brush up your Shakespeare,’ instructed Cole Porter. Is Shakespeare part of popular culture, and if so, whose popular culture? Does the Bard’s writ extend to the wrong side of the tracks – say, to 49 Bard Road, Brixton, where Wise Children begins? Is he still in any sense the poet of the groundlings, and not merely of the powerful and the chattering classes whose legitimation-anxieties he so searchingly addresses? (There is no one so anxious nor so devoted to Shakespeare as a legitimate prince, to judge by the current heir to the throne ...
20 November 1986
The Injured Party 
by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
Hamish Hamilton, 309 pp., £10.95, November 1986, 0 241 11946 4
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Expensive Habits 
by Maureen Howard.
Viking, 268 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 670 81291 9
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... In the middle of the journey of this life, I found myself in a dark forest, where the straight way was lost.’ The theme of mid-life crisis has inspired a number of great novels – Little Dorrit, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and perhaps Ulysses – although the majority of fictional heroes and heroines are conspicuously youthful. Traditionally, as the novelists themselves grew older, they continued to write about the young ...

Thirty Years Ago

Patrick Parrinder

18 July 1985
Still Life 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 358 pp., £9.95, June 1985, 0 7011 2667 1
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Wales’ Work 
by Robert Walshe.
Secker, 279 pp., £8.95, July 1985, 9780436561450
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... Like The Virgin in the Garden (1978) to which it is a deeper and darker-toned successor, A.S. Byatt’s Still Life has the classical English narrative setting of a generation ago. Apart from the prologue, which evokes the Post-Impressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1980, the events here take place in 1954-7. Further sequels are promised, though it seems likely that this chronicle of middle-class English life has reached the half-way stage ...

Tall Storeys

Patrick Parrinder

10 December 1987
Life: A User’s Manual 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 581 pp., £15, October 1987, 0 00 271463 9
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The New York Trilogy: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room 
by Paul Auster.
Faber, 314 pp., £10.95, November 1987, 0 571 14925 1
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... Like Hoyle and Stephen Potter, Georges Perec was a devotee of indoor games. La Vie Mode d’Emploi (1978), a title combining lifemanship, gamesmanship and one-upmanship, was the monumental creation of an author whose other productions included a treatise on Go (the Japanese board-game) and a weekly crossword for the magazine Le Point. Perec, who died in 1982 at the age of 46, is credited with the invention of the longest known palindrome (over five thousand letters ...

Whitehall Farces

Patrick Parrinder

8 October 1992
Now you know 
by Michael Frayn.
Viking, 282 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 9780670845545
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... In its attitude towards Dickens,’ George Orwell wrote, ‘the English public has always been a little like the elephant which feels a blow with a walking-stick as a delightful tickling ... One knows without needing to be told that lawyers delight in Sergeant Buzfuz and that Little Dorrit is a favourite in the Home Office.’ Lawyers these days doubtless read John Mortimer, and dons read the new university wits like David Lodge and Tom Sharpe ...

Heads and Hearts

Patrick Parrinder

28 May 1992
Underworld 
by Peter Conrad.
Chatto, 252 pp., £14.99, April 1992, 0 7011 3895 5
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A Case of Curiosities 
by Allen Kurzweil.
Hamish Hamilton, 358 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 0 241 13235 5
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Rotten Times 
by Paul Micou.
Bantam, 266 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 593 02621 7
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The Republic of Love 
by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 366 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 1 872180 88 4
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... Last week, in another part of the city, a human head turned up.’ The severed head which opens Peter Conrad’s first novel suggests that contemporary fiction might be defined by its increasing convergence with the weird tale, the story based on a deliberate disruption of the natural order. The head is anonymous, sealed in a plastic bag, and being used as a football by a group of boys ...

Sea Changes

Patrick Parrinder

27 February 1992
Indigo, or Mapping the Waters 
by Marina Warner.
Chatto, 402 pp., £14.99, February 1992, 9780701135317
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Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History 
by Alden Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan.
Cambridge, 290 pp., £35, January 1992, 0 521 40305 7
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... The British, a nation of Sancho Panzas, like to dream of governing an island. The majority of ideal states both ancient and modern have been imaginary cities rather than sea-girt lumps of rock, but the British Utopia is a fertile commonwealth surrounded by beaches in which, like Gonzalo in The Tempest, we would by contraries execute all things. Both the word and the island of Utopia were the teasing inventions of Sir Thomas More ...
13 September 1990
My Son’s Story 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 277 pp., £13.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0764 3
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Age of Iron 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 181 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 436 20012 0
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... A novelist’s freedom, Nadine Gordimer wrote in 1975, is ‘his right to maintain and publish to the world a deep, intense, private view of the situation in which he finds his society’. In her new novel, Will, the son named by his book-loving father after William Shakespeare, describes the secret lives led by his parents. He cannot publish what he has written, partly because every other member of his Coloured family is deeply involved in revolutionary politics, and partly because – where prying and direct observation did not suffice – he has filled the multiple gaps in his story with his own words and inventions ...

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