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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 ...

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 ...

Shedding one’s sicknesses

Patrick Parrinder, 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 ...

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 ...

Watercress

Patrick Parrinder, 20 August 1992

Past Tenses: Essays on Writing, Autobiography and History 
by Carolyn Steedman.
Rivers Oram, 224 pp., £22, June 1992, 1 85489 021 2
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... What do a story written by primary schoolchildren, a study of 19th-century policing, a biography of Margaret McMillan and an account of a working-class childhood in South London in the Fifties have in common? They give some idea of the range of Past Tenses, a selection from Carolyn Steedman’s prolific output of books and articles during the last ten years ...

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 ...

Rachel and Her Race

Patrick Parrinder, 18 August 1994

Constructions of ‘the Jew’ in English Literature and Society: Racial Representations, 1875-1945 
by Bryan Cheyette.
Cambridge, 301 pp., £35, November 1993, 0 521 44355 5
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The Jewish Heritage in British History: Englishness and Jewishness 
edited by Tony Kushner.
Cass, 234 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7146 3464 6
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... When Lucy Snowe goes to the theatre in Villette, she is entranced by the performance of the great actress Vashti, a plain, frail woman ‘torn by seven devils’, a ‘spirit out of Tophet’ delighting her audience with a glimpse of hell. Vashti is easily identified as the tragedian Elisa Rachel, whom Charlotte Brontë had seen in London in 1851. Sarah Bernhardt may be better known today, but it was Rachel who haunted the English literary imagination throughout the 19th century ...

Mannequin-Maker

Patrick Parrinder, 5 October 1995

The Black Book 
by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Güneli Gün.
Faber, 400 pp., £14.99, July 1995, 0 571 16892 2
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... A winter evening in Istanbul in the late Seventies. Political murders, disappearances and torture are daily events, and a military coup seems to be in the offing. Galip, a young lawyer whose speciality is defending political prisoners, returns home to find that his wile Rüya has left him. His instinctive response is to pretend that nothing has happened – Rüya is simply too ill to leave the apartment or come to the telephone ...

Celtic Revisionism

Patrick Parrinder, 24 July 1986

A Short History of Irish Literature 
by Seamus Deane.
Hutchinson, 282 pp., £15, March 1986, 0 09 161360 4
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The Peoples of Ireland 
by Liam de Paor.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £15, April 1986, 9780091561406
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Portrait of Ireland 
by Liam de Paor.
Rainbow, 192 pp., £13.95, May 1986, 1 85120 004 5
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The Complete Dramatic Works 
by Samuel Beckett.
Faber, 476 pp., £12.50, April 1986, 0 571 13821 7
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The Beckett Country: An Exhibition for Samuel Beckett’s 80th Birthday 
by Eoin O’Brien and James Knowlson.
Black Cat, 97 pp., £5, May 1986, 0 948050 03 9
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... mythology. From his revisionist viewpoint Yeats’s championship of the Protestant Ascendancy and Patrick Pearse’s sentimentalisation of the Spirit of the Gael are equally deplorable. Instead of a continuous national tradition, Deane’s sense of Ireland’s cultural history is of a series of discontinuous, and heavily ideological, historical ...

Flying the flag

Patrick Parrinder, 18 November 1993

The Modern British Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 512 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 436 20132 1
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After the War: The Novel and English Society since 1945 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 310 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 9780701137694
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... Trinidadian novelist’. This might place him with such non-British writers as Nadine Gordimer and Patrick White, but he is later included in Bradbury’s alphabetical checklist of British novelists since 1876. It looks as if an adverse judgment has been passed by default. It is not that Bradbury shies away from evaluative criticism: the book is full of ...

Cover Stories

Patrick Parrinder, 4 April 1985

Lives of the Poets: A Novella and Six Stories 
by E.L. Doctorow.
Joseph, 145 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 0 7181 2529 0
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The Pork Butcher 
by David Hughes.
Constable, 123 pp., £5.95, April 1984, 0 09 465510 3
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Out of the Blue 
by John Milne.
Hamish Hamilton, 309 pp., £8.95, March 1985, 0 241 11489 6
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... Here’s something out of the quaint past, a man reading a book,’ remarks E.L. Doctorow’s narrator as he rides the New York subway. The other passengers in the subway are not readers but listeners, hooked to their earphones and tape-players, ‘listening their way back from literacy’. And before literacy? ‘The world worked in a different system of perception, voices were disembodied, tales were told ...

Pamphleteer’s Progress

Patrick Parrinder, 7 February 1985

The Function of Criticism: From the ‘Spectator’ to Post-Structuralism 
by Terry Eagleton.
Verso, 133 pp., £15, September 1984, 0 86091 091 1
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... Terry Eagleton’s books have been getting shorter recently. It is eight years since he offered to re-situate literary criticism on the ‘alternative terrain of scientific knowledge’; three since, self-canonised, he included his name in a list of major Marxist theoreticians of the 20th century. The Function of Criticism is a history of three centuries of English criticism in little more than a hundred pages ...

Naming of Parts

Patrick Parrinder, 6 June 1985

Quinx or The Ripper’s Tale 
by Lawrence Durrell.
Faber, 201 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 571 13444 0
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Helliconia Winter 
by Brian Aldiss.
Cape, 285 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 0 224 01847 7
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Black Robe 
by Brian Moore.
Cape, 256 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 224 02329 2
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... We name things in order to have power over them; but we must also name them to cower before them in worship. Novelists in particular are aware of the paradoxical magic of naming. To the narrative theorist, stories are made up of simple structural units, like biological cells endlessly replicating: but the novelist, who takes possession of the story by giving names to its narrative agents and formulae, is like Glendower conjuring spirits from the vasty deep but not knowing if they will come at his call ...

Making poison

Patrick Parrinder, 20 March 1986

The Handmaid’s Tale 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 324 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 224 02348 9
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... Fear is a powerful stimulant,’ says Offred, the heroine of Margaret Atwood’s chilling tale of the near future. Trained at the Rachel and Leah Centre and habited in red, Offred belongs to a quasi-religious order of ‘sacred vessels’, ‘two-legged wombs’ whose task it is to produce the next generation of the ruling élite in the Republic of Gilead ...

Austward Ho

Patrick Parrinder, 18 May 1989

Moon Palace 
by Paul Auster.
Faber, 307 pp., £11.99, April 1989, 0 571 15404 2
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Prisoner’s Dilemma 
by Richard Powers.
Weidenfeld, 348 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 297 79482 5
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A Prayer for Owen Meany 
by John Irving.
Bloomsbury, 543 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 7475 0334 6
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... Driving across America, one of the characters in Richard Powers’s new novel remarks that the whole country has become a gigantic theme park. The same impression might have been gained from reading American novels, or from going to the movies. From Oklahoma to Mount Rushmore, and from the Devil’s Tower to Zabriskie Point, the activities of being on the road and imagining being on the road feed into one another, as one might expect ...

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