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Mistaken or Doomed

Thomas Jones: Barry Unsworth, 12 March 2009

Land of Marvels 
by Barry Unsworth.
Hutchinson, 287 pp., £18.99, January 2009, 978 0 09 192617 5
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... four white police officers were acquitted of using excessive force in the act of arresting Rodney King, a black man, Unsworth won half the Booker Prize – the other half went to Michael Ondaatje for The English Patient – for a novel that in its unsparing portrayal of life aboard an 18th-century slave ship looked back to the colonial and commercial origins ...

At Tate Modern

Eleanor Birne: Fahrelnissa Zeid, 21 September 2017

... She was born in 1901, on the island of Büyükada outside Istanbul, surrounded by inlaid mother-of-pearl furniture from Damascus passed on by her uncle, the grand vizier; the house had its own hammam, a large number of servants (including a Sudanese eunuch) and a grotto filled with geraniums and orchids tended by her father, a military officer and ...

Who has the gall?

Frank Kermode: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 8 March 2007

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 
translated by Bernard O’Donoghue.
Penguin, 94 pp., £8.99, August 2006, 0 14 042453 9
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 
translated by Simon Armitage.
Faber, 114 pp., £12.99, January 2007, 978 0 571 22327 5
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... also without titles, and probably, according to the experts, by the same poet. Of this group Pearl, an allegory about a man’s grief at the death of his two-year-old daughter, is the most brilliant and mysterious. Written around 1400, the manuscript is usually described as physically unattractive, not in the hand of the author and hard to read. It ...

A Sequence from ‘Camera Obscura’

Robin Robertson, 22 August 1996

... on the hillin their white stone; the Castle glows.And the streets are bright blurs of sodiumand pearl: the drawn tracery of headlampssmeared in long exposure. For miles westthe city stretches,laid with vapour trails and ghosts.To the east, the folding sea has drownedthe girning of the gulls. A lighthouseperforates the night: a slow cigarette.Then there is ...

At New Hall

Eleanor Birne: Modern Women’s Art, 29 June 2017

... to adorn the walls, and perhaps this is what inspired the college’s then president, Valerie Pearl, to write to a hundred leading woman artists in 1992 asking if they’d be willing to donate works to the college on the condition they’d be kept on permanent display. Three-quarters of them came up with the goods, starting off a collection that now ...

Bohumil Hrabal

James Wood: The life, times, letters and politics of Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal, 4 January 2001

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Harvill, 103 pp., £6.99, May 1998, 1 86046 215 4
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Too Loud a Solitude 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Abacus, 112 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 0 349 10262 7
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I Served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Picador, 256 pp., £6.99, May 1990, 0 330 30876 9
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Closely Observed Trains 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Edith Partiger.
Abacus, 128 pp., £5.99, May 1990, 0 349 10125 6
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Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by James Naughton.
Twisted Spoon Press, 203 pp., $13.50, June 1998, 80 902171 9 2
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... one of my feet or maybe even my neck.’ And there is Ditie, the picaresque hero of I Served the King of England, a waiter in a Prague hotel, who once served the Emperor of Ethiopia, and worked with a head waiter who once served the King of England. Ditie is usually wrong about everything – he marries a German athlete ...

How do we know her?

Hilary Mantel: The Secrets of Margaret Pole, 2 February 2017

Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower 
by Susan Higginbotham.
Amberley, 214 pp., £16.99, August 2016, 978 1 4456 3594 1
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... was cleaned in 1973, and study suggested that some original features have almost vanished. A pearl necklace is just a shadow now. The hands are the standard-issue long-fingered type; a black ribbon, added later, may conceal damage to the paint. Margaret – if it is she – wears coral and ermine. She would have been a widow when the portrait was ...

More about Marilyn

Michael Church, 20 February 1986

Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe 
by Anthony Summers.
Gollancz, 414 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 575 03641 9
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Norma Jeane: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe 
by Fred Lawrence Guiles.
Granada, 377 pp., £12.95, June 1985, 0 246 12307 9
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Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton 
by C. David Heymann.
Hutchinson, 390 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 09 146010 7
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Deams that money can buy: The Tragic Life of Libby Holman 
by Jon Bradshaw.
Cape, 431 pp., £12.95, October 1985, 0 224 02846 4
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All Those Tomorrows 
by Mai Zetterling.
Cape, 230 pp., £9.95, November 1985, 0 224 01841 8
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Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady 
by Florence King.
Joseph, 278 pp., £8.95, August 1985, 0 7181 2611 4
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... and the exercise of absolute power (some days her servants had to put everything into song), the pearl-hung, painted creature perched on gold cushions did achieve a mad grandeur, not unlike that of Ludwig of Bavaria. A recent search of London’s best jazz shops produced just one track by the celebrated Thirties torch-singer Libby Holman: ‘Am I ...

When being in thing was the in-thing

Tom Shippey: Iceland in the Middle Ages, 20 September 2001

Viking Age Iceland 
by Jesse Byock.
Penguin, 448 pp., £9.99, April 2001, 0 14 029115 6
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... on Lindisfarne, exposed and undefended, was destroyed without warning by seaborne raiders, the Pearl Harbor of the Dark Ages. Charlemagne’s English minister Alcuin wrote to the survivors in consternation, to say there had never been such a disaster in Britain before, and that no one would have thought such an attack possible. The Viking victory was ...

Elzābet of Anletār

John Gallagher, 22 September 2016

This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World 
by Jerry Brotton.
Allen Lane, 358 pp., £20, March 2016, 978 0 241 00402 9
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... filled with ‘hangings all of Tyrian tapestry’ and strewn with ‘Turkey cushions boss’d with pearl’: English audiences recognised goods from the ‘Turkish’ east as rare luxuries. Those with access to the homes of the rich and powerful could glimpse the Islamic world via the portraits of the ‘great Turk’ owned by many English gentlemen, or the ...

Hush-Hush Boom-Boom

Charles Glass: Spymasters, 12 August 2021

The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War – A Tragedy in Three Acts 
by Scott Anderson.
Picador, 576 pp., £20, February, 978 1 5290 4247 4
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... while the Goebbels propaganda machine derided Donovan’s ‘Jewish scribblers’.Six months after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt dissolved the unwieldy COI. A new Office of War Information took over propaganda and everything else went to the new Office of Strategic Services (OSS), run by Donovan. With an unlimited, unaudited budget exempt from congressional ...

Knights of the Road

Tom Clark: The Beat generation, 6 July 2000

This is the Beat Generation: New York, San Francisco, Paris 
by James Campbell.
Vintage, 320 pp., £7.99, May 2000, 0 09 928269 0
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... the 1960s on the last page of Campbell’s hard-eyed reconstruction of the legend, ‘and I am King of the Universe.’ When we met in England, Ginsberg had abdicated another impromptu throne, as King of the May (Kral Majales) in Prague. He had been expelled for taking off his clothes during a reading to his student ...

No Surrender

Tom Shippey: Vikings, 22 July 2010

The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings 
by Robert Ferguson.
Allen Lane, 450 pp., £30, November 2009, 978 0 7139 9788 0
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... its functional life as at most five years.’ Another enormous project, which Ferguson relates to King Harald Bluetooth’s claim on the Jellinge runestone to have ‘won all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian’, was the building of the ‘trelleborgs’, half a dozen of them, all with the same pattern of a walled and moated circle divided into ...

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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... The mourning of old Europe (Europe before the slaughter) and old America (America before Burger King), and the attempt to establish a continuity between these manageable, familial worlds and an ungraspable, strange present, have been preoccupations in his work, and this new collection of stories, five of them, signals no change. ‘Him with his foot in his ...


Colin Burrow: Walter Ralegh, 8 March 2012

Sir Walter Ralegh in Life and Legend 
by Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams.
Continuum, 378 pp., £25, February 2012, 978 1 4411 1209 5
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The Favourite: Sir Walter Ralegh in Elizabeth I’s Court 
by Mathew Lyons.
Constable, 354 pp., £14.99, March 2011, 978 1 84529 679 7
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... But there is no way that Elizabeth swisser-swattered with Sir Walter. She may have liked his pearl earrings and the turned-up beard, and few ageing queens would object to receiving poems comparing them to ‘the valley of Perue/ whose summer ever lasteth’, but she was relatively pragmatic in her affections. Ralegh knew, and she knew, that her principal ...

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