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8 March 1990
The Wimbledon Poisoner 
by Nigel Williams.
Faber, 307 pp., £12.99, March 1990, 0 571 14242 7
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The Other Occupant 
by Peter Benson.
Macmillan, 168 pp., £12.95, February 1990, 0 333 52509 4
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Possession 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 511 pp., £13.95, March 1990, 0 7011 3260 4
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... Name (the salesman who sells Henry his ignobly sensible Volkswagen Passat is called Frobisher-Zitgermans). Perhaps it is unEnglish of me to find all this unfunny. After Williams’s poison-brew, PeterBenson goes down like dry white wine. Yet The Other Occupant is a lesser book than the novel he published last year, A Lesser Dependency, both in the sense of being less ambitious and less well ...
16 March 1989
Off the Rails: Memoirs of a Train Addict 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Bloomsbury, 193 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 0 7475 0011 8
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The Marble Mountain, and Other Stories 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Cape, 126 pp., £10.95, January 1989, 9780224025973
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The Bathroom 
by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, translated by Barbara Bray.
Boyars, 125 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 7145 2880 3
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Motherland 
by Timothy O’Grady.
Chatto, 230 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 7011 3341 4
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A Lesser Dependency 
by Peter Benson.
Macmillan, 146 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 333 49093 2
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... the Synnott family book: ‘ingeniously intricate, wayward and explosive, so that each individual tooled line pursued its course through astonishing convolutions to its own unpredictable end.’ In PeterBenson’s second novel, A Lesser Dependency, the plotting is less intricate and the end less unpredictable, while there is little pressure to reconciliation. Rather than the complex and centuries ...
25 October 1990
No Other Choice 
by George Blake.
Cape, 288 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 224 03067 1
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Inside Intelligence 
by Anthony Cavendish.
Collins, 181 pp., £12.95, October 1990, 9780002157421
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... wing. Both authors write of their profound respect for one of their former bosses, George K. Young. Young, who died recently, was deputy head of MI6 until he joined the merchant bankers Kleinwort Benson in 1961. One of the very few revelations in George Blake’s book is a memorandum which George Young circulated among his admiring agents in the mid-Fifties. It starts by castigating the ‘ceaseless ...

A Life without a Jolt

Ferdinand Mount: M.R. James

26 January 2012
Collected Ghost Stories 
by M.R. James.
Oxford, 468 pp., £14.99, October 2011, 978 0 19 956884 0
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... Marley were. The important thing was atmosphere. The setting had to be carefully prepared and evoked. James does this particularly well with the coastal landscape of Suffolk around Aldeburgh – Peter Grimes country. Then it is time for the ‘nicely managed crescendo’. And then it is time for bed. No doubt it is partly because of the proximity of bed (it is from his own bedroom that he has ...

Welcome Home

Sukhdev Sandhu: Memories of Michael X

4 February 1999
Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain 
by Mike Phillips and Trevor Phillips.
HarperCollins, 422 pp., £16.99, May 1998, 0 00 255909 9
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... among black English youngsters. The book scrolls through postwar history to isolate a series of decisive incidents, both familiar and sombre: the Notting Hill Riots of 1958; Tory candidate Peter Griffiths winning Smethwick six years later with the slogan ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour’; Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech in 1968; the New Cross fire of 1981 which ...

Great Thoughts

E.S. Turner

7 May 1981
The Macmillan Treasury of Relevant Quotations 
edited by Edward Murphy.
Macmillan, 658 pp., £3.95, August 1980, 0 333 30038 6
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... to L.L.L.; in A Treasury of Humorous Quotations, compiled by Herbert V. Prochnow and Herbert V. Prochnow Jr, with 65 entries by Prochnow senior; and in Quotations For Our Time, by Dr Laurence Peter (author of The Peter Principle), with 37 entries of his own. It’s not wholly a new conceit: even L. T. Hoyt, last century, was not so unjust to himself as to deny his own verses comparison with ...

Per Ardua

Paul Foot

8 February 1996
In the Public Interest 
by Gerald James.
Little, Brown, 339 pp., £18.99, December 1995, 0 316 87719 0
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... No establishment door was shut to him. Naturally, James was very right-wing. He’d been a disciple, he still boasts, of George Kennedy Young, an MI6 agent who became deputy chairman of Kleinwort Benson. James describes Young as ‘a brave man’ who ‘knew the difference between good and evil’. In fact, Young was a racist of a pretty poisonous variety who never let his business or intelligence ...

Top People

Luke Hughes: The ghosts of Everest

20 July 2000
Ghosts of Everest: The Authorised Story of the Search for Mallory & Irvine 
by Jochen Hemmleb and Larry Johnson.
Macmillan, 206 pp., £20, October 1999, 9780333783146
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Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine 
by Peter​ Firstbrook.
BBC, 244 pp., £16.99, September 1999, 0 563 55129 1
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The Last Climb: The Legendary Everest Expeditions of George Mallory 
by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld.
National Geographic, 240 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7922 7538 1
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... then there has been an unseemly rush to cash in on the discovery with at least six books, a poor film made by the BBC, several websites and the syndication of photographic rights across the globe. Peter Firstbrook’s book is written from a very English perspective, Ghosts of Everest from a very American one: neither takes up the really important issues. The Last Climb began life as a history of all ...

Luminous/Numinous

Paul Joannides

10 January 1983
... on Earth only when it is projected through or for others, this would have been an ideal opportunity for a reversal, a stress on earthly powers, a resurrection of ET through childish belief, as in Peter Pan or Ordet. As it is, neither the script nor the shooting of this sequence draw on the dividends accumulated in the earlier parts of the film. The sense of strain is felt most clearly in the ...

Ripping Yarns

John Sutherland

8 April 1993
Tennyson 
by Michael Thorn.
Little, Brown, 566 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90299 3
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Tennyson 
by Peter​ Levi.
Macmillan, 370 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 333 52205 2
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... fill the blanks which Hallam Tennyson has created for posterity. Typically, the speculation shadows the spirit of the age. In 1904, influenced by Max Nordau’s theories of racial degeneration, A.C. Benson ascribed the pervasive Tennysonian gloom to a strain of ‘dark Southern blood’ tainting the predominantly Scandinavian stock of the family. In 1923, Harold Nicolson, persuaded by Strachey’s ...

Mr Who He?

Stephen Orgel: Shakespeare’s Poems

8 August 2002
The Complete Sonnets and Poems 
by William Shakespeare, edited by Colin Burrow.
Oxford, 750 pp., £65, February 2002, 9780198184317
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... the ones they liked, circulate them, make them their own. But there was no second edition until 1640, 24 years after Shakespeare’s death. That edition, however, involved wholesale revision. John Benson, the publisher, capitalising on the undiminished sales of Venus and Adonis, produced a volume of what looked to be not old-fashioned sonnets but new Shakespeare love poems. The transformation ...
12 November 1987
Trail of Havoc: In the Steps of Lord Lucan 
by Patrick Marnham.
Viking, 204 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 670 81391 5
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Lucan: Not Guilty 
by Sally Moore.
Sidgwick, 271 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 9780283995361
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... Eye had been investigating possible links between Wilson and the KGB, using material leaked to them by MI5 – the first evidence of that MI5 subversion of the Wilson Government dealt with by famous Peter Wright. Lady Falkender and Wilson had urged Goldsmith to sue – Marnham had unwittingly libelled him by saying he was at John Aspinall’s lunch to decide what to do if Lucky turned up. And so on ...
9 March 1995
... Palace, but that Mrs Thatcher would not let him. Jim Prior unsuccessfully tried to resign as Northern Ireland Secretary after a mass break-out of Republican prisoners from the Maze prison, and Peter Brooke failed in a more recent attempt to leave the same office after he had sung a song on a television chat show in the Republic of Ireland, hours after seven people had been killed in a ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 2012

3 January 2013
... instance, when he passed the 11+ (and so wouldn’t have to go down the mine). I can’t even remember taking the exam except that my friend (and alphabetical neighbour on the school register) Albert Benson passed it with me but was too poor to go on to what we then called secondary school.As it was put together, the programme tended to confirm Anthony Powell’s thesis that documentaries aren’t based ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 1998

21 January 1999
... away, saying: ‘What a clever young man. He can play on the black notes as well as the white.’ The second time I saw him must have been a few years later at the Mermaid Theatre at a performance of Peter Luke’s play Hadrian VII with Alec McCowen. Then it was his characteristic walk that I noticed: he tripped down the aisle after the designer, Gladys Calthrop, his hands, fingers pressed together ...

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