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Prolonging her absence

Danny Karlin, 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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by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 511 pp., £13.95, March 1990, 0 7011 3260 4
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... Perhaps it is unEnglish of me to find all this unfunny. After Williams’s poison-brew, Peter Benson 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-written. A Lesser Dependency set out both to document and ...

Dark Strangers, Gorgeous Slums

Philip Horne, 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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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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... line pursued its course through astonishing convolutions to its own unpredictable end.’ In Peter Benson’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-long colonial dispossession of the Irish by the ...

So what if he was

Paul Foot, 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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... 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 talk’ about the ‘spread of democratic ...

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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... 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 emerged with his spidery manuscript and the single candle) and ...

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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... 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 killed 13 young black men and women; the riots in St ...

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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... 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 those of Tennyson and ...

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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... 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 the early Everest expeditions but, once Mallory’s body ...

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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... 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 involved both format and erotics: many of the sonnets are run ...

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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... 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 connections get in the way of his public campaigning to ...

Ripping Yarns

John Sutherland, 8 April 1993

by Michael Thorn.
Little, Brown, 566 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90299 3
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by Peter Levi.
Macmillan, 370 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 333 52205 2
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... 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 sardonic view of eminent Victorians, diagnosed Tennyson as a ...


Paul Joannides, 10 January 1983

... 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 closing sequence. Spielberg obviously hoped to achieve an ...

Lucky’s Dip

James Fox, 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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... 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. Goldsmith is discredited, loses a peerage, fails to buy a ...

The Party in Government

Conor Gearty, 9 March 1995

... 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 particularly bad atrocity in the Province. While ministers have been ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2012, 3 January 2013

... 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 on the evidence but are simply scenarios dreamed up by ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1998, 21 January 1999

... 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, half slipped into his trouser pockets ...

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