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Punch-up at the Poetry Reading

Joanna Kavenna: Dorothy Porter’s verse novel, 7 May 1998

The Monkey's Mask 
by Dorothy Porter.
Serpent’s Tail, 264 pp., £9.99, October 1997, 1 85242 549 0
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... self-destructive, stripped of family, a figure who slides towards pathos and even absurdity (Peter Sellers as moustache-twitching Gallic ingénu). At the beginning of the trail, the central event has already happened; the detective, divested of any power to abort or determine, can only reconstruct, seeking an origin, an ‘answer’. The genre is ...
The Invasion Handbook 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 201 pp., £12.99, April 2002, 0 571 20915 7
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... When the Germans occupied His Pasteur Institute With all those poor dogs Paulin has also praised Peter Reading for being ‘user-hostile’, and for contriving, by avoiding iambs, to demonstrate ‘his dissidence from the state’. The preface to Paulin’s excellent Faber Book of Vernacular Verse explains his preference for demotic diction and the ...

Reading with No Clothes on

Michael Hofmann: Guernsey’s Bard, 24 January 2008

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page 
by G.B. Edwards.
NYRB, 400 pp., £10.99, July 2007, 978 1 59017 233 9
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... it in his three big notebooks bought for 18/6 at ‘the Press Office in Smith Street’ in St Peter Port); but also ‘of’ in the sense of ‘made into’. It is Ebenezer made into a book. (Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude comes to mind, with its paper-baler who is finally baled up himself.) William Golding put it admirably when he said: ‘To ...

Peter Conrad’s Flight from Precision

Richard Poirier, 17 July 1980

Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... they intended to find. Though he doesn’t mention Rosenberg, or any other critic for that matter, Peter Conrad, Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, is convinced that a similar destiny was in store for the English writers of the 19th and 20th centuries who ‘imagined’ America during their visits to it. They imagined it not freely but in obedience to various ...

Booze and Fags

Christopher Hitchens, 12 March 1992

Tobacco: A History 
by V.G. Kiernan.
Radius, 249 pp., £18.99, December 1991, 0 09 174216 1
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The Faber Book of Drink, Drinkers and Drinking 
edited by Simon Rae.
Faber, 554 pp., £15.99, November 1991, 0 571 16229 0
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... is a different matter. Uncollected in the Faber anthology is a moment in Michael Wharton’s ‘Peter Simple’ memoir when one of the more heroic Fleet Street pub-performers kept a long-postponed appointment with his doctor. After tapping and humming away, the quack inquired mildly; ‘D’you drink at all?’ Well-primed for the routine, and knowing that ...

The Strange Case of Peter Vansittart

Martin Seymour-Smith, 6 March 1986

Aspects of Feeling 
by Peter Vansittart.
Peter Owen, 251 pp., £10.95, January 1986, 0 7206 0637 3
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... Peter Vansittart, novelist, historian and writer for children, has been singled out for praise by critics as diverse as Philip Toynbee, Francis King, Angus Wilson and Andrew Sinclair. All feel that he lacks the large audience he deserves. Yet the curious reader, anxious to gain more information about this somewhat enigmatic writer, of undoubted power (and above all vision), may easily find himself defeated ...

Serious Drinking

Peter Porter, 27 October 1988

... It comes from wanting to be perfect. All human pain from spite to rape Is just a reading on the grape And all these living counterfeits Are for philosophers’ defeats. A discontent so undivine Moves water one notch up to wine. Put it away, here comes the prefect. The sinner is paid in his own coin. Blood is love’s apotheosis And brings the liver to cirrhosis, The flowers of sleep which towered stand Are the famed brandy of the damned And Wunderkinder who begin With champagne lights may end in gin ...

The Way of the Wobble

Peter Campbell: Ove Arup, 5 April 2007

Ove Arup: Masterbuilder of the 20th Century 
by Peter Jones.
Yale, 364 pp., £25, November 2006, 0 300 11296 3
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... Zealand’s swing bridges came to mind when it turned out that the Millennium Bridge had a wobble. Reading about it I felt it in my feet. Suspension bridge technology has been pushed forward by a need, on the one hand, and an ambition, on the other. The need is to prevent the rhythmic, self-destructive fluttering that can be generated when the cadence of a ...

Memories of New Zealand

Peter Campbell, 1 December 2011

... of refugees from Germany that did much to transform intellectual life in New Zealand. Her husband, Peter, worked as a statistician in the Education Department. There were also the Dronkes, the Steiners, the people who founded the chamber music society. There was Karl Popper. Mostly they were reduced to doing jobs nothing like as responsible as those they had ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: Peter Doig, 6 March 2008

... Peter Doig painted Echo Lake in 1998. A man stands on the far side of a stretch of dark water. He is quite a way off, but you can see that he wears a white shirt and a dark tie. His hands are raised to his face. Is it to keep the light out of his eyes as he looks at you? Or is it to project his voice as he shouts? A police car, lights on, is parked behind him ...

Re-reading the Bible

Stephanie West, 12 March 1992

The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible 
by Robin Lane Fox.
Viking, 478 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 670 82412 7
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... for whom the Daystar had its own, very different symbolic force (Revelation 22.16, cf. 2.28,2, Peter 1.19). Early Christian tradition was, it seems, very vague about the circumstances of Jesus’s birth (which there is of course no reason to associate with the winter solstice) and invention filled the vacuum. After thus setting the scene by demonstrating ...

Poor Devils

Peter France, 2 December 1982

The Literary Underground of the Old Regime 
by Robert Darnton.
Harvard, 258 pp., £11.55, November 1982, 0 674 53656 8
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... conjure up voices which had been silent for two centuries, to resurrect what he calls (modifying Peter Laslett’s famous phrase) ‘a world that we had lost’. And how? Not by ‘contemplating philosophical treatises’, but by ‘grubbing in archives’: in particular, the rich store of papers from a Swiss publishing house, the Société Typographique de ...
An Awfully Big Adventure 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 193 pp., £10.95, December 1989, 0 7156 2204 8
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The Thirteen-Gun Salute 
by Patrick O’Brian.
Collins, 319 pp., £11.95, November 1989, 0 00 223460 2
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Family Sins, and Other Stories 
by William Trevor.
Bodley Head, 251 pp., £11.95, January 1990, 0 370 31374 7
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... and what has happened, are revealed in ways which only very retentive readers will twig; a second reading is even more satisfactory than the first. It deepens one’s respect for the drawing of Stella – a human catalyst who wills nothing evil, but whose character and history have shaped her to cause trouble. Through her, the psychology and mechanics of ...

At the British Library

Peter Campbell: ‘Magnificent Maps’, 8 July 2010

... House’ …) and its subtitle (‘Power, Propaganda and Art’) prepare you for ways of reading that are a long way from ‘map-reading’ as taught to the school cadet corps. You could doubtless have used Jacopo de’ Barbari’s stupendous woodcut of Venice of 1500 to find your way about, but it wasn’t made ...

Concini and the Squirrel

Peter Campbell, 24 May 1990

Innumeracy 
by John Allen Paulos.
135 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 0 670 83008 9
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The Culture of Print 
edited by Roger Chartier.
351 pp., £35, September 1989, 0 7456 0575 3
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Symbols of Ideal Life 
by Maren Stange.
Cambridge, 190 pp., £25, June 1989, 0 521 32441 6
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The Lines of My Hand 
by Robert Frank.
£30, September 1989, 0 436 16256 3
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... of its accepted classics. Bibliographers have been led by such considerations to add habits of reading, and the messages the cost, format, design and illustration of texts may have carried, to their traditional concerns – which centre on the emendation of corrupt versions, and the study of how those corruptions come about. The essays in The Culture of ...

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