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Djuna Barnes 
by Philip Herring.
Viking, 416 pp., £20, May 1996, 0 670 84969 3
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... Barnes later said that she loved her grandmother Zadel ‘as a child usually loves its mother’, Philip Herring quotes letters to her from Zadel which say things like ‘Pink Tops are simply gasping with love!’ (‘Pink Tops’ are Zadel’s breasts) and feature cartoons of naked women on top of one another. He also claims that Barnes may have been ...

Bernie’s War

Philip Purser, 23 May 1991

A German Requiem 
by Philip Kerr.
Viking, 306 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 0 670 83516 1
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... Philip Kerr’s detective hero Bernie Gunther is Sam Spade with raw herring on his breath and a smattering of German or Germanic slang (‘Kripo’ for the Criminal Police, ‘bulls’ for policemen, ‘chocoladies’ for those of dubious virtue) stirred into his tough private-eye talk ...

Lonely Metal Souls

Theo Tait: Haruki Murakami, 18 October 2001

Sputnik Sweetheart 
by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel.
Harvill, 229 pp., £12, May 2001, 9781860468254
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... Haruki Murakami’s translator, Philip Gabriel, describes him as a ‘one-man revolution in Japanese fictional style’. His early novels and short stories of the 1980s – playful, wry, experimental, saturated in references to Western culture – made him the spiritual cheerleader of a new generation of writers. They rejected the prevailing naturalism of ‘pure literature’ (junbungaku), escaped from its circumscribed frame of reference, and used syntax closer to translated forms than to the nuanced, elliptical style of traditional literary language ...

Better than Ganymede

Tom Paulin: Larkin, 21 October 2010

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 475 pp., £22.50, October 2010, 978 0 571 23909 2
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... Philip Larkin met Monica Jones in 1946 at Leicester University College. She was an assistant lecturer there, and Larkin was an assistant librarian. Both had firsts in English from Oxford. Monica Jones was an able lecturer, but she never published anything and so was never promoted, although she stayed at Leicester until she retired in 1981 ...

Eels Tomorrow, but Sprats Today

Peter Parsons, 18 September 1997

Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens 
by James Davidson.
HarperCollins, 372 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 00 255591 3
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... The Greek world is a Mediterranean world, and in many respects (nutrition, transport) the world of Philip II of Macedon will have borne a strong likeness to the world of Philip II of Spain; since Braudel had more material, he may serve as a guide to problems and even to answers. Beyond that, the compiler of Athenian Social ...

Mauve Monkeys

William Fiennes, 18 September 1997

Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy and the First World War 
by Philip Hoare.
Duckworth, 250 pp., £16.95, July 1997, 0 7156 2737 6
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... of hydrangeas. It’s hard to believe, but people were taking it in turns to recite Swinburne. Philip Hoare’s Wilde’s Last Stand is concerned with a more energetic strain of hedonism. By the end of 1915 it was estimated that there were 150 nightclubs in Soho alone: haunts such as the Cave of the Golden Calf, where aristocratic bohemians like Diana ...

Mental Processes

Christopher Longuet-Higgins, 4 August 1988

The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science 
by P.N. Johnson-Laird.
Harvard/Fontana, 444 pp., £23.50, May 1988, 0 674 15615 3
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... imagination, curable by a healthy dose of realism and clear thought? In The Computer and the Mind Philip Johnson-Laird, one of our leading cognitive psychologists, escorts the educated layman through the fantastic landscape of ‘cognitive science’ – the modern science of the mind, and of possible minds. The idea that there might be laws of thought ...

Fond Father

Dinah Birch: A Victorian Naturalist, 19 September 2002

Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse 1810-88 
by Ann Thwaite.
Faber, 387 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 571 19328 5
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... Casting himself as a ‘little helpless child’, Gosse represented his father, the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, as a small-minded bigot. In Edmund’s case, the not uncommon inclination to see ourselves as pitiful victims when we remember our childhood was magnified by the wish to imply a heroic escape from the tyranny of an eminent Victorian. Even ...

What Wotan Wants

Jerry Fodor, 5 August 2004

Finding an Ending: Reflections on Wagner’s ‘Ring’ 
by Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht.
Oxford, 241 pp., £14.99, April 2004, 0 19 517359 7
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... to plumb. What depths? What could possibly be down there? Two new fish have risen to this bait. Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht’s Finding an Ending proceeds from their conviction that ‘Wagner’s libretto, ponderous and mannered though it may sometimes seem (and be), is charged with life and significance.’ They therefore propose ‘to probe its ...

A Letter to Wystan Auden, from Iceland

Francis Spufford, 21 February 1991

... to you da capo (from the top)     The reasons why my outlook seems so bleak     In the herring-scented streets of Reykjavik? I have one precedent I can rely on: Your own impulsive Letter to Lord Byron. I can’t cast you as you cast suave Lord B. –     An anti-fascist pal, who if alive Would give my views his raffish sympathy     And see ...

Bad Dads

Zachary Leader, 6 April 1995

In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of a Lost War 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 210 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 7475 1919 6
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Tallien: A Brief Romance 
by Frederic Tuten.
Marion Boyars, 152 pp., £9.95, November 1994, 0 7145 2990 7
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Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story 
by Max Apple.
Little, Brown, 241 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 316 91241 7
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... him every Friday in preparation for the Sabbath, dutifully unwrapping and eating the pickled herring and hard-boiled eggs Rocky packs him for lunch. When Rocky inexplicably takes against the hippy girlfriend who becomes Apple’s wife – throwing her possessions out the door, spitting at her, boycotting the wedding (was she Jewish?) – the grandson is ...

The Cadaver Club

Iain Sinclair, 22 December 1994

Original Sin 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 426 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 571 17253 9
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Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 282 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 1 85619 507 4
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The Hidden Files: An Autobiography 
by Derek Raymond.
Warner, 342 pp., £5.99, December 1994, 0 7515 1184 6
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Not till the Red Fog Rises 
by Derek Raymond.
Little, Brown, 248 pp., £15.99, December 1994, 0 316 91014 7
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... fretting to escape the inconvenience of some vulgar stiff and get at those rough flint churches. Philip Larkin (sans bicycle clips) with a Byronic makeover. Larkin reimagined by Barbara Cartland, all scowls and flashing coattails, piercing glances. This wholesome, outdoorsy Englishness, bracing weather and privatised mayhem between consenting adults, has a ...

Hiatus at 4 a.m.

David Trotter: What scared Hitchcock?, 3 June 2015

Alfred Hitchcock 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Chatto, 279 pp., £12.99, April 2015, 978 0 7011 6993 0
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Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much 
by Michael Wood.
New Harvest, 129 pp., £15, March 2015, 978 1 4778 0134 5
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Hitchcock à la carte 
by Jan Olsson.
Duke, 261 pp., £16.99, March 2015, 978 0 8223 5804 6
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Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, Vol. II 
edited by Sidney Gottlieb.
California, 274 pp., £24.95, February 2015, 978 0 520 27960 5
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... best commentary on this aspect of Hitchcock’s films (and on a great deal else besides) may be Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’, a poem about the specific, all-consuming fear aroused by the most general and unavoidable (that is to say, banal) of all conditions. This is the fear not so much of dying, as of death, of mortality. Waking at 4 a.m. to ‘soundless ...

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