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The Shirt of Nessan

Patricia Craig

9 October 1986
The Free Frenchman 
by Piers Paul Read.
Secker, 570 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 436 40966 6
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Dizzy’s Woman 
by George MacBeth.
Cape, 171 pp., £9.95, August 1986, 0 224 02801 4
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On Foreign Ground 
by Eduardo Quiroga.
Deutsch, 92 pp., £7.95, April 1986, 0 233 97894 1
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A New Shirt 
by Desmond Hogan.
Hamish Hamilton, 215 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 241 11928 6
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... PiersPaulRead’s Free Frenchman is Bertrand de Roujay, whose most significant act is to repudiate Pétain and his expedient administration at Vichy, and take himself to London, clandestinely, where he throws in ...
8 July 1993
Ablaze: The Story of Chernobyl 
by Piers Paul Read.
Secker, 478 pp., £16.99, May 1993, 0 436 40963 1
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... might have been supposed. At the same time it showed that the Communist system was by then so fragile that the removal of faith in its nuclear programme played a major part in its eventual downfall. PiersPaulRead picks out, then weaves, these two themes with skill and sometimes – notably in his description of the explosion itself – with the vigour of a superior thriller writer. He seems to tire ...
20 December 1979
by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 365 pp., £5.95
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Fergus Lamont 
by Robin Jenkins.
Canongate, 293 pp., £7.95
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A Married Man 
by Piers Paul Read.
Alison Press/Secker, 264 pp., £5.25
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And Again? 
by Sean O’Faolain.
Constable, 267 pp., £5.95
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... distaste is not exceptional, for among the still rich and the newly successful self-mistrust is a norm, and a well-fed and well-upholstered lack of confidence has been absorbed into their life-style. PiersPaulRead’s characters easily see through themselves. When Clare, the deceived wife now herself considering adultery, writes to a priest about her problem, the telling thing is not this revelation ...

What ho, Giotto!

Julian Symons

7 February 1991
Stanley Spencer 
by Kenneth Pople.
Collins, 576 pp., £25, January 1991, 0 00 215320 3
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... Spencer spent childhood and youth in ‘Fernlea’, one of a pair of semi-detached villas in Cookham High Street put up by his grandfather Julius. Pa was a music teacher, worshipper of Ruskin, read the Bible to the family. Ma took the children to the village Methodist chapel, something Stanley in the end found unsatisfying. ‘I have listened to a thousand sermons, and would like something to ...

New Mortality

John Harvey

5 November 1981
The Hotel New Hampshire 
by John Irving.
Cape, 401 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 224 01961 9
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The Villa Golitsyn 
by Piers Paul Read.
Secker, 193 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 436 40968 2
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Funeral Games 
by Mary Renault.
Murray, 257 pp., £6.95, November 1981, 0 7195 3883 1
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The Cupboard 
by Rose Tremain.
Macdonald, 251 pp., £6.95, October 1981, 0 03 540476 0
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... premises to another. As hotels, the huge ventures fail, but the family just keeps afloat, and through persistence in the face of recurring failure, Father emerges as a kind of idealist. In Paul Theroux’s recent novel The Mosquito Coast there was a marvellously vital but similarly quixotic Father, an inventor-businessman making ice in the jungle. It seems that fiction is at present engaged ...

Brought to book

Gordon Williams

7 May 1981
Ronnie Biggs: His Own Story 
by Michael Joseph.
Sphere, 238 pp., £7.95, March 1981, 9780718119720
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A Sense of Freedom 
by Jimmy Boyle.
Pan, 264 pp., £1.25, September 1977, 0 330 25303 4
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... identified, and naturally, it was one of these who coshed the train-driver. The likes of Buster Edwards and Jim Hussey come across socially as chaps to go into the jungle with, although novelist PiersPaulRead might demur: despite being warned by Biggs that he was being wound up, he more or less accepted the robbers’ concocted revelation that the robbery was financed by Otto Skorzeny the scar ...


Hugo Young

24 November 1994
The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe 
by Colm Tóibín.
Cape, 296 pp., £16.99, October 1994, 0 224 03767 6
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... Catholicism in the Nineties. Turning up in Lourdes himself, he is mistaken for a priest and given the best room in an overbooked hotel. In Poland for the papal visit in 1991, he’s so moved by John Paul II’s demeanour, conducting a six-hour open-air ceremony, that he seems to get close to re-conversion. ‘There was something about the singing, the colours and the beauty of the words which ...

Mirror Images

Jenny Diski: Piers​ Morgan

31 March 2005
The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade 
by Piers​ Morgan.
Ebury, 484 pp., £17.99, March 2005, 0 09 190506 0
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... Life, Piers Morgan says about being sacked in 2004 as editor of the Mirror, is as serious as you want it to be. Lighten up, he repeatedly tells sad celebrities who complain about his front page exposés that ...
15 November 1984
... was David, and that if it had been Richard I could have become the second Richard of Prague.’ Confirmation of this single identity appeared to have been provided by the copyright line, which simply read: Richard Pennington. It seems unthinkable that a sometime publisher and printer would have allowed such a line to appear had he wished to float a forgery – he would have used the more discreet ...

The Slightest Sardine

James Wood: A literary dragnet

20 May 2004
The Oxford English Literary History. Vol. XII: 1960-2000: The Last of England? 
by Randall Stevenson.
Oxford, 624 pp., £30, February 2004, 0 19 818423 9
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... with the procedures of post-structuralism and deconstruction. They can talk about decentred texts and self-reflexive narration; they acknowledge that a text has an unconscious, and that it can be read against the grain of its author’s apparent intentions. They see that Eminem’s lyrics might be a ‘text’ in the way that Middlemarch is a text. They are often keener than many scholars to open ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2005

5 January 2006
... occasions flush out the devout, the fluent genuflection before entering the pew the first indicator. Charles Moore sinks to his knees straightaway and prays for a considerable period of time, and PiersPaulRead similarly. Some admiration for this, men who pray in public not uncourageous, though more often met with at Catholic rather than Anglican services. The service is conducted by Father Kit ...

Deep down

Julian Symons

28 June 1990
The Last World 
by Christoph Ransmayr, translated by John Woods.
Chatto, 202 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 7011 3502 6
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The End of Lieutenant Boruvka 
by Josef Skvorecky, translated by Paul​ Wilson.
Faber, 188 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14973 1
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The Dwarves of Death 
by Jonathan Coe.
Fourth Estate, 198 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 1 872180 51 5
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Last Loves 
by Alan Sillitoe.
Grafton, 190 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 333 51783 0
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... epileptic son of Fama the grocer into stone because of his total absorption in ‘the world’s objects’, like bits of coloured glass or buttons made magical as images in the episcope (for which read, more or less, magic lantern). The names are familiar from Ovid, the people are different. Dig down a further layer, and you find a comparison between the order and symmetry of Rome and the barbaric ...


Duncan Campbell

19 October 1995
The Autobiography of a Thief 
by Bruce Reynolds.
Bantam, 320 pp., £15.99, April 1995, 0 593 03779 0
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... France’ not only tells us that Mrs Fordham has travelled but cloaks old Charlie Wilson – shot dead by a hit-man in Spain in 1990 – in a rather different aura, more Gauloise than Craven A. PiersPaulRead’s The Train Robbers (1978) was another one: ‘the evil ... which I had sought in the train robbers can be found in any one of us and has little to do with the law of the land. There was ...


Patrick Parrinder

26 July 1990
The Sorrow of Belgium 
by Hugo Claus, translated by Arnold Pomerans.
Viking, 609 pp., £14.99, June 1990, 0 670 81456 3
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by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Virago, 260 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 1 85381 158 0
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A Sensible Life 
by Mary Wesley.
Bantam, 364 pp., £12.95, March 1990, 9780593019306
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The Light Years 
by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
Macmillan, 418 pp., £12.95, June 1990, 0 333 53875 7
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... The question of collaboration amongst intellectuals in the occupied nations has again become a talking-point, thanks largely to the posthumous revelations about the Belgian-American literary theorist Paul de Man. But what about the ordinary people of the Low Countries? Hugo Claus’s The Sorrow of Belgium, a novel first published in Holland in 1983, presents a world in which collaboration with the ...

Playboy’s Paperwork

Patrick Collinson: Historiography and Elizabethan politics

11 November 1999
The World of the Favourite 
edited by J.H. Elliott and L.W.B. Brockliss.
Yale, 320 pp., £35, June 1999, 0 300 07644 4
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The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585-97 
by Paul​ Hammer.
Cambridge, 468 pp., £45, June 1999, 0 521 43485 8
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... famously insisted that Elizabeth I’s ministers were ‘only favourites, not minions’. Was her first minister for much of the reign, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, such a favourite? In this volume, Paul Hammer distinguishes his position from that of a courtier-favourite such as, above all, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, but for Brockliss, Burghley fits the category of ‘minister-favourite ...

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