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What did it matter who I was?

Gaby Wood, 19 October 1995

The Blue Suit 
by Richard Rayner.
Picador, 216 pp., £9.99, July 1995, 0 330 33821 8
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The Liar’s Club 
by Mary Karr.
Picador, 317 pp., £14.99, October 1995, 0 330 33597 9
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... Richard Rayner’s The Blue Suit is a memoir, a work of non-fiction. In it his father dies several times: of cancer, in a car crash, missing presumed drowned and, finally, of a heart attack. He makes guest appearances in between, as a sick man in Scotland, as a diplomat in Australia, as a stepfather. These events all form part of a story, a sort of Arabian Nights of the confessional, in which Rayner admits his real life to his girlfriend (‘one confession veiling the next’), and the whole truth turns out to be a narration of the lies he has told ...

Rites of Passage

Anthony Quinn, 27 June 1991

The Elephant 
by Richard Rayner.
Cape, 276 pp., £13.99, May 1991, 0 224 03005 1
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The Misfortunes of Nigel 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Peter Owen, 176 pp., £12.95, June 1991, 0 7206 0830 9
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Famous for the creatures 
by Andrew Motion.
Viking, 248 pp., £14.99, June 1991, 0 670 82286 8
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Double Lives 
by Stephen Wall.
Bloomsbury, 154 pp., £13.99, June 1991, 0 7475 0910 7
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... Richard Rayner's new novel, his second, opens with a nervous exhibition of rhetorical trills and twitches, buttonholing the reader like a stand-up comic on his first night:      My name is Headingley Hamer.      Absurd, I admit, but this statement is true, and it’s not that I don’t want to tell this story, nor that l feel impelled to do so and am trying to stop myself, just that I’m having trouble getting going ...
... to be talking about Dante, Shakespeare and Martin Amis.’ The text of the Time Out feature by Richard Rayner, one of the most impressive of all the discussions, is also a study in contrasts, containing a highly unillusioned portrait of Amis’s public personality alongside an intelligent and generous appraisal of his novels.The star fiction-reviewers ...

How was it for you?

David Blackbourn, 30 October 1997

Man Without a Face: The Memoirs of a Spymaster 
by Markus Wolf and Anne McElvoy.
Cape, 367 pp., £17.99, June 1997, 0 224 04498 2
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The File: A Personal History 
by Timothy Garton Ash.
HarperCollins, 227 pp., £12.99, July 1997, 0 00 255823 8
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... precision. This, coupled with the memoir form, put me oddly in mind of a book by his contemporary, Richard Rayner. The Blue Suit is also a coming-of-age work with an Oxbridge protagonist and intelligence recruiters in the wings; the two books even mention the same superstar literature don (I shall call him ‘George’, since that is his name). And ...

Other Selves

John Bayley, 29 October 1987

How I Grew 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 297 79170 2
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Myself and Michael Innes 
by J.I.M. Stewart.
Gollancz, 206 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 575 04104 8
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... the favourites: Even more than the better-known The Forest Lovers I loved The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay, about King Richard the Lion-Hearted, published in 1900 ... the medieval romances I was writing at top speed on an empty stomach were meant to be in his manner. I cannot remember whether I showed any of them ...

Going on the air

Philip French, 2 May 1985

Orwell: The War Broadcasts 
edited by W.J. West.
Duckworth/BBC, 304 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 7156 1916 0
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... Morris (both of whom wrote elegant memoirs of Orwell at the BBC); he employed Nye Bevan, Richard Acland, J.B.S. Haldane, T.S. Eliot, Quintin Hogg, Bernard Shaw; he led a BBC party, that included Guy Burgess, to a special de-briefing by Stafford Cripps on his abortive mission to India. Working for the BBC gave Orwell the experience, however ...

Eric the Nerd

Ian Hamilton: The Utterly Complete Orwell, 29 October 1998

The Complete Works of George Orwell 
edited by Peter Davidson.
Secker, £750, July 1998, 0 436 20377 4
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... and very unreliable; Ian Mikardo: I don’t know much about him, but have sometimes wondered; Richard Crossman: ??Political climber. Zionist (appears sincere about this). Too dishonest to be outright FT. Nearly all of this, however, has been known about for years and made use of in biographies of Orwell. So, too, have the Notes on which he based his Home ...

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