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On Putting Things Off

Robert Hanks, 10 September 2015

... of 23 years before The Fox in the Attic (the nominal focus of my piece), which was conceived as a self-contained story but ended up as the first volume of a trilogy: getting started is half the problem; knowing when to stop is the other. The second volume, The Wooden Shepherdess, took another 12 years and, though it has its moments, feels messy and ...

What time can you pick me up?

J. Robert Lennon: ‘The Art of Fielding’, 26 January 2012

The Art of Fielding 
by Chad Harbach.
Fourth Estate, 512 pp., £16.99, January 2012, 978 0 00 737444 1
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... novels. A few have achieved the status of bona fide classics: W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel and Bernard Malamud’s The Natural. It was the last two of those novels I kept thinking of as I read Chad Harbach’s highly ...

Under the Staircase

Robert Neild, 1 April 1983

War Plan UK: The Truth about Civil Defence in Britain 
by Duncan Campbell.
Burnett, 488 pp., £12.95, November 1982, 0 09 150670 0
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With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War 
by Robert Scheer.
Secker, 279 pp., £8.95, February 1983, 0 436 44355 4
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... of Defence for Research and Engineering, Strategic and Theatre Nuclear Forces, that Robert Scheer heard the phrase from which he took the title of his book: ‘if there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.’ The shovels, Mr Jones explained, were for digging holes in the ground. These would be covered somehow or other ...

The Project

Robert Conquest, 22 December 1994

Stalin and the Bomb 
by David Holloway.
Yale, 464 pp., £19.95, September 1994, 0 300 06056 4
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... from the memorandum whether Kurchatov knew in July 1943 about Fermi’s success in achieving a self-sustaining chain reaction in a uranium graphite pile in Chicago the previous December’ – a much more restrained formulation. But then it was extremely improbable that Soviet espionage, which was already providing Moscow with a great deal of detail, would ...


Robert Macfarlane: The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher, 4 April 2002

The Mulberry Empire 
by Philip Hensher.
Flamingo, 560 pp., £17.99, April 2002, 0 00 711226 2
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... most memorable Londoners we encounter is a melancholic and affected writer called Stokes – the self-proclaimed ‘lion of literary London’. He was lying on the ottoman, swathed as profoundly as a pasha . . . His glittering pointed slippers, curling at the toes like those of some evil genius of the pantomime, were as villainous as a moustache. On his ...

I was trying to find the edge

J. Robert Lennon: Cusk-alike, 3 June 2021

Second Place 
by Rachel Cusk.
Faber, 224 pp., £14.99, May, 978 0 571 36629 3
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... comparisons is especially strong when it comes to Rachel Cusk, who so often plays with forms of self-portraiture. This novel is her first since Kudos (2018), the last in her Outline trilogy, which is narrated by an impassive Cusk-alike who endures the long-winded, implausible and often grimly hilarious monologues of ...

Outside the Academy

Robert Alter, 13 February 1992

Authors and Authority: English and American Criticism 1750-1990 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Macmillan, 392 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 333 43294 0
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A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Vol. VII: German, Russian and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950 
by René Wellek.
Yale, 458 pp., £26, October 1991, 0 300 05039 9
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... as elsewhere, seized on the ‘play of signifiers’ as warrant for a carnivalesque celebration of self-reflexive critical ingenuity, with Hartman imitating this hermeneutic dance on more leaden feet; on the other side, the dour de Man conceived Deconstruction, in Parrinder’s apt words, ‘as a twilight consciousness rather than a brilliant new dawn’; and ...

We’ll win or lose it here

Robert F. Worth: Lessons from Tahrir Square, 21 September 2017

The City Always Wins 
by Omar Robert Hamilton.
Faber, 312 pp., £14.99, August 2017, 978 0 571 33517 6
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Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt 
by Yasmine El Rashidi.
Tim Duggan, 181 pp., £11.70, June 2017, 978 0 7704 3729 9
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... One​ of many remarkable aspects of Egypt’s 2011 revolt was its intense self-consciousness. It wasn’t just that the sit-ins were being broadcast 24 hours a day on satellite TV, with huge screens mounted in Tahrir Square so that the crowd could watch itself writhing in pixels, like the mosh pit in a nightclub ...

Is R2-D2 a person?

Galen Strawson, 18 June 2015

Staying Alive: Personal Identity, Practical Concerns and the Unity of a Life 
by Marya Schechtman.
Oxford, 214 pp., £35, March 2014, 978 0 19 968487 8
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... new body can be if one is to remain the same person. I may feel I’m most essentially a mental self, that my identity is in some deep way independent of my body, but ‘I am not merely present in my body as a sailor is present in a ship,’ as Descartes observed. ‘I am very closely joined and, as it were, intermingled with it, so that I and the body form ...

The Art of Self-Defeat

Noël Annan, 19 July 1984

Faces of Philip: A Memoir of Philip Toynbee 
by Jessica Mitford.
Heinemann, 175 pp., £9.95, July 1984, 0 434 46802 9
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... in the Observer uninfluenced by current styles. Not for him the Leavisite mixture of innuendo and self-righteousness intended to convict writers of holding improper thoughts. He always spoke with respect for others and considered their dignity when he disagreed with them. It is true that whatever ideology had him in its grasp at any given time he followed ...

Weathering the storm

Robert Blake, 18 October 1984

Lord Liverpool: The Life and Political Career of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool 1770-1828 
by Norman Gash.
Weidenfeld, 265 pp., £16.95, August 1984, 0 297 78453 6
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... the current prime minister to overcome his father’s opposition to his marriage? The answer is Robert Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool and eighth baronet, whose maternal grandmother, wife of a Nabob, was Eurasian. He is one of the neglected figures of history. Yet he was prime minister for 15 years from 1812 to 1827, till in February at the age of 56 he ...

The Other Half

Robert Melville, 4 July 1985

Kenneth Clark: A Biography 
by Meryle Secrest.
Weidenfeld, 310 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 9780297783985
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... Suddenly I thought: ‘My God, he’s going to speak to me!’ ‘Am I right in thinking you’re Robert Melville?’ he said. ‘My name is Clark.’ ‘Indisputably, Sir Kenneth,’ I answered. I remember the word I used, because as soon as I said it I realised that it was ludicrously inappropriate. And I went on quickly: ‘It’s a fine Pasmore, isn’t ...

Standing at ease

Robert Taubman, 1 May 1980

Faces in My Time 
by Anthony Powell.
Heinemann, 230 pp., £8.50, March 1980, 0 434 59924 7
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... All That, as one literary man’s war memoirs with another’s, I’m struck by the contrast with Robert Graves’s modernity. It doesn’t seem to matter that his was an earlier war, or a different kind of war – Mr Powell’s being much more the contemporary kind we know about – but Graves was modern in that his personal involvement is so much more vivid ...

Doris Lessing’s Space Fiction

Robert Taubman, 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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... people. But I’m not certain he ever is put together. The bits and pieces of Fergus and his wily self-justification are an old story in Scotland, and very much enjoyment is to be got out of them in Mr Jenkins’s new version: but he has not made Fergus a convincing modern character. There are worrying hiatuses in his supposed moral development, especially in ...

He or She

Robert Taubman, 8 November 1979

The Twyborn Affair 
by Patrick White.
Cape, 432 pp., £5.95
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... its natural phenomena ‘were becoming his deepest source of solace’. Eddie is aware of ‘the self which, he felt sure, was in process of being born, and which was the reason he had chosen a manner of life on the whole distasteful to him’. An affair with Marcia, the owner’s wife, is followed by an episode with the station manager involving mutual ...

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