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Errant Pinkies

Robert​ Macfarlane

1 June 2000
by Ha Jin.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £10, May 2000, 0 434 00914 8
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... the absolute happiness they had been waiting for. The impressive descriptions of the Chinese landscape, which lend a strong sense of place to the novel, show what Jin’s prose is capable of. Winter in Muji was long. Snow wouldn’t disappear until early May. In mid-April when the Songhua River began to break up, people would gather at the bank watching the large blocks of ice cracking and ...

There Goes Valzer

László Krasznahorkai, translated by George Szirtes: A Story

20 March 2014
... My name​ is Róbert Valzer and I like walking, not that I have anything to do with the famous Robert Walser, nor do I think it strange that walking should be my favourite hobby. I call it a hobby but I accept – or rather I am prepared to entertain the fact – that where I live in this Central ...

The Beast on My Back

Gerald Weissmann

6 June 1996
The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 
by Allan Young.
Princeton, 327 pp., £28, March 1996, 0 691 03352 8
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... Bête Noire’ is set in Piccadilly during the long winter between the Battle of Alamein and the Normandy invasion. At the time, the 24-year-old Douglas had pretty much recovered from wounds inflicted by German 88s in the Western Desert and by spring he was ...

Lawful Charm

Donald Davie

6 July 1995
Selected Poems 
by William Barnes, edited by Andrew Motion.
Penguin, 171 pp., £6.99, May 1994, 0 14 042379 6
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Selected Poems 
by William Barnes, read by Alan Chedzoy.
Canto, £6.99
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... my small Boy’s strength, with quiv’ring head, let fall The apples we lik’d most of all.   Or elm I climb’d, with clasping legs.    To reach the crow’s high-nested eggs,      Come winter moss, creep on, creep on,      And warn me of the time that’s gone. Or where I found thy yellow bed Below the hill-borne fir-tree’s head, And heard the whistling east wind blow Above ...
24 June 1993
Daphne du Maurier 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 455 pp., £17.99, March 1993, 0 7011 3699 5
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... about it. There are other deficiencies, however, that cannot be ignored. The dialogue can be laughably banal, and the style undistinguished at best and cack-handed at worst. The hero, Maxim de Winter, and his wives, relatives and servants are caricatures; they deliver the immediate punch that the narrative requires but are not allowed any depth or development. What the author, being completely ...

Beware of counterfeits

Dror Wahrman: 18th-century fakery

6 June 2002
The Perreaus and Mrs Rudd: Forgery and Betrayal in 18th-Century London 
by Donna Andrew and Randall McGowen.
California, 346 pp., £24.95, November 2001, 0 520 22062 5
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The Smart: The True Story of Margaret Caroline Rudd and the Unfortunate Perreau Brothers 
by Sarah Bakewell.
Chatto, 321 pp., £17.99, April 2001, 9780701171094
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... accomplices (or dupes): the Perreau twins, indistinguishable in appearance but of quite different temperaments – one cautious and respectable, the other flashy and reckless. On 11 March 1775, Robert, the respectable half of the Perreau twins, a well-connected London apothecary, stormed into the Bow Street magistrate’s office to report a forgery. Not, as you might expect, a forgery of which he ...
20 November 1980
Human Voices 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 177 pp., £5.25, September 1980, 0 00 222280 9
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Winter​ Garden 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 157 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 0 7156 1495 9
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... goes off to Russia on a sponsored trip with some artists, including Nina, wife of a brain surgeon, with whom he is having (after many years of boring marital fidelity) an unsatisfactory affair. The Winter Garden is, primarily, a flowerless London backyard, but the title, like the cunningly-written opening chapter, requires to be taken rather carefully. Ashburner steals clumsily out of his wife’s ...


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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... critical Snap. This chapter matches Gogol; that one Austen. Have a go yourself. Who is Hensher pastiching in the following description? London knows no seasons; knows nothing of spring or summer or winter. It knows nothing but two seasons: Dust, and Mud. Now, at this moment, in May, we seem to be getting towards the end of Mud. Mud settled in more than six months ago, and has shown no sign of taking ...

Bad Shepherd

Robert​ Crawford: James Hogg

5 April 2001
The Collected Works of James Hogg. Vol. VIII: The ‘Spy’ 
edited by Gillian Hughes.
Edinburgh, 641 pp., £60, March 2000, 9780748613656
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... Blind Hary’s Wallace; and in the brassy Reformation of John Knox it blares even in the sophisticated George Buchanan’s over-the-top ‘Elegy for Jean Calvin’. The volume remains high in some of Robert Fergusson’s sophistic-performative street-talk, Burns’s on-off, rip-roaring ‘Tam o’Shanter’, MacDiarmid’s last trump blawing ‘tootle-ootle-oo’, Edwin Morgan’s Loch Ness Monstering ...

Love with Time Let in

Barbara Everett: ‘The Winter’s Tale’

8 January 2004
... Most modern editions of The Winter’s Tale explain – and rightly – that its title is an Elizabethan phrase indicating scepticism, the equivalent to our ‘romantic nonsense’. The work is underwriting its own lightness, its ...

Idiot Mambo

Robert​ Taubman

16 April 1981
Cities of the Red Night 
by William Burroughs.
Calder, 332 pp., £9.95, March 1981, 0 7145 3784 5
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The Tokyo-Montana Express 
by Richard Brautigan.
Cape, 258 pp., £6.50, April 1981, 0 224 01907 4
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... there’s something dauntless or shameless about trying to preserve the only two snowflakes that fell in ‘the smallest snowstorm on record’ – ‘Have you ever tried to find two snowflakes on a winter landscape that’s been covered with snow for months?’ These two flakes aren’t in fact found and preserved in the freezer – ‘where they would be comfortable’ – but they’re preserved in ...

Nairn is best

Neal Ascherson

21 May 1987
Nairn: In Darkness and Light 
by David Thomson.
Hutchinson, 303 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 0 09 168360 2
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... Nairn is best And besides its pleasant scenery is of historical interest. The Finlay family, to which David Thomson’s mother belonged, was very grand and patriarchal. The patriarch, ‘Uncle Robert’, was Viscount Finlay of Nairn who had been a Liberal MP with Gladstone, Lord Chancellor under Lloyd George and, in his eighties, a judge of the International Court at the Hague. Twenty or thirty ...

Frets and Knots

Anthony Grafton

4 November 1993
A History of Cambridge University Press. Vol. I: Printing and the Book Trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698 
by David McKitterick.
Cambridge, 500 pp., £65, October 1992, 0 521 30801 1
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... and he became its salaried employee. A second story, more explicitly bibliographical, follows the methods and rhythms of the printers’ working lives. In the wake of brilliant studies by McKenzie, Robert Darnton and others, McKitterick reconstructs the economics of book production: the costs of type, copper plates and paper, the sizes of editions, the prices per sheet of the resulting books (slightly ...

Write to me

Danny Karlin

11 January 1990
The Brownings’ Correspondence. Vol. VII: March-October 1843 
edited by Philip Kelley and Ronald Hudson.
Athlone, 429 pp., £60, December 1989, 0 485 30027 3
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... My dear Lady Olliffe,’ Robert Browning wrote in March 1877: I have just been reading my old friend Miss Martineau’s protest against the publication – and indeed, retention – of all correspondence. Here, now, is a sample of ...

Zero Hour

E.S. Turner

29 September 1988
The Berlin Blockade 
by Ann Tusa and John Tusa.
Hodder, 445 pp., £16.95, June 1988, 0 340 41607 6
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... the Free University would have been suffocated at birth,’ the Tusas say. The British officials saw too many difficulties. A new university ‘would necessarily be “a very poor affair”, as Robert Birley, the British Educational Adviser, sniffed’. Along with academic snobbery went ‘an acid tinge of anti-American feeling’: the brash Allies were making a vulgar bid for popularity, and so ...

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