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Figures in Rooms, Rooms with Figures

Peter Campbell: Bonnard, 19 March 1998

by Timothy Hyman.
Thames and Hudson, 224 pp., £7.95, February 1998, 0 500 20310 5
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by Sarah Whitfield and John Elderfield.
Tate Gallery, 272 pp., £35, June 1998, 1 85437 243 2
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... about on very high heels like some bright-plumaged bird’. It is not that Hyman’s Bonnard or Sarah Whitfield’s essay in the Tate catalogue – both excellent, and usefully complementing each other – gives a very different account of the relationship from the one that limited anecdotal evidence had built up in the years since Bonnard’s death ...

All hail the microbe

Lavinia Greenlaw: Things Pile Up, 18 June 2020

Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils 
by David Farrier.
Fourth Estate, 307 pp., £16.99, March, 978 0 00 828634 7
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... push this one. Instead, he draws the eye past the human drama to the geological one, the still waters and incidental organisation required for these layers to settle and then be sealed so that they could hold those shapes for so long.There is a way of writing about the natural world in which intensity of description stands in for perception. Everything has ...

Bad Books

Susannah Clapp, 4 August 1988

Criminal Justice: The True Story of Edith Thompson 
by René Weis.
Hamish Hamilton, 327 pp., £14.95, July 1988, 0 241 12263 5
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... had a father to advise him this terrible thing would never have happened.’ She also said what By-waters had not allowed his lawyer to say: that it was really Edith Thompson’s fault. ‘He has always been the best of sons to me,’ wrote Lilian Bywaters. ‘But like many other boys of his age, he fell under the spell of a woman many years older than ...

Robbing banks

George Melly, 25 June 1992

by David Sylvester.
Thames and Hudson, 352 pp., £45, May 1992, 0 500 09227 3
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by Sarah Whitfield.
South Bank Centre, 322 pp., £18.95, May 1992, 1 85332 087 0
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... seen her face covered with a sheet to conceal the effect of 17 days’ submersion in the polluted waters of an industrial river. His uncle, who had identified her, could have told him that her face was covered to avoid having to describe her decomposition to ‘the pitiful centre’ of the tragedy, and so on. None of this alters the fact that Magritte’s ...

How to be a queen

David Carpenter: She-Wolves, 15 December 2011

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth 
by Helen Castor.
Faber, 474 pp., £9.99, July 2011, 978 0 571 23706 7
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... fear, it was to find their path blocked by the River Wharfe and their final rest in its freezing waters. And all the while, new rivulets of melting snow stained red with blood were snaking through the frozen furrows of the road that led towards York and Margaret. The concentration on evocative and dramatic events makes She-Wolves arresting, but it comes at ...

Out of this World

David Armitage, 16 November 1995

by Thomas More, edited by George Logan, Robert M. Adams and Clarence Miller.
Cambridge, 290 pp., £55, February 1995, 0 521 40318 9
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Utopias of the British Enlightenment 
edited by Gregory Claeys.
Cambridge, 305 pp., £35, July 1994, 0 521 43084 4
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... rather than expect to see’? The fact that this closing is drawn from Cicero only muddies the waters further: ‘More’ is not More, though he speaks with the authority of the humanists’ greatest classical exemplar. Even the work’s positive values – peace, leisure, plenty – become compromised by this ambiguity and the result, as the Cambridge ...

Ozick’s No

John Lanchester, 4 February 1988

The Messiah of Stockholm 
by Cynthia Ozick.
Deutsch, 144 pp., £9.95, November 1987, 9780233981420
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The Birds of the Innocent Wood 
by Deirdre Madden.
Faber, 147 pp., £9.95, January 1988, 0 571 14880 8
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The Coast of Bohemia 
by Zdena Tomin.
Century, 201 pp., £11.95, October 1987, 0 09 168490 0
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... on the man’s words. Then: The room began to lift. It ascended. It rose like an ark on the waters. Lucy said inside her mind, ‘This Chamber of Jews’. It seemed to her that the room was levitating on the little grains of the refugee’s whisper. And that is how ‘Levitation’ ends, with the party straggling on as the other room floats ...


Andrew O’Hagan, 11 May 1995

... the sea around the Shetland Isles and, sometimes, it would lead a convoy through the dangerous waters off the west of Ireland. A fair number of Scots manned the ship during the closing months of 1940: Ian Affleck used to work in Kalac’s Cycle and Motor Store in Forfar, and felt he’d been born to help power a ship such as this, named after his own ...

Do what you wish, du Maurier

E.S. Turner, 31 March 1988

by Joe Haines.
Macdonald, 525 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 356 17172 8
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Maxwell: The Outsider 
by Tom Bower.
Aurum, 374 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 948149 88 4
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Maxwell: A Portrait of Power 
by Peter Thompson and Anthony Delano.
Bantam, 256 pp., £12.95, February 1988, 0 593 01499 5
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Goodbye Fleet Street 
by Robert Edwards.
Cape, 260 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 224 02457 4
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... come a long way. As Mirror Group Political Editor, he was involved in the bidding for the story of Sarah Keays, former secretary of Cecil Parkinson. ‘One of the attractions of her story to the Mirror and its publisher was the fact that it would be available for publication at the same time as the 1985 Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool.’ Forward ...

The Stream in the Sky

John Barrell: Thomas Telford, 22 March 2018

Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain 
by Julian Glover.
Bloomsbury, 403 pp., £10.99, January 2018, 978 1 4088 3748 1
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... have done on the day the construction was complete, before the stop-planks were raised and the waters of the canal first flowed across the Tern. It rings loudly under the boots of walkers, and amplifies to a hollow clangour the rhythmic tapping of their walking-sticks. The first piece of Telford I collected was in Wales. The Holyhead Road has been the ...

Enabler’s Revenge

David Runciman: John Edwards, 25 March 2010

The Politician: An Insider’s Account of John Edwards’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down 
by Andrew Young.
Thomas Dunne, 301 pp., $24.99, January 2010, 978 0 312 64065 1
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Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House 
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.
Viking, 448 pp., £25, January 2010, 978 0 670 91802 7
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... the mainstream media kept its distance from the story, nervous of getting sucked into such murky waters when the primary season was upon them. In Iowa, Edwards managed to come a creditable second to Obama, squeezing Hillary Clinton into third place. Unfortunately, he had gambled everything on winning Iowa, and once it was clear that this was now the ...

From a Novel in Progress

James Wood, 9 May 2002

... The secularist, as I certainly consider myself, has a duty to be worldly, to take the pagan waters at spas of his own choosing. Don’t I have Nietzsche, one of my favourite philosophers, to support me? And Camus, the Algerian bather-seducer. It was my parents’ duty, as Christian models, to stifle their appetites in preparation for eternity’s ...

Mon Pays

Michael Rogin: Josephine Baker, 22 February 2001

The Josephine Baker Story 
by Ean Wood.
Sanctuary, 327 pp., £16.99, September 2000, 1 86074 286 6
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Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s 
by Petrine Archer-Straw.
Thames and Hudson, 200 pp., £14.95, September 2000, 0 500 28135 1
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... antics in another. Had she remained in the US, she might have risen to the position of Ethel Waters (originally offered La Revue nègre role) who, before falling into Mammy motion picture parts, was the one glamorous black woman permitted to perform for whites. Instead, she graduated from minstrel fantasies of black Americans to Parisian fantasies of ...

Merry Kicks

Mark Ford: The Madness of Marinetti, 20 May 2004

Selected Poems and Related Prose 
by F.T. Marinetti, translated by Elizabeth Napier and Barbara Studholme.
Yale, 250 pp., £35, January 2003, 0 300 04103 9
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... change. ‘Les Vieux Marins’ (which won a prestigious poetry prize and was publicly recited by Sarah Bernhardt), La Conquête des étoiles (an epic in 19 cantos about a battle between the sea and the stars), Destruction (a set of lyrics equally vague and cosmic) all illustrate precisely the style and subject-matter Marinetti would soon be condemning as ...

Our Flexible Friends

Conor Gearty, 18 April 1996

Scott Inquiry Report 
by Richard Scott.
HMSO, 2386 pp., £45, February 1996, 0 10 262796 7
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... of the transient celebrity status that was accorded the victims of earlier scandals such as Sarah Tisdall, Clive Ponting and John Stalker. Old bully that he is, Michael Heseltine has grabbed the crown of martyrdom from these still anonymous officials and emerges from the office of the Deputy Prime Minister from time to time to masquerade as a ...

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