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Irishtown

D.A.N. Jones, 1 November 1984

Ironweed 
by William Kennedy.
Viking, 227 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 670 40176 5
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In Custody 
by Anita Desai.
Heinemann, 204 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 9780434186358
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Flaubert’s Parrot 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 190 pp., £8.50, October 1984, 0 241 11374 1
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... a wild Irish town. Ironweed has won the Pulitzer Prize, after being rejected by 13 publishers. Saul Bellow urged the Viking Press to publish it, since he admired Kennedy’s other Albany novels, Legs and Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game: both these books have now been re-published as Penguin paperbacks.* The first is about the Albany gangster, Jack ...

Four Funerals and a Wedding

Andrew O’Hagan: If something happens to me…, 5 May 2005

... out of the chapel to the theme-music from the Antiques Roadshow, or was it Handel’s Water Music? Saul Bellow seemed to me to possess more moral lustre than your average pope, but then I only read him, I didn’t marry him, as five people did. The pope and Saul Bellow were enemies of nihilism in one form or ...

Bravo, old sport

Christopher Hitchens, 4 April 1991

Critical Crossings: The New York Intellectuals in Post-War America 
by Neil Jumonville.
California, 291 pp., £24.95, January 1991, 0 520 06858 0
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... approximately the same time as Mary McCarthy was chivvying and being chivvied all over Manhattan, Saul Bellow submitted his first short story for publication in the student magazine of Northwestern University. (It took third prize in the competition.) Entitled ‘The Hell It Can’t’, the story was intended to rebuke Sinclair Lewis’s Popular Front ...

Barrage Balloons of Fame

Christopher Tayler: We need to talk about Martin, 8 October 2020

Inside Story 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 521 pp., £20, September, 978 1 78733 275 1
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... affectingly and almost plainly – testifies to such snares being ‘terrifically outwitted’, as Saul Bellow once put it. Inside Story is long but its identity as a novel comes in for immediate qualification. Not surprisingly, it isn’t autofiction of the Karl Ove Knausgaard kind. It isn’t a straight-up autobiographical novel either. Amis uses terms ...

Strong Meat

John Lanchester, 11 January 1990

The Bellarosa Connection 
by Saul Bellow.
Secker, 102 pp., £11.95, January 1990, 0 436 19988 2
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The War Zone 
by Alexander Stuart.
Hamish Hamilton, 207 pp., £11.95, March 1989, 0 241 12342 9
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A Touch of Love 
by Jonathan Coe.
Duckworth, 156 pp., £9.95, April 1989, 0 7156 2277 3
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Do it again 
by Martyn Harris.
Viking, 220 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 670 82858 0
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... as a danger to Jewry. This position is a logical outcome of the premise, increasingly vital in Bellow’s writing, that things of the spirit come first – and therefore that danger to the soul outranks danger to the body. This is, obviously, a recipe for conservative politics: in Bellow’s case, it also seems to be the ...

This is me upside down

Theo Tait: ‘Kapow!’, 7 June 2012

Kapow! 
by Adam Thirlwell.
Visual Editions, 81 pp., £15, May 2012, 978 0 9565692 3 3
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... I had my doubts’) along with the unidiomatic, vaguely Yiddishy noises, probably descended from Saul Bellow: ‘I was very adoring’; ‘Me, I kind of liked this way of putting it.’ Most important, his writing preserves its special ability to get up one’s nose. This is partly due to the strange combination of whimsy and pomposity. This is a ...

As a returning lord

John Lanchester, 7 May 1987

Einstein’s Monsters 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 127 pp., £5.95, April 1987, 0 224 02435 3
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... tonality in Amis’s writing, a darkening and a loss of exuberance in his address to the world. Saul Bellow, an exemplary figure for Amis in more than one respect, is relevant to the transition we are witnessing here: ‘Bellow has made his own experience resonate more memorably than any living writer. And yet he is ...

Self-Amused

Adam Phillips: Isaiah Berlin, 23 July 2009

Isaiah Berlin, Enlightening: Letters 1946-60 
edited by Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes.
Chatto, 844 pp., £35, June 2009, 978 0 7011 7889 5
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... with having a heart at all.’ These letters – which sometimes sound like an epistolary novel by Saul Bellow – are about, among many other things, what the wish not to be heartless can turn a person into. If you believe, as Berlin does and says in these letters, that ‘no end, however good, could fail to be destroyed by the adoption of monstrous ...

All the girls said so

August Kleinzahler: John Berryman, 2 July 2015

The Dream Songs 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 427 pp., £11.99, October 2014, 978 0 374 53455 4
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77 Dream Songs 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 84 pp., £10, October 2014, 978 0 374 53452 3
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Berryman’s Sonnets 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 127 pp., £10, October 2014, 978 0 374 53454 7
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The Heart Is Strange 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 179 pp., £17.50, October 2014, 978 0 374 22108 9
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Poets in their Youth 
by Eileen Simpson.
Farrar, Straus, 274 pp., £11.50, October 2014, 978 0 374 23559 8
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... by him for his poetry and intelligence from their early days as colleagues at Harvard; and by Saul Bellow, a close friend of both. Schwartz is read now, if at all, for his stories and best known for his protracted, wretched unravelling and decline, fictionally recounted by Bellow in Humboldt’s Gift. Plath, a ...

Eat your own misery

Tessa Hadley: Bette Howland’s Stories, 4 March 2021

‘Blue in Chicago’ and Other Stories 
by Bette Howland.
Picador, 329 pp., £12.99, July 2020, 978 1 5290 3582 7
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... family came over on the Mayflower, leaving her a single mother to two boys; she was taken up by Saul Bellow, who became her mentor and sometime lover. Her first story came out in his magazine Noble Savage (alongside one by Berlin). Howland was fraught, trying to make a living from low-paid shifts as a librarian and freelance editorial work for the ...

Distraction v. Attraction

Barbara Everett: Ashbery, Larkin and Eliot, 27 June 2002

... that gave birth to American modern culture. And it is a bastard modernity in this sense that Saul Bellow – in the Romanes Lecture he gave in Oxford in 1990 – finds inescapable yet crippling for any writer reflecting the society of his time: In public life everybody uses the same formulas – presidents, former presidents, senior ...

Dan’s Fate

Craig Raine, 3 October 1985

Time and Time Again 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 213 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 233 97804 6
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... there is no profusion either. Dan Jacobson is not a helpless genius of memory like Nabokov or Saul Bellow: his details strike deeply home, but they are St Sebastians, martyrs to detail. Bellow, characterising Herzog, also delineates himself: ‘Almost certainly, Nachman ran away from the power of his old friend’s ...

J’Accuzi

Frank Kermode, 24 July 1986

The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 208 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 224 02385 3
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... sloppier thoughts’. And Amis’s favourite American seems to be thoughtful, gloomy, energetic Saul Bellow, who gets both the opening and the closing essays. Bellow gave currency to the expression ‘moronic inferno’, which Amis thinks apt not only to America but to the rest of us; it is hard to feel cheerful ...

Dude, c’est moi

Edmund Gordon: Padgett Powell, 3 February 2011

The Interrogative Mood 
by Padgett Powell.
Profile, 164 pp., £9.99, November 2010, 978 1 84668 366 4
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... now his best-known novel (it was a finalist for the National Book Award and received praise from Saul Bellow and Walker Percy), exposes small-town racism and adult absurdity through the voice of its precocious 12-year-old narrator, Simons Manigault. Simons is the only son of a literary lady who wants him to become a writer (hence the elaborate diction ...

Darts for art’s sake

Julian Symons, 28 September 1989

London Fields 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 470 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 224 02609 7
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... technical virtuosity is extraordinary. The dense excellence of his writing owes something to early Saul Bellow, more to his ear for catching and improving the phrase of the hour or minute; and a little, perhaps only by extension from Bellow, to Wyndham Lewis. Yet it is always original, colloquial and finely ...

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