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If Goofy Could Talk

Frank Cioffi, 6 April 1995

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals 
by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy.
Cape, 268 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 0 224 03554 1
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The Hidden Life of Dogs 
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 148 pp., £12.50, May 1994, 0 297 81461 3
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The Tribe of Tiger 
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £12.99, October 1994, 0 297 81508 3
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... Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy’s book is a collection of anecdotes, arguments and exhortations which insists on the analogies between human and animal being. The rationale given for this enterprise in Masson’s Preface is implausible: it is to bridge the ‘tremendous gap between the common sense view (that “animals have such feelings as happiness, anger and fear”) and that of official science ...

Sour Plums

John Lanchester, 26 October 1989

The Letters of John Cheever 
edited by Benjamin Cheever.
Cape, 397 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 224 02689 5
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Mary McCarthy 
by Carol Gelderman.
Sidgwick, 430 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 283 99797 4
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The company she keeps 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 246 pp., £4.50, October 1989, 0 297 79649 6
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... proved that not to have been the fact-checkers’ finest hour. In 1984, two years after his death, Susan Cheever published Home before Dark, a memoir which portrayed her father, whose public image was that of an impeccably upper-middle-class monogamist suburban WASP, as a promiscuously bisexual alcoholic. One memorable scene had John Updike, a friend and rival ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... Benjamin​ Moser begins his biography with a bang: ‘Susan Sontag was America’s last great literary star.’ In my gaudier moments I prefer to think of Sontag as American literature’s first and last great screen star. Transcending staid text, she was projected into the avid imaginations of legions of onlookers who didn’t know Walter Benjamin from Walter Brennan ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd, 10 August 2000

Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... account of sexual and matrimonial chaos. Diana Trilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of Eastwick (lacking only their Hardwick) have vented about Robert Lowell. To interview all the exes of Philip Rahv would be an undertaking from which the most committed Boswellian might ...

Triumph of the Poshocracy

Susan Pedersen: Britain between the Wars, 8 August 2013

The British People and the League of Nations: Democracy, Citizenship and Internationalism, c.1918-45 
by Helen McCarthy.
Manchester, 282 pp., £65, November 2011, 978 0 7190 8616 8
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A Lark for the Sake of Their Country: The 1926 General Strike Volunteers in Folklore and Memory 
by Rachelle Hope Saltzman.
Manchester, 262 pp., £65, April 2012, 978 0 7190 7977 1
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... those national societies, none was more important than the British League of Nations Union. Helen McCarthy’s book is the first full study of the LNU to be published in more than thirty years. It is an important work of recovery. Almost forgotten today, the LNU was one of the largest and most vibrant voluntary associations of the interwar years. With around ...

Still Superior

Mark Greif: Sex and Susan Sontag, 12 February 2009

Reborn: Early Diaries, 1947-64 
by Susan Sontag, edited by David Rieff.
Hamish Hamilton, 318 pp., £16.99, January 2009, 978 0 241 14431 2
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... One of the most appealing things about Susan Sontag was that she didn’t ask to be liked. Other postwar American writers who cut the same sort of public figure pleaded with you to love their outsized faults, embrace their dumb enthusiasms, and cast in your lot with theirs through recounted divorces, nervous breakdowns, lusts ...

Surviving the Sixties

Hilary Mantel, 18 May 1989

Shoe: The Odyssey of a Sixties Survivor 
by Jonathan Guinness.
Century Hutchinson, 233 pp., £14.95, March 1989, 0 09 173857 1
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Lilly: Reminiscences of Lillian Hellman 
by Peter Feibleman.
Chatto, 364 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 7011 3441 0
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... story ‘in the way Shoe might tell it, if she could write. From now on,’ he asserts, ‘I am Susan Mary Taylor, born in Oldham, Lancashire, on 26 July 1944.’ While the author has explained, in his foreword, what he means to do, nothing quite prepares one for the shock of the switch into the first person and it is only when the switch occurs that one ...

Capital W, Capital W

Michael Wood: Women writers, 19 August 1999

Women Writers at Work 
edited by George Plimpton.
Harvill, 381 pp., £9.99, February 1999, 1 86046 586 2
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Just as I Thought 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 332 pp., £8.99, August 1999, 1 86049 696 2
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... as a volume in 1988, and now expanded and updated to include Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood remarks that the writers have been brought together ‘over what, in some cases, would be their dead bodies’. Dorothy Parker, for instance, says she is ‘a feminist, and God knows I’m loyal to my sex ... But when we paraded ...

For the Good of the Sex

Susan Eilenberg, 8 December 1994

The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld 
edited by William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft.
Georgia, 399 pp., £58.50, June 1994, 0 8203 1528 1
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... writes has this power, this precision or this delicate clarity. But Elizabeth Kraft and William McCarthy, who edited this volume, doubt that either her lapses into mediocrity or changing tastes can account for the decline in her reputation, which they blame chiefly on the anti-feminism of the Romantic poets and their canonisers. This is plausible ...

Shedding one’s sicknesses

Patrick Parrinder, 20 November 1986

The Injured Party 
by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
Hamish Hamilton, 309 pp., £10.95, November 1986, 0 241 11946 4
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Expensive Habits 
by Maureen Howard.
Viking, 268 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 670 81291 9
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... than on the young man up from the provinces, or the young woman affronting her destiny. Both Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and Maureen Howard are established novelists in mid-career, and so are the heroines of their latest novels. The protagonist of Mainland, one of the three novels by Schaeffer currently available in the UK under the Pavanne imprint (the ...

The Divine Miss P.

Elaine Showalter, 11 February 1993

Sex, Art and American Culture 
by Camille Paglia.
Viking, 256 pp., £16.99, March 1993, 0 670 84612 0
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... Who is hotter than Mary McCarthy? Smarter than Susan Sontag? Funnier than Harold Bloom? Well, if you take her word for it, it’s Camille Paglia, come to set the world straight on the burning issues of our time: tenured radicals, date rape, the aesthetic evolution of Madonna. The self-styled genius and warrior woman seized public attention with her first book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), a sweeping, Strindbergian analysis of culture as the war of the sexes ...

Mother-Haters and Other Rebels

Barbara Taylor: Heroine Chic, 3 January 2002

Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage 
by Elaine Showalter.
Picador, 384 pp., £16.99, June 2001, 0 330 34669 5
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... of the 1920s, Rebecca West and the pioneers of British ‘New Feminism’, Emma Goldman, Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt (the last two, both openly hostile to feminism, qualify on the grounds that as ‘trouble-makers and rule-breakers’ they lived the feminism they repudiated). As the narrative approaches the present, a bevy of feminist writers who came ...

Who Cares?

Jean McNicol, 9 February 1995

The Report of the Inquiry into the Care and Treatment of Christopher Clunis 
by Jean Ritchie, Donald Dick and Richard Lingham.
HMSO, 146 pp., £9.50, February 1994, 0 11 701798 1
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Creating Community Care: Report of the Mental Health Foundation into Community Care for People with Severe Mental Illness 
by William Utting.
Mental Health Foundation, 76 pp., £9.50, September 1994, 0 901944 17 3
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Finding a Place: A Review of Mental Health Services for Adults 
HMSO, 94 pp., £11, November 1994, 0 11 886143 3Show More
The Falling Shadow: One Patient’s Mental Health Care. Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Events Leading up to and Surrounding the Fatal Incident at the Edith Morgan Centre, Torbay, on 1 September 1993 
by Louis Blom-Cooper, Helen Hally and Elaine Murphy.
Duckworth, 230 pp., £12.99, January 1995, 0 7156 2662 0
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... this and claimed that he had had no idea who attacked Nigel Bartlett. About half an hour later, Susan Parashar, who lived nearby in Whittington Road, bumped into her son and his friends while she was taking her dogs for a walk. A large man came up and began, incoherently, to talk to them. He tried to pat one of her dogs, but it growled at him and the man ...

Andy Paperbag

Hal Foster: Andy Warhol, 21 March 2002

Andy Warhol 
by Wayne Koestenbaum.
Weidenfeld, 196 pp., £12.99, November 2001, 0 297 64630 3
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... proclivity for ‘multiplication and archiving’ to gay taste in New York, which in ‘the bleak McCarthy era paradoxically flourished in the home’. In this ‘domestic avant-gardism’ public signs were ironised in private ways that ‘interrupted the distinction’ between the two spheres. Such customising of images is close to ‘camp’ as defined by ...

Mr Trendy Sicko

James Wolcott, 23 May 2019

White 
by Brett Easton Ellis.
Picador, 261 pp., £16.99, May 2019, 978 1 5290 1239 2
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... a stir: Donna Tartt, David Leavitt, Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Nancy Lemann, Susan Minot, Mary Robison, Anderson Ferrell – a cast of dozens. Many of those rookies trained at the literary dojo of the author, editor, creative writing teacher and guru-mentor-mindgamer Gordon Lish, who bore the dashing nickname ‘Captain Fiction’. The ...

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