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Ventures

Susannah Clapp, 10 November 1988

The Suzy Lamplugh Story 
by Andrew Stephen.
Faber, 198 pp., £10.95, October 1988, 0 571 15152 3
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... daughter had achieved fame by disappearing: by being, at the age of 25, presumed dead. In July, Susannah Lamplugh had left the estate agent’s office where she worked, apparently to meet a client, and had never returned. She seemed to have been abducted; she was thought by most people to have been murdered. Mrs Lamplugh’s letter, which described what had ...

Purging Stephen Spender

Susannah Clapp, 26 October 1989

Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography 
by Claire Harman.
Chatto, 358 pp., £16.95, July 1989, 0 7011 2938 7
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For Sylvia: An Honest Account 
by Valentine Ackland.
Chatto, 135 pp., £6.95, July 1989, 9780701135621
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... Before she was born, Sylvia Townsend Warner was called Andrew. When she was seven, her mother took against her for failing to be pretty and failing to be male; by the time she was 17 she was known to the boys of Harrow, where her father was a master, as ‘the cleverest fellow we had’. She described herself as repelled by the ‘devouring femaleness’ of her mother and as owning a ‘preponderantly masculine’ intellect ...

Little Men

Susannah Clapp, 7 August 1986

Sunflower 
by Rebecca West.
Virago, 276 pp., £9.95, June 1986, 0 86068 719 8
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... Rebecca West liked short men. Towards the end of her life a young journalist went to interview her. He arrived late, to hear West’s companion announce: ‘He’s worth waiting for!’ When West appeared her face fell. ‘Oh, you’re tall,’ she said damningly. ‘Small men are so energetic.’ Her posthumous novel Sunflower features fictional versions of two small men with big names: little H ...

Social Stations

Susannah Clapp, 1 October 1981

Edwardian Childhoods 
by Thea Thompson.
Routledge, 232 pp., £9.75, February 1981, 0 7100 0676 4
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... This book contains the memories of nine old people. Asked by a number of interviewers to talk about their childhoods in England before the First World War, they offer notes on families, schools and factories, on nursery teas and crocheting and ringworm. They talk a little about their feelings, less about their fantasies. Collected together to make a bag of recollections, their observations are presented less as life-histories than as a means of becoming acquainted with the conditions of a generation – a generation which, as one contributor points out, ‘was pretty well wiped out ...

Coming out with something

Susannah Clapp, 6 July 1989

Laughter and the Love of Friends: A Memoir 1945 to the Present Day 
by Ursula Wyndham.
Lennard, 208 pp., £14.95, March 1989, 1 85291 061 5
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1939: The Last Season of Peace 
by Angela Lambert.
Weidenfeld, 235 pp., £14.95, April 1989, 0 297 79539 2
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Rosehill: Portraits from a Midland City 
by Carol Lake.
Bloomsbury, 179 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 9780747503019
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... Of course, one has to write, but what can one say?’ Ursula Wyndham’s mother set up this despairing wail whenever she read in the Times that a friend had given birth. To a girl. Her contempt for female children extended – with knobs on – to her daughter, and she was backed up by a husband who acknowledged his least loved offspring only by explosions of distaste ...

Dark and Buzzing Looks

Susannah Clapp, 1 October 1987

Serenissima: A Novel of Venice 
by Erica Jong.
Bantam, 225 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 593 01365 4
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Her Mother’s Daughter 
by Marilyn French.
Heinemann, 756 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 434 27200 0
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The Wedding of Jayanthi Mandel 
by Sara Banerji.
Gollancz, 208 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 575 03984 1
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... When William Shakespeare kisses the heroine of Erica Jong’s novel, he does so ‘with molten sweetness’. When he goes to bed with her, Jessica Pruitt is ‘caught up in a sort of natural disaster ... It was as if meteorites showered the earth.’ This is new even to Ms Pruitt, who is accustomed to feeling her ‘silk panties moisten’, and given to referring darkly to ‘those other, lower lips ...

Lovers on a Train

Susannah Clapp, 10 January 1991

Carol 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Bloomsbury, 240 pp., £13.99, October 1990, 0 7475 0719 8
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... Beautifully written’ is novel-reviewer’s shorthand for ‘written by a woman’. So is ‘slim’. And ‘slender’. I began to note these casual condescensions when I was helping to judge last year’s Booker Prize. But then, prizes bring out prickliness. ‘Do you think,’ asked one contributor to the London Review of Books, ‘that the Booker panel is as distinguished as it should be?’ The question was delivered with a speculative air, worthy of the academic who spoke ...

Bully off

Susannah Clapp, 5 November 1992

Dunedin 
by Shena Mackay.
Heinemann, 341 pp., £14.99, July 1992, 0 434 44048 5
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... Shena Mackay has written the first antispeciesist novel. Dunedin does not feature animals in any large anthropomorphic or allegorical capacity, and there is hardly a pet in sight. But what happens at the edges of Mackay’s novels, what is taken for granted, has always been vital in establishing their distinctive flavour and their point. Dunedin is about London, poverty and pinched lives, but the background imagery is consistently, though often quietly animal ...

Hatless to Hindhead

Susannah Clapp, 1 May 1980

A Country Calendar 
by Flora Thompson, edited by Margaret Lane.
Oxford, 307 pp., £6.95, October 1979, 9780192117533
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... Flora Thompson was born in 1876 in the hamlet of Juniper Hill in Oxfordshire, the daughter of a nursemaid and a stonemason. At the village school she was good at skipping and scripture. She was expected to go into service like most of her schoolfriends, but she was bad at sewing and ineffective with babies; when she was 14 she became a post-office clerk in a nearby village ...

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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... On 3 October 1922 Percy Thompson, a shipping clerk and old member of the Stepney Elocution Class, was stabbed to death in the street near his home in Ilford. His wife, Edith, was with him; her lover and former lodger, Frederick Bywaters, was the attacker. These circumstances were not disputed when the couple were charged with Thompson’s murder. But when they were found guilty and sentenced to hang, the clamour for reprieve was insistent ...

At Portobello

Susannah Clapp, 4 April 1985

Scotch Verdict 
by Lillian Faderman.
Quartet, 320 pp., £12.95, February 1985, 0 7043 2505 5
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... In March 1811 a 15-year-old girl testified to the Edinburgh Court of Session that the mistresses in charge of her boarding-school had been ‘indecent together’. They had, she said, regularly visited each other in bed: they had lain one on top of the other, lifted up their night shifts and made the bed shake. And they had produced a strange noise – a noise that was ‘like putting one’s finger into the neck of a wet bottle ...

Sweet Home

Susannah Clapp, 19 May 1983

Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems 1927-1979 
Chatto/Hogarth, 287 pp., £10.95, April 1983, 0 7011 2694 9Show More
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... Elizabeth Bishop’s great gift was to perfect a way of writing about human procedures and concerns without talking chiefly about human behaviour. Her poems are intelligent, supple, grave and witty; often perplexed, but never presenting perplexity as their main source of interest. Her verse is among the least neurotic written in the 20th century. A first Complete Poems, supervised with resignation or irony by Bishop herself, appeared in 1969, ten years before her death ...

Misbehavin’

Susannah Clapp, 23 July 1987

A Life with Alan: The Diary of A.J.P. Taylor’s Wife, Eva, from 1978 to 1985 
by Eva Haraszti Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1987, 0 241 12118 3
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The Painted Banquet: My Life and Loves 
by Jocelyn Rickards.
Weidenfeld, 172 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 297 79119 2
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The Beaverbrook Girl 
by Janet Aitken Kidd.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, May 1987, 0 00 217602 5
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... When the London Review of Books began to run a Diary in 1982, A.J.P. Taylor was one of its authors. He always delivered to an exact length, well before the deadline, and often in person. A new editorial assistant, handed copy by the small seventy-five-year-old in a deerstalker who had scaled the steep stairs to our earlier offices, decided he must be a Mercury messenger ...

Diary

Susannah Clapp: On Angela Carter, 12 March 1992

... Last month Birnam Wood came to Putney Vale Crematorium. Or so it seemed. As the attenders at Angela Carter’s funeral emerged from the chapel, surrounding trees began to rearrange themselves. They shifted and they sprouted feet. They marched – and they dispelled themselves. They shook themselves free of foliage and dwindled. They changed into Special Branch men, moving forward to enclose Salman Rushdie, who had been speaking at his friend’s service ...

On David King

Susannah Clapp, 21 June 2018

... In the days​ before artists brought colour to the cover, the London Review of Books was black and white. Of course, originally, it had no front at all: the first edition, in 1979, was meekly folded into the New York Review of Books. The following year it jumped out of that pouch and into a world where literary journals were routinely typographical ...

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