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Joke Book?

A.D. Nuttall, 23 November 1989

The Anatomy of Melancholy: Vol. I 
by Robert Burton, edited by Thomas Faulkner, Nicholas Kiessling and Rhonda Blair.
Oxford, 675 pp., £70, October 1989, 0 19 812448 1
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... In the Cathedral at Christ Church in Oxford, between the recumbent knight with the false nose and the tomb of Saint Frideswide, who eluded her too amorous suitor by hiding among pigs, stands the funerary monument of Robert Burton. Already, it will be noticed, I am giving more information than is strictly necessary. My excuse must be that it is a habit I have caught from Burton himself ...

Karl’s Darl

M. Wynn Thomas, 11 January 1990

William FaulknerAmerican Writer 
by Frederick Karl.
Faber, 1131 pp., £25, July 1989, 9780571149919
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William Faulkner 
by David Dowling.
Macmillan, 183 pp., £6.95, June 1989, 0 333 42855 2
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... pepper as you please.’ In a 1936 review, Clifford Fadiman recommended that the prose of William Faulkner be taken with just such a hefty pinch of salt. Fatigued by ‘the Non-Stop or Life Sentence’ which he considered to be the ruin of Absalom, Absalom!, he declared that ‘all of Mr Faulkner’s shuddering invective ...

Hate, Greed, Lust and Doom

Sean O’Faolain, 16 April 1981

William FaulknerHis Life and Work 
by David Minter.
Johns Hopkins, 325 pp., £9.50, January 1981, 0 8018 2347 1
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... The other day my bookseller airily assured me that nobody reads Faulkner nowadays. If he had said ‘nobody under sixty’ I might not so easily have dismissed his opinion as Celtic hyperbole. Certainly age is cardinal in this matter. When Faulkner got the Nobel Prize for 1949 we all wanted to read this genius who was apparently not widely known even in his own country: four or five years earlier, when Malcolm Cowley was preparing his anthology The Portable Faulkner, it had come as a shock to him to discover that only one of his author’s novels was in print ...

Dirty Little Secret

Fredric Jameson: The Programme Era, 22 November 2012

The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 
by Mark McGurl.
Harvard, 466 pp., £14.95, November 2012, 978 0 674 06209 2
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... which are neither those of traditional literary history (even though the story wends its way from Thomas Wolfe through Nabokov and John Barth, Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, all the way to Raymond Carver), nor those of traditional aesthetics and literary criticism, which raise issues of value and try to define true art as this rather than that. The ...

Living in the Aftermath

Michael Gorra, 19 June 1997

The God of Small Things 
by Arundhati Roy.
Flamingo, 340 pp., £15.99, June 1997, 0 00 225586 3
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... in its religious anomaly, the Syrian Christians who claim descent from the Brahmins converted by Thomas, the doubting Apostle. Our chief literary image of the South has come from the pastoral fables of R.K. Narayan, and it’s refreshing, too, that The God of Small Things makes no attempt to repeat them. Ayemenem’s caste rivalries are fierce and nearly ...

Hopeless Warriors

Michael Gorra: Sherman Alexie’s novels, 5 March 1998

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven 
by Sherman Alexie.
Vintage, 223 pp., £6.99, September 1997, 9780749386696
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Reservation Blues 
by Sherman Alexie.
Minerva, 306 pp., £6.99, September 1996, 0 7493 9513 3
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Indian Killer 
by Sherman Alexie.
Secker, 420 pp., £9.99, September 1997, 0 436 20433 9
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... lot: ‘Dr Mather!’ said the white man as he approached. ‘Dr Mather, it’s me. It’s Dr Faulkner.’ ‘Good evening, Dr Faulkner. How are you?’ ‘Fine, fine. How was your class?’ ‘Well, I’m having trouble with a student. An Indian student, actually. She is very disruptive.’ This is not an ...

Errant Pinkies

Robert Macfarlane, 1 June 2000

by Ha Jin.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £10, May 2000, 0 434 00914 8
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... US National Book Award for Fiction, and has just received the less munificent, but classier, PEN/Faulkner Award. Dubbed, then, on both shoulders – once by the book-buying public, once by the literati. This is surprising, given that in places the novel is strikingly badly written. Why has it done so well? One reason is that the East, and China in ...

Chances are

Michael Wood, 7 July 1983

O, How the wheel becomes it! 
by Anthony Powell.
Heinemann, 143 pp., £6.95, June 1983, 0 434 59925 5
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Brilliant Creatures 
by Clive James.
Cape, 303 pp., £7.95, July 1983, 0 224 02122 2
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by Gordon Williams.
Joseph, 233 pp., £7.95, June 1983, 0 7181 2259 3
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... platitudes, a civil servant mangling a story, a mime of minimal narrative competence which makes Thomas Mann’s bumbling Zeitblom look like Nabokov. ‘Insofar as the cliché can be used without irony,’ we read a little earlier, ‘he had become a respected literary voice.’ A cliché can’t be used without irony unless you forget it’s a cliché, and ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Sisters Brothers’, 9 May 2019

... having seen in DeWitt’s novel a starting point for the film. The screenplay is by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain. The performances of Reilly and Phoenix are amazing, and lead us back to the question of what kind of western this is. Eli is a variant on the Faulknerian idiot, apparently unlucky and ungraceful – the scene where a spider enters his mouth while ...


Jay McInerney: The Great American Novelists, 23 April 1987

... with each book he published after the USA trilogy. Of the stars of the class of 1918, only William Faulkner survived gracefully, protected by a thick cloak of obscurity until the very end. The class of ’45, those writers who attained majority, or at least draft age, during the Second World War, is more difficult to assess: they are closer to us, and still ...

Freaks, Dwarfs and Boors

Thomas Keymer: 18th-Century Jokes, 2 August 2012

Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental 18th Century 
by Simon Dickie.
Chicago, 362 pp., £29, December 2011, 978 0 226 14618 8
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... struggled with it themselves. Fresh from a stage lampoon of Swift’s one-legged bookseller George Faulkner, the actor-playwright Samuel Foote fell from his horse and lost a leg, provoking sly jokes from Johnson about ‘depeditation’ and ironic consolation poems with missing (metrical) feet. Foote replied with a new comedy, The Lame Lover, and took the ...

In His Pink Negligée

Colm Tóibín: The Ruthless Truman Capote, 21 April 2005

The Complete Stories 
by Truman Capote.
Random House, 400 pp., $24.95, September 2004, 0 679 64310 9
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Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote 
edited by Gerald Clarke.
Random House, 487 pp., $27.95, September 2004, 0 375 50133 9
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... again: ‘He really is very nice.’ In January 1951, he read ‘the collected stories of Farmer Faulkner, which weren’t worth collecting if you ask me’. In February he read Budd Schulberg’s novel The Disenchanted and ‘felt the burn of embarrassment’. In March he read From Here to Eternity: ‘Scribners sent me that From Here to Eternity shit; and ...

Bloody Sunday Report

Murray Sayle: Back to Bloody Sunday, 11 July 2002

... in British captivity down the years, from (as I read my rain-stained notes) Vol. – Volunteer – Thomas Ashe, who died in Mountjoy Prison 25 September 1917, to Vol. Michael Devine, INLA, who died in the Maze 20 August 1981. Above is a dove of peace caged in barbed wire; below the quote: ‘I’ll wear no convict’s uniform, nor meekly serve my time.’ Less ...

Southern Comfort

Claude Rawson, 16 April 1981

Jefferson Davis gets his citizenship back 
by Robert Penn Warren.
Kentucky/Transatlantic Book Service, 114 pp., £4.85, December 1980, 0 8131 1445 4
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Being here: Poetry 1977-1980 
by Robert Penn Warren.
Secker, 109 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 436 36650 9
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Ways of light: Poems 1972-1980 
by Richard Eberhart.
Oxford, 68 pp., £5.95, January 1981, 9780195027372
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... and nagging resentful memories of old gallantries downtrodden. From Warren at his best, as from Faulkner, and the Allen Tate of The Fathers, we expect the former. The blurb from which I quoted arouses apprehensions of the latter. Warren’s latest book falls somewhere in between, alas tilting somewhat to the blurb. We begin with memories of the author’s ...

Prussian Blues

Fredric Jameson, 17 October 1996

Ein weites Feld 
by Günter Grass.
Steidl, 784 pp., DM 49.80, August 1995, 3 88243 366 3
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... by the idyllic reunion with the granddaughter. But something similar happens in the later part of Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, a work whose peculiar status in this half-century Grass’s novel may well occupy in the next. There is also a kind of devil figure, but without any of Mann’s medical or musical, let alone theological, overtones: there are indeed ...

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