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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 ...

Well, duh

Dale Peck, 18 July 1996

Infinite Jest 
by David Foster Wallace.
Little, Brown, 1079 pp., £17.99, July 1996, 0 316 92004 5
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... The US literary world can be divided into two camps: those who think Thomas Pynchon is a very clever guy, and those who also think he’s a great writer. As it happens, I’m of the former camp. While I admit that Pynchon’s writing is packed with all sorts of ideas, ultimately the novels strike me as more crudités than smorgasbord: the appetisers keep coming (and coming, and coming), but the main course never arrives ...


Robert Bernard Martin, 4 April 1985

The Collected Letters of William Morris. Vol. I: 1848-1880 
edited by Norman Kelvin.
Princeton, 626 pp., £50.30, April 1984, 0 691 06501 2
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... career as designer and manufacturer. There are more than seventy previously unpublished letters to Thomas Wardle, manager of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co, which prove exhaustively how careful he was about the dyeing and printing of their fabrics and to what lengths he went to get the colours right. He liked nothing ...


Julian Evans: What might Larbaud have thought?, 31 July 1997

... train or ship. If there was something of Baudelaire about Larbaud, there was also a touch of Terry-Thomas. Larbaud’s best-known work is probably the novel Fermina Marquez, about a Colombian beauty who sows sentimental-erotic havoc among the students at a boys’ boarding school – the missing link, one might say, between The Red and the Black and The ...

Time to Rob the Dead

Jeremy Adler: Simplicius Simplicissimus, 16 March 2017

The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus 
by Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, translated by Mike Mitchell.
Dedalus, 433 pp., £13.99, April 2017, 978 1 903517 42 0
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... first ever war novel. Few of the genre’s later exponents, such as Barbusse, Remarque, Waugh and Faulkner, knew it directly, but they followed its formula, fusing an autobiographical perspective with fiction in order to debunk the glory of war. The pathos of battle is translated into bathos. Only Jacques Callot’s picture cycle Les Grandes Misères de la ...

I adore your moustache

James Wolcott: Styron’s Letters, 24 January 2013

Selected Letters of William Styron 
edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin.
Random House, 643 pp., £24.99, December 2012, 978 1 4000 6806 7
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... by his widow with R. Blakeslee Gilpin. The irony of Styron’s career is that as a literary son of Faulkner, Wolfe and Hemingway, he expended massive energy and mountaineering stamina into making himself a major prestigious novelist – and succeeded! – yet that ‘slender little volume’ has left its big brothers behind. It is the one book of Styron’s ...

The Magic Bloomschtick

Colin Burrow: Harold Bloom, 21 November 2019

The American Canon: Literary Genius from Emerson to Pynchon 
by Harold Bloom, edited by David Mikics.
Library of America, 426 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 1 59853 640 9
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... Baldwin, Robert Hayden, Jay Wright) as well as on 12 women writers. Toni Morrison (‘a child of Faulkner’) is given shorter shrift than she deserves and told off for being ideological, but some of these chapters – particularly the one on James Baldwin’s prophetic language – are great introductions to writers who might well have made Bloom feel ...
Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 783 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7011 3701 0
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... spoken again! I am practically back in Moscow.’ That denouncer of Dostoevsky, Doctor Zhivago, Thomas Mann, Faulkner, George Eliot, Klebnikov, War and Peace, Stendhal and Cervantes, Boyd explains, ‘particularly liked reading bad literature aloud – “I can’t stop quoting!” he would chortle with glee.’ His ...


James Wood: John Carey, 8 March 2001

Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books 
by John Carey.
Faber, 173 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 571 20448 1
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... not blackshirts. But Karl Kraus and Joseph Roth had something to fear from their masses. When Thomas Mann condemns ‘the vulgarity of Hitler’ and laments, in his diaries, the ‘wretched, isolated, demented people, misled by a wild and stupid band of adventurers whom they take for mythical heroes’, is this an example of literary pride and prejudice ...
... Edmund Wilson was revolted by that book, and American intellectuals have never put him beside Faulkner, Hemingway or Scott Fitzgerald. And on the Continent there is no translation of Waugh as audacious as Avanti Jeeves. And yet even those who praise him nearly always begin by dissociating themselves from what they regard as his bigotry, his snobbery, his ...

Comedy is murder

Thomas Powers: Joseph Heller, 8 March 2012

Just One Catch: The Passionate Life of Joseph Heller 
by Tracy Daugherty.
Robson, 548 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 1 84954 172 5
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Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller was Dad and Life was a Catch-22 
by Erica Heller.
Vintage, 272 pp., £8.99, October 2011, 978 0 09 957008 0
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... be new,’ he wrote later, ‘in the way that I thought, as I discovered them, Nabokov, Céline, Faulkner and Waugh were new.’ The war was on his mind but how to use the war in a novel did not come to him until the early 1950s, when two sentences woke him up one night in his apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. Where they came from he could never ...

Ten Thousand Mile Mistake

Thomas Powers: Robert Stone in Saigon, 18 February 2021

Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone 
by Madison Smartt Bell.
Doubleday, 588 pp., £27, March 2020, 978 0 385 54160 2
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The Eye You See With: Selected Non-Fiction 
by Robert Stone, edited by Madison Smartt Bell.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320 pp., £20.99, April 2020, 978 0 618 38624 6
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‘Dog Soldiers’, A Flag for Sunrise’, Outerbridge Reach’ 
by Robert Stone, edited by Madison Smartt Bell.
Library of America, 1216 pp., £35, March 2020, 978 1 59853 654 6
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... writing Stone got favourable mention in sentences that included the names of Mailer, Chandler, Faulkner, Baudelaire and even Chaucer. The reviewer for the Washington Post called it ‘the most important novel of the year’. The book sold well and won a National Book Award, which is one of the few triumphs the American literary world never forgets.The ...

Writing Absurdity

Adam Shatz: Chester Himes, 26 April 2018

Chester B. Himes: A Biography 
by Lawrence P. Jackson.
Norton, 606 pp., £25, July 2017, 978 0 393 06389 9
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... him as little more than an ex-con with a pen, joked that Himes must have been the model for Bigger Thomas, the murderous anti-hero of Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son; Baldwin wrote that ‘Mr Himes seems capable of some of the worst writing this side of the Atlantic.’ Jackson, whose previous book, The Indignant Generation, was a formidable history of black ...

We were the Lambert boys

Paul Driver, 22 May 1986

The Lamberts: George, Constant and Kit 
by Andrew Motion.
Chatto, 388 pp., £13.95, April 1986, 0 7011 2731 7
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... used Lambert as a model for Hugh Moreland in A Dance to the Music of Time), William Walton, Dylan Thomas, Augustus John, Elisabeth Lutyens, John Lehmann, Louis Macneice, Alan Rawsthorne, Michael Ayrton. In the dark background are the diabolic Bernard Van Dieren and Philip Heseltine (‘Peter Warlock’), two men, composer-writers like himself, to whom Lambert ...

Crazy Don

Michael Wood, 3 August 1995

The History of that Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote de la Mancha 
by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, translated by Burton Raffel.
Norton, 802 pp., $14.95, September 1995, 0 393 03719 3
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... there don’t seem to be many modern writers who care about the book, or have been marked by it. Thomas Mann wrote a wonderful essay about it, but its moral world seems very far from his own. Faulkner said he used to read Don Quixote once a year, but you wouldn’t guess this from his writing. The influence of Don Quixote ...

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