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26 July 1990
The things they carried 
by Tim O’Brien.
Collins, 255 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 00 223603 6
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... Tim O’Brien, who fought in Vietnam in 1968, went on to write two fine books: the memoir, If I die in a combat zone (1973), and the novel, Going after Cacciato (1979). This latest work, a collection of brusque but moving fictions about life in Vietnam, linked by autobiographical enquiries, has all the qualities of the first two books, the same hunger for fidelity ...
22 June 1995
Derailed in Uncle Ho’s Victory Garden: Return to Vietnam and Cambodia 
by Tim Page.
Touchstone, 248 pp., £14.99, April 1995, 0 671 71926 2
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In the Lake of the Woods 
by Tim O’Brien.
Flamingo, 306 pp., £5.99, April 1995, 0 00 654395 2
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In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam 
by Robert McNamara.
Random House, 432 pp., $27.50, April 1995, 0 8129 2523 8
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... Each, in his own way, is introducing us to his own ghosts. Two, former British war photographer Tim Page and former American grunt Tim O’Brien, face the darkness squarely. The third, former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, merely pretends to. In his own way, however, each writer tells the story of a quest ...

Nuclear Fiction

D.A.N. Jones

8 May 1986
The Nuclear Age 
by Tim O’Brien.
Collins, 312 pp., £10.95, March 1986, 0 00 223015 1
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Acts of Faith 
by Hans Koning.
Gollancz, 182 pp., £8.95, February 1986, 9780575037441
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A Funny Dirty Little War 
by Osvaldo Soriano, translated by Nick Caistor.
Readers International, 108 pp., £7.95, March 1986, 0 930523 17 2
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Maps 
by Nuruddin Farah.
Picador, 246 pp., £3.50, March 1986, 0 330 28710 9
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Tennis and the Masai 
by Nicholas Best.
Hutchinson, 176 pp., £8.95, March 1986, 0 09 163770 8
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Dear Shadows 
by Max Egremont.
Secker, 310 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 436 14160 4
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... of a danger of global nuclear war arising from the Hispanic connections of the United States. Tim O’Brien’s more discursive narrative, The Nuclear Age, breaks out in desperate little cries, like: ‘Beirut was a madhouse. The graveyards were full ... ’ This narrator is not really concerned about the deaths of Beirut citizens: his terror is that ...

In Praise of Student-Teacher Attraction

Cristina Nehring: Francine Prose

29 November 2001
Blue Angel 
by Francine Prose.
Allison and Busby, 314 pp., £12.99, June 2001, 0 7490 0580 7
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... professor for twenty years, but he has never – not once – slept with a student. Most of the time he attributes this to his love for his wife: ‘His marriage meant everything to him. That’s what he imagined telling admiring students if it ever came to that.’ Unfortunately, it never did come to that. In gloomier moods, Swenson knows he is simply ...
22 February 1996
... all the winning ticket-holders. When 1 2 3 4 5 6 finally does come up (as it is likely to do sometime in the next 250,000 years or so), the winners will receive, at current values, between £1000 and £4000 each. The truth is that there can be no rational explanation for this sort of behaviour. If ten thousand players each week are choosing to spend their ...

Several Doses of Wendy

Robert Baird: David Means

10 August 2016
Hystopia 
by David Means.
Faber, 352 pp., £16.99, May 2016, 978 0 571 33011 9
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... impeccable short stories, I hasten to add. But they were short stories nonetheless, published at a time when all the big books were big books: the sternum-bruising heavies like Infinite Jest and Underworld and 2666, the multi-volume massifs by Hilary Mantel, Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard. Did it matter that Means (with his wife) was the dedicatee of ...

Clutching at Railings

Jonathan Coe: Late Flann O’Brien

23 October 2013
Plays and Teleplays 
by Flann O’Brien, edited by Daniel Keith Jernigan.
Dalkey, 434 pp., £9.50, September 2013, 978 1 56478 890 0
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The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien 
edited by Neil Murphy and Keith Hopper.
Dalkey, 158 pp., £9.50, August 2013, 978 1 56478 889 4
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... There were many wonderful running jokes in the first few years of ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, the Irish Times column written, on and off, for almost a quarter of a century by Flann O’Brien (or, if you prefer, Myles na Gopaleen, or Brian O’Nolan). My favourite has always been the catechism of cliché ...
22 August 1996
A Perfect Execution 
by Tim Binding.
Picador, 344 pp., £15.99, May 1996, 0 330 34564 8
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... Tim Binding is a confident writer. His paragraphs, lengthy but under control, take swift possession of the thick sheaf of pages, imposing form. The narrative voice is modestly assertive. There is a tale to be told. The taleteller, having caught your attention, will not let go. No tricks, no mannerisms, no eye-catching Modernist flourishes: that’s the trick of it ...

Purple Days

Mark Ford

12 May 1994
The Pugilist at Rest 
by Thom Jones.
Faber, 230 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 571 17134 6
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The Sorrow of War 
by Bao Ninh, translated by Frank Palmos.
Secker, 217 pp., £8.99, January 1994, 0 436 31042 2
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A Good Scent from Strange Mountain 
by Robert Olen Butler.
Minerva, 249 pp., £5.99, November 1993, 0 7493 9767 5
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Out of the Sixties: Storytelling and the Vietnam Generation 
by David Wyatt.
Cambridge, 230 pp., £35, February 1994, 9780521441513
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... the story itself becomes part of the process of surviving. One of the purest examples of this is Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Man I Killed’, a preternaturally lucid description of a young Vietnamese soldier blown up by the narrator’s grenade. O’Brien’s precise, almost entranced detailing of the star-shaped hole ...

Sheeped

Julian Loose

30 January 1992
The Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World 
by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum.
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 241 13144 8
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... beneath the Imperial Palace. In this gloomy netherworld, the Calcutec learns that he is the victim of an experiment gone terribly wrong: after much long-winded talk of ‘encephalo-digital conversions’, the Professor admits that he’s rewired the circuitry of the Calcutec’s brain, and that the recent bout of laundering will have precipitated his ...

Going Postal

Zachary Leader

5 October 1995
The Paperboy 
by Pete Dexter.
Viking, 307 pp., £15, May 1995, 0 670 86066 2
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Third and Indiana 
by Steve Lopez.
Viking, 305 pp., £10.99, April 1995, 0 670 86132 4
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... of the investigator, in this case a journalistic milieu, overshadows that of both criminal and victim. The investigators in question are damaged, a common feature of Dexter’s characters. Jack James, the narrator, is almost as screwed up as his brother Ward, the titular ‘paperboy’, star reporter on the Miami ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945

1 April 1999
The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... and twenty poets, and both, while aware of picking from a changing landscape, expect (for a time at least) to be definitive. Their editors are themselves well-known poets who leave their own work out. Luckily, and as if to exemplify the way even commercial rivals need one another, they are well represented in each other’s selections. Both books are ...

Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman: Down with Creative Writing

23 September 2010
The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 
by Mark McGurl.
Harvard, 480 pp., £25.95, April 2009, 978 0 674 03319 1
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... a limited historical consciousness is ‘endemic to the discipline of creative writing, whose ultimate commitment is not to knowledge but to what Donald Barthelme called “Not-Knowing”’. Formed in the shadow of New Criticism, the creative writing discourse still displays ‘not a commitment to ignorance, exactly, but … a commitment to ...

Merely an Empire

David Thomson: Eighteen Hours in Vietnam

20 September 2017
The Vietnam War 
directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
PBS, ten episodes
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... And you follow it through to the end of the era called ‘Vietnam’, knowing that that time did not end in 1975, but will last as long as the walking wounded trudge on, and for as long as there is anyone left who understands the remark, made in the film, that ‘Vietnam drove a stake in the heart of this country’ – and knows that the country ...

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