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Fellow Freaks

Sam Thompson: Wells Tower

9 July 2009
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned 
by Wells Tower.
Granta, 238 pp., £10.99, April 2009, 978 1 84708 048 6
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... always being interrupted by necessity. The mystery of existence is always showing through the texture of their ordinary lives, and I’m afraid that this makes them irresistible to the novelist.’ WellsTower demonstrates a similar affinity in his collection of short stories, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Tower’s Americans are not so grandly freakish as O’Connor’s, but they are poor ...

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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... 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.G. Wells is one; little Lord Beaverbrook is the other. Beaverbrook is one of the surprises of this unfinished novel. The other surprise is Rebecca West herself. Sunflower is a book about falling in and out of ...
7 January 1988
The Sea and Summer 
by George Turner.
Faber, 318 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 571 14846 8
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The Dragon in the Sword 
by Michael Moorcock.
Grafton, 283 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 246 13129 2
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Fiasco 
by Stanislaw Lem, translated by Michael Kandel.
Deutsch, 322 pp., £11.95, August 1987, 0 233 98141 1
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... gripping and mordant The Sea and Summer, certainly his best book so far. It is set very much in a Science Fiction landscape, that of the ‘drowned world’ of the middle future, where the abandoned tower blocks of Melbourne stick up out of the sea, and archaeologist-historians ponder on the strange lives of the people who lived in them before the ‘greenhouse effect’ took hold, melted the ice caps ...
24 November 1994
A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908-1918 
by Robert Wohl.
Yale, 320 pp., £25, October 1994, 0 300 05778 4
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... ground, had become an astonishing compulsion; nowhere more so than in France, the self-styled nursery of flight. In the year of Blériot the Count de Lambert flew over Paris and circled the Eiffel Tower at 300 metres. If King Kong had climbed the Tower Parisians could not have been more excited. It is true that Santos-Dumont had done the same thing in a dirigible in 1901, but the Count’s feat was ...

Diary

A.J.P. Taylor: An Unexpected Experience

6 December 1984
... for me. He haunted the public houses of Soho just when I did the same. Most of these are still in existence, though they have lost their bohemian character. This was also the period when the White Tower ranked high among London restaurants. One of my acquaintances became a partner in the White Tower, only to become a professional diplomat when the war ended. I find other forgotten names in Maclaren ...

Diary

Iain Sinclair: My Olympics

30 August 2012
... of Empress Coaches is a nest of anarchic, free-spirited narrowboats. One of these, the most piratical, proudly flying its Jolly Roger, is a coffin-sized craft belonging to a researcher called Mike Wells. He has made it his business, despite numerous brushes with security guards and large dogs, to record and report every stage of the recent enclosures. He helped to commission two substantial ...

Strange, Angry Objects

Owen Hatherley: The Brutalist Decades

17 November 2016
A3: Threads and Connections 
by Peter Ahrends.
Right Angle, 128 pp., £18, December 2015, 978 0 9532848 9 4
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Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism 
by Barnabas Calder.
Heinemann, 416 pp., £25, April 2016, 978 0 434 02244 1
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Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture 1945-75 
by Elain Harwood.
Yale, 512 pp., £60, September 2015, 978 0 300 20446 9
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Concrete Concept: Brutalist Buildings around the World 
by Christopher Beanland.
Frances Lincoln, 192 pp., £18, February 2016, 978 0 7112 3764 3
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This Brutal World 
by Peter Chadwick.
Phaidon, 224 pp., £29.95, April 2016, 978 0 7148 7108 0
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Modern Forms: A Subjective Atlas of 20th-Century Architecture 
by Nicolas Grospierre.
Prestel, 224 pp., £29.99, February 2016, 978 3 7913 8229 6
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Modernist Estates: The Buildings and the People Who Live in Them 
by Stefi Orazi.
Frances Lincoln, 192 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 0 7112 3675 2
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Architecture an Inspiration 
by Ivor Smith.
Troubador, 224 pp., £24.95, November 2014, 978 1 78462 069 1
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... they considered unwelcome concessions to ‘market forces’ such as office space to fund the galleries, ABK nevertheless submitted a design for a grand circus, culminating in a spiky, asymmetrical tower; it had no references to the style of the original gallery (a rather wan classicism), but tried to continue its use of civic, ceremonial approaches. The Prince of Wales, when Ahrends presented the ...

Halls and Hovels

Colin Richmond

19 December 1991
The Architecture of Medieval Britain 
by Colin Platt, with photographs by Anthony Kersting.
Yale, 325 pp., £29.95, November 1990, 0 300 04953 6
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... volume is value for money. Despite the quality of the text, this is first and foremost a picture book. And what pictures those of Mr Kersting are. If one needs to be seduced into visiting Cleeve, or Wells, or Norbury, or St Mawes, or Astbury, or Abbey Dore, or Caerphilly, or Kells, or Caerlaverock, or Threave, these photographs make such places (among numerous others) irresistible. Mr Kersting is ...

The Greatest Geek

Richard Barnett: Nikola Tesla

5 February 2015
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age 
by W. Bernard Carlson.
Princeton, 520 pp., £19.95, April 2015, 978 0 691 05776 7
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... 830 square miles of Siberian forest on 30 June 1908: The story was abroad that Tesla, seeking to communicate with the explorer Peary, then in the Arctic, projecting unspecified rays from his tower at Wardenclyffe in a direction slightly west of due north, had mistaken his aim by a small but fatal angle, causing the beam to miss Peary’s base at Ellesmere Island, cross the Polar region over ...

Making poison

Patrick Parrinder

20 March 1986
The Handmaid’s Tale 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 324 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 224 02348 9
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... pattern – was drawn from the fairy-tale of Rapunzel, as told by the brothers Grimm. The Rapunzel Syndrome consists of Rapunzel herself, the wicked witch or magician who has imprisoned her, the tower she is imprisoned in, and the Rescuer, a ‘handsome prince of little substantiality who provides momentary escape’. The Rapunzel Syndrome was doubtless present, though submerged in some very ...

Diary

Jeremy Harding: In Bordeaux

5 April 2012
... right, while the western façade has yet to be tackled. On that side, the one we don’t see from our apartment, lies a much larger square, many times the size of ours. Its central feature is a bell tower 115 metres high, one of the tallest in France. The structure was weakened by repeated lightning strikes and in the 18th century the top fell off during a hurricane. It was restored just before the ...

The View from the Passenger Seat

Lorna Sage: Gilbert Adair

1 January 1998
The Key of the Tower 
by Gilbert Adair.
Secker, 190 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 0 436 20429 0
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... in any case, for Adair’s novels are fables about compulsion. Having your strings pulled, being driven, is their inevitable theme, passivity their motive force. The new one, The Key of the Tower, does the trick over again – doing it over again is the trick, after all. We start with the narrator driving his car through a rainstorm. It’s a modest Mini, but already the writing is ...

Eye-Catchers

Peter Campbell

4 December 1986
Survey of London: Vol. XLII. Southern Kensington: Kensington to Earls Court 
Athlone, 502 pp., £55, May 1986, 0 485 48242 8Show More
Follies: A National Trust Guide 
by Gwyn Headley and Wim Meulenkamp.
Cape, 564 pp., £15, June 1986, 0 224 02105 2
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The Botanists 
by David Elliston Allen.
St Paul’s Bibliographies, 232 pp., £15, May 1986, 0 906795 36 2
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British Art since 1900 
by Frances Spalding.
Thames and Hudson, 252 pp., £10.50, April 1986, 0 500 23457 4
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Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900 
by Richard Altick.
Ohio State, 527 pp., £55, March 1986, 0 8142 0380 9
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History of the British Pig 
by John Wiseman.
Duckworth, 118 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 9780715619872
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... The Derry and Toms roof garden was in an English tradition, however – such conceits had been common since the Edwardian years. The two-and-a-half-inch layer of soil is watered from artesian wells under the building. Immensely detailed and scholarly, surprising and sometimes amusing, the Survey of London is more readable than most popularisations of architectural history – many of which must ...
12 December 1996
Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton 
by Joseph Pearce.
Hodder, 522 pp., £25, November 1996, 0 340 67132 7
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... the case for Distributism v. Socialism or Catholicism v. Eugenics. Of all forms of human expression, polemic is surely the most ephemeral. His famous rumpuses with the likes of Shaw, Dean Inge, H.G. Wells and Co now seem dead, only enlivened – as in his marvellous ‘Chuck it, Smith’ verses addressed to F.E. Smith on the subject of Welsh Disestablishment – where the wit is so airy that he has ...

The Thought of Ruislip

E.S. Turner: The Metropolitan Line

2 December 2004
Metro-Land: British Empire Exhibition Number 
by Oliver Green.
Southbank, 144 pp., £16.99, July 2004, 1 904915 00 0
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... of Chancery for infringing the Crown’s foreshore rights. This discouraged him from pursuing a proposal to link Scotland and Ireland by tunnel. Instead, he conceived the idea of a gigantic viewing tower, higher than the Eiffel, at Wembley, already a proud stop on his line. Begun in the 1890s, Watkin’s Folly had reached only a fifth of its proposed height when the money ran out and it was pulled ...

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