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A Book at Bedtime

William Gass, 10 November 1994

The Arabian Nights: A Companion 
by Robert Irwin.
Allen Lane, 344 pp., £20, January 1994, 0 7139 9105 4
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... We all know about Aladdin, Sinbad, Ali Baba, the rook’s egg, the thieves’ cave. There’s a rule which requires us to begin our lives as children. We will have seen or heard and thereby passed a Night or two, in some pop or papped-up version, even if we have never leafed the picture book or read Burton’s luxuriant prose. Splendid stories eminently suitable for children – that’s the line ...

Flattery and Whining

William Gass: Prologomania, 5 October 2000

The Book of Prefaces 
edited by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 639 pp., £35, May 2000, 0 7475 4443 3
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... Alasdair Gray has opened his Book of Prefaces with what he calls an Advertisement and followed that with an essay ‘On What Led to English Literature’. Since he deliberately does not distinguish between the various sorts of front matter a volume may contain, both might be characterised as prefaces. I encountered this laxity with some dismay, although I understand it ...

Something Unsafe about Books

Seth Colter Walls: William Gass, 9 May 2013

Middle C 
by William Gass.
Knopf, 416 pp., £19, March 2013, 978 0 307 70163 3
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... If it’s hard to tell what’s going on in William Gass’s fiction that’s because Gass himself doesn’t always know exactly what he’s set in motion. ‘As a fiction writer,’ he said in a 1978 debate with the novelist John Gardner, ‘you hope that the amount of meaning that you can pack into the book will always be more than you are capable of consciously understanding ...

At Sadie Coles

Brian Dillon: Helen Marten, 21 October 2021

... numerous small literary quotations in Sparrows on the Stone – passages from Auden, Anne Carson, William Gass – but none of them are quite so peculiar as Marten’s own style, whether in prose or in polished Jesmonite.In an essay on the word ‘and’ in his Habitations of the Word, Gass writes: ‘To the ...

Brideshead and the Tower Blocks

Patrick Wright, 2 June 1988

Home: A Short History of an Idea 
by Witold Rybczynski.
Heinemann, 256 pp., £12.95, March 1988, 0 434 14292 1
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... a polemical framework which is all the more effective for being padded and partially covered. As William Gass pointed out in 1986 when this book was published to rapturous reviews in the United States, Home contains an assault on the ‘modern’ that conforms to type. It appeals to ‘us’, the long-suffering public, and it points the finger at ...

In Memoriam: V.S. Pritchett

John Bayley, 24 April 1997

... a degree of consciousness and concentration which the very best stories don’t seem to have. William Gass rationally observed that the story ‘is a poem grafted onto a sturdier stock’ but Borges decreed that ‘unlike the novel, it may be essential.’ That has an ominous sound. None of these suggestions seems to fit the way in which ...


Michael Hofmann: Eley Williams, 7 September 2017

Attrib. and Other Stories 
by Eley Williams.
Influx, 169 pp., £9.99, March 2017, 978 1 910312 16 2
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by Eley Williams.
Sad, 35 pp., £6, April 2017
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... writing. In the reader, it produces a kind of constructive estrangement from words. Think William Gass, Lydia Davis or Anne Carson, and you won’t be too wrong. Now I feel like someone who thinks there’s a shower on the way, and then it rains for ten days straight. Williams is just full of alphabets. The first story is even called ‘The ...


Claude Rawson, 4 March 1982

Ferocious Alphabets 
by Denis Donoghue.
Faber, 211 pp., £8.95, October 1981, 0 571 11809 7
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... Donoghue writes well on the gap between text and conversation, notably in the style of William Gass, which particularly depends on the page rather than the voice and couldn’t be reproduced by the ‘human voice ... without embarrassment’. He tends to say this of styles he dislikes, but it applies to others. And because he is talking more ...


Ian Sansom: Dave Eggers, 16 November 2000

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius 
by Dave Eggers.
Picador, 415 pp., £14.99, July 2000, 0 330 48454 0
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... salute, a plea for what Eggers calls ‘some extra mother-fucking consideration’. Or as William Gass once attempted to explain it, rather more philosophically, in an interview with the Paris Review: ‘Getting even is one great reason for writing … But getting even isn’t necessarily vicious. There are two ways of getting even: one is ...

So sue me

Michael Wood, 12 May 1994

A Frolic of His Own 
by William Gaddis.
Viking, 529 pp., £16, June 1994, 0 670 85553 7
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... as prolific; but we need some such terms if we are to begin to describe the extraordinary work of William Gaddis, born 1922, the author of The Recognitions (1955), JR (1975), Carpenter’s Gothic (1985) and now A Frolic of His Own. Everyone talks in these novels, all the time and at length. They don’t listen, or they barely listen; or they listen too ...

Perfect and Serene Oddity

Michael Hofmann: The Strangeness of Robert Walser, 16 November 2006

Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912-32 
by Robert Walser, translated and edited by Christopher Middleton.
Nebraska, 128 pp., £9.99, November 2005, 0 8032 9833 1
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... of mad writers, Hölderlin, Nerval and Christopher Smart. The more genial and indeed congenial William Gass describes Walser more modestly: ‘He was a kind of columnist before the time of columns.’ And a further, more modest name is offered: ‘The signature “Harmless Crank”,’ Gass suggests, ‘could be ...

Long Live Aporia!

Hal Foster: William Gaddis, 24 July 2003

Agapē Agape 
by William Gaddis.
Atlantic, 113 pp., £9.99, January 2003, 1 903809 83 5
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The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings 
by William Gaddis, edited by Joseph Tabbi.
Penguin, 182 pp., $14, October 2002, 0 14 200238 0
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... Off and on, for over half a century, William Gaddis worked on a manuscript about the short life of the player piano in the United States. Over fifty years on an outmoded entertainment? There is more here than meets the eye: ‘Agapē Agape is a satirical celebration of the conquest of technology and of the place of art and the artist in a technological democracy,’ Gaddis wrote in a proposal from the early 1960s ...

So this is how it works

Elaine Blair: Ben Lerner, 19 February 2015

by Ben Lerner.
Granta, 244 pp., £14.99, January 2015, 978 1 84708 891 8
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... metafiction are still strongly influenced by the 1960s: John Barth, Robert Coover, Thomas Pynchon, William Gass. Thanks to the work of this group and the self-named characters of Philip Roth, we might well brace ourselves for archness or emotional coolness (rather than sincerity, warmth and optimistic political engagement) at the first sign of a ...

The State with the Prettiest Name

Michael Hofmann: ‘Florida’, 24 May 2018

by Lauren Groff.
Heinemann, 275 pp., £14.99, June 2018, 978 1 78515 188 0
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... the seas and come … to B … a small town fastened to a field in Indiana,’ the late, great William Gass began his imperishable short story ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’, from 1968. Or, with his and your permission, ‘I have sailed the seas and come … to G … a healthcare mecca and football burg that was previously a town with ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... and endured. Wolff sidestepped Postmodern elders such as John Barth, Robert Coover, Guy Davenport, William Gass, Harry Mathews, Paul Metcalf, Gilbert Sorrentino, Ronald Sukenick and Paul West, as well as their heirs, such as T. Coraghessan Boyle, Lydia Davis, Rick Moody, William Vollmann and David Foster Wallace. None ...

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