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Ink-Dot Eyes

Wyatt Mason: Jonathan Franzen, 2 August 2007

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Harper Perennial, 195 pp., £8.99, July 2007, 978 0 00 723425 7
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... The confessional mode in literature has an uncomplicated appeal for both writers and readers: the unburdening of guilt, vicarious or otherwise. But as Tobias Wolff cautioned in his mordant memoir of military service during the Vietnam War, In Pharaoh’s Army: ‘Isn’t there, in the very act of confession, an obscene self-congratulation for the virtue required to see your mistake and own up to it?’ Jonathan Franzen’s memoir, The Discomfort Zone, is an object lesson in the management of such obscenity ...

Edited by Somerset Maugham

Wyatt Mason: Bedtime stories for adults, 17 March 2005

Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes 
by J. Robert Lennon.
Granta, 213 pp., £10, March 2005, 1 86207 740 1
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... In 1945, Somerset Maugham contributed a list to Redbook magazine of what were, in his opinion, ‘the ten best novels in the world’. Maugham’s choices were neither surprising nor controversial (War and Peace, Madame Bovary, Moby-Dick) but in a note that accompanied his list, he suggested that ‘the wise reader’ will ‘get the greatest enjoyment out of reading them if he learns the useful art of skipping ...

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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... I can’t imagine anything more quaint than a scatological retelling of some nursery tale, or a fiction about a writer writing the fiction you are reading,’ Tobias Wolff confessed in his 1993 introduction to the Picador Book of Contemporary American Stories. Writing fiction about a writer who is writing the fiction we are reading, Wolff would have us understand, is obscene ...

Don’t like it? You don’t have to play

Wyatt Mason: David Foster Wallace, 18 November 2004

Oblivion: Stories 
by David Foster Wallace.
Abacus, 329 pp., £12, July 2004, 0 349 11810 8
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... In April 2001, Harper’s ran a vast essay on the use and abuse of the English language in the United States. Entitled ‘Tense Present: Democracy, English and the Wars over Usage’, its 17,000 words were generated by the celebrated youngish American novelist, journalist and story-writer David Foster Wallace. Although willing to tilt at shiny targets of grammatical contention (the ending of sentences with prepositions etc), Wallace was, for the most part, hunting bigger game: America is in the midst of a protracted Crisis of Authority in matters of language: the same sorts of political upheavals that produced everything from Kent State to Independent Counsels have produced an influential contra-snoot for whom normative standards of English grammar and usage are functions of nothing but custom and superstition and the ovine docility of a populace that lets self-appointed language authorities boss them around ...

Like Beavers

Wyatt Mason: Safran Foer’s survival stories, 2 June 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Hamish Hamilton, 320 pp., £14.99, June 2005, 9780241142134
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... In the autumn of 1999, the American literary journal Conjunctions ran a series of reproductions of pages from a pocket diary that had belonged to Isaac Bashevis Singer. In capital letters, Singer – who emigrated from Poland to America in 1935 – filled page after page with lists of words: 15 JULY: SILT, IMPINGE, OVERLAP, WIREPULLER. 24 JULY: DOCILITY, CEREBRATIONS, INSIDIOUS, AFTERMATH ...

Fleeing the Mother Tongue

Jeremy Harding: Rimbaud, 9 October 2003

Rimbaud Complete 
edited by Wyatt Mason.
Scribner, 656 pp., £20, November 2003, 0 7432 3950 4
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Collected Poems 
by Arthur Rimbaud, edited by Martin Sorrell.
Oxford, 337 pp., £8.99, June 2001, 0 19 283344 8
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L'Art de Rimbaud 
by Michel Murat.
Corti, 492 pp., €23, October 2002, 2 7143 0796 5
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Arthur Rimbaud 
by Jean-Jacques Lefrère.
Fayard, 1242 pp., €44.50, May 2001, 2 213 60691 9
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Arthur Rimbaud: Presence of an Enigma 
by Jean-Luc Steinmetz, edited by Jon Graham.
Welcome Rain, 464 pp., $20, May 2002, 1 56649 251 3
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Rimbaud 
by Graham Robb.
Picador, 552 pp., £8.99, September 2001, 0 330 48803 1
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... This transition from the adventure of language to adventure proper is crucial to the legend. Wyatt Mason’s is the latest in a long line of Rimbaud translations. Some distinguished figures have taken a swing at it, in one-offs or batches, including Pound, Beckett, Lowell and Norman Cameron. There have also been the thorough, proselytising ...

I’m hip. I live in New York

Theo Tait: Leonard Michaels, 3 March 2016

Sylvia 
by Leonard Michaels.
Daunt Books, 131 pp., £9.99, June 2015, 978 1 907970 55 9
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... his short fiction; it is also, in the words of Michaels’s most persuasive critical cheerleader, Wyatt Mason, ‘the story towards which Michaels had, in some sense, been working all along’. It strikes a new tone in his writing – clear and direct, as if a layer of bluff and obfuscation has been removed. ‘In 1960,’ it begins, ‘after two years ...

Cleveland

Michael Mason, 10 November 1988

Report of the Inquiry into Child Abuse in Cleveland 1987 
by Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
HMSO, 336 pp., £14.50, July 1988, 0 10 104122 5
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When Salem came to the Boro 
by Stuart Bell.
Pan, 355 pp., £3.99, July 1988, 0 330 30503 4
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The Last Taboo 
by Gay Search.
Penguin, 192 pp., £3.99, August 1988, 0 14 011049 6
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Unofficial Secrets: Child Sexual Abuse – The Cleveland Case 
by Beatrix Campbell.
Virago, 226 pp., £4.50, September 1988, 0 86068 634 5
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... Bell, the Police, and the doctors who supported the Police in their hostility to Drs Higgs and Wyatt. That human nature – or, probably more exactly, male human nature – has the capacity to perform deliberately and persistently the acts performed at Congleton is for most of us very disorienting, and incomprehensible. The fact, however, is stark (since ...

He fights with flashing weapons

Katherine Rundell: Thomas Wyatt, 6 December 2012

Thomas WyattThe Heart’s Forest 
by Susan Brigden.
Faber, 714 pp., £30, September 2012, 978 0 571 23584 1
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Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy 
by Nicola Shulman.
Short Books, 378 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 1 906021 11 5
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... see up her skirt. It was a gesture at once gracious and gruesome, and the verse that Sir Thomas Wyatt (probably) wrote on the occasion from the Tower of London is equally dark (‘circa Regna tonat’ means ‘it thunders around the throne’): The bell towre showid me suche syght That in my head stekys day and nyght There dyd I lerne out of A grate For ...

Move Your Head and the Picture Changes

Jenny Turner: Helen DeWitt, 11 September 2008

Your Name Here 
by Helen DeWitt and Ilya Gridneff.
helendewitt.com, 580 pp., £8, May 2008
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... in this paper about Oblivion, David Foster Wallace’s most recent collection of short stories, Wyatt Mason complained that although he found in it ‘a bright array of sad and moving and funny and fascinating human objects of undeniable, unusual value’, the book exhibits ‘a fundamental rhetorical failure’. You have to work a little at putting ...

Showing the sights

D.J. Enright, 15 August 1991

The New Oxford Book of 16th-Century Verse 
edited by Emrys Jones.
Oxford, 809 pp., £25, June 1991, 0 19 214126 0
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... archaic enough. But this famous great work has always daunted me. Chambers gave 30 poems from Wyatt, Jones prints 28 plus one attribution, and they have 12 poems in common, including ‘They flee from me’, ‘And wilt thou leave me thus?’ and ‘Mine own John Poyntz’. Where they differ in choice, it might be ventured that Jones’s, though still ...

Insolence

Blair Worden, 7 March 1985

Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance 
by David Norbrook.
Routledge, 345 pp., £15.95, October 1984, 0 7100 9778 6
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Restoration Theatre Production 
by Jocelyn Powell.
Routledge, 226 pp., £19.95, November 1984, 0 7100 9321 7
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Theatre and Crisis: 1632-1642 
by Martin Butler.
Cambridge, 340 pp., £25, August 1984, 0 521 24632 6
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The Court Masque 
edited by David Lindley.
Manchester, 196 pp., £22.50, August 1984, 0 7190 0961 8
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Ben Jonson, Dramatist 
by Anne Barton.
Cambridge, 370 pp., £30, July 1984, 0 521 25883 9
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... politics held not only for Marvell but for a host of Renaissance and 17th-century writers. More, Wyatt, Sidney, Spenser, Raleigh, Greville, Milton: all those men wrote about public events; some of them wrote to influence their course; and none of them would have understood the modern relocation of politics below imagination. David Norbrook’s Poetry and ...

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