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Diary

Zachary Leader: Oscar Talk at the Huntington, 16 April 1998

... is reported to have heard it. And all eight musicians in the orchestra drowned, Wallace Hartley, leader of the White Star Orchestra, with his violin case strapped to his chest. These details can be found in the 40-page booklet accompanying Whitcomb’s Titanic – Music as Heard on the Fateful Voyage, a CD which claims to reproduce ‘what was really played ...

Cartoon Quality

Zachary Leader, 6 December 1979

Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright 
by Steven Millhauser.
Routledge, 305 pp., £4.95
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A Prize Paradise 
by Oliver Pritchett.
Eyre Methuen, 171 pp., £4.95
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A Revenger’s Comedy 
by Derwent May.
Chatto, 191 pp., £5.95
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... Edwin Mullhouse etc is by far the most interesting and inventive of the three novels under review. It is also, with all its knowing brilliance, the most irritating – relentlessly clever, frequently cloying. The story it tells is that of the life and aesthetically pleasing death by suicide of Edwin, 11-year-old author of Cartoons, a novel, we are told, of genius ...

Down and Out in London and Amis

Zachary Leader, 22 June 1989

Ripley Bogle 
by Robert McLiam Wilson.
Deutsch, 273 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 233 98392 9
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The Burnt House 
by Adam Lively.
Simon and Schuster, 264 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 671 69999 7
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Two Women of London: The Strange Case of Ms Jekyll and Mrs Hyde 
by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 121 pp., £10.99, June 1989, 0 571 15242 2
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The Magic Drum 
by Emma Tennant.
Viking, 142 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 670 82556 5
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... Robert McLiam Wilson was born in 1964, which means that Ripley Bogle, his first novel, was written in his early twenties. The novel’s qualities are those of immodest youth: it is ambitious, energetic, self absorbed, bursting with hormonal vehemence and self-consciousness. Structure and sequence (or plot) are not its strong points. The good bits are bits, hit you straight on, and mostly have to do with the narrator-protagonist, his wishes, delusions, comical pretensions and embarrassments ...

Whitlam Fictions

Zachary Leader, 16 February 1989

Kisses of the Enemy 
by Rodney Hall.
Faber, 622 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 0 571 15091 8
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Postcards from Surfers 
by Helen Garner.
Bloomsbury, 180 pp., £11.95, January 1989, 0 7475 0272 2
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Forty-Seventeen 
by Frank Moorhouse.
Faber, 175 pp., £10.95, August 1988, 0 571 15210 4
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... The most striking feature of contemporary Australian writing – or so it is now claimed – is the robust health of its fiction, notably of two contrasting fictional modes: the short story and the massive novel of national identity. Poetry, the dominant genre of the late Sixties and early Seventies, no longer holds undisputed pride of place, a development attributed in part to the proliferation of state and academic subsidy, in particular the creation in 1973, by the Whitlam Labour Government, of the Literature Board of the newly-formed Australia Council ...

More aggressive, dear!

Zachary Leader, 31 July 1997

My Aces, My Faults 
by Nick Bollettieri and Dick Schaap.
Robson, 346 pp., £17.95, June 1997, 1 86105 087 9
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... What happened to Britain’s men in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon? Twenty-four hours earlier, Tim Henman had beaten Richard Krajicek, last year’s winner and the No. 4 seed. In his first match Greg Rusedski had eliminated Mark Philippousis, winner at Queen’s and the No. 7 seed. Although both Britons (Rusedski was raised in Canada but his mother is British) had already defeated more highly ranked players than their unseeded quarter-final opponents, they were terrible ...

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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... The no-bullshit newsman as hero is a staple of film and genre fiction. To Pete Dexter, though, the type is deeply suspect. Dexter has been a newspaperman most of his working life, first as a reporter, for the local West Palm Beach Post (1971-72), then as a staff writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News (1972-84) and now for the Sacramento Bee ...

Plummeting Deep into Cold Pop

Zachary Leader: Colson Whitehead, 13 December 2001

John Henry Days 
by Colson Whitehead.
Fourth Estate, 389 pp., £12, June 2001, 1 84115 569 1
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... Colson Whitehead’s first novel, The Intuitionist (1999), won several prizes and extravagant praise from American critics. Whitehead is black and comparisons were made to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed. John Updike has called him ‘blithely gifted’, ‘the young African-American writer to watch’. Whitehead’s new novel, John Henry Days, is longer and more ambitious than The Intuitionist, and the suggestion in its title of mythic black strength and suffering, together with its encyclopedic range, raise epic expectations ...

People shouldn’t be fat

Zachary Leader, 3 October 1996

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... By the end of his life Orson Welles weighed 350 pounds. His appetite, though, was not a late development. In Simon Callow’s biography the composer Virgil Thomson reports the 22-year-old actor-director devouring ‘oysters and champagne, red meat and burgundy, dessert and brandy’ immediately before squeezing into a canvas corset to play Brutus in Julius Caesar ...

Watch with mother

Zachary Leader, 23 May 1996

Eastern Sun, Winter Moon 
by Gary Paulsen.
Gollancz, 244 pp., £16.99, April 1996, 9780575063198
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The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord’s Son 
by Guanlong Cao, translated by Guanlong Cao and Nancy Moskin.
California, 256 pp., £19.95, April 1996, 0 520 20405 0
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... Being a boy is not always easy. These two childhood memoirs differ in important respects, but they agree about the problematic nature of boyhood pleasure. Gary Paulsen’s ‘Autobiographical Odyssey’ follows in the wake of his 1995 memoir, Winterdance, a much-praised account of dog-sled racing in Alaska. Though he is only now gaining a reputation in Britain, Paulsen has published over 150 books in the United States, many for children and ‘young adults’, specifically boys ...

Bad Dads

Zachary Leader, 6 April 1995

In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of a Lost War 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 210 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 7475 1919 6
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Tallien: A Brief Romance 
by Frederic Tuten.
Marion Boyars, 152 pp., £9.95, November 1994, 0 7145 2990 7
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Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story 
by Max Apple.
Little, Brown, 241 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 316 91241 7
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... Personal identity, according to Locke, is a creation of memory. The American writer Tobias Wolff has already published one volume of memoirs. Now, at the age of 49, he has produced a second. Who can blame him? His father was a conman and impostor: Arthur Samuels Wolff, aka Arthur Saunders Wolff III, aka Saunders Answell-Wolff III, the ‘Duke’ of Tobias’s brother Geoffrey’s memoir, The Duke of Deception (1979 ...

Daisy packs her bags

Zachary Leader: The Road to West Egg, 21 September 2000

Trimalchio: An Early Version of ‘The Great Gatsby’ 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by James L.W. West III.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £30, April 2000, 0 521 40237 9
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... the orchestra play ‘Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World’, a piece the orchestra leader describes as having ‘attracted so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May’. Nick, the novel’s narrator, is vaguely superior about the piece: ‘The nature of Mr Tostoff’s composition eluded me.’ In Trimalchio the last name of the composer ...

Frognal Days

Zachary Leader: Files on the Fifties, 4 June 1998

Previous Convictions: A Journey Through the Fifties 
by Nora Sayre.
Rutgers, 464 pp., £27.95, April 1997, 0 8135 2231 5
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... Nora Sayre’s account of American intellectual life in the Fifties, part memoir, part documentary record, begins with her writer parents and the people she met in their living room in New York: Edmund Wilson, James Thurber, Walker Evans, James M. Cain, Nunnally Johnson, S.J. Perelman, Dawn Powell, Joseph Mitchell and John O’Hara. Many of these celebrated figures, artists and authors approaching fifty at the start of the decade or only lately past it, grew up in small provincial towns, emigrated to New York in the Jazz Age and worked together in the city rooms of the Herald Tribune and the New York World ...

No Accident

Zachary Leader: Gore Vidal’s Golden Age, 21 June 2001

The Golden Age: A Novel 
by Gore Vidal.
Little, Brown, 467 pp., £17.99, October 2000, 0 316 85409 3
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... Of course I like my country,’ Gore Vidal has written. ‘After all, I’m its current biographer.’ With the publication of The Golden Age, the biography draws to a close. The novels which comprise it, to list them in order of the historical periods they cover, are Burr (1973), Lincoln (1984), 1876 (1976, of course), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1989), Washington, DC (1967) and now The Golden Age ...

800 Napkins, 47 Finger Bowls

Zachary Leader, 16 March 2000

Morgan: American Financier 
by Jean Strouse.
Harvill, 816 pp., £25, June 1999, 9781860463556
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... Size matters – especially in business. In the quarter-century following the American Civil War, consolidation – in the form of trusts, mergers, monopolies, syndicates and cartels – transformed the US economy, revolutionising transport, communications and industrial production. The industrialists and financiers who shaped the new economy regarded its international ascendancy as natural and inevitable ...

Is writing bad for you?

Frank Kermode, 21 February 1991

Writer’s Block 
by Zachary Leader.
Johns Hopkins, 325 pp., £19.50, January 1991, 0 8018 4032 5
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... a historical question about women such as Virginia Woolf’s imaginary Judith Shakespeare, which Zachary Leader, determined to leave no aspect of the topic unexamined, tries to answer in his final pages. Peculiar to one profession it may be, but as this intelligent, and only from time to time laborious study frequently reminds us, the condition cannot ...

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