Literature & Criticism


Edmund Gordon

4 August 2022

The stories​ in Colin Barrett’s first book, Young Skins (2013), assembled a shabby cast of bouncers and pool sharks, small-time gangsters and big-time losers from a dismal Irish town. The...

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Genre Trouble

Fredric Jameson

4 August 2022

Our interest in historical works always seems dependent on something extra-aesthetic: on the questions posed by the history books, for example (what were Hitler or Stalin really like?); on this or that . . .


Karen Solie

4 August 2022

Returning home from evening massin the big car,they were like canal boats thensliding through the loose gravel, in the back seatshe pushed my cuticles upwith a silver file not unpainfullyto expose the . . .

A Disservice to Dolly

Andrew O’Hagan

4 August 2022

For scholars​ of heartbreak and trepidation, the Dolly Parton songbook is a core text. No other singer would say ‘please’ when begging Jolene not to take her man. In Country Music, Ken Burns’s . . .

What I Like about You, Baby

Anne Carson

4 August 2022

ex-lover 1ex-lover 21 you smell damp, is it raining?2 nice and dry in here1 two hundred seats not even half full2 Japanese film week?1 funny how Americans dislike subtitles2 you said this one’s a film . . .

Malfunctioning Sex Robot: Updike Redux

Patricia Lockwood, 10 October 2019

When he is in flight you are glad to be alive. When he comes down wrong – which is often – you feel the sickening turn of an ankle, a real nausea. All the flaws that will become fatal later are present at the beginning. He has a three-panel cartoonist’s sense of plot. The dialogue is a weakness: in terms of pitch, it’s half a step sharp, too nervily and jumpily tuned to the tics and italics and slang of the era. And yes, there are his women.

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Get a Real Degree

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

I should state up front that I am not a fan of programme fiction. Basically, I feel about it as towards new fiction from a developing nation with no literary tradition: I recognise that it has anthropological interest, and is compelling to those whose experience it describes, but I probably wouldn’t read it for fun.

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Vermicular Dither

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

Stefan Zweig just tastes fake. He’s the Pepsi of Austrian writing.

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Le pauvre Sokal: the Social Text Hoax

John Sturrock, 16 July 1998

Way back in the pre-theoretical Fifties, a journalist called Ivor Brown used to have elementary fun at the expense of a serial intruder on our insular peace of mind, a bacillus known as the LFF,...

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The Fatness of Falstaff

Barbara Everett, 16 August 1990

One day early in the 1590s a clown came onto a London stage, holding a piece of string. At the end of the piece of string was a dog. The dog, possibly the first on the Elizabethan stage, I want to...

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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Diary: On the Booker

Julian Barnes, 12 November 1987

The only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo. It is El Gordo, the Fat One, the sudden jackpot that enriches some plodding Andalusian muleteer.

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Sounding Auden

Seamus Heaney, 4 June 1987

Hard-bitten, aggressively up-to-date in the way it took cognisance of the fallen contemporary landscape, yet susceptible also to the pristine scenery of an imaginary Anglo-Saxon England, Auden’s original voice could not have been predicted and was utterly timely.

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Fairy Flight in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

William Empson, 25 October 1979

So the working fairy does at least half a mile a second, probably two-thirds, and the cruising royalties can in effect go as fast as her, if they need to. Puck claims to go at five miles a second, perhaps seven times what the working fairy does. This seems a working social arrangement.

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To belong to the city in this way is to anonymise oneself and slip out of the constraints of gender. Lisa Robertson has always been interested ‘in whatever mobilises and rescues the body’, including...

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Jules Renard was a brilliant noticer of things. Distinguishing quirks and concrete observations usually take precedence over broader typologies. ‘The man of science generalises,’ he wrote, ‘the artist...

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Xavier Giannoli’s​ Illusions perdues won a raft of César awards this year, including for best film, best cinematography and best adaptation. This success seems like something of a...

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Poem: ‘Tank’

Robert Crawford, 21 July 2022

Age: 22. Time: after 2. RumblingOn western skyline, barrage, tangled tracks, trucks,Jeeps, flags, signposts, dust, oily rags, lorries tumblingOver dark crests, pulverised surface almost liquid,...

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Safe Spaces

Barbara Newman, 21 July 2022

The romance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight raises questions about the meaning of sanctuary vis-à-vis the natural world. It asks whether human institutions such as kingship, covenant and sanctuary...

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Doppelflugzeug: Am I Le Tellier?

J. Robert Lennon, 21 July 2022

All novels are experiments, but the thing that separates a thriller (or any other form with its own section in the bookshop) from ‘literature’ is whose constraints carry the most weight: the market’s,...

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Shelley’s poetry is full of supernatural phenomena, ‘spirits of the air,/And genii of the evening breeze’. It’s possible to account for them through reference to classical models, but it’s also...

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E Bada! What Isou Did to Language

Rye Dag Holmboe, 21 July 2022

Words, Isidore Isou thought, had done great damage throughout history. By breaking them down and exposing them as a collection of arbitrary symbols, he hoped to make space for a new language to emerge....

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Shuffering and Shmiling: ‘Vagabonds!’

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 7 July 2022

Vagabonds! tells compelling stories of survival, about women seizing agency in spite of the forces ranged against them. Men are largely incidental in this brave new world, when they aren’t in the way....

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Elif Batuman writes brilliantly about what it is like to be inside a body newly being touched, and touching. Even though novels aren’t actually guidebooks, it does feel like the truth is being verified...

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If there are other writers who competed as professional runners, I’m not aware of them. (Samuel Beckett was a good sprinter but that was in his schooldays.) To A.E. Coppard, the importance of running...

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Two years after Sam Selvon’s book was published, the racial divisions that plagued West London culminated in the Notting Hill riots. The fighting began in August 1958 when a group of Teddy Boys saw a...

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Sylvia Townsend Warner’s diaries and letters demonstrate over and over again how important it was to her that she immerse herself in a milieu or environment. She felt identity above all as a relation....

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There are questions about agency and chance that impinge on the way Trespasses is put together. The conventionality of Louise Kennedy’s ‘forbidden love’ plot – Catholic woman falls in love with...

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I write in Condé

Alexandra Reza, 12 May 2022

Maryse Condé’s books don’t try to reconcile the antagonism between commitment and irony. ‘Never solidarity before criticism,’ Edward Said wrote, but what function does this puckishness serve today?...

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Poem: ‘Apostasy’

John Burnside, 12 May 2022

Psalm 139:23At one time,when there might have been a God,everything vaguelyconvent, dovesand serpents in the Treeof Knowledge, gospelwhispered down the galleriesof rain,I would have been awake for...

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Two Poems

Stephanie Burt, 12 May 2022

Potomac River, 1982where I grew upit was all wonderful anddefensivethe adults were kindand never neglectfulbringing fresh water andgrapes oranges and juiceand sunscreen always askingeach kid what...

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Prowled and Yowled: Kay Dick

Blake Morrison, 12 May 2022

It’s tempting to read They as a timely intervention in our own culture wars, even in respect of its title. The likes of Nadine Dorries wouldn’t recognise themselves as the enemy. But if obliged to...

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