Literature & Criticism

On N.K. Jemisin

Francis Gooding

30 November 2023

H.P.Lovecraft’s name rarely appears today without the requisite condemnation. Yet nobody is really suggesting that we stop reading him, cancel Cthulhu and de-platform the Great Old Ones.

Read more about Slimed It: On N.K. Jemisin

Rescuing Lord Byron

Clare Bucknell

30 November 2023

Byron​ knew just how good Don Juan was. Part way through the poem’s ninth canto, drafted in Pisa in the summer of 1822, he takes a break from a digression on Pyrrhonian scepticism to assess how things . . .


Alex Harvey

30 November 2023

Amit Chaudhuri​ visited Europe for the first time at the age of eleven. In 1973 the world felt steady; it had ‘a kind of wholeness to it’. The co-existence of capitalism and communism seemed permanent . . .

Spurious Ghosts

Dinah Birch

30 November 2023

‘Aren’t you tired​ of them? One hears nothing else nowadays.’ The peevish Mrs Snowdon, a character in Mary Louisa Molesworth’s ‘The Story of the Rippling Train’ (1887), is grumbling about . . .

Langston Hughes’s Journeys

Mark Ford

16 November 2023

‘Too many dreams have been deferred for too long,’ Joe Biden announced in his acceptance speech of 7 November 2020. It isn’t unusual for American politicians to talk about dreams in their speeches . . .

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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Candy-Assed Name: ‘Demon Copperhead’

John Mullan, 16 November 2023

Barbara Kingsolver’s reason for following the plot of Dickens’s David Copperfield so closely is simple. In the acknowledgments, she thanks Dickens for ‘his impassioned critique of institutional...

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Stamford Hill to Aldgate

Daniel Trilling, 16 November 2023

Alexander Baron was an atheist from a young age, telling his parents that if they insisted on having him bar mitzvahed he would hide a ham sandwich in his pocket and place it on the Torah scrolls during...

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Among the Rouge-Pots: ‘Yellow Book’ Lives

Freya Johnston, 16 November 2023

At a time when there was no female equivalent of the gentleman’s club, the Yellow Book offered a congenial literary space in which men and women could joke, flirt and briefly imagine themselves free...

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I am Pagliacci: Lorrie Moore’s World

Daniel Soar, 2 November 2023

I wanted to be in Lorrie Moore world, too, even if her characters were stuck in middle America, usually with disappointed middle-class lives, underwhelming husbands and dysfunctional relationships with...

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For Teju Cole’s protagonist in Tremor, as for many of us, the public reassessment of history has been accompanied by a private reckoning. It isn’t only the external world that has been revealed to...

Read more about Multinational Soap: Teju Cole’s ‘Tremor’

You can read Jen Beagin’s Big Swiss as a set of Russian dolls, each containing a different debate about trauma. Small doll: Om’s conversations with Flavia, in which the sex therapist parrots pop-psychology...

Read more about Emotional Support Donkeys: ‘Big Swiss’

Charles Lamb could not ‘digest’ death, but he gorged on life. Food, for Lamb, was a medium of thought, a master metaphor. The solitude of childhood was the ‘feeder of love, and silence, and admiration’.

Read more about Praeludium of a Grunt: Charles Lamb’s Lives

The best adjectives for Bruno Schulz’s stories are not so much intellectual as sensual. They’re sticky, fuzzy and so richly textured that they seem almost rotten. The stories move in such a private...

Read more about Man in Carriage with Gun: Bruno Schulz’s Fantasies

If le Carré saw that the secret services on both sides of the Cold War had a shared interest in keeping hostilities simmering, Mick Herron gets similar mileage from the idea of the enemy within: not in...

Read more about Post-Useful Misfits: Mick Herron’s Spies

In North America, Camus looked for Europe and failed to find it; in South America, he looked for Algeria, and although he didn’t exactly find it, he discovered something both familiar and strange: a...

Read more about Look at Don Juan: Camus in the New World

There’s​ a scene in Paul Murray’s novel Skippy Dies (2010) in which a science teacher called Mr Farley talks about the word ‘amphibian’. He says that it refers to an...

Read more about Trapped in a Veil: ‘The Bee Sting’

Am I dead? Susan Taubes’s Stories

Jordan Kisner, 5 October 2023

Taubes, like many postwar artists and intellectuals, turned to surrealism to articulate the trauma of displacement, the secondary trauma of returning to a diminished homeland, and the lifelong challenge...

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I first encountered George Orwell in 1977, when a brave English teacher got a group of bolshy 14-year-olds to read Nineteen Eighty-Four and told us to write our own dystopia. It isn’t hard to see why...

Read more about Ah, that’s better: Orwell’s Anti-Radicalism

Peerie Breeks: Willa and Edwin Muir

Robert Crawford, 21 September 2023

‘I am a better translator than he is,’ Willa Muir complained in a 1953 journal. For several generations the couple’s Kafka translations were the most widely read English-language versions. Early...

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Trapped with an Incubus: Shirley Hazzard

Clair Wills, 21 September 2023

In Hazzard’s fiction there are very few children, and the ones who do appear are not particularly rewarding. But they are not the enemy. The enemy is the person who sees others as playthings. The enemy...

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Throw them a bone: Megan Nolan

Clare Bucknell, 21 September 2023

The trick that Nolan’s Ordinary Human Failings plays is to make us think we’re reading a certain kind of novel, before wrongfooting us. Crime narratives are appealing not just because they’re lurid...

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Book of Bad Ends: French Short Stories

Paul Keegan, 7 September 2023

Voltaire regarded the short tale as a duel with the reader, and a form of complicity. He went out of his way to disparage the ‘littleness’ of the form, and to ridicule all fiction, as fables without...

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Flight of Snakes: Emily Holmes Coleman

Tessa Hadley, 7 September 2023

The sheer force of the memories exacted an impressive precision and solidity in Coleman’s expression. And she must have felt the electricity of her novel, as she was writing it, in both directions: channelling...

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