In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Kiss me, HardyHumphrey Carpenter
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Peeping Tom 
by Howard Jacobson.
Chatto, 266 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2908 5
Show More
Watson’s Apology 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 222 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7156 1935 7
Show More
The Foreigner 
by David Plante.
Chatto, 237 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 7011 2904 2
Show More
Show More

Howard Jacobson’s first novel, Coming from Behind, was published last year, and made one think that a new exponent of the comic academic narrative had arrived. Jacobson’s hero, Sefton Goldberg, Jewish and highly suspicious of his Gentile surroundings, is aggressive towards the literature he’s supposed to be teaching, to a degree that makes Leavis seem like a nice auntie. He’s also racked by consciousness of his own literary failure. To his misery, he finds himself stranded in Wrottesley Poly, where the enfeebled Liberal Studies department is threatened with a twinning with the local football club in order to revamp its decaying image. Goldberg sits in his office, envying the World Out There, which he imagines in the form of a mansion in Hampstead called Bradbury Lodge, where celebrated writers meet to have a good laugh at his expense. Meanwhile he puts down his own hopelessness as a littérateur to his incompetence in the matter of Nature. It seems to him that all Eng Lit is really about country walks, so ‘what the fuck did it have to do with Sefton Goldberg who was Jewish and who had therefore never taken a country walk in his life?’ Wrottesley Poly, however, is as much Tom Sharpe territory as a part of the Amis-Bradbury-Lodge world, and it is in the matter of comic plotting that Coming from Behind seemed to me to fail. Jacobson’s portrayal of Goldberg is flawless, but he seems to have little idea what to do with him, and the book tails off without any great comic debacle. One therefore turns to Jacobson’s second novel in the hope that he may have learnt something about construction.

Jacobson likes salacious titles – though Coming from Behind scarcely lives up to its sexual promise – and Peeping Tom suggests something in the same mode as the first book. So do the early chapters, for Barney Fugelman, the book’s hero, is Sefton Goldberg all over again, lacking only Sefton’s gnawing anxiety about failure. Actually Barney is a complacent sort of chap, living largely off the earnings of his wife Sharon, who runs a North London bookshop, near a tube station, called Zazie’s dans le Métro. Barney’s views about literature are much the same as Sefton’s. The most gratifying thing he can think of doing with a book is throwing it away, and later in the story he and his second wife Camilla indulge in orgies of this: ‘We consigned to the flames or the waves one Gunter Grass, two John Fowles, a Nabokov, a John Berger, three Doris Lessings, a Gore Vidal, two John Barths, and the whole of Jorge Luis Borges.’ This impatience with literary artefacts means that he and Camilla are also veteran walkers-out at the theatre. ‘Before ten minutes of the first scene had elapsed we were up out of our seats ... We just wanted somewhere quiet to sit where we could talk over the insult that had just been delivered to our intelligence.’

Barney also shares Sefton’s conviction that literary nature-worship is some sort of English Gentile plot against himself. Apart from giving Sharon some desultory help in the bookshop, his only professional activity is to write articles for learned journals attacking the English rural tradition: ‘I didn’t care for novels set primarily in the outside, on moors or under greenwood trees, especially if the outside they were set in was somehow also metaphorical, that’s to say was really the inside of something else.’ So it’s rather a blow to Barney to discover he’s a reincarnation of Thomas Hardy. The discovery comes about at a séance organised by Sharon in her bookshop, where, under the influence of a hypnotist, Barney finds himself recounting, in the first person, Hardy’s memory of watching the hanging of Martha Brown at Dorchester when he was an adolescent. Cross-examination reveals that he does indeed have all of Hardy’s consciousness in his head, and that he was born exactly a hundred years after Hardy, to the very minute. Sharon thinks all this will be good for business; she changes the name of her Hampstead shop to Eustacia’s on the Heath, and hopes to persuade Barney to go on a worldwide lecture tour in the persona of Hardy, not to mention possibly writing the odd novel on the old boy’s behalf. Meanwhile her attitude in bed might be summed up as ‘Kiss me, Hardy.’ But Barney isn’t having any of it. He doesn’t want this ‘miserable old shit’ inhabiting his body. For a start, Hardy isn’t Jewish. And he’s just the sort of person whose books Barney loves chucking into the bin – ‘a morbid superstitious little rustic who confused high peevishness with tragedy’. Barney’s attitude is to hope the whole thing will go away. That’s really his attitude to literature too. ‘Books are dangerous things,’ he tells Sharon. ‘Selling them is one thing, but the minute you open a page you have to keep your wits about you.’ ‘Oh, I just read for pleasure,’ she would reply, ‘as if a person might submit to assault and battery for the fun of it.’

But Barney has to admit that there are affinities between him and Hardy. Physical, for a start: each has a prominent lower lip, ‘a hot little protrusion of wet flesh’, which seems to say something about their sexuality. And sex is where they have real common ground. From the novels, Barney deduces that Hardy got a real sexual kick from ‘complicity in his own cuckoldry’. Henchard sells his wife, Angel lets Tess go off into the blue with Alec, and so on. As it happens, this is Barney’s particular kind of fun too. Even in the days before his bar mitzvah, Barney would thieve topless photos of his inappropriately-named neighbour Mrs Flatman, not in order to gloat over them himself, but to get a sexual thrill from displaying them to another male. Barney likes to share his women, or rather, he likes the exquisite pain of arranging to be cuckolded and then looking-on at the results. He and Hardy, he decides, are just a couple of peeping Toms.

He begins to do something about it – and at this point Jacobson’s hold on the story loosens. Extreme sexual eccentricity in a first-person narrator may present problems if that narrator is also meant to have and keep the reader’s complete sympathy, and it is hard to achieve much identification with Barney, however wryly he tells his story, when he devotes huge effort towards luring a Science Fiction expert (with the Hardian name of Fitzpiers) into bed with Sharon. Harder still to feel much kinship with him when he runs away from Sharon to the Hardy village of Castle Boterel, there to immolate himself with the man-eating Camilla, marrying her merely in order to be betrayed again. Jacobson seems to have got out of his depth. He – or rather Barney – drops the odd allusion to Lawrence and D.M. Thomas, and the book seems to be trying to become a critique, not just of rural fiction, but of the English novel about sex. But it doesn’t manage it, and peters out. All the same, Jacobson certainly isn’t a novelist to be dismissed. His forte is character-drawing of a lovingly vicious kind. Take the wonderful Lance Tourney (alias Lionel Turnbull) in Peeping Tom, village eccentric, author of Lad of Destiny: a Boy’s Guide to Health and Confidence, who enthrals the Castle Boterel tourists by stripping naked on the beach each morning, and indulging in a careful examination of each part of his body. ‘I had never before,’ says Barney, ‘seen an adult male standing on agrillaceous rock and rolling his balls minutely around the outstretched palm of his hand.’ Howard Jacobson doesn’t yet know what to do with characters like these. When he does, he’ll be a novelist to reckon with.

Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge sells his wife. J.S. Watson, at the beginning of Beryl Bainbridge’s new novel, buys his. John Selby Watson was (for this is historical fact) the headmaster of a South London grammar school. He had humble, Hardian origins; his parents had given him away in infancy, and he grew up with no experience of family life. He became a good scholar, got a degree at Trinity, Dublin, and by middle age had built up a very successful school at Stockwell. But, though outwardly steady and persevering, inwardly he was all adrift. He decided that he should get a wife, so he wrote to an unattached lady in Dublin whom he remembered from student days, proposing marriage. She hadn’t the faintest recollection of him, but she was living in dire poverty with her sister and took up his offer at once. They married in 1845; twenty-five years later, one quiet Sunday afternoon, he bludgeoned her to death with the butt of a horse-pistol. Beryl Bainbridge has set out to investigate the causes of this domestic outrage, which, because of Mr Watson’s respectability (he was a clergyman as well as a headmaster), caused a considerable popular frisson at the time. The result is that old cliché ‘a small masterpiece’ – small-scale in that Bainbridge presents the story for what it is and doesn’t try to enlarge on its tragic possibilities, masterly by virtue of the credibility of her reconstruction of the contradictory emotions that accompany the case. She writes in a tone that is at once dry, like a newspaper report of a crime, and at the same time crackling with life. Tame events, like the departure of Mr Watson from Stockwell to Dublin to fetch his bride, are endowed with sinister and inexplicable significance:

Mandell had offered to go with him to the station. ‘It would give me pleasure,’ he said, ‘to see you safely aboard the train.’ He had fluttered his fingers in the air as though waving a handkerchief. Watson had refused his offer, perhaps churlishly, but it was not yet five in the morning, and bitterly cold, and he was sure that Mandell, who took the Modern class, didn’t possess an overcoat. When they left he had shut the door so firmly on them that the fox terrier in the cellar had woken and set up a howl

Beryl Bainbridge hasn’t any great disclosures to offer as regards motive. The marriage was in many ways a failure from the start. Neither partner was capable of achieving love, though both wanted affection. What the book succeeds in showing is the element of failure in all relationships. Strange as the circumstances of the Watsons’ marriage may have been, they become, in Bainbridge’s hands, a symbol of everyone’s inability to get beyond the bounds of self. Perhaps for this reason it is the ordinary things in the story which stand out – Watson as headmaster, for example, dealing querulously with the problem of dust and horseflies in the playground, while dust in a chest of drawers is a cause of contention between husband and wife. Indeed there is a kind of dustiness covering the whole story. Anne, the wife, desperately hoards an oyster shell which is her only physical link with childhood. Watson struggles to write an endless Latin letter to the Bishop of Winchester to prove his sanity. There is a terrible reality, too, in the abruptness with which the crises occur. Watson’s sacking from Stockwell School seems almost as inexplicable to the reader as it is to him. And when his mind finally cracks, Bainbridge conveys this in a chillingly matter-of-fact way, through the eyes of the servant:

She said, ‘I’m glad to see you well, Sir,’ and all at once he gave her a ferocious smile, his lip curled back over his teeth. It was a terrible smile. She was shaking so much that she splashed hot water on to the cloth. She left the room as quickly as possible and whimpered as she ran down the basement stairs. She wanted her mother.

One scene is pure Hardy. Hearing that his mother is dead, Watson sets out from London Bridge to find his surviving brother. He makes the train journey with his mouth streaming with blood – he has just had all his teeth extracted. It is bitterly cold, the brother isn’t there when he arrives, and he learns to his horror that his mother died in the workhouse.

The narrator in David Plante’s The Foreigner is a peeping Tom – twice in the book he experiences orgasm while watching or listening to other people making love – and he tells his story in a detached, remote style which at moments has echoes of Bainbridge’s accomplished monotone. But the book has neither the outrageous energy of Jacobson nor the wisdom of Bainbridge. It is a self-regarding experiment in narrative that in the end just seems to disappear into itself.

Plante has some reputation. His novel The Ghost of Henry James and his trilogy The Francoeur Family, about a household of French Canadians in America, have found plenty of admirers. In the trilogy, which Chatto have just reissued as a one-volume paperback,* he employs a deadpan, frame-by-frame manner to build up the complexities of his picture: objects, events and emotions are described in the same flat, unreflecting voice. This makes a likeable contrast to the sheer size of the canvas, and the concentration on small detail transmutes the domestic setting and subject-matter into something truly ‘other’:

Julien put a berry on the end of his tongue Daniel simply watched him, Julien bit it in two with his front teeth, then chewed it, his face expressionless, even when he said, ‘It tastes like mint.’ Daniel chewed a berry. It did taste like mint.

But the balance between precision and bathos is precarious, and in The Foreigner Plante tumbles, alas, down a slope of his own making.

The title is presumably meant to echo Camus’s L’Etranger, and Plante’s narrator is as isolated as Camus’s protagonist. But whereas Camus is writing about the whole human predicament, Plante portrays someone who really is an outsider in the sense that his detachment from other people seems eccentric, wilful, autistic. It is the other figures he encounters, grotesque, inexplicable and violent though they may be in themselves, whom the reader is likely to regard as normal by comparison. This estranged narrator is, like others among Plante’s protagonists and like the author himself, a French Canadian from Providence, Rhode Island. The Foreigner describes his first journey to Europe as a student in 1959. He vaguely hopes to experience Paris as Hemingway did in the Twenties, but quickly retreats into stunned passivity when confronted with the challenge of communicating with his landlady, his college friends, and a black girl named Angela. Eventually he shifts to Barcelona, where Angela is involved with an unstable American, Vincent, who shoots himself. The narrator then wanders off to Almeria to deliver a letter that has something to do with the anti-Franco underground, and at the end of the book he shows signs of coming to terms at last with the external world. All this is narrated in a manner which recalls that of The Francoeur Family, but which has now been refined to the point of self-caricature:

I felt totally seul ... The doorbell rang The daughter went quickly and came back into the dining-room with six or seven people, men and women, whom I was not introduced to. I picked up my books and left ... In my room, I wrote in my diary how seul I was.

Possibly Plante is trying to express the linguistic isolation of someone who isn’t at home anywhere – in America he seems French, and in France he feels American. If so, the trick doesn’t really work, and one longs for the poor fellow to break out of his self-constructed shell.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.