In the latest issue:

Consider the Hermit Crab

Katherine Rundell

Emigrés on the Make

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Autopsy of an Election

James Butler

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

‘Cosmo’ for Capitalists

Stefan Collini

Kara Walker’s ‘Fons Americanus’

Cora Gilroy-Ware

So many ships and fleets and armies

N.A.M. Rodger

British Sea Power

Paul Rogers

Richard Holbrooke

Samuel Moyn

Four poems after Callimachus

Stephanie Burt

‘Your Duck Is My Duck’

Christian Lorentzen

On Paul Muldoon

Clair Wills

Leanne Shapton

Namara Smith

Antigone on Your Knee

Terry Eagleton

‘Parasite’

Michael Wood

Walter Pater

Elizabeth Prettejohn

Two Poems

Rae Armantrout

Diary: In Monrovia

Adewale Maja-Pearce

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

Years ago, when I was serving as an anonymous hack on the Times Literary Supplement, one of my duties was to pen sprightly paragraphs for a weekly books column. The idea was to mop up publications which were not considered worth full-scale reviews but which nonetheless had to be ‘covered’ by a journal of record such as ours. Things like: A Dictionary of Spy Writers or The Balladeers’ Handbook or Henry Williamson: My Friend. Usually, there was a brisk supply of such material and it was easy enough to knock out the required eight or nine paragraphs per week.

Sometimes, though, there would be nothing: no Murderer’s Who’s Who, no Yorkshire verse, no New Zealand little magazines. To guard against such barren stretches, we invariably had one or two ‘timeless’ items on the go: foreign stuff, mostly, since no one knew when that was out of date, but now and then something solidly domestic – jokey items on the philosophy of crossword puzzles, or shrewd, relaxed meditations on what ought to be done about the Regions/Writers-in-Residence/The Open University. You could always find a current peg for material like this – 40 per cent of ‘on the one hand’, 40 per cent of ‘on the other’, and a final, plangent 20 per cent of ‘It is to be hoped that ...’ Child’s play, really, provided that you remembered to change the names and dates.

To liven things up (it must have been a Friday, after lunch) we decided to compose a spoof poem and submit it to one of those ‘Poems Wanted’ publishers who advertise in all the weeklies. To a literary editor, the phrase ‘Poems Wanted’ has an outlandish, almost eerie twang. I can’t remember how our poem went but it was made up of extremely well-known lines out of, I think, the Faber Book of Modern Verse. It might even have read:

April is the cruellest month
Because
It makes me think
Continually of those who were truly great

So it’s no go
My honey love, it’s no go my poppet

It might even have been titled ‘Do not go gentle into that good knight’. The point is, we were almost begging to be rumbled.

Anyway, we sent the thing off under a daft pseudonym and, within days, back came a cordial acceptance. The publisher (call him Arthur Daley) would be glad to include our ‘splendid’ composition in Best Poems of 1969, or whatever year it was. The catch (described by Daley as the bonus) was that we would be expected to purchase eight copies of the book when it appeared. Although it wasn’t spelled out, the deal was clear, no purchase, no publication. We calculated that with, say, two hundred poets buying eight copies each, this rather shoddily printed anthology would chalk up a decent profit before a single copy reached the shops, if shops indeed figured in Mr Daley’s plans.

So we wrote it all up, mingling tired mockery with almost-prim reproof, and bunged it into the column during a slack week. There was much applause all round, as if we had dealt the philistines a telling blow. For my part, I was at first simply glad to have filled the space with something that had been quite fun to do. Later, though, I did begin to wonder. After all, who had we damaged, if damage had been done? Not the publisher, certainly: poetry might be a tidy little earner if you play it right but Arthur could as easily switch to monogrammed nappy-liners or one-legged tracksuits. By the time our piece appeared, he had probably already diversified, moved on. No, the most likely victims of our little jape were the two hundred ‘poets’ who had no doubt been quite happy with the way things were – only too eager, probably, to fork out for eight copies of a book they could pass on proudly to their grannies, ex-husbands, and the like. These sensitives were now exposed as shoddy self-deluders. Auden understood about the real, the hidden and depressed, readership for poetry: these poets of 1969 were even more hidden, more depressed and very likely ate in even nastier cafeterias than the types Auden had in mind. They had probably never even heard of Auden. Who were we to bully such harmless dabblers into rough self-knowledge?

After a day or so spent musing along these pious lines, it dawned on me that I must surely be suffering from hoaxer’s backlash, that sour and anxious sensation I remember seeing on the faces of a gang of bloods at my Oxford college just after they had finished booby-trapping a swot’s room, and on the less well-bred faces of my barrack-mates in the Air Force when they sent the weediest of our colleagues out on a fake-date with the CO’s daughter – what fun it had been watching the poor slob dab after-shave into his armpits, and how blissful the moment when, with a chuckle that could only be described as ‘debonair’, he decided finally to wear the flowery tie and not the striped ...

Do all hoaxers end up feeling a bit wretched, after the event? Did the inventors of Ern Malley experience a few spasms of discomfiture after their spoof poet had taken the Australian literary scene by storm? I suppose not – after all, this was a high-minded hoax, an act of Criticism, really: its authors could boast that there was nothing in it that was petty or vindictive. And what about Dr Johnson’s pal, the awesomely resourceful George Psalmanazar whose fraudulent study of Formosa got him a job at Oxford, teaching missionaries to master his faked-up Formosan tongue? George was made to suffer for his cheek, and in time he did repent – but he too could surely have pleaded that his jests had served a highish purpose.

Higher, certainly, than the purpose served by our own most recent literary hoax. I have before me a press hand-out from the firm of Michael Joseph:

WE BELIEVE THAT NEVER BEFORE HAS A CELEBRATED WRITER OF FICTION SO SUCCESSFULLY DISGUISED HER IDENTITY AND CREATED SUCH AN EXPERIMENT IN PUBLISHING AND NEVER BEFORE HAS A WRITER AT THE HEIGHT OF HER POWERS WRITTEN TWO SUCH POWERFUL AND MOVING BOOKS IN ANOTHER PERSONA

The story is now well-known. In 1982, a writer who called herself ‘Jane Somers’ submitted her ‘first novel’ to three London publishers. Two of them – Cape and Granada – turned it down. The third, Michael Joseph, published it in 1983 – under the title The Diary of a Good Neighbour; they said that Jane Somers had already written some romantic fiction and was well-known as a journalist. The book got ‘mild reviews’, according to my hand-out, and ‘sold moderately’. It was published in America, and translated into three languages. Earlier this year, Jane Somers’s second book appeared, entitled If the Old Could, and shortly afterwards it was revealed that Jane Somers was just another name for Doris Lessing. Now both books are reissued in a single volume under Lessing’s name – with a rather dotty introduction explaining why she had gone to all this trouble.*

The explanation is in two halves: one half is severe and public-spirited, the other is girlish and bewildered. On the public front, Lessing contends that she has revealed important truths about the state of publishing and reviewing: it’s all so mechanical and yet it’s all so name-fixated – by means of her hoax, she has established that a known author gets more respect than an unknown. Well, thanks for telling us. She also wanted to help these said unknowns by demonstrating that even somebody as gifted as herself could, when rendered nameless, be treated with institutional disdain. And, as if all this were not sufficiently confusing, she (parenthetically) rather liked the idea of exposing the shoddiness of her regular reviewers. ‘Some reviewers complained they hated my Canopus series, why didn’t I write realistically, the way I used to before; preferably The Golden Notebook over again? These were sent The Diary of a Good Neighbour but not one recognised me.’ That’s pretty shoddy, you might think; after all, these people are supposed to be her fans. A sentence or so later, though, Lessing herself lets these (and, I should say, all other) dunces off the hook: ‘it did turn out that as Jane Somers I wrote in ways that Doris Lessing cannot ... Jane Somers knew nothing about a kind of dryness, like a conscience, that monitors Doris Lessing whatever she writes and in whatever style.’ And it is here that the girlishness intrudes. What she seems to be saying now is that when Doris Lessing becomes Jane Somers she stops being Doris Lessing; it is only afterwards that she becomes Lessing enough to blame people for thinking Somers is not her:

Some may think this is a detached way to write about Doris Lessing, as if I were not she, it is the name I am detached about. After all, it is the third name I’ve had: the first, Tayler, being my father’s; the second, Wisdom (now try that one on for size!), my first husband’s, and the third my second husband’s. Of course there was McVeigh, my mother’s name, but am I Scots or Irish? As for Doris, it was the doctor’s suggestion, he who delivered me, my mother being convinced to the last possible moment that I was a boy. Born six hours earlier, I would have been Horatia, for Nelson’s Day, what could that have done for me? I sometimes wonder what my real name is; surely I must have one.

This is territory remote from the public-spirited, and rather more interesting, but Lessing doesn’t linger there for long. The drift of her preface is that she has somehow done everyone a favour. But what, in the end, has been achieved? Publishers and reviewers can hardly be reviled for not having ‘heard’ the authentic Lessing cadences. As she admits, she wasn’t using them. Nor can they be blamed for not doing well by the aspiring Somers. Having now read both novels, I am surprised that the fledgling didn’t have a rougher ride. In fact, if Lessing has proved anything, it is that she has a gift for manipulating the very machine she has laboured to ‘expose’. In hype terms, thanks to the hoax both titles are now doing very nicely.

Far better, certainly, than they deserve. The first novel has some arrestingly beastly descriptions of old age, but creaks horribly when it tries to describe the innards of a swinging woman’s mag. And the heroine’s stylish metropolitan know-how is registered with gauche unease. The second book takes a few wild swings at feckless youth, but its main artery is Mills and Boon:

And then, my life with Richard. It really is another life, and I fly into it, my heels winged. Sometimes I arrive at our rendezvous with my hands full of flowers, somewhere to put my joy. Richard laughs when he sees them, straight into my eyes, so that my eyes dazzle with it, like too strong sunlight. He takes flower after flower, putting them in my hair, my belt, my buttonhole. I stand bedecked and people look, at first ready to be critical, but then getting the benefit of the spin-off of our enjoyment.

It’s true that the character doing the talking here writes romantic novels (she is, indeed, called Janna Somers) and it is just possible that we are meant to think that she’s gone off her head. But not really – here is another character (the sophisticated magazine’s sophisticated editor) on his newborn child:

Janna, this is my fourth, and God forgive me the best! I know you shouldn’t like one more than another, and in a sense I don’t, they are miracles. I simply can’t believe it, how utterly amazing and marvellous each baby is, each in its own way ... When little Caroline was born – although I had seen it all three times before and every time it was just the most perfect thing – when this little being appeared, and they put a towel around her and put her straight in my arms, because I am afraid poor Phyllis was not with us at just that moment, she opened her eyes and looked at me. She wasn’t crying or shocked or anything like that – I know now because after all Caroline is my fourth

He burbles on like this for four pages – he has forgotten, for four pages, that our heroine is childless; the whole soliloquy is a set-up for Janna to surprise herself with a sudden unstylish burst of tears. ‘Then he was up in a bound, and he had his arms about me. “Oh Janna, don’t don’t, I am so sorry. Of course, I had forgotten, you haven’t had children, oh poor Janna, I am sorry, how awful of me.” ’

It is at moments like this – and there are lots of them – that one begins to wonder if Lessing hasn’t perhaps pulled off a hoax within a hoax – a new way of packaging old pulp.

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.