Lorna Sage

Lorna Sage died in 2001. Part of her autobiography, Bad Blood, for which she won the Whitbread Biography Prize, was first published in the LRB in 1993.

Landlocked: Henry Green

Lorna Sage, 25 January 2001

Henry Green put in an incongruous cameo appearance in Jeremy Treglown’s 1994 biography of Roald Dahl. When an interviewer from the Houston Post asked the bestselling author of the low-life and hilarious ‘adult’ short-story collection Someone like You who his favourite British writer was, he answered loftily: ‘Henry Green.’ Treglown thought the reason might have...

Feminism is fiftysomething if you start counting from The Second Sex, and, like Toril Moi, a lot of academic women are taking stock. The good news is that wherever positive discrimination in favour of men has been suspended, there are many more women in universities than there used to be, as students, teachers and even tenured professors. What’s been lost is the sense of connection with utopian politics. Part of the fiftyish feeling is to do with having to recognise that the future – that future, the classless, melting-pot, unisex, embarrassing one – is now in the past. Or, more painfully, that it has been hijacked by obscurantism and academic careerism, which often amount to the same thing.’

Talking to Jay McInerney in 1992, the year South of the Border, West of the Sun was published in Japanese, Haruki Murakami said that he wasn’t so much an international writer, as a non-national writer: ‘You might call it the Japanese nature that remains only after you have thrown out, one after another, all those parts that are altogether too “Japanese”. That is what I really want to express.’ His pleasure in jettisoning the picturesque and traditional signs of ‘roots’ is of a piece with the fact that he was a fan of the work of Raymond Carver, and became his Japanese translator. South of the Border is a minimalist’s novel. A 1984 interview with Carver is commemorated in a Carver poem:‘

The philosopher Plotinus was such a good Idealist that he refused to have a portrait done – why peddle an image of an image? – and argued that the true meaning of the myth of Narcissus was that the poor boy didn’t love himself enough. If Narcissus had recognised whose the reflection in the water was, he’d have lived and grown and changed himself, instead of being the helpless subject of a pretty tale of metamorphosis. Salman Rushdie’s new novel is full of such Neoplatonic jokes (though this isn’t one of them). The Ground beneath Her Feet is vertiginous, perilous, on the edge, because it’s all about pushing beyond the author’s Other-love, and the techniques he has so far perfected for dissolving ‘I’ into ‘we’. Here he is embracing what his enemies have always called his arrogance. He is taking things further, to that excess whose road leads to the palace of wisdom.’‘

Spells of Levitation: Deborah Eisenberg

Lorna Sage, 3 September 1998

The short story is the most popular form for people to practise on in Creative Writing workshops where the craft of making things up is meant to be passed on. Still, contemporary stories are always falling out of fiction into documentary of one sort or another – confession, travel, postcards from the front line. Deborah Eisenberg’s writing is so striking because it is impeccably, formally fictional. Her stories have epiphanies, they have closure, they have a discreet patina of style which is nearly matt, has no shiny gloss, but is nonetheless worked to a certain finish. A phrase will suddenly jump off the page – ‘the backs of … houses, hung with a dirty lace of fire stairs’ – then retreat again into its surroundings. Her settings are sketched with great economy, but convey a vivid sense of place (she herself comes from Chicago, and lives in New York). She specialises in brief moments of stillness, when things fall into focus. Her characters are often treated to spells of levitation during which they see themselves from outside, or from the future, or from some point near the ceiling, as in those near-death experiences people report, when for a paralysed time-out-of-time you’re on the wrong side of the mirror that makes life look like itself, lifelike. Things that were obvious, ‘obvious the way air is obvious’, develop a scary, revelatory, toxic shimmer. The characters see in italics, like virgins out of Henry James, and then forget, so that we’re made to feel that only the story itself, with its irony and vertiginous impersonality, preserves their vision.’‘


James Wood, 8 December 1994

Angela Carter’s first novel, Shadow Dance, is a bold, leathery, coarse book. It summarises thinly its author’s later adventures and preoccupations, as the chapter headings in a...

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