Literature & Criticism

Sylvia Townsend Warner  by Howard Coster, 1934.

On Sylvia Townsend Warner

David Trotter

23 June 2022

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. But she did not immerse herself in order to stay put or to sink roots. Hers was a promiscuous localism driven by the desire for changes of scene.

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Louise Kennedy’s ‘Trespasses’

Clare Bucknell

23 June 2022

Every morning​, between reciting the Hail Mary and beginning their lessons, the children at St Dallan’s Catholic primary school near Belfast do ‘The News’. News, in this community, might mean many . . .


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 almostnothing . . .

Kay Dick

Blake Morrison

12 May 2022

Among the victims​ of Alex and his droogs in A Clockwork Orange is an author living in a country cottage. They don’t just do him over but tear up the pages of the book he has been typing out, ‘so . . .

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 we wouldneed . . .

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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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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Quantum Influencers

Adam Mars-Jones, 7 April 2022

The absence of historical context in Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World makes these supposed geniuses seem like dullards. How could Einstein not immediately grasp the reality of...

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It isn’t surprising that two of the most interesting authors to write about the migrant crises of the last ten years were subjects of earlier waves of displacement. In a recent interview, Hoda Barakat...

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Walter de la Mare was something of an antiquary who sought out odds and ends from the past, and in their quirky way his collections can feel as obsessed with the strata of history as the great masterpieces...

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Diary: Putting on Kafka’s Tux

Patricia Lockwood, 24 March 2022

If this were written in the 1990s it would be called ‘Kafka’s Tuxedo’, and in order to illustrate it, we would have resurrected Chagall for a single night so that he could paint Kafka as an empty...

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The Fog of History: On Olga Tokarczuk

Fredric Jameson, 24 March 2022

We have been approaching the figure of Jacob in a spirit of reverence, with hushed voices, as in church, as though he had a religious task or mission. What we have failed to understand is that the Messiah...

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How tf was I privileged? ‘Fuccboi’

Christian Lorentzen, 10 March 2022

The novel is about something more interesting than sex. It’s an account of a highly specific crack-up, and a largely self-inflicted one, though a few of the usual suspects, among them capitalism and...

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Stay Home, Stay Stoned: Diane di Prima

Andrea Brady, 10 March 2022

Diane di Prima’s poems combine spontaneous analysis of political conditions with a compendium of survival skills. She offers spiritual guidance and pragmatic advice for social action. When you go to...

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Diary: Out of Sir Vidia’s Shadow

Paul Theroux, 24 February 2022

Ihad​ planned to become a doctor – I imagined working in a hospital in a tropical country like Dr Schweitzer. I graduated in 1963, but being unable to afford medical school I joined the...

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On Typing

Jo-Ann Wallace, 24 February 2022

I typed Mrs Dalloway from beginning to end. There is something surprisingly intimate about entering text in this way. I knew that by typing up the novel I would refamiliarise myself with it. I didn’t...

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On Caleb Femi

Amber Medland, 24 February 2022

In​ 1765, at the age of eight, William Blake had a vision while walking on Peckham Rye. He saw ‘a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough’. If Blake had...

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The voice in Joyce Carol Oates’s novels often sounds like a teenage girl speaking on the phone: the torrent of words strung together without subordinate clauses, the dramatic pauses, the sentences littered...

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Giant Eye Watching: Pola Oloixarac

Adam Thirlwell, 10 February 2022

Ideas in Pola Oloixarac’s novels are allowed to expand in unexpected habitats. Her characters give complicated lectures, get lost in unwinnable arguments, write arcane texts: they invent theories the...

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My Year of Reading Lemmishly

Jonathan Lethem, 10 February 2022

Stanisław Lem was incommensurable – to SF, to literature, to himself. He was so many different writers – five, at least. I had too much to read. I risked missing the centenary in mute tribute.

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Poem: ‘Pine Processionaries’

A.E. Stallings, 27 January 2022

Warmer and warmercreep the late Januarys,disturbed beauty ofprecocious flowers,the ease of a year’s first swim.Pulsing in their silktent in the tree’s crotchthe pine...

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Snail Slow: Letters to John McGahern

Colm Tóibín, 27 January 2022

Despite the autobiographical elements in his fiction, John McGahern wasn’t especially interested in exploring his own psyche. He rowed in familiar waters because the cadences in the prose and the resonant...

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On Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

David Wheatley, 27 January 2022

Eiléan​ Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘Translation’ describes a work scene in a convent laundry. Over the bustle of cleaning and ironing, one voice rises...

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On the fifth day, we took him to the Kingto be received. The Queen was beside herself.She intoned constantly under her breath,part-lullaby, part-charm, words bubblingout of her mouth like water...

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