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The TLS blog

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Modified: 2016-09-22T19:06:11Z


L'étranger – that 'irksome' classic?


By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN Looking for The Outsider: Albert Camus and the life of a literary classic (Chicago) by Alice Kaplan is a National Book Award finalist in the United States, we learn from its cover (it’s being published in October). A simultaneous edition has already appeared in France from Gallimard (Camus’s own publisher) and was favourably reviewed in Le Monde des livres by the paper’s Camus expert Macha Séry. The TLS’s review of the English edition is forthcoming. Kaplan’s thoroughly researched book takes the form of the biography of a novel, rather in the manner of the acknowledged Michael Gorra’s...

The guises of Rochester


Dominic Cooper in The Libertine, which opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on September 22 By ALEXANDER LARMAN A revival of Stephen Jeffreys’s 1994 play about John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, opens in London on Thursday, starring Dominic Cooper as the peerless peer. Whether Cooper can embody the two distinct sides of Rochester – "the devil incarnate and the angel undefaced" – remains to be seen, though sceptics might wonder whether the star of Mamma Mia! can convey the melancholy poetic imagination of a man who once described himself, in a letter to his mistress Elizabeth Barry, as "the...

Dinner with the Twits


The Twits, played by Lizzy Dive and Chris Barlow; image courtesy of Facebook: TwitsDinner By GEORGE BERRIDGE “What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays.” As I walk through south London on my way to Dinner with the Twits, I can't help admiring how well the first line of Roald Dahl's children’s classic has worn. Somewhere below Waterloo, in the ominously named Vaults, the gruesome pair are hosting a banquet. The event has been created by Les Enfants Terribles, the theatre company behind the wildly successful Alice’s Adventures Underground, and Bompas & Parr, popular jelly experts and creators...

What's so great about Roald Dahl?


Roald Dahl, 1954, by Carl Van Vechten By DAVID HORSPOOL Last year the TLS hosted a discussion on the subject of “Overrated and underrated” authors. They are planning to do the same again this year. It’s always easier to think of candidates for the first category than the second. And if you ask me, a prime example is the man in whose name thousands of primary school children are being encouraged to celebrate today: Roald Dahl. Heresy? As a parent of a primary-age schoolchild, I can attest to the enduring popularity of some of Dahl’s best works (in which category...

What's your favourite Bowie song?


By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN Well, which one is it? “Space Oddity”? “Aladdin Sane”? “Changes”? “Life on Mars”? “Drive-In Saturday”? “Diamond Dogs”? “Rebel Rebel”? “Ziggy Stardust”? “Young Americans”? “Fascination”? “Station to Station”? “Sound and Vision”? “Heroes”? Or none of the above? There are so many to choose from, after all. The question at the top of the post is not one to put to Paul Morley, author of the just published The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie made a world of difference (which will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of the TLS). At a recent event to mark the publication...

Nelson Mandela and the Robben Island Bible


The Robben Island Bible; © Christopher Jones/Alamy By SABHBH CURRAN The life of Nelson Mandela still captures the imagination. Hence the success of Mandela Trilogy performed by Cape Town Opera, which is currently touring the UK. It melds Xhosa folk music, jazz and modern opera; and follows Mandela – who is played by three different actors – from child to revolutionary. It is an unorthodox approach to biography, and it got me thinking about the difficulty of documenting such a varied life, and in particular the period – almost two decades – Mandela spent in Robben Island prison, which is...

The book thieves


By MICHAEL CAINES A postscript/digression following my report from last weekend's Historical Novels Society conference in Oxford. It was while stumbling around the TLS archives that I was reminded of this excellent example of an accidental discovery of plagiarism – one that I could appreciate all the more for having made a similar unintentional discovery myself while working on a book review . . . . The letter, from Professor David A. Cook of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, appeared in the TLS in December 2007: Sir, – As someone who wrote a dissertation on the autobiography and...

Scholar, meet Author – Author, meet Scholar . . .


David Mitchell, 2015; credit: Nick Cunard/Writer Pictures By MARTIN EVE What does it mean to research contemporary fiction in a university? How are academics working in this field different from enthusiasts, given that the latter group is often so knowledgeable? And what sorts of contemporary fiction do we actually study in institutions of learning? These questions, and others related to it, sit at the heart of Robert Eaglestone's “Contemporary fiction in the academy: Towards a manifesto”, published in the literary-studies journal Textual Practice in 2013. Although, as Eaglestone points out, such questions have haunted contemporary literary studies throughout its existence,...

Making history


Creative Commons/British Library By MICHAEL CAINES Historical fiction is, according to Toby Litt, a "deeply bogus" genre. Not that there's anything "essentially reprehensible" about it – or, as Litt admits, that any arguments against it will stop people writing and reading it. Over recent years, historical fiction has attained new heights of popularity – or rather, of both popularity and prestige. But maybe it's nonetheless important to recognize that the name itself can be taken as an oxymoron: it conjoins "what was" (history) with "what might have been" (fiction). A historian is bound to assert the "dull truth" about the...

Planet Telex: On the telegram in fiction


Right Ho Jeeves: the original cover from the 1934 British first edition © Rod Collins/Alamy By MATT MORRISON Comedy loves telegrams. There is a strange poetry in their frantic demands. Their senders tend to be in love or custody. There is no quill, no candlelight; no time for grammar or dignity. In P. G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves, telegrams offer a sort of prim hate mail – volleys of spite from the professionally constipated. When dodging an unspeakably dreary prize ceremony run by his Aunt, Mrs Dahlia Travers, our hero Bertie Wooster sends his solemn "Deep Regrets", to which Dahlia...

Remembering J. B. Trend – an unlikely Spanish don


J. B. Trend, 1923 By GEORGE BERRIDGE The internet is a terrible tool for the easily distracted. How can I possibly respond to emails when the "Random Page" button on Wikipedia exists? Then there’s the time lost on sub-articles, essays and dusty corners of the Amazon bookstore. But occasionally, there can be some real reward in pulling on the thread. Readers of this week’s issue may have noticed the wonderful letter on The Magic Flute in our "From the Archives" section. Sent to the TLS from the Somme in July 1916 by Lieutenant John Brande Trend, it is an archetype...

Literature and lace don't mix


By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN Literature can clash with commerce in all sorts of ways, or the two can rub along together. No. 102 Boulevard Hausmann in Paris is where Proust lived from 1907 to 1919, i.e. during his most productive years (“Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 habita cet immeuble de 1907 à 1919”). An unremarkable five- or six-storey building, it now houses the bank CIC, who are, I imagine, happy to have the plaque to give them a bit of literary cachet. But it’s a slightly different story in Brussels, apparently. In the first of a six-part series on “Writers in...

I am a city state


By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN To help us with our editing work at the TLS we make ample use of the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (ODWE). In it we find confirmation, for example, that proofreader is one word and unhyphenated, as is postmodern, but that post-structuralism retains its hyphen; and that Schadenfreude remains italicized (maybe it’s time to lower-case and romanize it; it’s in common usage after all, arguably as common as doppelgänger, which ODWE doesn’t italicize). I’ve been here so long that I really shouldn’t need to consult ODWE any more ("two words, one word in US"), but...

A nosy Parker


"Shared Fate (Oliver)", 1998 © Cornelia Parker. Photograph by Dan Weill By MIKA ROSS-SOUTHALL “I like objects or pictures with a caption”, the British artist Cornelia Parker told us a few weeks ago at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury, “or I like to switch captions around.” It’s no surprise, then, that she has curated a playful, object-and-story-based exhibition there, having enticed her Royal Academician friends, as well as famous writers and musicians, to respond to her theme of “found”. Displayed among the galleries’ permanent collection, these “found” works cleverly interact with what’s already there: hung between several oil paintings of...

More recommended reading from the literary journals


By MICHAEL CAINES A word about literary magazines on this blog is overdue – sorry, we've been busy thinking about Sarah Moss, Soviet picture books and Chet Baker. What fine distractions are to be found in the summer crop of journals new and old, famous and fresh? The freshest first, and a full disclosure: Hotel is a "magazine for new approaches to fiction, non-fiction and poetry" that is one issue old; and I had the pleasure of attending the launch for that issue, on the night after the EU referendum, because a former TLS editor contributed to it. Let us...

Where do we go from here?


Sarah Moss, 2015; credit: Ray Tang/REX/Shutterstock By FRÍÐA ÍSBERG Sarah Moss recently read from and discussed her new novel, The Tidal Zone (reviewed in the TLS of July 29), with her editor, Max Porter, at the London Review Bookshop. The book is about a stay-at-home dad whose daughter, at the beginning of the story, has a cardiac arrest; this results in a "narrative breakdown", as Moss describes it. The psychological approach to narrative has become a popular subject in academia during the past two decades. Narrative is something fundamental to the self; it's an onward movement, but also a constructive...

From Leningrad to London


"Out with the mysticism and fantasy of children’s books". Soviet propaganda poster by Olga and Galina Chichagova By BRYAN KARETNYK On July 26, the House of Illustration on Granary Square hosted an hour-long talk, From Leningrad to London, to accompany their exhibition of Soviet picture books from the 1920s and 30s, several of which are on display in the UK for the first time. The evening’s speakers – the collector and publisher Joe Pearson and the artist Otto Graphic – were charged with the task of tracing the lines of influence left by these revolutionary children’s books. The exhibition itself,...

Little white cat


Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in Born To Be Blue By JONATHAN DRUMMOND The new Chet Baker biopic (bioPIC or BiOPic?) Born To Be Blue, featuring Ethan Hawke as the troubled trumpeter, concentrates on the events of his life in 1966 and 1967. We don't see anything of his early breakthrough with Charlie Parker (who warned Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie: "You'd better watch out – there's a little white cat on the Coast who's gonna eat you up!") or his involvement in the innovative Gerry Mulligan quartet, or even the production of arguably his most famous record, Chet Baker...

A plaque for Francis Barber at Dr Johnson's house


By ROBERT DEMARIA On July 28, about a hundred people gathered at Dr Johnson’s House at 17 Gough Square, off Fleet Street in London, to witness the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the life of Francis Barber, a West Indian freed slave who was a member of Johnson’s household and his residuary legatee. The plaque is one of several being placed at sites in the UK, former colonies and the Commonwealth in connection with a four-part BBC television series about Britons of African origin on both sides of the Atlantic. The series traces the presence of Africans in Britain from...

Apollinaire, the painter's poet


Giorgio De Chirico’s “Premonitory Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire” (1914; oil and charcoal on canvas) By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN “J’ai tant aimé les arts que je suis artilleur”, Apollinaire wrote in 1916 – I’ve so loved the arts that I’m an artilleryman (a pre-echo perhaps of the Killers’ line “I got soul but I’m not a soldier”?) Was there a twentieth-century poet more painted than Apollinaire? There are numerous portraits by Picasso – the two men met in 1905 and remained firm friends until the poet’s death at the age of thirty-eight from Spanish flu only a few days before the Armistice...