January 13, 2009


Damon Young

I did enjoy it, guiltily - as if I was clapping at a playground beating.

Perhaps if I'd read the book, I'd be happily yelling 'Kill, kill! Go for his eyes, Wozza!'


I see The London Review of Books sells copies of the books it reviews, through a link on the page of the review. Times must be changing.

Jack Pendarvis

Whoops! I think you missed some paragraphs of the review: "Updike is in his native element, his eye and mind the greatest notational devices of any postwar American novelist, precision instruments unimpaired by age and wear. Abroad, Updike is still only a glorified sightseer, a Keen Observer, but in his native land he blends the roles of novelist, historian, social critic, civics teacher, randy theologian, anthropologist, dermatologist, photorealist illuminator of drugstore aisle and automobile showroom (every shiny accent in place), and caretaker/pallbearer of the New Yorker tradition of scrupulous observation salted with a proper measure of irony, acerbity, dismay and regret, depending on the circumstance or site under inspection... It’s quite an observatory Updike houses in his brain, his characters sometimes appearing as small and blank as the human figures positioned around an architectural model or a railroad set. It’s interesting – almost inspiring, really – how entertaining The Widows of Eastwick manages to be once its plot mechanisms get into motion..." But anyway, take that, John Updike! That'll learn you to keep writing books when you're old.


"Where Norman Mailer set out to bend the future with his telepathic powers" -- what does that even mean?

And, I suppose, this as well: "a negative-positive mosquito buzzing in the ear of a total vacuum"

Kit Stolz

Actually, I'd put that under the category of damning with faint praise -- Wolcott can be far, far more bruising. And the line about making it possible to "take [Updike] for granted" has to be considered an appreciation.

If you want snark, see Matt Taibbi on Tom Friedman. (Or is he just going for the kill?) In any case, wow. Hope I never get on Taibbi's bad side.


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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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